**(A bit of a prequel to my first post, also not so much of a prequel to my first post.) Autumn is by far, my absolute favourite season. Ask anyone who is friends with me, and they will tell you so. Now having that in mind, imagine me presented with this situation: A sunny, yet cool autumn day, leaves of varied colours and crispness fallen everywhere and ornamenting trees; a leisurely.. Read More
“I’ve got 10 years to fill a stadium, but only 2 minutes to fill your cranium. Humble the Poet, signing in.” Toronto born, Sikh-Punjabi rapper, spoken word artist, elementary school teacher, and author. What a lovely bouquet of titles to his name. 34 year old Kanwer Singh, a.k.a. Humble the Poet has the honor of being one of the first (and I believe, only) Sikh Punjabi-Canadians to be in the.. Read More
From the looks of it, the father-son-duo of James I VI and Charles I had a knack for murdering – er – punishing people in cruel to what we would consider inhumane ways, for “crimes” that were, for the most part, unreasonable..? Now, I use this question mark as I have a few theories on what exactly was going on in 1600s that made violence – specifically death – a main punishment for the many probable crimes at the time.
The big question is: why were nearly all crimes punishable solely by execution, no matter the charge, or whether the crime was even “valid” or not? More so, why were there so many crimes to be punished? Why was it that all the methods of punishment resulted in death, though some were more painful/humiliating/creative than others? And how have we come to mostly stray from this cruel time of punishment for crimes today? (PLOs covered: Disparities in power alter the balance of relationships between individuals and between societies; collective idenitity is constructed and can change over time.)
I think it’d be wise to first acknowledge that not only are there so many different ways to be executed for a crime, but there were specific methods of execution whether you stood financially as a noble or a commoner. In addition to this split, there were indeed major and minor crimes, though the punishments were all violently dealt with. For example, the upper class were mainly charged with major crimes if any, and the main two ways they would be executed if found guilty, would either be burning them alive or straight up beheading them. Now, of course, being burned alive would be the more painful and would last longer, however, when one is beheaded, consciousness actually still remains in the severed head for around 8 seconds after separation from the body, so the head was lifted by the hair and forced to look at the crowd, as well as its own dead body in front of it. Who says the rich people get it easy?
Well I guess you could say they got it easy, compared to some of the punishments for commoner crimes included being physically pressed in a vice till they died, hangings and burnings of course, the cutting off of selected parts of the body such as limbs, ears, etc, being whipped, starvation in a public place, and even being boiled in hot water, lead, or tar for prisoners.
Considering the severity you now know of these punishments, you’d think the crimes would match just as severe, right? I mean some you could possibly pass as reasonable, such as murder, or maybe even high treason. But the majority of commoner crimes consisted of begging, spying, theft, fraud, forging, cheating. Apart from these, if you traveled around England a lot or – here’s the kicker – were an actor as your profession, you’d be at an extremely high risk of being accused of a crime, and were held at a just slightly higher status than a beggar or a thief. So many people who traveled and/or were actors were accused of both real and imaginary crimes, and though not killed, were whipped with red hot irons as punishment. If you even did something that either made the government suspicious about you, or just not like you, you could basically be accused of any made-up “crime” they stated and would have to suffer punishment.
I’ve basically given you a overview (a very, very brief overview) of the degrees of crime and punishment that went down in 1550s-1650s England. So now we ask, what was the point? Why was it so necessary to try and accuse so many people of so many absurd crimes, just to either commit an act of what would today be considered as assault or abuse towards them, or to kill them? I believe it must’ve been at least one of two things: either to show what great authority the government had to make the people conform to the King, or it was a result of fear from the government of those who showed the means to outstand the government, or the religious/societal/social “norm” at the time.
The other side of this that’s interesting to look at is how we have come to mostly stray from these cruel types of punishments for crimes today. Obviously, under the rulings of Charles I and James I VI, it was most definitely not a “people’s choice” society, like we seem to have developed to today, specifically in Canada. There are no real distinct divisions between “nobles,” “commoners,” and “peasants,” anymore in our society, even including our governmental figures. What choices made by the government affect not only the people, but they affect the people of the government too. We are of near equal humanity and rights. It also comes into play that nowadays, people are more relaxed and open-minded about religious freedom and social expression, so crimes such as blasphemy, witchcraft, alchemy, “being mean to the government,” they don’t exist anymore, and furthermore, people don’t see the need to kill off anyone who is a “wrong-doer” or who doesn’t agree with them. Everyone knows that whatever charges we lay against someone for a certain crime, those punishments and charges applies to anyone else who does or did commit the crime as well, regardless of class.
I’d like to end this off on a bit of a controversial note (because who doesn’t like a bit of controversy, am I right?); my saying that all the same charges apply to anyone who commits the same crime in our society today is a bit of a white lie. What was back then dividing severity of punishment by class and nobility, is today dividing by race and gender. So I guess we can’t exactly say everything’s changed for the better, since some concepts of division and preference still remains, and inevitably, always will remain.
Alchin, L.K. Elizabethan Era. e.g. Retrieved Oct 10, 2015 from www.elizabethan-era.org.uk
James E. Kiefer. Charles I of England and Scotland, King and Martyr. Retrieved Oct 12, 2015 from http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/92.html
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