A Global History of Execution and the Criminal Corpse
  • Richard Ward
Part of the Palgrave Historical Studies in the Criminal Corpse and its Afterlife book series (PHSCCA)


Capital punishment is a historical universal—it has been practised at some point in the history of virtually all known societies and places. That is not to say, however, that it is a historical constant—the use, form, function and meaning of execution has varied greatly across different historical contexts.1 This is likewise true for an important— although relatively neglected—aspect of capital punishment: the fate of the criminal body after execution. The treatment and understanding of the criminal corpse has differed across time and place, but it has always been a potent force and throughout its history it has been harnessed for the ends of state power, medical science and criminal justice, amongst many other things. By examining execution and the executed body across a wide temporal and geographical span, this collection of essays provides a fresh perspective on the history of capital punishment, and in the process it seeks to add considerable detail to our knowledge of penal practice in early modern Europe, and to allow us to rethink some of the most commonly cited drivers of penal practice and change.


Nineteenth Century Capital Punishment Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century 
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© Richard Ward 2015

Open Access This Chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

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  • Richard Ward

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