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Corporal and Capital Punishments


Our investigation of forms of punishments concludes with a discussion of branding, mutilation, and whipping, and of execution. We will also consider ways in which punishments were 'spectacular' and the possible motives for these. We will divide into groups to look at Britain, France and the Italian states, the German and Scandinavian states, and Russia.

Seminar Questions

  • How were branding, mutilation, and whipping used as punishments across early modern Europe? What were contemporary attitudes to them?
  • To what extent did the uses of execution vary across early modern Europe? What were contemporary attitudes to them?
  • How and why were punishments 'spectacular'? What messages did these punishments send?

Required Reading

  • You should each read Andrew Barrett and Christopher Harrison, eds, Crime and Punishment in England: A SourcebookLink opens in a new window (London, 1999), pp. 41, 45, 47, 48, 53-56, 59, 60, 62, 64, 111, 113-116, 128, 147-149, 153, 158-159, 164, 171, 181.
  • You should also each choose and read two articles or book chapters from the following items for the state(s) you are studying.

Friedrichs, Christopher R., 'House-Destruction as a Ritual of Punishment in Early Modern EuropeLink opens in a new window', European History Quarterly 50/4 (2020), 599–624,

Geltner, Guy, Flogging Others: Corporal Punishment and Cultural Identity from Antiquity to the Present (Amsterdam, 2014)

McIlvenna, Una, Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500-1900Link opens in a new window (Oxford, 2022)

Prosperi, Adriano, Crime and Forgiveness : Christianizing Execution in Medieval EuropeLink opens in a new window (Cambridge, Mass., 2020)

Tarlow, Sarah, and Emma Battell Lowman, Harnessing the Power of the Criminal Corpse (New York, 2018)

Ward, Richard, ed., A Global History of Execution and the Criminal Corpse (London, 2015)


Beattie, J. M., Policing and Punishment in London, 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror (Oxford , 2001)

Hurren, Elizabeth T., Dissecting the Criminal Corpse: Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England (London, 2016)

King, Peter, Punishing the Criminal Corpse, 1700-1840: Aggravated Forms of the Death Penalty in England (London, 2017)

Klemp, P. J., The Theatre of Death: Rituals of Justice from the English Civil Wars to the Restoration (London, 2016)

Tarlow, Sarah, The Golden and Ghoulish Age of the Gibbet in Britain (London, 2017)

France and the Italian States

Baker, Nicholas Scott, 'For Reasons of State: Political Executions, Republicanism, and the Medici in Florence, 1480–1560', Renaissance Quarterly 62(2), (2009), 444-478.

Friedland, Paul, 'Penance, Compensation, Terror: The Theory and Practice of Capital Punishment in Early Modern France', in Judith Rowbotham, Marianna Muravyeva, and David Nash, eds, Shame, Blame, and Culpability: Crime and Violence in the Modern State (Abingdon, 2014), pp. 111-123.

Guerra, Enrico, 'Legal Homicide: The Death Penalty in the Italian Renaissance', in Trevor Dean and K. J. P. Lowe, eds, Murder in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge, 2017), pp. 269-288.

The German and Scandinavian States

Harrington, Joel F., The Executioner's Journal: Meister Frantz Schmidt of the Imperial City of Nuremberg (Charlottesville, VA, 2016)

Luef, Evelyne, 'Punishment Post Mortem – The Crime of Suicide in Early Modern Austria and Sweden' in Abrecht Classen and Connie Scarborough, eds, Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Mental-Historical Investigations of Basic Human Problems and Social Responses (Berlin, 2012), pp. 555-576.

Riisoy, Anne Irene, Sexuality, Law and Legal Practice and the Reformation in Norway (Leiden, 2009), Chapter Four.

Schmidt, Franz, A Hangman's Diary: The Journal of Master Franz Schmidt, Public Executioner of Nuremberg, 1573-1617, ed. Albrecht Keller, trans. C. Calvert and A.W. Gruner (New York, 2015)


Kollmann, Nancy Shields, Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia (Cambridge, 2015), Chapters Nine, Ten, Thirteen, Seventeen, and Eighteen.

Further Reading

Friedland, Paul, Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France (Oxford, 2012)

van Dülmen, Richard, Theatre of Horror: Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Germany, trans. Elisabeth Neu (Oxford, 1990)

Evans, Richard J., Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600-1987Link opens in a new window (Oxford, 1996)

Tersptra, Nicholas, ed., The Art of Executing Well (Kirksville, 2008)