Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 433 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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TARRING AND FEATHERING, a method of punishment at least as old as the Crusades. The head of the culprit was shaved and hot tar poured over it, a bag of feathers being after-wards shaken over him. The earliest mention of the punishment occurs in the orders of Richard Coeur de Lion. issued to his navy on starting for the Holy Land in 1191. " Concerning the lawes and ordinances appointed by King Richard for his navie the forme thereof was this . . . item, a thiefe or felon that hath stolen, being lawfully convicted, shal have his head shorne, and boyling pitch poured upon his head, and feathers or downe strawed upon the same whereby he may be knowen, and so at the first landing-place they shall come to, there to be cast up " (trans. of original statute in Hakluyt's Voyages, ii. 21). A later instance of this penalty being inflicted is given in Notes and Queries (series 4, vol. V.), which quotes one James Howell writing from Madrid, in 1623, of the " boisterous Bishop of Halverstadt," who, " having taken a place where there were . two monasteries of nuns and friars, he caused divers feather beds to be ripped, and all the feathers thrown into a great hall, whither the nuns and friars were thrust naked with their bodies oiled and pitched and to tumble among these feathers, which makes them here (Madrid) presage him an ill-death." In 1696 a London bailiff, who attempted to serve process on a debtor who had taken refuge within the precincts of the Savoy, was tarred and feathered and taken in a wheelbarrow to the Strand, where he was tied to the Maypole which stood by what is now Somerset House. It is probable that the punishment was never regarded as legalized, but was always a type of mob vengeance.

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