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Torture in Medieval Times

Updated on December 13, 2017
Medieval Torture
Medieval Torture | Source

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by Amber Maccione

Torture in the Medieval Ages

The Medieval Ages lasted over a span of 700 years. It was a rather dark time, even though the Catholic Church was the dominant power during this time. And during this dark time, torture was a prevalent means of justice and investigation. Torture was “the deliberate, systematic, cruel and wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more torturers in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession or for any other reason” ("Middle Ages Torture.").

During the Medieval Ages, the Catholic Church was the Truth and it wanted everyone to be Catholic. Therefore, it sent out crusaders to “witness” to those in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Anyone who was not Catholic (Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Pagan, etc.) was told they were wrong and that they needed to repent and become Catholic. The crusaders conquered lands and would force those conquered to convert to Catholicism. Those who refused were tortured until they repented and converted (Woodcock).

Along with the crusades as an excuse to torture people came the Inquisition. As stated before, the Catholic Church was the Truth. They interpreted the Bible and relayed to the people what God expected of them. During the Inquisition, there were people whom the Church called heretics. People that went against the teachings of the Catholic Church or practiced dark magic were questioned through means of torture. And if the Church couldn’t get information from people or get a confession, they turned the interrogated over to the State whom were tied down by Church law and could administer more types of torture that the Church couldn’t. As long as the torture didn’t include mutilation of a person’s body, the Church was allowed to use it (Woodcock).

Today, people would look at torture as a means that did not justify the end or be a reasonable way to get information. Most would see torture as inhuman. So why in the medieval period were people using this as a means to draw out information and get confessions? In this period, torture was scene as a legitimate means for justice. And it seemed to work for them. They used it to draw people out – get a confession, turn people into snitches, and obtain information that could be used in courts for trials. The objective was to intimidate, deter, get revenge, or punish someone ("Middle Ages Torture.").

Because of education, we know now and can look back and see the problems with torture. It only took one person to say you were doing things against the Church. If someone didn’t like you or wanted to get back at you for something you did to them, they could falsely accuse you and then you end up in a castle chamber taking turns with other prisoners getting tortured. Also, torture was so painful; anyone would say whatever in order to stop the pain. Then, after the person confessed, they were put on trial and often put through more torture until execution. Not to mention how inhuman it was to torture someone in the methods used during this time period ("Middle Ages Torture.").

Most castles during the Medieval Ages had dungeons and chambers in the lowest parts of their structures. These locations were damp, cold, and dark. To get to them, you would have to walk with torches through long and winding hallways and paths. No one wanted to hear the cries of agony from the prisoners who were suffering from getting or being tortured. Most chambers were extremely small in height and width. But that didn’t prevent the judicial system from packing people in their like sardines - a space that could really only hold four or less people comfortable would have ten to twenty people inside ("Middle Ages Torture.").

One such dungeon was located in the Tower of London. The Tower of London was located in England near the Thames River. Its original name was the White Tower or Keep. It was built around 1066 by William the Conqueror. It has been used for a royal residence, state prison, zoo, mint, and armory. But it is most famous for its torture chamber. Hundreds were torture and killed here. And hence it received the name of Bloody Tower, especially after Edward V had his daughters killed there. It also had a cell that was called “Little Ease” because it was so small that it was impossible to stand upright or lay down. The most famous prisoners were kept here and they had to crouch in order to fit inside the cell. Nowadays, the Tower is closed to torture and has opened as a museum (Woodcock).

Top 5 Torture Devices

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There were many types of torture devices that were used throughout the Medieval Ages. There were devices that would rip you, blind you, break your bones, cook you, take your manhood from you, remove limbs, and sometimes eventual kill you. The top five methods of torture were the Spanish Donkey, the Choke Pear, the Lead Sprinkler, the Breast Ripper, and the Crocodile Shears (Frater).

