Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Clink Prison Museum

"The clink," now a general slang term referring to just about any prison.  But do you know where that phrase comes from?  Well, from about 1150 to 1780, there were a series of prisons in Southwark along the Thames (right by where the Globe Theatre is now) called "Clink Prison."  They were notorious for its poor conditions and its use of torture, and that was my destination yesterday.  I didn't take a lot of pictures there, it was pretty gruesome, so you'll have to excuse me for that just this once.

Now, we've gone over Henry VIII...a lot.  If you've been keeping an eye on my blog you should be an expert on him by now.  I'm not going to go into detail about this.  When Henry VIII became the Supreme Head of the Church of England, not everyone was happy about it.  Any critics were arrested and labeled as heretics before being imprisoned at Clink Prison.  Of course, notable prisoners such as Thomas More were taken to the Tower, but the regular people were taken right here to this prison to await their gruesome fate.

It was under Elizabeth I, Henry's younger daughter, that they most warrants for torture were issued.  I don't know the exact number, but she issued more warrants than any other English monarch in history.  So, long story short, like father, like daughter, and definitely DON'T mess with Elizabeth!

Clink Prison also served as home to Father William Weston.  You may not know his name, but if you study the reign of Elizabeth I he is very important.  Father Weston was a part of the Babington Plot.  This plot was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.  The general plot was to assassinate Elizabeth, a strict Protestant, and replace her with Mary, a Catholic.  I know, once again we go back to that whole Catholic versus Protestant bit.  It may not seem like a big deal now, but it was a very big deal then.  Anyway, the plot was found out, and Father Weston was taken to Clink Prison.  There, he converted several inmates and guards.  He stayed there for a little while, but was never brought to trial.  In January 1588 he was moved to Wisbech Castle, a prison for Catholics of importance, and he was kept in solitary confinement for the first four years.  After being there for a total of 10 years, he was moved to the Tower of London and, once again, put in solitary confinement, this time for five years.  At this point, he became ill, and possibly suffered from mental illness as well.  He was allowed to go into exile in 1603, and he moved to Spain and Italy where he wrote about his imprisonment and died in 1615.  That just shows you what imprisonment meant for some during Elizabethan times.

An interesting fact I learned at the prison is that children would go with their parents to the prison if they were arrested.  Since the children were innocent of any crime, however, they could come and go from the prison as they pleased.  Usually they'd take to the streets and beg for food and money since they inmates were responsible not only for feeding themselves, but if they owed money they had to find a way to collect that money, plus interest, plus paying for stay in prison...while locked up.

Of course, the standard method of execution for the average person who committed the average capital offense was hanging.  Under the "Bloody Code," there were upwards of 220 capital offenses.  Luckily, this was reformed in 1823, and the number greatly decreased. In 1868, public hangings were abolished.  Before then, it was normal to gather up the family, pack a lovely picnic lunch and head off to see a few public hangings, maybe a flogging or two, whatever was going on that day.  Thankfully, they put an end to that, but it wasn't even 150 years ago.  The last two hangings in England were in 1964, so up to not even 50 years ago, hanging was a legal method of execution here.

A form of psychological torment used against inmates was the gibbet.  You've probably seen them in movies, particularly the beginning of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie where you see Jack Sparrow trying to escape from the prison.  Gibbets were used to hold the bodies of executed criminals.  They looked almost like metal cages, and the bodies were put in in an upright position.  They were then hung up in various public locations such as crossroads or on London Bridget to serve as a deterrent for future criminals.  To torment particularly hardened criminals unafraid to die, the blacksmith would be sent their way shortly before their execution to measure them for their "last suit."  That probably broke a few criminals over the years.

Well, that was my trip to Clink Prison.  It was interesting and a little creepy.  I definitely learned a few interesting facts though, and that's the whole point of going to a museum really.

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