The root of the problem was the rack. As already described, this machine was a sturdy rectangular structure, its four legs positioned in sockets in the ground to ensure rigidity while in use. The prisoners' cells were almost invariably approached via spiral stairs, and anyone who has ever attempted to carry a single bedstead up a narrow, right-angled staircase will immediately appreciate the difficulty facing those who, needing to torture a victim in the privacy of his or her cell, tried to get a seven-foot rack up a continuously spiraIling stairway. What was required was a more compact, eminently portable device which would be just as - if not more - painfully persuasive than the rack. And the answer was 'Skeffington 's Gyves'. It consisted basically of two halves of a large iron hoop, joined together by a hinge. The prisoner, his hands bound behind him, was made to kneel over one half and, with the executioner straddling his back and pressing down, the other half of the hoop was brought down, a screw mechanism increasing the pressure on the victim's back. It forced his chest down on to his knees, his stomach down on his thighs, his thighs on to his legs, and compressed him into the shape of a hall. Further pressure exerted by the screws crushed his body even more, dislocating his vertebrae, fracturing breastbone and ribs, while blood spurted from his nose and mouth, even from his fingertips and toes. In direct contrast to the stretching on the rack, the compressive action of this fearsome machine was designed literally to make both ends meet, and few victims could endure more than a few minutes of its torments.
A major part of any punishment must be the anticipation of it, when the imagination is given full rein as to the reality of its application. The interval between the sentencing and the penalty itself being put into effect, whether that of losing one's ear or one's head, must be perhaps the most devastating part of the punishment. So possibly the worst torture in that respect was the one invented by the Spanish Inquisition, known as the Pendola, and to us as the Pendulum.
This sanity-destroying device consisted of a large pendulum suspended high in the roof of the torture chamber, the bob being replaced by a crescent-shaped blade about twelve inches from horn to horn, and honed razor-sharp. The victim would then be tied down on a bench at right angles to the path of the blade, so that its arc traversed the region of the victim's heart. The pendulum would then be set in motion.
Hypnotised by its rhythmic movement, the victim would not at first realise the full horror of the torture until it became apparent that with each relentless swing, the pendulum blade was almost imperceptibly descending. Mere words can hardly describe the victim's frenzied reactions as the minutes dragged by and the fiendish blade swished nearer and nearer to his palpitating flesh. Sufficeint to say that those incredible souls who still refused to recant their heretical beliefs either went out of their minds or died the most hideous death imaginable.
Spiked Torture in Germany
Not that tortuous ingenuity was the sole prerogative of the Spanish. The Germans were just as adept. If their victim was not sharp enough with his answers, the Teutonic torturers had devices sharp enough to encourage him. One of them was the Fass, a large, iron, bath-sized cradle with spikes protruding from its inner surface. The victim, stripped to the waist and tightly bound, would be lowered into it and then the Fass would be violently rocked from side to side, the spikes inflicting countless flesh wounds in a short space of time. If the torturers' efforts proved unavailing, the victim might well be placed in the German Chair. This piece of furniture was solidly built and secured to the floor so that the victim, in his struggles, could not overbalance - a natural tendency in view of the fact that the chair's seat, back and arms were studded with hundreds of small barbs or spikes, sharp enough to pierce the flesh at the slightest movement.
Once tied in the German Chair, the victim would then be further weighted by a heavy iron collar locked about his neck and boulders piled on his knees, until the pain of the multiple lacerations pro-ved unbearable. If pressing the victim down on to spikes did not bring about the required results, the Spiked Hare was resorted to, for this device, in contrast, pressed the spikes on to the victim. Simple in construction and operation, it resembled a giant-sized rolling pin covered with sharp spikes and, with the victim in the role of unwilling pastry, a confession was soon extracted.
In the days when the British Army stationed at the outposts of the Empire lived almost entirely in tented camps, spiked tent pegs provided an elementary but effective form of punishment which, in its final form, took the name of the Picquet or Picket. First, a long post was driven into the ground, then the recalcitrant soldier would be made to stand on a stool next to it, his right hand secured to a hook at the top of the post. A short length of timber resembling a tent peg would be driven into the ground near the stool, its upper end rounded to a blunt point. The stool would then be removed, the soldier having to rest one heel on the spike. Suspended as he was by one wrist, and with his weight pressing the spike into his bare heel, the most unruly private quickly learnt the error of his ways, especially when, after fifteen minutes, the position would be reversed, his other wrist and heel being subjected to the same agonising treatment.
