People have these romantic notions that the medieval time period was full of knights in shining armor and fairytale princesses, when in all reality, the medieval time period was a bloodthirsty and violent time period. Government and religious officials used sadistic torture to punish suspects and obtain confessions. Torture is the deliberate and cruel infliction of mental and physical suffering to obtain information or for any other reason. ”The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear” ( Lovecraft). The tools and devices used brought extreme pain to the victim.
This cruel infliction of mental and physical suffering was said to be done in the name of crime and its deserved punishment. It was also done as a means to intimidate a suspect or for revenge. The laws of this time period did not have any fixed rules for the treatment of prisoners or suspects. The different types of torture were used depending on the victim’s crime and social status. The government turned its back on these practices, which lead to the creation of gory torture chambers because of the misuse of freedom.
In bigger cities like London, crime was more harshly enforced. A skilled torturer used instruments, methods and devices to prolong life as long as they could, while inflicting the most pain before they executed the victim. Many castles had torture chambers in the dungeon or in the tallest tower, where they can torture many victims at once. Medieval tortures had two types of devices. Devices they used to torture victims and devices they used to execute victims. Torture chambers of the medieval time period are designed to scare the victims.
These chambers are built underground or in the tallest tower of the castle. When the victim enters the chamber, there awaits the torturer wearing a black hood with their face covered. The entrance of these chambers were accessed through winding passages, which served the function of muffling the screams of the victims throughout the rest of the castle. The torture chambers are small, usually eleven feet by seven feet. Most of the chambers were dingy, vermin infested and dimly lit.
Tortures could hold ten to twenty victims in the room at once and would never clean the blood or flesh, so victims would suffer from diseases and viruses. Physical torture is the most common type of torture during the medieval time period. They created many types of torture devices that they would use on their victims to obtain confessions. Their method of torture depended on the victims crime and social class. “What strikes us most in considering the mediaeval tortures is not so much their diabolical barbarity … as the extraordinary variety, and what may be termed the artistic skill, they displayed.
They represent a condition of thought in which men had pondered long and carefully on all the forms of suffering, had compared and combined the different kinds of torture, till they had become the most consummate masters of their art, had expended on the subject all the resources of the utmost ingenuity, and had pursued it with the ardour of a passion” (Parry). During this time period there were no laws that stated how prisoners or suspects should be treated, so people of this time period decided torture was the best.
The government knew of these practices and turned their backs to them, which lead to the creation of gory torture devices. They created two different types of devices, ones they used for torture and ones they used for execution. These torture devices were feared among the people because they didn’t want to be the torturers next victims. Some of the most gruesome and feared devices that were created were the judas cradle, brazen bull, the wheel, the stake, the rack, pear of anguish, and the breast ripper.
The judas cradle was a terrible medieval torture device. The victims were placed on top of a pyramid-like seat. The victim was usually naked to increase the humiliation and had their feet tied together. The tip of the pyramid was placed into the victims anus or vagina. This torture could last between a couple hours to a couple days. The time it took for a victim to die varied from victim to victim. To speed up the dying process, tortures would add weights to the victims legs or they would put oil on the device.
Some torturers tried to speed up the process where as others tried to prolong the process as much as possible. Some tortures would lift the victim off the device at night with ropes and continue the torture in the morning. To obtain vital information from a victim, or if a victim refused to talk, the torturer would rock the victim on the pyramid, or make the victim fall repeatedly. The pyramid was never washed, so if the victim did not die quickly enough, or if the torture was interrupted, they would end up dying from and infection.
The brazen bull was a hollow statue made out of brass to look like a bull. First the victims tongue would be cut out, then they were placed in the hollow statue. After the door was shut, a fire would be lit around the bull. The movements and screams made the bull seem alive, which brought amusement to the audience and took away from the fact that a person was being burned alive inside the bull, because the people could not see or hear the victim. Legends say that the brazen bull was made by a Greek named Perillus. He made it for a tyrant.
Expecting a reward, Perillus was the first person put into the bull. The wheel was one of the most adaptable torture devices the medieval time period used. Earlier torturers would tie victims to a wheel and send them rolling down a rocky hill side. Through the medieval time period torture devices became more elaborate. Torturers mounted the wheel to a frame so it could spin freely. They would tie the victim to the wheel and place fire under the victim or spikes to rip the victims flesh to shreds. The wheel itself could have spikes on it so pain came from all the different sides.
