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A 'botched hanging' and some cultural responses

Posted by: Catherine Clarke 4 years, 1 month ago

Professor Daniel Power, of Swansea University (and one of our project Advisors) just drew my attention to a story in the news about a hanging in Iran, astonishingly survived by the condemned man, who is now due to be hanged again. It reminds us, of course, that execution by hanging is still a reality in the world today – in fact, many of the themes of our ‘William Cragh’ story, whilst set hundreds of years ago, still have resonance in the modern world.

The story of this ‘botched hanging’ in Iran, from which the condemned man astonishingly recovered, includes comments which reflect a particular revulsion at the idea that a man should be hanged twice. Amnesty International comment that ‘the horrific prospect of this man facing a second hanging, after having gone through the whole ordeal already once, merely underlines the cruelty and inhumanity of the death penalty’. The condemned man’s family found him alive in the prison morgue: to put them, also, through the distress and agony of a second execution seems inhumane.

In medieval texts, too, there seems to be evidence of a clear taboo regarding multiple hanging. In Henry Bradshaw’s Life of St Werburge, which I edited for the Mapping Medieval Chester project, a young man is ‘thries hanged vnlaufully’ (hanged three times unlawfully) by the officials of the city, and is saved from death by the intervention of St Werburgh. The account seems to refer to a natural law and justice which transcends the authority of the secular civic government and their persecution of this man – who, we’re also told, was arrested ‘of a light suspicion’ (on little grounds).

In our story of medieval Swansea, William Cragh was also hanged twice, after the gibbet broke during the first attempted execution. The narrative of the miraculous revival of Cragh probably reflects a similar medieval superstition or taboo in relation to multiple hanging. The story itself (along with its transmission / circulation and local currency in medieval Swansea) also suggests the same kind of popular resistance and opposition to an oppressive regime (in this case, the Anglo-Norman Marcher lord and his authority) as we see in both the cases of medieval Chester and modern Iran.