Spiked Effigies in Germany
There was no point in claiming to be a misogynist as one was dragged towards the Virgin of Baden-Baden. Ordered to kiss the figure, the trap-door at her feet would suddenly open up, plunging one down on to the spiked wheel rotating below.
Nuremberg too had its Eiserne Madehen, its lron Maiden or, as it was sometimes known, Virgin Mary. It is described as a figure constructed of sheet iron on a wooden framework, it had two folding doors at the front. From the inside of one door protruded thirteen quadrangular poinards, the other door had eight. Two more at face-level were dearly intended to pierce the eyes of the unwilling occupant, its design indicating that the victim would have been forced in backwards so that the daggers could do their deadly work. One legend states that after some time had elapsed, an internal trap-door would open, plunging the mutilated body into a stream flowing beneath the Falterkammer, the torture chamber. Some believed that the victim's body dropped on to an iron rack which, by activating a pair of counterweights, caused a series of curved blades to interlock scissor-fashion, and so shred the cadaver. The mangled remains would then fall into the stream.
Spiked Effigies in Spain
A very similar 'lady-like' device was used during the Spanish Inquisition. In a subterranean vault adjoining the seeret audience chamber, stood in a recess in the wall a wooden statue made by the hands of monks, representing the Virgin Mary. A gilded glory (halo) bearned round her head, and she held a banner in her right hand. It immediately struck the spectator, not withstanding the ample folds of the silken garment which felI from the shoulders on both sides, that she wore a breastplate. Upon doser examination it appeared that the whole front of the body was covered with extremely sharp nails, and small daggers or blades of knives with the points projecting outwards. The arms and hands had joints, and their motion was directed by machinery placed behind the partition. One of the servants of the Inquisition who was present was ordered by the general to make the machine manoeuvre, as he expressed it. As the statue extended its arms and gradually drew them back, as if she would affectionately embrace and press someone to her heart, the well-filled knapsack of a Polish grenadier supplied for this purpose took the place of the poor victim.The statue pressed it doser and doser, and when, at the command of the general, the director of the machinery made it open its arms and return to its first position, the knapsack was pierced two or three inches deep, and remained hanging upon the nails and daggers of the murderous instrument.
The Ducking Stool
At a more domestic level, and light years away from barbaric religious tribunals and torture chambers, the Ducking Stool had its place in the life of many a village community. Innocuous as the words may sound, nevertheless its name sent cold shivers down the spines of nagging wives, shrews, harlots, strumpets and, rarely, dishonest tradesmen. The device took many forms, and was generally governed by such deciding factors as whether the village had a deep river nearby, a muddy stream with or without a bridge, or just a pond. One type of stool was described as an armchair mounted on an axle fixed between the ends of two parallel beams fifteen feet in length. Such a design permitted the chair to remain horizontal even when the bearns, balanced on a post by river or pond, were raised and lowered like a seesaw.
|Another model consisted of a tall vertical post with a swing arm at the top. From one end of the arm was suspended a chair; a rope at the other end allowed the chair, duly weighted by a scold or suchlike, to be lowered into the river. The vertical post was either fixed in the river bank or mounted on a small wheeled trolley, and this type was known as a treebucket or Trebuchet because of its resemblance to the immense catapult of that name anciently used to hurI boulders over castle walls.
In villages situated near rivers, the chair was suspended from a pulley attached to a beam in the centre of the bridge arch, thereby being always ready for use. Yet another type of stool was known as a tumbril or scolding cart, for it comprised a pair of fifteen-foot long shafts, with two wheels on an axle fixed about three feet from one end. On the short end was mounted the chair, and to the other end long ropes were attached.
With the scold in the chair, the tumbril (ominously named after the cart used by French executioners) was pushed into the water. The operators, still on dry land, would retain their hold on the ropes but would release the shafts, thereby plunging the woman backwards into the pool as the shafts flew upwards. After a suitable period of immersion the ropes would be pulled, bringing the shafts down and lifting the spluttering and soaked occupant out of the water.
