Medieval torture reached its peak in the 12th century and by the time that the 14th century appeared torture had become much more sophisticated with the advancement of medieval torture devices. From about the middle of the 14th century until the end of the 18th century torture was a very common activity. Most medieval European countries used some form of torture as part of their countries legal proceedings.
There were many different types of medieval torture devices developed during medieval times and people were often tortured in cases of hearsay as a way of extracting a confession from an accused person. Medieval torture devices were very gruesome and torture techniques advanced as the medieval period progressed. Burning, beating and suffocating were very common techniques that were used in medieval torture methods, surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church were heavily involved in medieval torture.
During medieval times people accused of crimes were often burned at the stake, although the fashionable period for accusing people of being witches and burned at the stake was during the middle and late medieval periods. Read more about the Burned at the Stake >>
The Catherine wheel was also commonly known as the breaking wheel in medieval times. The Catherine wheel was used to break peoples bones and they would be "broken on the wheel". Read more about the Catherine Wheel >>
Medieval Crime and Punishment was fairly inconsistent and quite severe compared to today. Minor medieval crimes were dealt with by humiliation whereas severe medieval crimes were punished by torture and death. Read more about the Crime & Punishment >>
There were different attitudes to witchcraft during different medieval periods. Medieval witchcraft was not tolerated in some medieval times and was punished with a death sentence, at other medieval times people were more tolerant of medieval witchcraft. Read more about the Medieval Witchcraft >>
Medieval Torture devices such as The Pear were used to obtain confessions from medieval women who were accused of being witches and similar, however the Pear Torture device was so brutal that the victim was usually killed. Read more about the Pear of Anguish >>
The strappado torture device was used extensively during the Inquisition's. The strappado torture device was used to gain confessions from heretics, it was designed to stretch and dislocate its victims limbs and was of a simple design. Read more about the Strappado Torture Device >>
The stocks torture device was used in medieval times to humiliate petty criminals, unlike the other medieval torture devices the stocks torture device purpose was not to kill the victim but to humiliate them. Read more about the The Stocks >>
The medieval Thumbscrew was a tool that was commonly used for purposes of torture in medieval times. The device was simple and came with multiple screws. It was used to crush the fingers of the person to be tortured. Read more about the Thumbscrew Torture >>
Vlad the Impaler was probably one of the most evil people in History, his rule was around the late medieval period. Vlad the impaler was famous for the way he impaled people on spikes. Read more about the Vlad the Impaler >>
Worst Torture in Medieval Times - Not only criminals but innocent people were also often tortured, as during the Spanish Inquisition. Under these circumstances, medieval Europe saw the invention of a number of the worst torture tools imaginable. Read more about the Worst Medieval Torture >>
Torture Devices were Kept in Medieval Dungeons
Medieval torture could have taken place anywhere in medieval times however most torture that took place during this period was in the many Castle dungeons across Europe. Dungeons were the ideal place to keep all the instruments of torture and torture devices used on medieval prisoners imprisoned in the castle. Instruments of torture used on Medieval Prisoners included nasty things such as Branding Irons, Racks, Scavenger’s Daughter and Collar. People could also be whipped, Boiled in water, oil or even lead. Starvation and Cutting off various items of the anatomy hands, ears etc. whatever could cause the most pain and distress was an option.
The Torture Rack – A popular medieval torture device
A Popular Medieval Torture Device device was the infamous torture rack, which was very successful in extracting confessions from people. The tortured person was stretched out on a rack, tied by the ankles and wrists across a flat board that had rollers at both sides. The torture rack operator would then turn the rollers at each side; immense pain was transmitted to the victim as the pulling mechanism of the torture device dislocated every joint in a person’s body. The torture rack was a truly gruesome torture device; unbelievably the victim could also be subjected to additional forms of torture at the same time as being stretched on the torture rack. One of the most famous and widely known uses of the torture rack was in the infamous Spanish Inquisition.
The Stocks Torture – Painful Medieval Foot Torture Device
The stocks became very popular medieval torture device because confessions could be extracted from the person without them actually dying, as they would often do on the rack! The person being tortured would be lying down when both their feet were put into the stocks; two pieces of wood were then clamped together. The torturers would then burn the soles of their feet, which were blistered and fried by a medieval torture device called a blazing brazier.
