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The Oubliette - A French Torture of Unspeakable Horror

Updated on September 7, 2014
Grate of an Oubliette
Grate of an Oubliette

What is an Oubliette?

The "oubliette" (pronounced "oo-blee-ett") is a French term from the verb "oublier" or "to forget". It was so named, because a prisoner was thrown down into one, and then forgotten. An oubliette was a specialized type of dungeon, with the only entrance a trap door at the top, agonizingly out of reach of the prisoner.

Often this horrible prison was built as a very narrow passage, not wide enough for the prisoner to sit down or even get down on his knees. He was forced to stand as he starved to death, the sounds of the living all around him. He could tilt his head back to see the the grate, far above his head and out of reach, but that was all.

The oubliettes were often built within the upper floors of a castle, rather than in the cellar, so that victims could hear and smell the life of the castle as they slowly died of deprivation in unspeakable conditions. Corpses were left to be consumed by vermin, and many oubliettes were discovered, centuries later, to be strewn with human bones.

Oubliette Discovered

Although the oubliette is thought to have originated in French castles, other countries soon made use of the goulish idea. Oubliettes can be found throughout Europe. One was recently discovered in a castle in Nottinghamshire, England. At first, experts were not sure what this unusual structure was. Archaeologists examined the pit and proclaimed it an ancient oubliette. As you will see, there is some speculation that Robin Hood, who was, of course, a citizen of Nottingham, may have been held here, at some point. The castle curators must wait for funding to allow archaeologists to ascertain if there are human remains below the the floor of the oubliette.

An Oubliette Discovered in a Castle in Nottinghamshire, England

The Oubliette

A Poem of Despair


Imagine if you will...
alone, in near total darkness-
the only shred of light filters feebly
from the grate far above my head.
It's been five days now.
I mark them by the music...
dance music, played every evening
after the dining,
when the agonizing smells
of roasted venison and steamed pudding
rise to my hellish chamber.
Forgotten -
my fate - to be forgotten...
in this dank, cold, empty cell.
Shoved past the grate in the floor, I fell,
bones crunching on the stone surface.
The lower left femur protruding through the skin-
I smell the stench of my sinew
beginning to rot.
Half dead,
but not yet to that merciful state,
I drag my broken body across the slick stone
to the very corner,
where the bricks don't quite meet.
Below me, far below, I see...
lighted chandeliers,
strutting gentlemen and elegant ladies,
full of the evening's repast,
warm and smiling...
and dancing-
dancing to the music
that serenades the last of my breath,
escaping now in huffing gasps.
For a rat has found the festering flesh of my leg
to feast upon,
as the music plays,
the dance goes on,
and I try to remember what brought me
to this doom-
gnawed to death
in this fiendish hole,
this pitiless tomb...
this hideous
oubliette.

© 2011 Katharine L. Sparrow

Comments Welcome!

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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Oh wow... What a powerful poem on a little known horror that's unfortunately probably still used in some part of the world even today.

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