Different villages, different counties had, hardly surprisingly, different names for their proud possession: tumbril, timbrell, treebucket, gumstole, and erroneously, coqueen stole or cucking stool. Some ducking stools were wooden, intricately carved with devils, scolds, poetic quotations, while others were of elaborately shaped wrought iron. There being no government specification for a standardised model, village councils manufactured their own, based on the designs of models inspected in neighbouring towns, and limited only by the resourcefulness of their own carpenter or blacksmith.
Beggars were always a prime target. For a first offence, such vagrants were to be kept in the stocks for three days and three nights, on bread and water only, and then expelled from the town. A second offence would earn them a longer sojourn - no less than six days and nights in the stocks, on a simi-lar diet. However, this punishment was somewhat mitigated in the late medieval times, which reduced it to only one day and night for a first offence and three days and nights for a second offence - a humanitarian measure indeed. Wood stealers, ladies of ill repute, card sharps and gamblers were all candidates for the stocks, as were those who refused to assist with the harvest. Sunday drinkers had to be extra cautious, for while the church service was in progress, the churchwardens would visit the inns looking for those who preferred holding tankards rather than hymn books.
These were perhaps the most widely used punitive device, some also being utilised to secure offenders awaiting trial. Many stocks still survive on village greens, though now regrettably they are only old world artefacts rather than a threat to wrongdoers such as vandals and lager louts. Stocks were in constant use for many centuries, changing little in design. They were of simple construction, consisting of two sturdy uprights fixed in the ground, having grooves down their inner surfaces in which were slotted two solid timber boards, one above the other. Each plank had semicircular notches in it, positioned so that when aligned with the other, the notches formed holes which encircled the culprit's ankles.
With the upper plank locked in position by a padlock, there was no escape for the victim until he or she was released by the beadle, sergeant-at-mace, or other appointed official. Situated as they were in the centre of the village or town, the unhappy occupant of the stocks was inevitably the focus of attention, not least by those who relished his or her discomfiture. A target for jibes and taunts, if nothing more injurious, the victims could do little to retaliate, or even defend themselves. This was of course the whole purpose of the punishment, literally to make a laughing-stock of them by exposure to the scorn and opprobrium of the others in the community. The authorities considered it so important that villages should have stocks that Acts decreeing this were passed in 1351, 1376 and 1405, the latter further declaring that the absence of stocks would downgrade a village to the status of a mere hamlet. Larger towns had more than one set of stocks, and in some areas, as in London, every ward in the city was equipped with them.
The wardens were led by the beadle, resplendent in his goldtrimmed coat and cocked hat, and carrying his staff of office. Anyone found imbibing ale would be locked in the stocks until midday, though occasions arose when the wardens themselves yielded to the temptations of their task and finished up drunk! Resisting arrest was also punished by a spell in the stocks. The offender had to go to church during morning prayers and publicly apologise for his actions. He was then taken out and set in the stocks until the end of the evening prayer, and the punishment was repeated on the next market day. Some stocks required the culprit to sit on a bench, others to sit on the ground. A few had extra attachments to grip the victim's wrists and neck, while others raised the ankles in the air.
Some pillories were raised high above the ground on a lofty pole for greater prominence. Exposed to all weathers, some pillories deteriorated over the years, and this was never more true than when one such device got into such a bad state that under the weight of an occupant, the footboard collapsed, leaving him hanging by his neck and wrists. When eventually released he took legal action, sued the council for negligence, and won his case. As with all similar public punishments, the pillory was eventually phased out. After nearly 600 years of subjecting men and women to degradation, the pillory was taken of the equipment list for punishment in 1816.
Also known as the Stretchneck, the pillory was anciently described as 'an engine made of wood, designed to punish offenders by exposing them to public view and rendering them infamous'. As an instrument of judicial punishment the pillory, like the stocks, was of simple construction, well within the capabilities of the average village carpenter. It consisted of a wooden post with its end sunk into the ground, or more usually mounted on a platform. Fixed to the top of the post were two horizontal boards, the upper board being hinged at one end to the lower one. Each had three semi-circular holes cut in it which matched up when the upper board was lowered.
