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The Origin of The Ancient Penalties

The Admiralty Courts had treason penalties from very early times. There is recorded a punishment from the reign of Henry V] (1422‑1461) in the Court of the Admiralty for the Humber. The punishment of the Court was always Inflicted at the Low Water Mark, so as to be within the. jurisdiction of the Admiralty, the chief officer is the Admiral of the Humber. From the year 1451, this was the Mayor of Hull.

The Court consisting of "Masters, Merchants, and Mariners, with all others that do enjoy the King's stream with hook, net or engines” were addressed as, follows, "You Masters of the quest If you, or any of you, discover or disclose any of the King's counsel, for the present you are King's Counsellors, you are bound to be, and shall be, had down to Low Water Mark, where must be made three times, "Oh Yea for the King", and then and there this punishment, prescribed by the law shall be executed upon them; that is, their hands and feet be bound, their throats cut, their tongues pulled out, and their bodies cast into the sea." (1)

Another record (2) reads; The Court at Shepway was the chief legislative body of the Cinque Ports ........ ‘Convicted disturbers of the King's peace, debasers of the coin, and plunderers of ship's gear to the value of twenty pence were at once drawn around Shepway on hurdles and afterward hanged'.

An even more terrible fate awaited any jurat disclosing the King's counsel, his fellow's, or his own. "He was bound hand and foot to a stake set upon the seashore where the tide ebbed and flowed, his throat was cut, and his tongue tom out through the slit"

A law of George 11 (1727‑1760) was "That Men convicted one day were to be hung the next. This law directed that the body of the killed should either be dissected or hung in chains in view of the public until the last bit of It had disappeared" (3) after the ravening birds of the air had finished with It, there would only be a bleached skeleton.

Another treason penalty of ancient English Law was that the criminal is hung, drawn, and quartered. The traitor was taken down from the gibbet while still alive, disemboweled and his entrails burnt before his eyes. The body was then to be beheaded and the trunk divided into four quarters, to be disposed of according to the pleasure of the Crown. This form of execution was reduced to hanging in 1870.

It can be seen that the Ancient Penalties were based on the recognized form of punishments in force and approved by law at the time of the birth of Freemasonry and had some relevance to the times because everyone knew them and the consequences of breaking the law or an oath made in the name of God or the King.


(1) Old Time Punishments .......................... W. Andrews F.R.H.S. (2) The Kentish Coast ................................. G. G. Harper (3) The Crime of Punishment ..................... M. Wilson others Freemasons Guide & Compendium B.E. Jones

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