Cropping (punishment)

Cropping (punishment)

Cropping is the removal of a person's ears as an act of physical punishment.[1] It was performed along with the pillorying or immobilisation in the stocks,[2][3] and sometimes alongside punishments such as branding or fines.[2] The punishment is described in Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame.[4]



Cropping sometimes occurred as a standalone punishment (such as in the case of William Prynne for seditious libel),[5] where criminals' ears would be cut off with a blade. Cropping was also a secondary punishment to having criminals' ears nailed to the pillory (with the intention that their body movements would tear them off).[5] In the case of Thomas Barrie (1538), he spent a whole day with his ears nailed to the pillory in Newbury, England, before having them cut off to release him.[6]


Cropping is mentioned in ancient Assyrian law and the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.

Cropping was quite rare in England, but more common in Guernsey.[7] Notable cases of cropping in England include Thomas Barrie in 1538, who reputedly died from shock following his cropping,[6] and John Bastwick, William Prynne, and Henry Burton in 1637.[8] In the 16th century, Henry VIII amended the laws on vagrancy to decree that first offences would be punished with three days in the stocks, second offences with cropping, and third offences with hanging.[9]

Records show that croppings took place in the United States in the late 18th century, particularly in states such as Pennsylvania[2] and Tennessee.[3] In Rhode Island, cropping was a punishment for crimes such as counterfeiting money, perjury, and "burning houses, barns, and outbuildings" (but not amounting to arson).[10] Cropping (along with the pillory and stocks) was abolished in Tennessee in 1829, with abolition further afield starting from approximately 1839.[11]

See also



  • Adams, Robert (1998), The Abuses of Punishment, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312176171 
  • Corlew, Robert Ewing; Folmsbee, Stanley John; Mitchell, Enoch L (1990), Tennessee: A Short History, Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, ISBN 0870496476 
  • Dearmer, Percy (2009), Religious Pamphlets, Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, ISBN 1115390899 
  • Du Cane, Edmund F (2005), The Punishment and Prevention of Crime, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1417971606 
  • Ford, David Nash (2001), Ghosts from Berkshire Places Beginning with 'N', Finchampstead, Berkshire: Royal Berkshire History,, retrieved 25 October 2010 
  • Hugo, Victor (1831), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris), ISBN 1420933817 
  • Kellaway, Jean (2003), The History of Torture and Execution, ISBN 1585746223 
  • Ogier, Darryl Mark (1996), Reformation and Society in Guernsey, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, ISBN 0851156037 
  • Prison Discipline Society (1826), Annual Report of the Board of Managers, Boston, MA: Prison Discipline Society 
  • Stronghold Knights (2010), The Pillory (1100 - 1840 AD),, retrieved 27 October 2010 
  • Warner, A (2005), History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, ISBN 0788446126 

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