The worst torture by the wheel was when the torturers broke all four of the victims limbs and threaded them through the spokes on the wheel. The wheel would be attached to a tall pole and left outside. “The rack is commonly considered the most painful form of medieval torture” (Medievality). The rack was a wooden frame with two ropes tied at the bottom and two tied into a handle at the top. Using a handle that pulled the ropes, the torturer pulled the victims arms. After so long of the victim being pulled, the victims bones were dislocated.
If the torturer kept pulling, the victims limbs could be torn apart. This method was mostly used for obtaining confessions, but it was also used to bring psychological fear to the victims. If a torturer went too far, they could leave the arms and legs useless. As the medieval period advanced the rack was also advanced. Spikes were put on the wood frame to penetrate the victims back as their limbs were being pulled apart. Being burned at the stake was the last stop for the tortured victims, because this torture was always fatal.
All torturers had to do was make a pile of dry wood with a stake in the middle to tie the victim to, then light the wood. Most of the time it only took thirty minutes for the victim to lose consciousness, unless it was windy, then the victim could endure up to two hours of being burned alive. Before being burned at the stake, victims were tortured using other devices. Being burned at the stake was a public event where people brought their kids to watch, hoping to put fear in their minds, so that they wouldn’t grow up and break the law. Torturers had special practices they used on women.
Women only torturers were designed to destroy and mutilate aspects of femininity. The practice of sexually torturing women can be traced back to the roman times. “Female victims were given to soldiers to be raped, or sent to brothels. They might be tied up or paraded through public streets naked. These public humiliations were sometimes followed by bizarre sexual mutilations” (Grabianowski). Torturers were fixated on womens breasts. They would burn, brand and amputate them. The worst device used on a woman was the breast ripper. The breast ripper was a metal claw that pierced the skin of the breasts.
The victim would be tied to the wall and the claw would pull the breast away from the body, shredding them. This method was used as an interrogation practice or it would be used to punish women that had children without being married and or were convicted of hearsay, adultery or an accomplice of another crime. The pear of anguish of anguish was a torture device that was worse than the breast ripper. This torture device was a pear shaped device made up of four metal leaves joined by a hinge at the top along with a key or a crank. The pear could be inserted into the anus, vagina or the mouth.
When the torturer turns the key, the pears leaves open up causing internal damage. The orifice that received the pear was symbolic. If the victim received the oral pear they were convicted of hearsay. Anal pears were received by homosexuals and the vaginal pear was received by women. Tortures not only use physical torture, they also use psychological torture. Psychological torture uses non-physical methods of torture. Psychological torture of the medieval time period is not as well known as the physical torture the tortures inflict on their victims.
Psychological torture is subtle and easier to conceal than physical torture. This type of torture uses extreme stressors and situations, like shunning, mock execution, violation of sexual or social norms and solitary confinement. Psychological torture can induce severe psychological pain, suffering and trauma with no visible effects. Tortures often use physical and psychological torture in combination, to make the effects more terrifying. If the victims survived the hours, even days of torture and weren’t put to execution, they suffered lasting physical and psychological effects.
All the devices and torture tactics used in the medieval period left the victims permanently disfigured, mutilated and crippled. “Prolonged confinement in a scavenger’s daughter would render the victim permanently unable to stand up” (medievalwarefare). The torture brought immediate pain, but just because the torture stopped, doesn’t mean the pain stopped unless the victim were put to execution. Victims of torture would suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder with symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, depression and memory lapses.
Victims also feel emotions like quilt and shame brought on by the humiliation they have endured. Victims may also feel betrayed not only by themselves but by their family and friends. Not only do victims suffer from psychological effects, they also have physical effects that go along with their torture. Physical effects can be wide ranging. They can suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, musculo-skeletal problems, brain injury, dementia and chronic pain syndromes. The medieval time period was a blood thirsty and violent period.
They created numerous torture devices that they used on victims to obtain confessions. They also created torture chambers that were used to add psychological harm to the victim before they were tortured and then executed, depending on their crime and social class. They used psychological torture and physical torture like the judas cradle and the rack. If the victim was spared or wasn’t killed by being tortured, they ended up with lasting mental and physical problems. They were left permanently disfigured, mutilated and crippled and also ended up with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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