Boiling people alive, as a punishment for their crimes may not have been as common as some forms of execution. However, it enjoyed a brief but nasty time on the statute books of England in the sixteenth century and was used intermittently in Asia as a form of vengeance and intimidation.
Oil, water, lead- even hot wax could be used. The procedure involved either placing the victim in the liquid and heating it or else waiting for the liquid to come to temperature and lowering the victim into it from above. If the temperature was moderated correctly, the victim would remain alive and in agony until the overlying fatty tissue was destroyed, allowing major breaches in the veins and arteries.
Boiling as a means of execution entered the English statute books in 1531. Henry VIII enacted the punishment after the Bishop of Rochester and his household narrowly escaped being poisoned by the bishop’s cook, Richard Rouse. Rouse had laced a pot of porridge with poisonous yeast, which made seventeen people ill and caused the death of two. The conviction of a cook for poisoning in such a prominent household worried the establishment. So Rouse had to be made an example to send out a strong message of discouragement.
Rouse’s death in 1532 was described by “The Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London“: “This year was a cook boiled in a cauldron in Smithfield for he would a poisoned the bishop or Rochester Fischer with his many servants and he was locked in a chain and pulled up and down with a gibbet many times until he was dead.”
The spectacle was not well received by the crowd. Some women fainted at the sight and sound of Rouse’s agony while others were not affected by anything other than boredom and said they preferred a good beheading. Perhaps this was why, aside from the execution of Margaret Davy in 1542, again for poisoning, Edward VI, Henry’s son finally removed boiling from the statute books in 1547.