Chronicles of fifteenth-century England teem with severed heads. Frequently, these texts focus less on the event of decapitation than on its enduring result: namely, the modified and adorned head of the deceased, spiked and exhibited in a prominent public venue. This article concentrates on textual descriptions of such sights in order to propose that the head was not simply a byproduct of the premodern state’s judicial cruelty or merely evidence of the deceased’s damnation; rather, the displayed head was a visual phenomenon in its own right, one that was often more available for public inspection than the act of execution that preceded it. Severed heads thus assumed the role of public sculpture: they were likened to and in dialogue with figural representations in stone that inhabited the civic landscape, and manipulated by their creators to speak specific statements through their material properties, visual form, and conspicuous display.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.