The culprit stood directly behind the post, the upper board was then lowered so that his or her head was trapped in the central, larger hole, wrists being similarly pinioned in the two outer holes. Appropriately enough, the device's name was derived from a Greek phrase meaning 'to look through a doorway'. Thus secured, the victim could neither withdraw his head nor his hands, and such were the distances between the holes that it was also impossible for him to reach his mouth with his hands, so that he was incapable of feeding or drinking without assistance. Worse, he was unable to protect his face and head from any assault directed against him.
The device had been on the statute-books since 1269, enacted during the reign of Henry III, and Lords of the Manor claimed the right to erect their own pillory, together with a ducking stool and a gallows, on their estates.
Pillories were considered so essential by the authorities that villages not having one risked forfeiting the right to hold a market - a serious loss of trade in those days. And once towns and villages had installed pillories, culprits were quickly found. Many offences were punishable by a sojourn in the pillory. Among the people at risk were those who bought goods at fairs and resold them at a higher price, those who cornered the market and so gained a monopoly, and others committing similar dubious transactions.
From such heinous crimes, the penalty of the pillory was widened to include 'those who sold putrid meat, stinking fish, rotting birds, and bread with pieces of iron in it to increase its weight'. Purveyors of faulty goods were also liable, as were innkeepers whose spirit measures contained a layer of pitch in their bases, gamblers who used loaded dice and coalmen whose sacks were shorter or narrower than permissible. Merchants who bought or sold goods after the curfew, cutpurses and witches, even itinerant vagrants who obtained money by sleight of hand, faced the penalty. In short, pillories all over the country were much in use, especially in the larger towns where commerce and trade fiourished.
The Barrel Pillory
The pillory might have been abolished on land, but certainly not at sea. Among the many punishments meted out by the tyrannical captains of the nineteenth-century Royal Navy was that of the Barrel Pillory. As its name implies, it consisted of a barrel placed on the quarter deck in full view of the crew and any visitors to the ship, in which any less-than-able seaman had to stand for several hours. A dunce's cap adorned his head and, in typical pillory-style, a notice proclaiming his misdeeds was nailed to the front of the barrel for all to see.
The French Pillory
As in England, so most French towns had their pillory, though of a rather more elegant construction. It generally consisted of a two-storey octagonal tower, within the upper room of which was a circular multi-pillory, capable of accommodating several culprits at once. Their pinioned heads and hands were visible through the large unglazed apertures in the sides of the chamber, and rather than put the watching crowds to the trouble of walking round the tower, the better to inspect the victims, the upper part of the building was made to rotate, in much the same wayas did medieval windmills.
Culprits were displayed therein during three successive market days, and every halt-hour one of the executioner's assistants would appear, to crank the upper chamber round a bit further, evoking a fresh outburst of taunts and jeers from the crowd at the appearance of a 'new' victim. As usual their offences were advertised by notices hung about their necks. Blasphemy, forgery, fraud, bigamy, cheating at cards, and keeping a brothel were among the more prevalent crimes. Not all French pillories were identical, of course. That situated in the market square at Orleans was a cage, six feet high by two and a half feet wide, in which the prisoner had to stand. The cage revolved on a pivot, and members of the public were free to tum it round in order to see the victim from all sides, so that he or she could not avoid their jibes or missiles.
The Chinese Canque
As early as the seventeenth century the Chinese decided to dispense with the post on which the pillory was mounted and instead allow their criminals to go about their daily tasks, as far as they were able, while wearing a two-foot square collar of heavy timber resting on their shoulders. AIso known as the Teha, its two halves had a semi-circular hole in each, and were locked about the felon's neck in the presence of the magistrate at the beginning of the sentence, the duration of the punishment depending on the crime committed. Across the join of the two halves were notices stating the man's crimes, these also serving to indicate whether or not the collar had been opened. Some models had holes through which the occu-pant's wrists were secured, though these were too far from his head to permit him to feed himself.
