Nursery Rhymes

Burned at the Stake

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Burned at the Stake
The Medieval period of the Middle Ages was violent, and blood thirsty. In these barbarous times the cruel and pitiless torturers were induced to inflict the horrors of tortures. The torture was sometimes followed by execution including being Burned at the Stake. Death by fire was probably the most excruciating form of execution. Torture and execution methods, devices and instruments were used to inflict the deliberate, systematic, cruel and wanton infliction of physical and mental suffering.

There were no laws or rules to protect the treatment of prisoners who faced executions such as being Burned at the Stake.

Crimes which warranted the use of / Method of inflicting the Burned at the Stake
Different types of torture and execution methods were used depending on the victim's crime and social status. The punishment by fire was always inflicted in cases of heresy, or blasphemy. In France, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, fifty-nine Templars were burned at the same time for the crimes of heresy and witchcraft. And three years later, on the 18th March, 1314, Jacques Molay, and a few other dignitaries of the Order of the Templars, also perished in the flames at the extremity of the island of Notre Dame.

Death Procession
Many executions were public. In France it was the custom for the condemned to take part in a Death procession. The victim in his shirt, barefooted, the rope round his neck, followed by the executioner, and holding in his hand a wax taper, with a weight, which was definitely specified in the sentence which had been passed upon him, but which was generally of two or four pounds, prostrated himself at the door of a church, where in a loud voice he had to confess his sin, and to beg the pardon of God and man.

Method of inflicting the execution of being burned at the stake
When a victim had been condemned to be burnt, a stake was erected on the spot specially designed for the execution, and round it a pile was prepared, composed of alternate layers of straw and wood, and rising to about the height of a man. Care was taken to leave a free space round the stake for the victim, and also a passage by which to lead him to it. Having been stripped of his clothes, and dressed in a shirt smeared with sulphur, he had to walk to the centre of the pile through a narrow opening, and was then tightly bound to the stake with ropes and chains. After this, faggots and straw were thrown into the empty space through which he had passed to the stake, until he was entirely covered by them; the pile was then fired on all sides at once.

At the mercy of the executioner
Sometimes the executioner, in order to shorten the sufferings of the condemned, whilst he prepared the pile, placed a large and pointed iron bar amongst the faggots and opposite the stake breast high, so that, directly the fire was lighted, the bar was quickly pushed against the victim, giving a mortal blow to the unfortunate wretch, who would otherwise have been slowly devoured by the flames. Other merciful method designed to reduce the suffering was to place gunpowder in the wood to ensure a quick death. If a condemned person was really fortunate he would be strangled to death before being chained to the stake.

Middle Ages Torture
Middle Ages Index

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