The Liturgy of Humiliation, Pain, and Death: The Execution of Criminals in New France

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The 18th century was a very different time from the now since it was full of brutality and corruption. For instance, during this period, New France served as a great illustration of how corrupt and vicious this century was. However, Peter Moogks article on The Liturgy of Humiliation, Pain, and Death: The Execution of Criminals in New France, explores methods used in the humiliation and execution in New France by the church and the government. The Roman Catholic rules infused the practices of government and justice and in New France, and they were part of the ethnic perspective in which sentences were ordered. This article tries to put an emphasis on how religion and the government influence outlawing methods in New France and how much governance they acquired by instilling fear through public killing. While the author puts an effort to clearly explain the degree of influence the government and religion had on criminalization techniques, he fails to elaborate more on why these two major aspects of society were applied.

In the article, the author uses different and vibrant illustrations of various execution methods that were generally used on the prisoners of New France. For instance, he uses some words decorates, precisely images in the readers minds, permitting them to view themselves in the position of a citizen living in New France during the period of 1700 to 1800. The ethnicity of the death penalty is repeatedly debated. During the early 1700s and 1800s, execution techniques used were very different from what is used these modern days. Killings were conducted in public, mostly in places where the crime was conducted in or in a heavily populous zone such as open markets. Public killings were used to instill fear to those that watched the killings and punish the criminals. In this article, the author claims that it has become difficult to understand the system of impartiality in New France. He says that There always will be discrepancies between individual acts and expressed beliefs that is part of being human.

Unlawful justice in New France was controlled by Christian ethics and by spiritual views. Peter Moogk describes how much effect the Roman Catholicism had as compared to the external forms of penalty. The public humiliations and brutality took place in front of a church to maintain Christian ethical standards. They did so that Christian morality would be affirmed. Moreover, the sanctified and irreligious were tangled in government and law. The author explains that the early criminal justice in New France penalized both offenses against religion and those committed against other people and the government. The authorization of magistrates and religion, as one, in criminal sentencing, contributed in religious festivities for a military success since the French unlawful impartiality sustained a moral direction besides defending the authority of their ruler.

Priests worked together with the government without wholly losing their honor. In an instance where an offender had committed any crime that compromised the public ethics, along with committing murder, rape, or inflicting damages on other people, the individual was penalized by being paraded naked, having a rope tied around his neck, and holding a lighted torch in one hand. He would then be accompanied by the executioner and security guards appointed by the court to the front of a church. The executioner would then make him kneel and declare him to the large audience as a wrongdoer and offender of justice, Christian teachings, and the ruler and he should beg for forgiveness.

Moogk claims that fighting and homicide were both considered as sins against Christianity and was perceived as a criminal offense. He reports that in New France, some of the cases, such as those concerning suicide, fighting, and treason followed a customary law. In situations where criminals had resisted arrest and managed to escape, they were still put on trial in the courts despite being in absentia. In case they were found guilty, religious leaders and the government sentenced them in absentia, and were given a death penalty. Actually, the sentencing was carried out by displaying a painting that showed the execution. In other circumstance, they would announce lesser punishments through a written notice but Moogk argues that in the 18th century, the French government and the church would have used visual depiction instead since it would have been more effective during that period.

In conclusion, Christianity teaching emphasizes that people are not capable of living morally upright if they lacked Gods grace. It teaches humans to contain their evil desires. The New France government used fear to control the unreasonable crowd and uphold good behavior. Everyone was expected to respect authority. As the corrector of wrongs and a source of all justice, the kings power had to be defended to maintain public respect for royal authority. All punishments and executions served as a vivid lesson about the penalties of unlawful actions. Moogk argues these sentences were intended to fortify ethics by instilling fear on audiences.


Moogk, Peter, The Liturgy of Humiliation, Pain, and Death: The Execution

of Criminals in New France. Canadian Historical Review 88:1, 2007: 89-112 [electronic journal].

Peter, N. The Execution of Criminals, 90. The Canadian Historical Review, Volume 88, Number 1, March 2007, pp.

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