While torture is regarded with utter abhorrence in the modern society, it was actually seen during the Middle Ages as a totally legitimate measure to not only deter criminals but also obtain pertinent information from them. The Medieval Period witnessed some of the most macabre forms of torture ever imposed on humankind.
People of the middle ages were ingeniously sadistic; they never ran out of ideas on how to inflict the most excruciating pain possible. To make the experience even more grisly for suspected outlaws, political enemies, heretics, their punishers used the following medieval torture devices:
1. Head Crusher
Middle Ages torture wouldn’t be complete without this device, which was used to extract information out of a person. The head crusher has an upper cap, under which a person’s head was placed, and a bottom bar, above which the chin was positioned. There’s a top screw that the tormentor could slowly turn in order to squeeze the skull of his prisoner.
Slowly but surely, the person was literally squashed to death. The teeth were usually the first to go, smashing and disintegrating into the jaw. The eyes followed as they were squashed from the eye sockets. Finally, the skull broke, and the contents of the head spilled onto the floor. For maximum enjoyment of the torturer, the metal skull cap could also be hit from time to time in the earlier stages of torture. This caused pain to vibrate throughout the human body.
2. Impalement Device
The Impalement Device, which sounds so fancy, is actually a lethally sharp pole that one can use to cause extreme agony on another person. This device was usually used to obtain more information about the crime the victim was accused of as well as information on his accomplices. One was forced to sit on the device, which was then raised upward.
The tortured person’s own weight then caused him to slide down the device. The pole usually came out of the sternum, and its tip was placed beneath the chin. This kept the victim on the pole and prevented further slipping. It took as much as three days for the punished individual to die. Torture in the middle ages surely captured the essence of a slow, excruciating death.
3. Scold’s Bridle
The Scold’s Bridle is another one of the medieval torture devices that will scare the living daylights out of anyone. It was designed to punish women who indulged in too much gossiping and nagging. The device is an iron cage that can be locked around a woman’s head. It also has an attachment of metal and spiked curb-plates that were inserted into the woman’s mouth.
This literally tamed the woman’s tongue by piercing it and causing it to bleed continuously. Some of these devices also have a round gag that irritated the back of the throat. With that kind of punishment, women in the middle ages must have kept mum most of their lives.
4. Breast Ripper
This one seems pretty clear, but the question is, why would anyone, especially a man, want to rip the breasts of a woman? The answer: to deform and punish her for adultery, blasphemy, heresy, self-induced abortion, and a number of other crimes that the inquisitor could choose to charge her with.
The Breast Ripper, as expected, has claws that could tear a woman’s chest apart. The device can be used either heated or cold, but the result remained consistent; incredible horror, pain, and permanent disfigurement was inflicted on the poor woman that was subjected to this misogynistic medieval torture device.
5. The Breaking Wheel
The Breaking Wheel must have made middle ages torture much more interesting. This device, commonly used to punish thieves, burglars, and other outlaws, is a wooden wheel to which the victim’s limbs are tied. While the wheel was turned, the torturer, armed with a club or an iron hammer, shattered the person’s joints and limbs. Once the process was over, the person was left on the wheel to die.
The torture didn’t stop there, either. The wheel could be placed on a pole so that birds could help themselves to the soft body parts of the victim. The birds must have been chirping with joy at the free meal.
6. Cat’s Paw
Also known as the Spanish Tickler, the Cat’s Paw is a device that has claws attached to a handle. The torturer used this to tear a person’s flesh away from his bones or from any body part. The person who named this “Tickler” surely had a creepy sense of humor. The Cat’s Paw was reserved for unfaithful wives, thieves, and any other type of offender.
7. Knee Splitter
Another widely used medieval torture device to punish lawbreakers and criminals is the Knee Splitter. It achieved exactly what it promises: split the victim’s knees. Designed with two spiked wood blocks, one placed on top of the knee and another behind, the Knee Splitter has two huge screws that could be turned. Once these screws were turned, the two blocks moved towards each other and inflicted damage on the knee.
