Last updated on July 19th, 2017
PRESSING TO DEATH.
Pressing to death, which was called, appropriately enough, peine forte et dure, was probably the most terrible sentence pronounced in criminal cases in ancient times, and yet, notwithstanding the revolting nature of the punishment, the records of the county of Salop contain more than one instance of persons, who were endowed with resolution and patience to undergo so horrible a death, in order, apparently, to benefit their heirs by preventing a forfeiture of their estates, which would have been the consequence of a conviction after a verdict.
The origin of so cruel and inhuman a punishment is not clear; some writers have asserted that it was in use before the reign of Edward I., others, that whether the judgment ever subsisted at common law or not, the pressing portion of it was gradually introduced1 between the times of Edward III. and Henry IV., being intended as a means of showing mercy to the delinquent by delivering him the sooner from the torments of a lingering death under a previous statute, which permitted strait confinement in prison accompanied by a process of slow starvation.
It is not improbable that a distrust of the fidelity of the gaolers in carrying out the sentence of prison forte et dure may have suggested the hideous cruelty by which an attempt was afterwards made to draw speech from the silent.
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