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Peine Forte Et Dure

PEINE FORTE ET DURE (French for "hard and severe punishment "), the term for a barbarous torture inflicted on those who, arraigned of felony, refused to plead and stood silent, or challenged more than twenty jurors, which was deemed a contumacy equivalent to a refusal to plead. By early English law a prisoner, before he could be tried, must plead " guilty " or " not guilty." Before the 13th century it was usual to imprison and starve till submission, but in Henry IV. 's reign the peine was employed. The prisoner was stretched on his back, and stone or iron weights were placed on him till he either submitted or was pressed to death. Pressing to death was abolished in 1772; " standing mute " on an arraignment of felony being then made equivalent to conviction. By an act of 1828 a plea of " not guilty " was to be entered against any prisoner refusing to plead, and that is the rule to-day. An alternative to the peine was the tying of the thumbs tightly together with whipcord until pain forced the prisoner to speak. This was said to be a common practice at the Old Bailey up to the 19th century.

Among recorded instances of the' infliction of the peine are: Juliana Quick (1442) for high treason in speaking derisively of Henry VI.; Margaret Clitherow, "the martyr of York" (1586); Walter Calverly, of Calverly, Yorks, for the murder of his children (1605); and Major Strangways at Newgate, charged with murder of his brother-in-law (1657). In this last case it is said that upon the weights being placed in position several cavalier friends of Strangways sprang on his body and put him out of his pain. In 1721 one Nathaniel Hawes lay under a weight of 250 Ib for seven minutes, finally submitting. The peine was last employed in 1741 at Cambridge assizes, when a prisoner was so put to death ; the penalty of thumb-tying having first been tried. In 1692 at Salem, Massachusetts, Giles Corey, accused of witchcraft, refusing to plead, was pressed to death. This is believed to be the only instance of the infliction of the penalty in America.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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