8. Scavenger’s Daughter
Created during Henry VIII’s reign, the Scavenger’s Daughter is a torture device that consists of an A-frame shaped metal rack that compresses the body painfully. The top point of the A is where the head was strapped, the mid-point was for the hands, and the lower ends were for the legs. This position forced the head to swing down and the knees to sit up in a painful posture that caused one’s blood to gush out of the ears and nose.
The purpose of the entire procedure was to extract valuable information from the prisoner regarding his crimes, his accomplices, and all other relevant details.
9. Judas Chair
The Judas Chair is an instrument of torture that consists of a pyramid-shaped block placed on top of a chair. This chair was usually brought out to cause extreme humiliation to the prisoner. The vagina or anus of the victim was placed over the point of the cradle, and with the use of ropes, the body was lowered on the device.
The executioner also had the option to make the prisoner fall repeatedly onto the cradle’s point or rock him/her. The objective of the procedure was to stretch the person’s orifice or body opening slowly, but surely, over a long period of time. Since the device was rarely washed, the individual could also be plagued with all sorts of infection.
10. Lead Sprinkler
This doesn’t sound so bad, you say, but you couldn’t be more wrong. The Lead Sprinkler, which is actually similar to a ladle, was used to sprinkle boiling water, boiling oil, molten metal, tar, or pitch on an individual. Of course, the choice of the material to be sprinkled rested on the executioner. The accused, meanwhile, was already secured in place. This instrument of torture was commonly used to punish people accused of wrongdoing.
11. Crocodile Shears
Torture in the middle ages was also extremely painful for male prisoners, particularly their penises. The crocodile shears, which was reserved for those who attempted to kill the king, could be heated to an excruciatingly hot temperature and applied to the erect organ. This device was then used to tear the penis from the traitor’s body, or if the heavens looked down on him, the device could “just” cause intense bleeding from the arteries severed.
So what does a pair of crocodile shears look like? Imagine a pair of pincers, only in place of the usual blades or jaws, there are hemi-cylindrical blades that would form a long, narrow tube when closed. Sounds like a device from hell, if there is one.
12. The Rack
Few of the medieval torture devices can rival the pain that can be caused by The Rack. This wood-framed device has two ropes at the top and another two at the bottom. The prisoner’s body was placed in the middle, and his limbs were tied with the ropes. When the torturer turned the handle, the person’s limbs were dislocated, and later on, pulled away from the body. Other versions of the Rack also feature steel spikes on the bed to ensure the spine gets its fair share of torture as well. This particular device was used to “purify” heretics, punish criminals, and extract confessions.
13. Brazen Bull
The Brazen Bull is another brilliant, albeit cruel, device for middle ages torture. It is a huge, hollow, metal instrument shaped like a bull in which the suspect was locked up. A fire was then lit under the metal bull, and the person was allowed to die from burning. The concept of this device could be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks’ time. Back then, the device had a number of tubes around the bull’s head which would transmit the prisoner’s screams to sound like an angry bull’s protests. The Brazen Bull was frequently used to get the accused to confess to their crimes.
14. The Saw
Although the saw doesn’t really require much imagination to create, it is as effective as the others on this list. Because of its availability and cheap cost, the saw was often used to punish victims who were accused of just about any crime. Before the victim was cut completely in half, or before he was cut up to just the abdomen to lengthen the agony, he was tied upside down. This diverted the blood to the brain, making sure that consciousness was maintained and torture was made possible for at least several hours.
15. Rat Cage
For some people, rats can be cute. Yet, absolutely no one will find this torture method the least bit attractive, especially those who were accused of wrongdoing in the Middle Ages. While the prisoner lay tied up in helpless agony, a cage with a rat inside was placed on top of his stomach. The metal container was then heated up, which caused the rat to scramble for escape. In its aim to get out, the rat ripped through the prisoner’s body and visceral organs. Would you still find rats cute, then?
There were plenty of medieval torture devices to go around. Some may have been used to kill, while others stopped short of taking a person’s life. However, they all had one thing in common: they could inflict the worst possible pain one could ever imagine.