1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Branding

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BRANDING (from Teutonic brinnan, to burn), in criminal law a mode of punishment; also a method of marking goods or animals; in either case by stamping with a hot iron. The Greeks branded their slaves with a Delta, Δ, for Δοῦλος. Robbers and runaway slaves were marked by the Romans with the letter F (fur, fugitivus); and the toilers in the mines, and convicts condemned to figure in gladiatorial shows, were branded on the forehead for identification. Under Constantine the face was not permitted to be so disfigured, the branding being on the hand, arm or calf. The canon law sanctioned the punishment, and in France galley-slaves could be branded “TF” (travaux forcés) until 1832. In Germany, however, branding was illegal. The punishment was adopted by the Anglo-Saxons, and the ancient law of England authorized the penalty. By the Statute of Vagabonds (1547) under Edward VI. vagabonds, gipsies and brawlers were ordered to be branded, the first two with a large V on the breast, the last with F for “fraymaker.” Slaves, too, who ran away were branded with S on cheek or forehead. This law was repealed in 1636. From the time of Henry VII. branding was inflicted for all offences which received benefit of clergy (q.v.), but it was abolished for such in 1822. In 1698 it was enacted that those convicted of petty theft or larceny, who were entitled to benefit of clergy, should be “burnt in the most visible part of the left cheek, nearest the nose.” This special ordinance was repealed in 1707. James Nayler, the mad Quaker, who in the year 1655 claimed to be the Messiah, had his tongue bored through and his forehead branded B for blasphemer.

In the Lancaster criminal court a branding-iron is still preserved in the dock. It is a long bolt with a wooden handle at one end and an M (malefactor) at the other. Close by are two iron loops for firmly securing the hands during the operation. The brander, after examination, would turn to the judge and exclaim, “A fair mark, my lord.” Criminals were formerly ordered to hold up their hands before sentence to show if they had been previously convicted.

Cold branding or branding with cold irons became in the 18th century the mode of nominally inflicting the punishment on prisoners of higher rank. “When Charles Moritz, a young German, visited England in 1782 he was much surprised at this custom, and in his diary mentioned the case of a clergyman who had fought a duel and killed his man in Hyde Park. Found guilty of manslaughter he was burnt in the hand, if that could be called burning which was done with a cold iron” (Markham’s Ancient Punishments of Northants, 1886). Such cases led to branding becoming obsolete, and it was abolished in 1829 except in the case of deserters from the army. These were marked with the letter D, not with hot irons but by tattooing with ink or gunpowder. Notoriously bad soldiers were also branded with BC (bad character). By the British Mutiny Act of 1858 it was enacted that the court-martial, in addition to any other penalty, may order deserters to be marked on the left side, 2 in. below the armpit, with the letter D, such letter to be not less than 1 in. long. In 1879 this was abolished.

See W. Andrews, Old Time Punishments (Hull, 1890); A. M. Earle, Curious Punishments of Bygone Days (London, 1896).