11 Tudor Punishments for Horrible Histories Fans

Tudor kitchens in Hampton Court Palace
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Transport yourselves back to the age of William Shakespeare, the exploration of America and of course, Henry VIII and his infamous wives.

If you need a little brushing up on this period of history, check out our Tudor Children Fact File here, it’s bound to have you up to speed in no time! As part of the KS2 history curriculum, it’s super important that your mini historians know their monarchs from their ruffs.

But let’s get a little gorier and talk about Tudor crime and punishment... Tudor history wasn’t all entertainment and riches, there were some pretty nasty types of punishment that were enforced during this time for those who were deemed to have committed wrongdoing. From public executions to the stocks, all of these punishments were absolutely true amidst the times of Tudor crime - we couldn't even imagine what it would be like these days! Plus if you're looking for a little more gore, take a look at these gross facts about horrible histories that you'll wish you never heard here.

1. Execution

Execution is perhaps one of the most well-known types of Tudor punishment. Or as some others call it ‘Death by Axe’ - which is quite literally what used to happen during Tudor times. If found guilty of a crime, your head would get chopped off, and sometimes even placed on the spikes on London Bridge. Believe it or not, execution was actually deemed one of the better punishments because it was deemed less degrading as it was super quick! Therefore a lot of rich people or noblemen would receive this kind of punishment over hanging.

2. Hanging

Now for the second most common form of Tudor punishment - hanging, typically from the gallows (a wooden frame from which things or people are hung). A noose (which is a piece of rope) was tied around the person's neck, making it extremely difficult for them to breathe, leading to their death . People were hanged as a result of crimes ranging from murder and treason to theft and rebellion, and hangings often took place in the town centre where people would gather to watch.

3. Burning

Perhaps one of the most horrible Tudor punishments (although they’re all pretty bad) is being burnt to death at the stake. Women who were found guilty of treason, as well as petty treason, were sentenced to be burned alive at the stake. Other than burning, other victims would also die from the lack of oxygen given the high levels of smoke.

4. The Pillory

A Tudor punishment which also brought great shame and embarrassment upon the criminal was being put in the pillory. The Pillory is a wooden frame in the shape of the letter T, with holes for the criminal’s hands at the top of the crossbar. They would then have to stand in this device in the town centre whilst passersby and members of society would ridicule them.

Demonstration of The Pillory as a Tudor punishment
Image © Oxford Castle & Prison via Facebook

5. The Stocks

Similar to The Pillory, The Stocks meant that the criminal’s feet were bound to the device in two holes at the bottom of the block of wood. Unable to move, locals and members of society ridiculed the criminal by throwing rotten food and rubbish at him or her.

6. Whipping

In the Tudor times, most towns had a whipping post - a piece of wood that criminals were bound and chained to in a public place. Criminals were stripped down to the waist and then whipped for their crimes. You could have been whipped for something as small as stealing a loaf of bread! The pillory and stocks were a really common punishment.

A whipping post where the whipping Tudor punishment would take place.
Image © Arthur Catflap's : History Page via Facebook

7. Branding

If you thought Tudor public humiliation couldn't get worse, get to grips with branding, a form of punishment whereby a person would have letters burnt into their skin, either onto their arm, hands or cheeks. Different letters were used to reflect the crime committed, for example, M for murder, V for vagrant and T for theft.

8. The Ducking Stool

Indeed a peculiar Tudor punishment, the Ducking Stool was a punishment specifically for women who were deemed to be witches by society, they were dunked into the river and if they floated they were deemed guilty, whilst if they sank, they were innocent but died anyway as they drowned.

The Ducking Stool was a Tudor punishment for witches
Image © Waterside Properties Bournemouth Ltd via Facebook

9. Boiled Alive

Makes your skin crawl doesn't it? Yes, being boiled alive was in fact a popular choice of punishment for those who were accused of murder or attempted murder. Criminals were dunked into a giant bowl of scalding hot water and left there to be boiled alive.

10. Limbs Severed

If you were a pickpocket or theft back in the day, you could have risked the punishment of having one or multiple of your limbs severed off - that’s bound to stop you from doing it again!

11. The Brank

Also known as ‘The Gossip’s Bridle’, the brank was a device forced upon women who gossiped or spoke too freely. It had an iron framework, like a cage, and there was a piece of metal fitted to the brank which was either sharpened to form a point or covered in spikes, resulting in severe injuries to the mouth if there was any movement of the tongue.

Questions To Ask Your Mini Historians

Do you think Tudor punishments were in any way fair?

What would you do to change the Tudor criminal justice system?

Do you think these punishments are outdated?

What do you think was the most common crime committed during the Tudor era?

If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give to anyone living in the Tudor era?

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