Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxx
  2. Introduction

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Elizabeth T. Hurren
      Pages 3-32 Open Access
    3. Elizabeth T. Hurren
      Pages 33-68 Open Access
    4. Elizabeth T. Hurren
      Pages 69-118 Open Access
  3. Preamble

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 119-123
    2. Elizabeth T. Hurren
      Pages 125-169 Open Access
    3. Elizabeth T. Hurren
      Pages 171-216 Open Access
    4. Elizabeth T. Hurren
      Pages 217-274 Open Access
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 293-326

About this book


Those convicted of homicide were hanged on the public gallows before being dissected under the Murder Act in Georgian England. Yet, from 1752, whether criminals actually died on the hanging tree or in the dissection room remained a medical mystery in early modern society. Dissecting the Criminal Corpse takes issue with the historical cliché of corpses dangling from the hangman’s rope in crime studies. Some convicted murderers did survive execution in early modern England. Establishing medical death in the heart-lungs-brain was a physical enigma. Criminals had large bullnecks, strong willpowers, and hearty survival instincts. Extreme hypothermia often disguised coma in a prisoner hanged in the winter cold. The youngest and fittest were capable of reviving on the dissection table. Many died under the lancet. Capital legislation disguised a complex medical choreography that surgeons staged. They broke the Hippocratic Oath by executing the Dangerous Dead across England from 1752 until 1832. 

This book is open access under a CC-BY license.


History of crime Criminal corpse Medical humanities Criminal punishment Social history

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.School of Historical StudiesUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUnited Kingdom

About the authors

Elizabeth T. Hurren is Reader in the Medical Humanities at the University of Leicester, UK, and an expert on the history of the body, medicine, poverty and welfare in Europe from early modern to modern times. She has published two major books since 2007, Protesting about Pauperism: Poverty, Politics and Poor Relief in Late-Victorian England and Dying for Victorian Medicine: English Anatomy and Its Trade in the Dead Poor, c. 1832 to 1929.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Dissecting the Criminal Corpse
  • Book Subtitle Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England
  • Authors Elizabeth T. Hurren
  • Series Title Palgrave Historical Studies in the Criminal Corpse and its Afterlife
  • Series Abbreviated Title Palgrave Historical Studies in the Criminal Corpse and its Afterlife
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and the Author(s) 2016
  • License CC BY
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, London
  • eBook Packages History History (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-1-137-58248-5
  • Softcover ISBN 978-1-349-84504-0
  • eBook ISBN 978-1-137-58249-2
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XXX, 326
  • Number of Illustrations 13 b/w illustrations, 22 illustrations in colour
  • Topics History of Britain and Ireland
    History of Science
    Cultural History
  • Buy this book on publisher's site