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A brief history of the manliest death of all time

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I mean, if you’re going to die, if someone or something’s genuinely about to kill you and there’s very little you can do about it, you might as well try and say something cool. If not, what’s the point? If you missed your chance, you’ve died in vain. There’s not even an opportunity for what the French and creepy guys on Tinder call l’esprit d’escalier because you’re absolutely fucking dead. What a wasted opportunity.

In my head, faced with impending doom, I’d tell the hooded spectre of death to suck deez nuts. Or I’d just laugh, and say “Take your best shot” like Bruce Willis, back when he had a shadow of hair and didn’t look like the grumpiest dad egg from a hurriedly-produced Pixar movie about a family of eggs. Or I’d wink at him and go “Come on, then” like Danny Dyer when he was in Deadliest Men mode, just before he got knocked sparko in a seaside car park. Maybe I’d get to call the skeleton with a scythe ‘treacle’ before I fell. Or I’d yawn and say “Ugh, obviously” like I was Cher Horowitz in Clueless in her walk-in closet, asking the Reaper to hold on a minute while she changed into a red tartan body bag.

In reality, I’d just have a panic attack. I’d go all wibbly. When my number was called, I’d try and reach for the pipette of Rescue Remedy realising I’d left it in my other overpriced jacket. There would be no Reddit thread in my honour.

Entirely outdated notions of masculinity aside, the death of Giles Corey deserves to be recognised, even if just as a reply in a Reddit thread ‘Who died the "Manliest" death in history?

This all happened after Corey’s wife was thrown in jail for being a witch. She complained about a group of young girls that were running around Salem and accusing people of being witches, who then turned round and accused her. Because 1642 was just a really bleak and bloody primary school playground. Giles Corey went to the court and pleaded his wife’s innocence, only to be called a wizard BY THOSE SAME FUCKING CHILDREN. He too was arrested, stayed schtum, and suffered for it.

So, yeah, that’s what happens when you’re accused of being a witch or a wizard and stay mute, as law said that you couldn’t be tried if you refused to plead either way. It’s called peine forte et dur, which is fancy French for "hard and forceful punishment". In their infinite, grotesque wisdom, the only reasonable thing to do was to strip them naked and place a plank of wood on top of them, their dick and balls/tits and fanny getting all awful and splintered, and then have large rocks or boulders laid on top of the plank until all the life (AND THE LIES!!!) was squashed out of them.

Or, more poetically, as reports at the time described:

[The prisoner would be] remanded to the prison from whence he came and put into a low dark chamber, and there be laid on his back on the bare floor, naked, unless when decency forbids; that there be placed upon his body as great a weight as he could bear, and more, that he hath no sustenance, save only on the first day, three morsels of the worst bread, and the second day three draughts of standing water, that should be alternately his daily diet till he died, or, till he answered.

Corey made no noise that whole time, even after being made to eat three pieces of the shittiest bread they could find. They kept asking him to admit that he was a wizard and every time my dude was just like ‘lol nah’ and ignored them or said ‘More weight’. That is an incredibly power move. Crush me, like I give a fuck. Not only that, Corey was already 81 years old at the time of his squishing. I’ve seen 81-year-olds: they look like a strong breeze would break them in half like. Apparently so many rocks were placed on top of him that his tongue started to splodge out of his mouth involuntarily. Robert Calef, a witness along with other townsfolk, later said that when his tongue was “pressed out of his mouth; the Sheriff, with his cane, forced it in again."

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A drawing of Giles Corey's death by John Clark Ridpath from "Cyclopedia of Universal History" (Public Domain)

The whole concept of peine forte et dur is, as you’d expect, pretty full-on. As the name suggests – and as the ‘Standing Mute Act 1275’ part of the Statute of Westminster of 1275 by Edward I of England (a bedtime classic) reads – it was originally referred to as a punishment under harsher conditions than usual.

As per the statute: “In the worst place in the prison, upon the bare ground continually, night and day; that they eat only bread made of barley or bran, and that they drink not the day they eat…” But by the time of Elizabeth I, they’d introduced the squeezing out of the insides by placing heavy weights, while keeping the bread and cool French name sections of the penalty for good measure.When the English traveled over to steal America from the Native Americans, they brought their messed-up methods with them.

After two days of piling rocks on top of him, his insides all pulverised, Corey shouted ‘More weight!’ a final time and cursed the tongue-poking sheriff and the entire fucked-up town of Salem. Only then he died.

Fair play to him. That’s a pretty solid way to go.

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