From Academic Kids

Gibbet is a term applied to several different devices used in the capital punishment of criminals and/or the deterrence of potential criminals. When used as a verb, gibbeting refers to the public display of executed criminals.



Gibbet is sometimes used to describe a gallows, a structure used in the execution of criminals by hanging.


Gibbet is also the name used for an early form of the guillotine. A notable example was employed in the West Yorkshire town of Halifax, where decapitation was the penalty for numerous offences, including the theft of cloth (Halifax being a centre of wool cloth manufacture). The final executions using the Halifax gibbet took place in 1650.

Gruesome warning

Gibbet also refers to a gallows-type structure from which the dead bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. It can also be used as a verb, denoting the action of placing criminals in gibbets. This practice is also called "hanging in chains". [1] (

Gibbeting was often the fate of traitors, murderers, highwaymen and sheep-stealers. The structures were therefore often placed adjacent to public highways. In England, Gibbet Hill marks one such site between Coventry and Kenilworth in Warwickshire; the same place name is used for a site near Haslemere in Surrey.

The dead bodies still went through the process of decomposition, and could easily be nibbled at by scavenging animals. To maintain hygiene, most cultures bury (or otherwise dispose of) their criminals just the same as normal citizens. It is only the most heinous criminals who warrant gibbeting. This public humiliation, even after death, is a notable exception to most cultures' respect for the dead.

Extra-gruesome variants

In some cases, the bodies would be left until their clothes rotted or even until the bodies were almost completely decomposed, after which the bones would be scattered.

In cases of drawing and quartering, the body of the criminal was cut into five portions, each of which was often gibbeted in different places.

So that the public display might be prolonged, bodies were sometimes coated in tar and/or bound in chains. Sometimes, body-shaped iron cages were used to contain the decomposing corpses.

A gruesome example of the cage variation is the Caxton Gibbet, as used in Cambridgeshire, England. This gibbet employed a suspended iron cage into which live victims were placed. Over time, the victim would die from starvation, dehydration or exposure. Occasionally, the cage was set up so that the victim would drown; pirates were sometimes executed by being placed in a cage at low-tide. As the water rose above them, they slowly drowned. Like traditional gibbeting, the body in the cage would remain suspended for some time as a warning to others.

Another example of the cage variation is the gibbet iron, on display at the Atwater Kent museum in Philadelphia, U.S. The cage, created in 1781, was used to display the body of convicted pirate Thomas Wilkinson so that sailors on passing ships might be warned of the consequences of piracy.

Crucifixion can be considered a form of gibbeting.



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