The Halifax Gibbet was a device that is believed to have inspired the guillotine.
Both devices were designed for use in executions and featured a blade positioned from above, which would then fall onto the convicted offender’s neck.
The Halifax Gibbet gained its name from its regular use in Halifax during the 1200s. Under the Gibbet Law, it was possible for the Lord of the Manor for Halifax to sentence a convicted criminal to death by the device, as long as they had stolen an item that was worth more than 13p.
The first mention of the device’s use is in 1286, when a person by the name of John Dalton was killed. However, there are no records to explain why Mr Dalton was sentenced to death. In fact, there was no official record of the Gibbet’s use in executions until 1541.
Between this date and 1650, just 54 people are recorded as having been killed by this means, which many historians believe highlight how effective it was in deferring crime.
In terms of its design, the Halifax Gibbet was a 15-ft wooden structure with a sharp blade (shaped like an axe) supported by a rope at the top. Once the criminal was in position, the executioner would simply cut the rope and allow the weight of the blade to do the work for him. Traditionally, the Gibbet would be used on busy market days, when the authorities could be sure there would be many people around to witness the execution. It was hoped that this would help to prevent future crimes among those who had seen their peer beheaded.Although the guillotine wasn’t introduced until 1789, the last recorded use of the Halifax Gibbet was over 100 years before, in 1650.
See also: Medieval Law and Order
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