peine forte et dure

(Old French: strong and hard punishment)

A punishment inflicted upon prisoners in England for refusal to plead "guilty" or "not guilty" of felony. According to English law such a refusal was considered supreme contempt of court. About 1400 the punishment was long imprisonment and scant diet. Gradually it became harsher, and during the reign of Henry IV, the prisoner was placed on his back on the floor of his cell, fed only on stale bread and stagnant water, and a weight placed on his chest, often heavier than he could bear. An English martyr, Venerable Margaret Clitherow, suffered this punishment at York, 1568. One case is reported in the last year of the reign of George I, and at least one during the reign of George II. This practise was discontinued during the reign of George III, when silence at a trial according to English law was equivalent to pleading "guiity." The only record of peine forte et dure in America was in 1692 when Giles Cory of Salem was tortured for practising witchcraft.

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