The Spanish Donkey had a main board cut that was held off the floor by two cross-beams were attached on the bottom edges. The prisoner was stripped of their clothes and then placed atop to straddle the main board as if they were riding a donkey. Then the people inflicting the torture would place different weights on the prisoner’s feet. The weights would pull the prisoners legs downward, which would cause the prisoner’s crouch to be pulled into the main board. And the torturers could up the torture by switching out the weights with heavier weights as the time passed by. The main board (a wedge that is pointed at the top and gets wider as it goes towards the crossbeams – like a triangle) would eventually slice through the prisoner as a result of his/her body being pulled down by the weights by being blocked from moving downward because of the main board (Frater).

The fourth most gruesome method of torture was the choke pear. This instrument kind of reminds me of that instrument that a woman’s obgyn uses when examining her. The choke pear was a metal instrument that could be turned up top to widen the three prongs at the end. It was used orally or in the prisoner’s bottom or vagina. The instrument was forced into the area of choice and then expanded by twisting a screw or handle to stretch out the segments. Of course the area of choice was greatly mutilated and sometimes fatally. The prongs were pointed at the end and served to rip into the throat, intestines, or cervix. The choke pear was used on preachers who taught against the teachings of the Catholic Church. The choke pear was used on the bottom of male homosexuals and the vagina of woman guilty of sexual immorality or other sexual sins (Frater).

The third most gruesome was the Lead Sprinkler. Basically, it was a ladle on the end of a handle. The torturer would remove the top of the device and poor hot molten metal, boiling oil or water, pitch, or tar. Then the top would be re-attached. The tops had holes. So the torturer would shake the sprinkler at the prisoner showering him.her with whatever was inside (Frater).

Then there was the Breast Ripper. This device was in the shape of prongs that someone might use on their salad. It was a metal device that had at its two ends “u’s” that were pointed on both points. It was heated up and placed on women that were unmarried mothers. That way these women were marked. During the Inquisition, women condemned of heresy, blasphemy, adultery, self-induced abortion, magic, or any other crime the Catholic Church claimed to be worthy of torture were tortured by the Breast ripper. As stated, the “u’s” at the end were heated but sometimes were also cold. They were then placed on the exposed breasts and eventually turned them into a bloody mess because the “u’s” would tear the breasts (Frater).

The last of the top five torture devices was the Crocodile Shears. These shears were usually used for those that were guilty of treason by trying to kill the king. They were made of iron and looked like pincers. But instead of having jaws or blades, they had a pair of hemicylindrical blades that formed a long, narrow tube when closed. The blades were lined with teeth or spikes. They were heated and applied to the erect penis and tore into the prisoner creating severe arterial bleeding (Frater).

During the Medieval Ages, torture was accepted and a reasonable way to get confessions out of people assumed to be criminals and an accepted and reasonable way to get information to use in trials. And most of the time, the confessions or information sent people to their death. By 1640, torture as known in the Medieval Ages was abolished in England ("Middle Ages Torture."). As eventually, other countries followed suit until torture was no longer an accepted and reasonable way to handle crimes.

Works Cited

Frater, Jamie. "Top 10 Gruesome Medieval Torture Devices." Ultimate Top 10 Lists - Listverse. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.

Klumper, Dan. "Torture In The Medieval Times." Upload & Share PowerPoint Presentations and Documents. SlideShare Inc, 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.

"Middle Ages Torture." Middle Ages Torture. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. <>.

Nimocks, Aaron. "Medieval Period." Medieval Period. SiteAlicious Inc. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.

Nimocks, Aaron. "Medieval Torture Devices." Medieval Period. SiteAlicious Inc. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.

Woodcock, Torry. "Introduction." Medieval Punishment/Torture. 1999. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.

Woodcock, Torry. "The Tower of London." Medieval Punishment/Torture. 1999. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.

Woodcock, Torry. "Torture Devices." Medieval Punishment/Torture. 1999. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <>.

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