Sunday, March 07, 2010

Cohabiting with the dead

I was reading Martin van Creveld's Transformation of War earlier (somebody on here recommended it, Mark, I think) and came across this extraordinary sentence about the hangmen in England:

The hangmen themselves before proceeding to their gruesome business used to beg for the victim's forgiveness. Often they found it hard to get married, with the result that in sixteenth century england, for example, they received permission to cohabit with the dead.


The mind boggles. The library copy of the book I'm reading has a pencil marking at this point saying "Footnote?" and I have to agree with that anonymous critic. It's such a peculiar notion some explanation might have been expected. I'm assuming this is not cohabitation in the sexual sense - state sponsored necrophilia, even in the sixteenth century, seems unlikely - but I'd like to know more about it all the same.

(And I'm willing to bet this post brings some unusual surfers to the blog via Google searches...)

4 comments:

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Ooo er. If you do find out - let us know?
If you want a more up to date look at the job, try the autobio of Pierrepoint, the last UK hangman.

boxofficegirl said...

Bit spooky this Tom, not sure how to comment really. I'll check back to see if anyone comes up with a reply and maybe research a bit myself on the off chance.

Mark said...

Wasn't my recommendation, ha. It does remind me of the final story of Jim Shepard's most recent collection--which is about the life of a hangman during the French Revolution. Cohabitation with the dead not included.

Ken Hannahs said...

Surprised the beef eater didn't tell us this little gem when he was showing us around the Tower of London...

Still, I guess you have to wonder if this is true. I've been hesitant to research it just because of the google ads that might pop up if I searched "'corpses' AND 'cohabitation'" hoping someone else has a better stomach for this...