History Of Medieval Torture Devices
There are some days that when I read the newspaper, watch TV and go on the internet I am sickened by how the human race treats one another. I often wonder how bad it could get but each time I read it feels at least to me that we are sliding further and further away from what we should be and closer and closer to perverse cruelty. That's one aspect of what has made me research different periods of history and inspired an interest in how people lived.
This article is to illustrate how people were treated in the Medieval and early modern period in Europe. Torture, whether it was severe or not, was a commonplace thing of this time period. Below is a history of devices that were used in torture during the period. Keep in mind before reading that even though I tried my best with this subject matter that you may find some of these devices quite shocking. But it is history and as such should be remembered if only to make sure we as a people do not repeat the same mistakes.
Used primarily in England, Scotland and Ireland but in a few other European mainland countries as well the Scold's Bridal was in heavy use from the 15th to the 17th Century.
It was used almost exclusively on women that either their husband or the townspeople considered "Scolds," nags, rude, shrews, witches or otherwise prone to saying anything they didn't want to hear or be heard by others. The devices consisted of a metal mask with a piece inside that stuck into the mouth over the tongue. This piece had spikes or sharp protrusions that would pierce the tongue if the wearer tried to speak. Some of these devices had a bell attached to them so when a Scolds husband paraded her around town people could gather and call her names, through feces or rotten fruit at her and beat her.
A Judas Cradle (pictured above) was a torture device used in medieval Europe. It was a thick metal stool with a large pointed seat.
A victim would be chained or bound in such a way that when they were forced to sit directly on the point they could not move or get off of the point. Eventually over the course of hours or sometimes days the muscles would tear eventually the spike seat would pierce the lower organs causing death.
This device was used in mainland Europe, primarily France, Germany and a handful of other countries but was present in England as well.
Made to be durable many of these can be found in museums throughout Europe.
The Boot known by many other names (such as Malay Boot, Spanish Boot, Foot Press, etc.) was a medieval era torture device made usually with metal plating that would enclose the foot and sometimes leg of an individual. During interrogation or for general torture the metal device was tightened until answers were satisfactory or until the foot and leg bones were shattered. It was used throughout Europe. One variation involved filling the boot with boiling water and thus boiling the flesh right off the bone.
The stocks were used throughout Medieval period Europe and made it into the new world as well. It was primarily used as a restraining the victim so that other tortures could be applied or just as a public humiliation.
The Heretic's Fork was a medieval torture device that was placed between the breast bone and the underside of the chin. It was strapped to the throat with a strap. The victim was generally bound, chained or otherwise restrained. If the victim fell asleep and his head dropped the forck would pierce his throat or chest.
The Pendulum was a swinging device suspended above the victim lying on a table with a sharp blade at the end. It was slowly lowered until the blade pierced the victim. This device (and possibly others) has been sensationalized by such films and film series like Saw.
This torture device was used throughout medieval Europe. The victim would be placed on a table with rollers underneath. Ropes connected to the rollers would be attached to the victims arms and legs. The rollers would be turned and ropes attached the limbs would made tighter and tighter stretching the victims body. The eventual result would be dislocated joints and possibly separating limbs from the body.
Generally used in conjunction with a Saint Andrew's Cross which the victim was tied to and his limbs broken in several places. Afterward the broken limb victim was placed against the face of the wheel and had his broken limbs wrapped around the spokes or outer part of the wheel. the wheel was often hoisted onto a large post and the mangled victim left bound to it to die.
Thumb Screws or equivalent devices have been used since medieval times up until the slave trade in Britain and North America. The device is a simple vise used primarily for the thumb and fingers but sometimes the toes. It was placed on a thumb and tightened to cause pain, if tightened too much it could break the victims bone. The thumbscrew disappeared with the end of slave labor in the 1800s.
NON-MEDIEVAL ERA DEVICES WORTH MENTIONING:
The Brazen Bull was actually created during ancient times in Greece. At the time the bull was made of bronze. The victim would be locked into a compartment in the bull and a large fire made beneath it. The metal bull would heat red hot and the victim would be roasted alive. During ancient times the Greeks had the bull's head fitted with an elaborate piping that made the victims screams sound like an angry bull. The bull use died out in the early medieval period as the Roman Empire fell and the remaining Byzantine Empire had little use for it.
The tramp chair was used primarily on vagrants and drifters by american police in the 1800s. The prisoner was made to sit in it and bars enclosed the chair. Although this was only a mild form of torture prisoners were sometimes left in the chair for days unable to lie down or move around very much. This served small areas that had no real jail as well.
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