Those who lived through gibbeting complained that having the rotting bodies of dead criminals so close to their windows resulted in unbearable smells. That's why they were forced to keep their windows closed. Gibbeting was a popular way of punishing and executing criminals in the gallows several centuries ago.
Gibbet is a word that comes from the French word gibet, which means gallows.
The method served as an eerie warning to potential criminals as the bodies would remain on display for years and even decades. When used to execute criminals, the unfortunate culprit would be tied to the gibbet and left to die from exposure to the elements, starvation, or even thirst.
Gibbeting is also known as "hanging in chains."
Although gibbeting is now considered barbaric and gory, there was a time it was viewed as a fitting punishment for some of the most heinous crimes we know. The idea was to punish the criminal both in life and in death.
The cages were made by blacksmiths, and they were not exactly easy to make. No blueprint existed about their designs, which is why their appearance varied so much.
Gibbeting Was Legal In England
Gibbeting was a common punishment given by judges in addition to execution, and it was made into law in 1751 in England. The Murder Act 1751 stated that "in no case whatsoever shall the body of any murderer be suffered to be buried." For this reason, their bodies were to be left "hanging in chains."
However, this cruel punishment was mainly used on traitors, murderers, thieves, and pirates. Typically, the gibbet cages were human-shaped, hung high up in public areas.
Gibbeting reached its peak in the 1740s.
For maximum humiliation effect, the gibbets were placed close to public highways. However, the law was put to an end in 1834, two years after William Jobling and James Cook were gibbeted in 1832.
In Scotland, the last gibbeting was carried out on Alexander Gillan in 1810. The miner was hanged and gibbeted for killing two people.
Public Reaction To Gibbeting Was Mixed
Although gibbeting was a legally recognized execution and punishment method in the United Kingdom, people had mixed reactions towards it. Some people found it disgusting, primarily due to the horrible smell of rotting flesh wafting into their houses as the bodies decomposed over several days or weeks.
Rightly, the bodies were also considered a massive risk to public health. The problem was particularly serious in cases where the bodies were left hanging close to tidal sections of the river. Such bodies would at times get submerged in water.
Some people also felt that these grotesque displays did not help the reputation of England's laws.
There were cases where the bodies were left to decompose until nothing but bones were left. A good example is when John Breads, who had killed a man named Allen Grebell, was left hanging in a specially designed iron cage for 20 years.
Even at the time, many people realized that this was an especially vicious form of execution.
The spooky gibbets would squeak and clatter in the wind, scaring those living close by. Birds and bugs would also eat the corpses, which is partly why the bodies ended up as skeletons.
Some People Liked The Gibbeting Punishment
However, there were instances when gibbeting was considered a significant public spectacle. Many people enjoyed watching gibbeting, regardless of how grotesque it was.
To some people, killing or punishing evil criminals in the most disgusting ways possible was utterly justified. Such people, just like the authorities, felt that these punishments were necessary to stop criminals from making the same mistakes.
Gibbets drew in lots of excited crowds, and at times, tens of thousands of people showed up. Those who lived close to the gibbets could not celebrate for long once the bodies started decomposing.
Strangely, in England, crime rates did not go down after gibbeting began, which may have eventually resulted in its establishment less than 100 years later.
The cage exists to his day. The fact that the bodies were hanged from posts about 30 feet tall made them harder to take down. At one point, the base was studded with 12,000 nails to make sure nobody could tear it down.
The authorities went to many lengths to protect their investments. The rotting bodies and the bizarre sights often took a toll on those living close to the gibbets. The bodies were also smeared with pitch or grease to make sure they did not decompose too quickly, which was supposed to make them more effective at deterring crime.
Generally, most of those gibbeted were men because corpses of female criminals were in high demand from surgeons and anatomists, who preferred to use them for dissections.
Gibbeting Was Pretty Common In Other Parts Of The World As Well
Gibbeting was not just carried out in England. The cruel method of execution was also common in Bermuda as a way to deter piracy. Canada also gibbeted a woman known as Marie-Josephte Corriveau in 1763 after she was found guilty of killing her husband.
Germany and the Netherlands also gibbeted bodies of executed offenders. Gibbeting also took place in Iran, when Babak Khorramdin got his hands and feet cut off in 838 before he was gibbeted alive. In Malta, six British pirates were hanged in 1820 and then put in gibbets.
The United States also used gibbeting on Bird Island and Nix's Mate island in Boston Harbor during the colonial era. The treatment was reserved for pirates and sailors who had committed other crimes.
A slave called Mark was hanged in Massachusetts in 1755 before he was gibbeted in Charlestown. Gibbeting was also carried out in the Southern Colonies, in Virginia, where three men were killed by gibbeting in the 1700s and New York.
Australia also gibbeted a man called John MacKay in 1837, which was five years after the execution method came to a stop in England. People were horrified by the display and asked to have it removed, but it was only after McKay's horrified friend saw the body and begged the authorities to take it down that they took it down.
Gibbeting has all but died out, but obviously, people never seem to completely lose interest in some of the most horrifying punishments in history. For instance, an inn in Sheffield takes advantage of the fact that someone was gibbeted at the location to draw in customers.
The establishment has even recreated a fake gibbet to complete the look. However, gibbeting was still in practice in the twentieth century. Apparently, in the 1900s, gibbeting was also being used in Afghanistan, based on a National Geographic Magazine revelation showing two gibbet cages called "man-cages."
Remnants of this horrifying method of execution and punishment still remain, especially in England. More than a dozen gibbet cages can be found in museums throughout the country. One of the cages still has the skull of the last person to be stuck inside.
Other reminders of this barbaric punishment exist in England. For instance, people remember where some of the most well-known criminals were gibbeted, and the roads and other features still have their names to this day.