See caption
Captain Kidd, who was executed for piracy, hanging in chains
Wikimedia Commons

Gibbeting, also known as hanging in chains, was the public exhibition of the bodies of executed criminals by the use of a gallows-type structure from which they were hanged and left to rot, suspended from a pole and held together by iron hoops.[1]

The Murder Act 1752Act of parliament of England and Wales to increase the horror of being executed for murder by expediting the process and denying the right to a decent burial. legislated that the bodies of hanged criminals were to be denied a decent burial, a move intended to act as a deterrent to others, and instead should either be dissected by anatomists or publicly hung in gibbets and left to rot.[2] An 18th-century writer described London as “The City of the Gallows”, commenting that:

Cross any of the heaths, commons or forests near London, and you would be startled by the creaking of the chains from which some gibbeted highwayman was dropping piecemeal.[3]

Occasionally gibbeting was used as a method of execution, with the criminal being left hanging to die of exposure, thirst and/or starvation.[4] Pirates were sometimes executed by being hung on a gibbet erected close to the low-water mark by the sea or a tidal section of a river, where they would be left dangling until they had been submerged by the tide three times.[5]

The first recorded case of gibbeting was that of a Scot executed in London in 1306, during the reign of King Edward I. The last was of the murderer James Cook, in Leicester in 1832, but the public outcry was such that his body was removed after a few days. Gibbeting was abolished in England and Wales in 1834.[6]