During the Middle Ages, torture was a very common way to punish offenders. Following are the most common torture devices used during the Middle Ages. Viewer discretion is advised.
Even though thousands died in unimaginably painful ways, torture wasn’t as frequent as most of us believe. During the Inquisition only 1 or 2 per cent of the heretics or criminals were subject to long periods of torture – the rest were simply incarcerated or punished in other ways.
Most medieval towns had a council to determine a person’s guilt. Only in the most severe of cases, such as murder or treason, was the victim tortured. In the majority of cases, he was incarcerated or simply vanished from the town and never allowed back.
In bigger cities such as London, the law was more harshly enforced. Many castles had torture chambers, usually located in the dungeon or tallest tower, where many could be tortured at the same time. Burning at the stake and other methods were not the Sunday spectacle we think. When they happened, they often occurred inside the castle – away from the population. When a town was becoming rebellious, open acts of torture frequently occurred.
The Middle Ages were not a period one would like to live in, but they were not extremely unfair and bloodthirsty either. Many towns never tortured a person, resorting to banishment instead. On the contrary, many leaders used torture extremely frequently such as Vlad the Impaler.
Introduction – Read the introduction to medieval torture before heading to the torture instruments.
Judas Cradle – The Judas Cradle is a very painful torture. The victim was seated on a triangular-shaped seat where he or she was slowly impaled.
Coffin Torture – The coffin torture – a very cruel medieval device where the victim was locked for hours or longer.
The Brazen Bull – The brazen bull was a terrible torture device used in ancient Greece and throughout the Middle Ages.
The Rack Torture – The rack is commonly referred as the most painful medieval torture of them all.
The Water Torture – There were many ways to punish a victim with the use of water. This article explains the most common forms of such torture.
Exposure – A terrible torture that was often deadly. The exposure was a method used all around medieval Europe. The sentence depended on the crime.
The Chair of Torture – A striking instrument, the Chair was widely used throughout medieval Europe and beyond. It’s origins are not clear, but the truth remains: This is one of the most painful and psychologically striking tortures ever devised by the human mind.
The Pear of Anguish – A very painful torture applied almost exclusively on witches, liars, blasphemers and homosexuals.
The Rat Torture – Rats were used for torture. They were free, available and painful if known how to use.
The Breast Ripper – A very cruel form of torture was the Breast Ripper. A variant, The Spider, was similarly painful and frequently fatal.
The Head Crusher – The head crusher was a psychologically striking instrument that was mainly used to extract confessions.
Saw Torture – The Saw was a humiliating and painful torture available everywhere.
The Virgin of Nuremberg (The Maiden) – The Maiden, also known as the Virgin of Nuremberg, was a torture device that consisted of a coffin with the face of a maiden full of spikes on every wall.
The Spanish Tickler – A terrible torture used to tear a victim’s flesh apart. It was commonly used in Spain.
Garrotte Torture – The Garrotte was mostly used for executions and was very frequently used in Spain, hence its name.
Flagellation (Whipping) – Describes the act of flagellation or whipping. Its use was very common in Ancient Rome, but it was stil a favorite form of punishment during the Middle Ages.
The Wheel Torture (Breaking Wheel) – The Wheel torture was a very painful form of capital punishment. Death could be prolonged to a day or more.
Foot Roasting – Foot roasting was used in the Middle Ages to extract confessions. The Templar Knights, among many other orders, were tortured with this same method.
Burning at the Stake – Being burned at the stake was a terrible way to die. It could take several hours for death to occur and the causes of death were diverse.
Thumbscrew Torture – A painful torture mostly used to extract confessions before moving to more painful torture methods.
The Heretics Fork – A painful torture used to restrain a victim. It was used throughout the Middle Ages, but it reached its peak during the Spanish Inquisition.
Flaying Torture – A very old and painful method that consists of “skinning” a person alive.
Lead Sprinkler – The lead sprinkler was used to torture victims by pouring molten metals in different parts of their body.
Knee Splitter – Used for destroying body parts, the knee splitter was a terrifying torture device that could even bring death.
The Spanish Spider – A variant of the breast ripper, the Spanish Spider is an instrument capable of mutilating a woman’s breasts.
Pillory Torture – A mild form of punishment, the pillory was frequently used in the medieval world.
Crocodile Tube – The crocodile tube was used to kill or extract confessions. It was one of the cruelest torture devices ever used on human beings.
The Brank – The Brank was used to humiliate women who “broke the public order” through gossip or other means.
Crocodile Shears – A torture method reserved for regicides.
Toe Wedging – A “light” torture method, used exclusively to extract confessions.
The Copper Boot – The victim’s feet were secured into the copper boot where the torturer could choose one of several variants to torture or even kill the victim.
The Pendulum – Used to dislocate the victim’s shoulders, the pendulum was not a lethal torture, but rather a psychological one used to extract confessions before permanently impairing the victim.
The Street Sweeper’s Daughter – This very cruel device was used to humiliate victims and even lead them to madness.
The Picquet – The picquet was used in the military to maintain discipline.
Denailing Torture – Denailing was used in many areas of Europe during the Middle Ages to extract confessions and cause incredible agonizing pain.