A Traitor's Death? the Identity of a Drawn, Hanged and Quartered Man from Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire

By Lewis, Mary E. | Antiquity, March 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Traitor's Death? the Identity of a Drawn, Hanged and Quartered Man from Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire


Lewis, Mary E., Antiquity


Introduction

The disarticulated skeletal remains (HA16) of a mature adult male, around 5 feet 8 inches in height (178cm), were uncovered during the 1970s excavation of the Cistercian monastery of Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire (Figure 1a). The bones of this individual are remarkable because they display numerous perimortem cut marks throughout. Browne (2004) has suggested that the cut marks are battle injuries and that additional cut marks were added when the body was 'divided' and boiled to allow for its transportation back to Hulton Abbey for burial. A re-analysis of the remains suggests that in fact, the body had been quartered; a brutal form of execution reserved for the most notorious of criminals. This has led to a new investigation into the possible identity of the remains, and the first osteological description of the lesions associated with this practice.

Hulton Abbey (AD 1219-1538) was a relatively poor estate owned by the Audleys of Heleigh whose family rose to prominence in the courts of Edward I and Edward II. The burial place suggests that the remains belonged to a wealthy member of the congregation, and potentially, to one of the Audley family. However, it seemed that the skeleton had been disturbed from an original coffin burial after the dissolution, and was re-deposited, along with some bones of an adult female, near a post-medieval well in the Chancel area (Wise 1985) (Figure 1b).

Distribution of cut marks

The pathology of the skeleton is consistent with its having been cut up with a sharp blade. The distribution of the cut-marks on HA16 can be seen in Figure 2. The skeleton comprised an almost complete set of spinal vertebrae, from the third cervical (neck) vertebra to the second lumbar (L2), right and left arms and shoulders, right femur, left and right lower legs. The ribs were poorly preserved and the sternum was not recovered. There were some fragments of the ilium, and one pubic symphysis, suggesting that the pelvis had been included in the burial. No hand or foot bones were linked to this skeleton. Although no skull was present, cut marks on the third cervical vertebra (C3) of the neck indicate the individual was beheaded (Figure 3). Additional cut marks on the right superior facet of C3 indicate that further slices were necessary to completely remove the head. Although badly eroded postmortem, the next vertebrae (C4 to C6) appear normal. A smooth depression on the superior aspect of the seventh cervical vertebra, triangular in shape and measuring 9.8mm by 5.9mm, indicates that the individual was stabbed in the throat (Figure 4). It is not possible to know if this happened before or after the beheading, but the following first thoracic vertebra (T1) is not affected. A further possible stab wound is located in the right inferior margin of L2 suggesting that the victim had also been stabbed in the stomach (Figures 5 and 6).

[FIGURE 1a OMITTED]

Sectioning of the body is indicated by the division of the second and third thoracic vertebrae along the sagittal plane (vertically) which ceases at T4, with no further cut marks until T11, with T11 to L2 again cleanly cut along the sagittal plane (Figure 7). Notably, the first lumbar vertebra (Li), positioned just above the pelvis in life, also displays a horizontal (transverse) cut, suggesting that after the vertical division, the body was chopped in half (Figure 8) and the entire thorax treated as one section.

[FIGURE 1b OMITTED]

Both hands had been removed, with the left radius (lower arm bone) cut further up the wrist than the right. The left radius also displays two small hesitation marks along the shaft, which are in the wrong position to constitute parry or defence wounds, but may suggest an attempt to remove flesh from the bones. The deliberate nature of the division of the body is best demonstrated by the chop marks on the left shoulder. The clavicle (collar bone) bears the marks of an old soft tissue injury that caused ossification of the trapezius muscle and the formation of a new joint (pseudo-arthrosis). …

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