One Unusual 18th Century Punishment For Getting Caught With A Hangover Involved A Barrel

Criminals in 18th century England were sentenced to harsh punishments including torture and death, but those who received misdemeanors were subjected to different sanctions, some of which include hard labor, branding with a hot iron, public whipping, and even battered with vegetables and rotten eggs, per the British Library. In 1551, Parliament passed the Ale Houses Act, which made alcohol intoxication a civil offense. The law was passed in order to regulate the selling of alcohol in ale houses and to prevent disorderly conduct and abuse from occurring due to drunkenness. Only ale houses and inns that had licenses were permitted to sell alcoholic beverages.

The new regulation, however, didn't stop some people from enjoying their drinks in excess. And since drunkenness was an offense, those who were caught drunk or hungover were subjected to a unique form of punishment that may seem laughable now but was quite difficult to endure. According to Vine Pair, first offenders must pay a fine of 5 shillings, but repeat offenders were made to wear what was called a Drunkard's Cloak.

The Drunkard's Cloak was created to set an example

The Drunkard's Cloak wasn't merely a piece of cloth that drunkards were made to wear. After all, that wasn't enough to punish someone who has committed a civil offense. The Drunkard's Cloak is made out of a wooden barrel with holes cut on its sides to fit a person's arms. As noted by History Extra, habitual drinkers who were caught were made to wear the Drunkard's Cloak, and they were paraded throughout the town for a period of time — sometimes hours — in order to set an example of what would happen if people get caught intoxicated. It was a humiliating experience and was a form of physical torture, as the barrel was heavy.

The Torture Museum also notes a different type of Drunkard's Cloak, one that has no opening at the bottom. This method keeps the offender confined in a barrel filled with their own waste. It's also reported that the barrel is sometimes filled with freezing water to sober up the offender.

The Drunkard's Cloak made its way to the United States

The Drunkard's Cloak was a common type of punishment during the mid-1600s up to the 1800s in Europe, but it also made its way to other countries. In fact, it was used as a form of punishment in the American colonies, according to Brookston Beer Bulletin. Apart from wearing what they referred to as the "barrel shirt," those who had problems with excessive drinking were also made to wear a red letter "D" around the neck.

The Drunkard's Cloak also made its way into the Civil War, but the punishment was not confined to drunkards; thieves were also made to wear barrel shirts. One account from the Civil War, via Gutenberg, reads, ". . . the poor fellow loafed about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken," referring to the way the man had his body hidden in a barrel shirt with only his head and extremities sticking out.