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Death by boiling is a method of execution in which a person is killed by being immersed in a boiling liquid such as oil or water. While not as common as other methods of execution, boiling to death has been used in many parts of Europe and Asia.
Executions of this type were often carried out using a large vessel such as a cauldron or a sealed kettle that was filled with a liquid such as water, oil, tar, or tallow. Depending on the intended cruelty, the victim was either immersed before the liquid was heated or plunged, usually head first, into a boiling liquid. In some cases, the executioner could control the speed of demise by raising or lowering the victim by means of a hook and pulley system.
An alternative method was to use a large shallow receptacle that contained oil, tallow or pitch. The victim, who was then partially immersed in the liquid, was fried to death.
Death in these cases was by severe scalding caused by the hot liquids (water or oil). Immersion burns would form on the arms, torso and legs. Prolonged scalding would result in anything up to fourth-degree burns of the skin. The epidermis and the dermis are destroyed, leading to the complete breakdown of subcutaneous fat. Eventually the heat would expose muscle, leading to breaches in major arteries and veins.
Because of the rarity of such an event, these types of executions usually attracted larger crowds than for a hanging or beheading. In the Dutch town of Deventer, the kettle that was used for boiling criminals to death can still be seen.
In England, statute 22, passed in 1532 by Henry VIII, made boiling a legal form of capital punishment. It began to be used for murderers who used poisons after the Bishop of Rochester's cook, Richard Rice, gave a number of people poisoned porridge, resulting in two deaths in February 1531. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be boiled to death without benefit of clergy. A contemporary chronicle reports the following:
"He roared mighty loud, and divers women who were big with child did feel sick at the sight of what they saw, and were carried away half dead; and other men and women did not seem frightened by the boiling alive, but would prefer to see the headsman at his work."
In Scotland, there exist several traditions of local power players who were boiled to death. For example, in 1222, with the consent of Jon Haraldsson, the "Bloody Earl" of the Orkneys, the bishop of Caithness Adam of Melrose and a monk named Surlo, are said to have been boiled to death by angry husbandmen over the bishop's aggressive means of collecting tithes. Alexander II is said to have executed upwards to eighty persons as a punishment for the crime, and the earl fled his lands. According to the Melrose Chronicle, Adam of Melrose was "burned alive", rather than boiled, and Alexander III executed up to 400. William de Soules, a nobleman involved in a conspiracy against Robert the Bruce was reputed to be a sorcerer consorting with evil spirits, and was boiled alive in 1321 at Ninestane Rig. Around 1420, Melville, the sheriff of the Mearns and laird of Glenbervie, who was resented for his strictness, was apprehended by some other nobles and thrown into the kettle. The nobles are said each to have taken a spoonful of the brew afterwards.
Boiling as an execution method was also used for counterfeiters, swindlers and coin forgers during the Middle Ages. In the Holy Roman Empire, for example, being boiled to death in oil is recorded for coin forgers, but also for extremely grave murders. For example, in 1392, a man was boiled alive in Nuremberg for having raped and murdered his own mother. To mention a few coin forgers being boiled to death, this happened 1452 in Danzig and 1471 in Stralsund. Even as late as in 1687, a man was boiled to death in oil in Bremen for having been of valuable help to some coin forgers who had escaped justice.
In Mongolia, during the 12th and 13th centuries, defeated khans were sometimes boiled alive. This was one method of execution that would not violate the taboo against needlessly spilling the blood of a noble, and yet a death in water was also considered one of the worst possible deaths.
In 16th-century Japan, the semi-legendary Japanese bandit Ishikawa Goemon was boiled alive in a large iron kettle-shaped bathtub. His public execution, which might have included his entire family, was done after he failed to kill warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
In 1675, a Sikh martyr, called Bhai Dayala, was boiled to death in Delhi after he refused to accept Islam. He was put into a cauldron full of cold water which was then heated to boiling point. Sikh scriptures record that Dayala recited the Japji of Guru Nanak and the Sukhmani of Guru Arjan as he died.
The government of Uzbekistan under the regime of Islam Karimov has been alleged to have boiled a number of political dissidents. The British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, explains in his memoir Murder in Samarkand that he obtained photos of the corpse of Muzafar Avazov and sent them to a forensic pathologist in Britain, who concluded that the visible injuries were consistent with a living person having been immersed in boiling water. Craig Murray was eventually dismissed from his post by the UK government.
In a 2004 document from US Department of State, the following is written about the following allegation:
During the year, there were no developments or investigations in the following 2002 deaths in custody: Mirzakomil Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir who were tortured to death in Jaslyk prison in Karakalpakstan resulting in extensive bruises and burns, the latter reportedly caused by immersion in boiling water
Early reports of cannibals from islands in the Pacific, such as Fiji or Papua New Guinea, killing western Christian missionaries were mistakenly assumed to involve some form of boiling alive. This became a fertile ground for film makers and especially cartoonists, whose clichéd depiction of tourists or missionaries sitting restrained in a large cauldron above a wood fire and surrounded by bone-nosed tribesmen was a staple of popular magazines and film for decades. Examples include the dream sequence in the movie Bagdad Café.
In the Soviet movie Ilya Muromets, after the traitor Mishatychka is unveiled, Prince Vladimir's order is to give him "a cauldron of tar".
In the third season of Beastmaster, King Zad throws his treacherous sister into pitch once he is tired of her scheming.
In the season two opener of the Showtime series The Tudors, the poisoner Richard Rice is slowly lowered into a large cauldron of boiling oil before a handful of witnesses (which include Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Boleyn).