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History Illustrations: The Hangings

Two Welsh rebels hanged by the Lord of Gower

William Crach was caught and arrested by a patrol, along with another man, Trahaern ap Hywel in November 1290. The lord’s priest described the two men as ‘notorious brigands and evildoers’. The Lord of Gower was away so they were imprisoned in Swansea Castle for 15 days until he returned. Crach said he was accused of the murder of thirteen men but he did not confess as he had not committed the murders and there were no witnesses or evidence.

The past and the future together

Swansea Castle with the BT Tower behind

Hangings were not done in those days with a drop, the men climbed a ladder which was then removed and they just dangled there until they suffocated, which could take several hours. The usual way was to tie the noose with a slipknot and place it over the head and around the neck with the knot at the back. This caused suffocation much quicker. When the witnesses were questioned all those years later, no one could remember the details of the noose.

Crach was strung up first using the ladder, but the rope broke and he fell down. He was still conscious, so they hanged him again. When Trahaern’s turn came, for some reason, instead of using the ladder, the noose was put over his head and they tried to lift him off the ground by pulling on the other end of the rope over the crossbar. Trahaern was a big man and he struggled violently.

The gallows crossbar broke. The men fell to the ground and when they were examined, Trahaern was found to be dead but Crach was still breathing. Hangings were not allowed to be taken down without the lord’s permission, so they hanged them up again, one on each of the gallows posts. Some time later they decided Crach was dead. Witnesses reported that both men had voided their bowels and bladder while hanging from the gallows, which was considered at that time to be a sign of death.

But this was to be a hanging like no other before or since. One of the men wouldn’t stay dead.

Ann Marie Thomas authorAnn Marie Thomas is the author of five medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel, Intruders, Alien Secrets & Crisis of Conscience are out now Follow her at