Torture has been used on people through the ages for many different reasons. In Medieval Times from the 5th to the 15th century in Europe torture was used to get suspected criminals to confess to a crime, or to name their accomplices, or to gain information regarding crimes. There were different types of torture used depending on the gender, crime, and social status of the suspect. In this post, we will learn about torture devices and their uses. I am going to refer to those that experienced the torture as the victim in this post because in our present day even criminals have human rights.
Medieval Torture Devices
It is often said “what the heck is going on in this world?” an exasperated call to the universe by people who feel that these are the worst times to be alive. I may have found myself thinking such a thing occasionally but after researching this post, I have changed my mind. I cannot imagine the fear that people lived in during the medieval times. When something as simple as lying, or being blasphemous could have had you subjected to the Pear of Anguish or the Cat of Nine Tails.
The Pear of Anguish would be inserted into a victims “offending” orifice. To be clear someone accused of lying would have the Pear inserted into their mouth where it would be slowly opened to maim or disfigure the liar. For those that were accused of adultery, or causing the end of a pregnancy, the Pear would be inserted into the vagina. A homosexual would risk having the Pear inserted into their anus. The insertion would be terrifying and humiliating enough but then the opening would begin. The Pear of Anguish had many other names but the devices all did the same thing and could easily result in an agonizing death.
Above is a photograph of the Cat of Nine Tails. It was a torture device that was used as a form of punishment for any number of minor offences. The victim would be shirtless and the Cat of Nine Tails would be used like a whip across the victims back. The knots tied at the end of the tails would rip and tear the skin and flesh of the victim. The wounds would bleed and ooze and if infection did not set in the skin would end up healed but permanently scarred. Remember that antibiotics had not been developed yet during the Medieval Times so there would be a high likelihood of infection which could lead to death.
The Judas Cradle is another torture device that was used during Medieval times. It was an Italian invention that had a pyramid-shaped pointed saddle on top of a long pillar. The victim would be placed atop the pyramid with a leg on either side of the shape. Weights would then be attached to the victim’s feet to pull their body down onto the pyramid faster than letting gravity do the work. The pyramid’s point would find either the vagina or the anus and death by impalement would eventually occur.
Imagine being hung upside down from your feet. You are naked, vulnerable, and terrified. Then the guards bring out a long double-handled saw and place it between your legs and the saw is drawn back and forth until you bleed to death. Yup, that used to happen too. Can you believe that people could be so cruel to each other?
The Iron Chair was a device utilized between the 5th and 15th centuries in Europe. The entire surface of the chair was covered with iron spikes that would pierce the victim’s body as the iron restraints were tightened. This device would cause immense pain but the bleeding would be slow until the victim left the chair, of course. It was used to extract either a confession to a crime or to gather more information about a crime from the victim. The victim would perhaps think the ordeal was over when they were released from the chair, only to die shortly after their release.
During the Inquisition, a newfangled torture device came into fashion among those that did such work. It was called a knee splitter. That device was not meant to kill but to permanently disable the victim. The spikes would go in front and behind the knee of the victim and the screws would be tightened until the knee of the victim was destroyed. There was no medical way to fix a knee back then. I do not know if fixing a knee that met the splitter would be possible today. According to medievalwarfare.info during the Inquisition, the Catholic Church only “permitted” torture that would not draw blood. This does not seem likely or even possible as almost every type of torture will eventually draw blood. This seems to be a way for the Church to have plausible deniability.
Dungeons were secret underground spaces where the torturers could do their work in private. They would have stone walls and either a stone, wooden, or dirt floor. They were dark, cold, and musty. I imagine they smelled like death.
Once convicted of a crime with a death sentence the victim would no doubt hope for a quick and painless death. Give me the guillotine any day as a way to end my life when compared to the other options. Here are some of the other options available during Medieval times.
The Barrel Pillory also known as the Spanish Mantle was a barrel that the victim would need to kneel down in while their head was locked into a piece of wood on top of the barrel. This was a slow method of torturing the victim to death. The victim would be fed and therefore would end up kneeling in their own filth. The barrel would be placed outside so the victim had to contend with either the cold or hot weather as well as birds and animals that would attack their undefended head. The victim would eventually die of a combination of dehydration and sepsis caused by the inevitable infection caught from their own excrement.
Another form of torturous execution was when the victim was tied up and placed in a large cauldron of water. A fire would be lit under the cauldron and the temperature of the water would increase and it would eventually boil. The victim would be slowly cooked to death.
A “fancier” way to cook a victim to death was the use of the Brazen Bull. It was typically made from brass and had a door through which the victim would be stuffed into the bull. A fire would then be lit under the bull’s belly and the brass would become so hot that the victim would roast to death. Smoke would come from the bull’s nostrils and the screams of the victim would be heard as well.
I think every generation feels that they grew up in the best time. I know my dad thinks the 1950s were the greatest times and my older sister fondly remembers the 1970s while I am a lover of the 1980s. Sure there are events happening in today’s world that are scary and unimaginable but after learning more about the ways people treated each other during the medieval times I won’t be complaining anymore. I can understand the emotional need to feel that a criminal who kills another person should suffer an eye for an eye. But in medieval times there were no forensic techniques or technology to help determine the innocence or guilt of a suspect and that leaves me wondering how many innocent people suffered the above forms of torture. May they all rest in peace.
The Other Half