Those arrested nowadays usually spend the night in the cells of the local police station, but in earlier times they were penned in the Cage. These were simply lock-ups, positioned strategically in the town, where disturbers of the peace could be held pending appearance before the magistrates the next day. Eventually the prisoners had to stay in the cages for days, only with a daily bowl of water, until the magistrates had time to follow up on their crimes. In some instances, the prisoners were ‘forgotten’ and left alone in the cages, seldom, but it was surely the case.
The Drunkard's Cloak
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries' answer to the lager louts of the day was the Drunkard's Cloak, also known as the Spanish Mantle. It was simply a barrel with the base removed and a hole cut in the top through which the culprit's head emerged. Two further holes low down in the sides allowed his or her hands to protrude, in order to take some of the barrel's weight off the shoulders. Scratching the nose, however, was quite out of the question. The enforced 'retention of the barrel would seem to have been achieved by a lockable collar around the offender's neck, and while wearing it, the occupant would be led through the town by the beadle. Across the Channel they were very popular, if only with temperance societies. In Holland, Dutch drunks were doubtless grateful for the buoyancy of the contrivance, should they fall into a canal. In Denmark in the 1770s, some of the lower forms of criminals were being punished by being led through the city in what is called the Spanish Mantie. This is a kind of heavy vest, something like a tub, with an aperture for the head, and irons to enclose the neck.
The Scold's Bridle
One of the scourges of medievallife, if not of later centuries, was the scold, or nagging wife, and so the judiciary, with its usual robust approach to social problems, came up with the solution to gag them. And that's how the Scold's Bridle, or the Branks, as they were also known, came into being.
There were several different designs, but basicaIly the bridle consisted of an iron framework in the form of a helmet-shaped cage which titted tightly over the head, with eye holes and an aperture for the mouth. At the front, protruding inwards, was a small flat plate which was inserted in to the woman's mouth, and the bridle was then locked about her neck. Some models were quite painless to wear. Others had large tongue plates studded with sharp pins or a rowel, a small spiked wheel, to hold the tongue down. These could cause appalling lacerations if the victim attempted to speak.
Many bridles had a chain attached to the front so that the victim could be led through the streets, to be secured to the market cross or pillory post, and in order to herald her approach some bridles had a spring-mounted bell on the top. Some of the powerful screwing apparatus seemed calculated to force the iron mask with torturing effect upon the brow of the victim; there are no eyeholes, but concavities in their places, as though to allow for the starting of the eye-balls under violent pressure. There is a strong bar with a square hole, evidently intended to fasten the criminal against the wall or perhaps to the pillory. That model would seem to have been designed, not so much for nagging wives, but as a device to keep a felon's head immovable while being extensively branded.
The Cucking Stool
Frequently confused with the ducking stool, the Cucking Stool was strictly a dry land instrument of humiliation. It was referred to in the Domesday Book as cathedra stercoris, literally a dose chair or commode, and originally the victim sat on one outside his or her own house. Later this degradation was mercifully reduced, an ordinary chair replacing the commode, though the offender continued to be an object of derision.
The Wooden Horse
This was the military version of riding the stang. The wooden horse was formed of planks laid together so as to form a long sharp ridge or angle, about eight or nine feet long. The ridge represented the back of a horse, and it was supported by four posts or legs, about six or seven feet long, placed on a stand, made movable by small wheels; to complete the resemblance, a head and a tail were added. When a soldier or soldiers were sentenced by a court martial, or ordered by the Commanding Officer to ride this horse, they were placed on its back with their hands tied behind them, and frequently, to increase the punishment, had muskets tied to their legs to prevent, as was jocularly said, their horse from kicking them off. This punishment was chiefly inflicted in the Infantry, who are supposed unused to ride.
Such was the reputed cruelty of Spaniards and their Inquisition, that many torture devices were attributed to them, the Spanish Chair and the Spanish Bilboes, being but two of them. Another was the Donkey, reportedly used by the Spanish Army and adopted by the Germans. This was akin to the wooden horse but was instead a short stone wall which, tapering to the top, provided a sharp ridge which the miscreant had to straddle. Again weights were tied to the man's ankles for the duration of his punishment.
