I've always assumed the "drawn" in "Hung, drawn and quartered" meant eviscerated (remove the entrails of; disembowel).

A friend insists it refers to being drawn/dragged to the gallows, which doesn't make sense to me since it comes after "hung" in the stock phrase.

I started trying to Google it, but my friend (who isn't good at Internet searching) has cried foul in case I'm selective about the evidence I produce!

What's the bottom line on this one?

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    You could always try Wikipedia - you'll both be right! – Shog9 Oct 28 '11 at 23:47
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    It should really be hanged rather than hung. – z7sg Ѫ Oct 29 '11 at 0:07

I'd always blithely assumed drawn here meant 'pulled' - as used in the context of wire-making, where malleable metal is 'drawn' through the die/plate/orifice to elongate into lengths of wire.Probably this understanding came to me from drawings of four horses drawing/quartering the victim.This still makes better sense to me of the sequence- with drawn preceding quartered, and there is some debate about the exact meaning. But looking it up now on more than one website, it would seem that it is, by and large, accepted that the word 'drawn' is being used here in the more familiar sense of being 'drawn' / carried along by horse/s - to the scene of the execution. IMHO, Dragged would have been a better choice for such a wretched context!

It seems illogical on the face of it, but the word hung can come first in the sequence, when you consider that the condemned was not hanged 'till dead', but lowered to the ground in a half-dead/semi-conscious stage.

In the denouement, his limbs were fastened to four horses that were whipped hard to send them scampering at different angles, to effectively 'quarter' the subject, aided by some strikes of the executioners' swords to help sever the limbs. It seems disembowelment was an optional extra- carried out either at the discretion of the executioners, or by specific imperial diktat.

'Drawn and quartered', is not always preceded by hung, AFAIK. Maybe the verdict depended on the severity of the crime / wrath of the king. It seems plausible that a traitor could either be just drawn and quartered, or, to really make a spectacle out of it, first hanged, then 'drawn' and quartered. And sometimes eviscerated as well.These were usually public executions, witnessed by scores of onlookers. For those who couldn't make it to the show, the severed limbs were left dangling at the venue. Sometimes the heart and limbs of the condemned were taken out in a procession and displayed to the public.

Some links: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1049/what-do-drawn-and-quartered-and-keelhauling-mean



This one has a somewhat graphic description:


  • Following up on your first link, I find no less an authority than Peter Meyerhoff, assistant editor, Encyclopaedia Britannica agreeing that they got it wrong, and that "drawing" means "dragging", not "evisceration". That clinches it for me! – FumbleFingers Oct 29 '11 at 13:14

Despite the victims being drawn to the place of execution on a hurdle, "drawn" in that phrase definitely did mean disembowelled.

This penalty was applied only to men. Women were burned at the stake for treason, or beheaded if they were high on the social scale. (Although women were rarely involved in political plots, treason included other crimes such as forging gold coins in which women were implicated if they were caught in possession of all too aptly named die stamps used for this purpose!)

Although it is gruesome to relate, the preliminary hanging part was merely to provoke an erection. The executioner would remove the victim's trousers and castrate them while they were hanging, as this would give him more to firmly grasp and hold aloft for the baying crowd to better see!

  • Per the first link in @Autoresponder's answer, if the assistant editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica accepts the "dragged" interpretation, that's good enough for me. – FumbleFingers Oct 30 '11 at 14:54

When butchers clean poultry, chickens etc. it's known as drawing the bird. So "hung, drawn and quartered" is:

  1. Hung.
  2. Drawn like poultry.
  3. Quartered.
  • But the question is whether the term was used historically in this sense or in quite another, equally applicable sense. – StoneyB Nov 17 '12 at 13:40
  • You haven't specified what 'drawn' means though. You can repeat the word all day, but it doesn't give us any idea what meaning it is supposed to have. Is it dragging the bird? Removing its entrails? Defeathering it (or skinned)? Parboiled? Something else? – Mitch Nov 17 '12 at 15:36

Wikipedia states that to be hung, drawn and quartered was to be...

fastened to a hurdle, or wooden panel, and drawn by horse to the place of execution, where they were hanged (almost to the point of death), emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces).

Thus, the term is a bit out of order; you are technically "drawn, hanged and quartered".

This mis-ordering is apparent in the mid-19th century, when the emasculation and evisceration were removed from the punishment (and the hanging was until dead); you were drawn up to the place of execution, hanged till you were dead, then posthumously beheaded and quartered.

So, technically, your friend is right.

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    Although quartered did not mean "chopped" into four pieces, it meant being tied to 4 horses which ran in different directions (presumably right angles to each other) to tear one into 4 pieces – yoozer8 Oct 29 '11 at 3:43
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    @Jim "No records exist to demonstrate exactly how the corpse was quartered, although the image on the right, of the quartering of Sir Thomas Armstrong in 1684, shows the executioner making vertical cuts through the spine and removing the legs at the hip." – Hugo Oct 29 '11 at 6:51

protected by RegDwigнt Nov 17 '12 at 12:42

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