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History Of Medieval Torture Devices

Catherine Wheel

Catherine Wheel

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.

Scold's Bridle

Scold's Bridle


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.

Judas Cradle

Judas Cradle


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

The Stocks


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.

Heretic's Fork

Heretic's Fork


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.

The Rack

The Rack


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.

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Catherine Wheel

Catherine Wheel




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.


Brazen Bull

Brazen Bull


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.

Tramp Chair

Tramp Chair


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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Aurel Dan from Bucharest, Romania on July 26, 2014:

Jesus, and we, the men are calling "the clever animals"? And there are people who think that Prince Vlad Dracula was cruel!

Candle Hour (author) from North America on January 06, 2013:

They used the guillotine heavily in France with the last person killed by guillotine in 1977. Personally I would rather the guillotine than some of the other ways like the Catherine Wheel. I can't imagine how excruciatiing the pain would be to have your limbs broken in several places and then have them wrapped a wheel and left hanging from the wheel like that until you die. It could take days at least with the guillotine it is just a moment. But I suppose it is more psychological terror with the guillotine.

Gail Louise Stevenson from Mason City on January 05, 2013:

I agree--the devices are horrible. The guillotine used for execution isn't used anymore, is it? That would be awful is its still in use anywhere in the world.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on January 04, 2013:

gail641 - true, I suppose for the sake of the possibly innocent it is better that we don't use them these days.

Gail Louise Stevenson from Mason City on January 02, 2013:

terrektwo-The devices should have been plenty to keep would be criminals from committing crimes. It would be horrific if these torture devices were used in today's societies! Criminals would never want to get caught.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on January 02, 2013:

gail641 - true I think in some cases, not all, the governments of the time had a difficult time policing the population and so seriously graphic crimes could occur and the people would blame the powers for not keeping them safe. So these horrific torture methods became a fear deterrent. Any would be criminal would realize what could happen to them if they committed crimes. But you are right they were very horrendous devices and it is difficult to imagine these used in today's societies.

Gail Louise Stevenson from Mason City on December 27, 2012:

People sure did a lot of cruel things along time ago. Torture is ugly and gruesome. People sure could be evil. All of the devices are horrific. Interesting hub!

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 27, 2012:

ishwaryaa22 - yes torture is never pretty but reviewing history and acknowledging the things that were allows us to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. Thanks for reading.

Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on May 26, 2012:

A engaging hub with an intriguing title! The list of torture devices are well-researched and the tramp chair is the least shocking of all mentioned torture devices! I admit that I am shocked at some torture devices like the boots, brazen bull, etc. Good that these gruesome devices and cruel punishments are long gone!

Thanks for SHARING. Interesting. Voted up.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 19, 2012:

Blah blah - mostly I think these torture devices were created as a means of controlling the population. At best it would stop criminals at worst it would be used on anyone at the whim of the ruler.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 19, 2012:

hawkdad73 - they are very inventive but very horrific as well. Thankfully this is history.

Blah blah;3 on May 19, 2012:

Why is it these were made?! I'm soo glad none of these are used today. We were very cruel back then

hawkdad73 from Riverside, Iowa on May 19, 2012:

I found this hub very interesting. you had some familiar ones, but I found the new" one's fascinating.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 16, 2012:

Kieran Gracie - I know what you mean. I think there has to be a darkness in someone who can come up with devices that hurt people. Something perverse and I think in the medieval era it was really a free for all, laws against such things didn't really exist and in many cases encouraged torture and involved torture. I suppose as bad as we think the times are now looking at what it once ways can make us thank our lucky stars.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 16, 2012:

Sheepsquatch - I doubt it but we would have to keep in mind all of the info on these devices is readily available on the internet for anyone wanting to search it out. I just add my own spin on it, what I think about the subject matter, etc.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 15, 2012:

Alastar Packer - I understand, no problem.

Kieran Gracie on May 15, 2012:

I have never been able to understand the purpose behind torture, unless it is simply a matter of cruelty for its own sake. Surely anything revealed by the victim must be suspect? Why torture somebody if you are unable to rely on any information provided by him (or, even more regrettably, her) while screaming in agony?

Sheepsquatch from Springfield, MO on May 14, 2012:

I see someone put this hub as being useful. I hope they don't actually mean to put it to use.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on May 14, 2012:

Lame joke about nagging wives or girl-friends terrek- forget it.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 14, 2012:

Sueswan - true, if only this inventiveness was used for good and not to create torture the world could benefit greatly.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 14, 2012:

Michele Travis - you are right, these torture devices were obviously created by evil medieval people. The human race has come a long way but I hope our future moves away from such devices and not closer to them.

Sueswan on May 14, 2012:

Hi Terrektwo

It is unbelievable how cruel humans can be.

Voted up and awesome.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 14, 2012:

DDS - true, hard to imagine the people that came up with these medieval torture devices.

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on May 14, 2012:

Humans are pretty much the most horrible animals on earth. Most animals simply kill and eat the other animals. We have to torture others, and do that to hurt them so much. Hope we remember the past and do not repeat it.

Thank you for this hub, voted up!

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 14, 2012:

Alastar Packer - I can only guess what you mean about the Scold's Bridle. Yep, there are some pretty nasty torture devices in this article, but thanks for lightening the mood a bit. It was a little out of my comfort zone too but overall it is history. Sometimes people have to know what evil has been in the past so that it isn't repeated in the future.

David Sproull from Toronto on May 14, 2012:

Grim and unsettling stuff. Just amazing what human beings will do to each other! Amazing and sad..

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on May 13, 2012:

Hmm, you've done what i had in mind to do once, write on torture devices that is. Fortunately, it was out of the comfort zone here and you've done a good article on them. Nasty stuff indeed; the Judas Cradle and Tramp's Chair were unknown here. I'll hold the thoughts on any speculation of modern use with the Scolds Bridle. Hey, you gotta have a little humor to lighten the mood with these horrible devices display and history.

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 13, 2012:

Alexindigo - true, some people have a real darkness in their soul and in dark times when human rights wasn't really at the top of anyone's list torture was commonplace. Pretty gruesome stuff. Thanks for commenting.

Alexindigo from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on May 13, 2012:

It's insane the kind of sick stuff humans conjure up. Very interesting hub Though :)

Candle Hour (author) from North America on May 13, 2012:

rahul0324 - true many of these are pretty brutal torture devices. I put in the Tramp Chair because it was used in North America but I guess that ones not as bad as some of the others. Thanks for reading :)

Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on May 13, 2012:

Awesome hub I must say! Brutal weapons of torture, all of them... I have seen the pendulum in Saw.. and then I have never watched saw again ;;gruesome really

Nice write

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