In English criminal law, attainder or attinctura was the metaphorical "stain" or "corruption of blood" which arose from being condemned for a serious capital crime ( felony or treason). It entailed losing not only one's life, property and hereditary titles, but typically also the right to pass them on to one's heirs. Both men and women condemned of capital crimes could be attainted.

Attainder by confession resulted from a guilty plea at the bar before judges or before the coroner in sanctuary. Attainder by verdict resulted from conviction by jury. Attainder by process resulted from a legislative act outlawing a fugitive. The last form is obsolete in England (and prohibited in the United States), and the other forms have been abolished.

Attainders of English noblemen and women in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Medieval and Renaissance English monarchs used acts of attainder to deprive nobles of their lands and often their lives. Once attainted, the descendants of the noble could no longer inherit his lands or income. Attainder essentially amounted to the legal death of the attainted's family. [1]

Monarchs typically used attainders against political enemies and those who posed potential threats to the king's position and security. The attainder eliminated any advantage the noble would have in a court of law; nobles were exempt from many of the techniques used to try commoners, including torture. Likewise, in many cases of attainder, the king could coerce the parliament into approving the attainder and there would be a lower or non-existent burden of proof (evidence) than there would be in court. [2]

Prior to the Tudors, most rulers reversed their attainders in return for promises of loyalty. For example, Henry VI reversed all 21 attainders, Edward IV 86 of 120, and Richard III 99 of 100. [3] However, this changed with Henry VII, as described below.

Regnants who used attainder include:

Once attainted, nobles were considered commoners, and as such, could be subjected to the same treatments, including torture and methods of execution. For example, commoners could be burned at the stake, whereas nobles could not.

Often, nobles would refer to the act of being attainted (and then executed) as the person's "destruction".

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