“This Death Some Strong and Stout Hearted Man Doth Choose”: The Practice of Peine Forte et Dure in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth- Century England
By Andrea McKenzie
Law and History Review, Vol. 23, No. 2 (2005)
Introduction: At the sessions held on 13 January 1721 at the Old Bailey courthouse in London, two accused highwaymen, Thomas Phillips alias Cross and William Spigget alias Spiggot, impeded the ordinarily expeditious course of eighteenth-century criminal justice when they insisted on “standing Mute”—that is, refusing to plead to their indictments—“till they should have the Money, Horses, Accoutrements, and other things which were taken from them when they were Apprehended returned to them.” Not only was their request denied but, when after several stern warnings they “persisted in their Obstinacy,” the court threatened the two with peine forte et dure, or “pressing”—the punishment meted out to those men and women charged with capital felonies, excepting high treason, who refused to plead to their indictments.