The Wooden Horse was also adopted by the Counts and landlords in mid 1600, as a punishment to unwilling farmers in their housefolds. Being forced to ‘ride’ the ‘horse’ a full day, would surely have an effect on the farmers effeciency in the fields onwards.
More injurious to the honour than to the body, this French penalty involved public humiliation of the wrongdoer. Petty thieves, even noblemen, were paraded through the streets in a cart, and husbands who allowed their wives to beat them were led around the town astride a donkey. Knights were disgraced by having their spurs symbolically broken on a dunghill, and those who had committed an act of cowardice were publicly dishonoured at a formal banquet by having the table cloth cut in front of them. However, it was not always merely a formal punishment. In 1691 Urbaine Attibard, aged thirty-five, wife of Pierre Barrois, poisoned her husband, and for that crime she was sentenced to amende honorable and to be taken to the scaffold, there to have her hand struck off. After that she was to be hanged, her body burned, and her ashes scattered to the winds. And the sentence was duly carried out.
Riding the Stang
Displaying the victim to the greatest number of people was obviously the main aim of all these 'domestic' punishments, whether pillory or stocks, bridles or cucking stools. Another predominantly mobile penalty was that of Riding the Stang. Oddly enough in such a male-dominated society, this was inflicted on men accused of wife-beating or vicious behaviour, who had to be shown the error of their ways, if not by a court of law necessarily, then at least by their neighbours en masse. Riding the Stang was essentially a noisy procession involving the villagers banging on tin cans and kettles, blowing whistles and sounding horns, and sometimes even accompanied by a trompeter. At the front, carried shoulder-high, was the offender, straddling a thick pole or a ladder, a figure of scorn to all as the deafening parade passed through the streets.
Later the custom changed, and the man on the stang was a spokesman chosen by the villagers. He carried noise-making implements, usually a stick and a dripping pan, to add to the cacophony. Every fifty yards or so the procession would stop for the spokesman to recite loudly slanderous verses about the offender and his crime. Riding the stang was still carried on in remote parts until late 1890s.
The Bench of Justice
In the penal colony of French Guiana, convicts rather than judges sat on this particular bench. It was a three-inch wide steel shelf along one side of a cage in which the prisoners lived. The offender was made to squat on the shelf as best he could for up to three hours at a time, his arms thrust backwards between the bars of the cage, his wrists manacled together. This punishment inflicted excruciating pain on the muscles of the arms, hips and legs, crippling the felon for days after release from his bonds.
The Iron Maiden
The iron maiden was an iron cabinet allegedly built to torture or kill a person by piercing the body with sharp objects (such as knives, spikes, or nails), while he or she was forced to remain standing. The condemned bleeds profusely and was weakened slowly, eventually dying because of blood loss, or perhaps asphyxiation. Some calims that the maiden was only used, to torture or execute women. This is however false, if we colsult the most acknowlegded sources from the fifthteenth century. Actually most known torture instruments were given female names, as to either remove all responsibilities from the executioner (who were always men), or to give the victim even more humiliation, as the would be tortured by a female. The Nuremberg iron maiden is the best known sample and was anthropomorphic. It was probably styled after Mary, the mother of Jesus, with a carved likeness of her on the face.
The condemned were starved for a period of 7-20 days to maximize their suffering and weakness. They were then struck on the back repeatedly with a large metal rod, stripped, then forced to walk through the streets, at which point all civilians were permitted to whip them from any angle, including the face.
The maiden was about 7 feet (2.1m) tall and 3 feet (0.9m) wide, had double doors, and was big enough to contain an adult man. Inside the tomb-sized container, the iron maiden was fitted with dozens of sharp spikes (thirteen in total), including one fitted perfectly to each eye. The doors of the maiden were shut slowly, so that the very sharp points penetrated a mans arms, and his legs in several places, along with his belly and chest, bladder, eyes, shoulders, and his buttocks, but not enough to kill him. Allegedly, the spi-kes were sometimes heated red hot as well to increase pain, or possibly cauterize the puncture wounds as to prolong suffering. Supposedly, they were designed so that when the doors were shut, the spikes skewered the subject, but missed vital organs, permitting him to remain alive and upright. The spikes were also movable in order to accommodate each person.