A simple torture technique was to place a board between the fire and the person’s feet at regular intervals and then to remove it to give temporary relief from the pain. If the person being tortured did not make a confession of guilt then the board, which gave temporary relief, would be removed and the torture would commence again, until the correct confession was obtained. Luckily, for children and women the “caring torturers” preferred to use this type of torture device on children and females as they considered it a gentler form of torture than devices such as rack, and it would not kill them quickly. It was used in situations where the torturers needed to persuade children to testify against their parents for example.
As well as using the rack there were other means of torture that were practised upon children and women and people either of lower crimes or with less strength, as the purpose of the torture was to often to get results, not really to kill the person. As such, people with less strength would not survive the more gruesome forms of torture such as with torture devices such as the pulley rack or fire. So types of torture that were considered acceptable were such pleasant things as removing ones nails from fingers and toes, pressing fingers with rods between them etc.
The Pear –A Medieval Torture Device used on Women
The pair was another gruesome little torture device that was invented mainly to be used on females. It was basically a metal clamp type device shaped like a pear which was inserted into the mouth or other open areas. The torturer turned a screw to make the pear shaped metal object expand by force inside the victims body, this was a very effective torture device that would rip the tissue flesh and membranes inside a person’s body. This was another torture device used widely in the infamous Spanish Inquisition and was particularly effective in forcing women to confess to crimes that they had or had not committed such as being a witch or committing adultery. The pear was another medieval torture device that caused many people to lose their lives.
The Branks – Facial Mask Medieval Torture Device
The Branks was a medieval torture device that you may have seen in medieval films, it was a metal facial mask of some description, usually they had a spiked mouth depressor and this was a torture device used on homemakers in the early 19th century. The Branks was usually used in cases of misbehaviour by a wife and could be used in most circumstances even for just disagreeing with the husband could mean that the husband would be able to use the Branks torture device on his wife. The victim could be humiliated as well, if the husband felt it was necessary by being chained to a market Cross or paraded through the streets for public ridicule.
The wheel – Famous Medieval Torture Device
This was another infamous medieval torture device that was particularly gruesome, one of the most popular and gruesome methods of tortured used in the medieval period and that is saying something. It was a giant wheel with spikes on it that was able to break bodies by virtually snapping them to pieces as it rolled forward, it caused a very slow and painful death to the victim that usually lasted a very long time. The braided wheel used as a torture device in medieval times, the victim tied to an execution Dock or platform and their limbs spread and then tied using iron rings were firmly implanted in the ground. Sections of Wood were placed carefully under wrists, ankles, knees, hips and elbows. Every joint would then be smashed to pieces using the edge of the wheel. The executioner however was careful not to kill the person outright, as they wanted them to suffer a long and painful death. After the victim had been subjected to the bone-crushing effects of the wheel the body was like a lump of jelly and they were often then just hung up and left to die if they were still alive, literally tied up on the wheel.
Hanging Cage Medieval Torture Devices
Hanging cages were used a lot during the Middle Ages, these hanging cage torture devices were placed around the town usually outside important and popular buildings such as town halls and cathedrals. Victims were usually mutilated before being put into the cages to scare other people and to stop them from committing crimes. The victims were usually naked and exposed to the elements and they would usually either die from hunger or thirst but also due to the weather, especially in winter if it was very cold when they would quickly die from frostbite.
Torture Chair – An 18th Century Medieval Torture Device
The garrotte was another name for hanging in the Middle Ages during the middle Ages lawmakers were always looking for ways to improve punishment techniques and in the 18th century the idea of slow strangulation was an idea that became popular amongst lawmakers.
The Head Crusher
The head crusher was yet another gruesome medieval torture device that was made of metal and was a mechanism to crush the skull, the victim had their chin placed on a bar and the screw action of the head crusher forced pressure downwards on the head. The head crusher would crush teeth and jaws and force eyes out of their sockets.
Burned at the Stake
Being burned at the stake was not very good at all for victims as survival was pretty much none existent, surprisingly being burned alive was something that people wanted to watch as it was deemed entertaining Being burned at the stake would give someone his or her five minutes of fame and it was considered quite entertaining. The accused was tied to a stake and a fire was lit around them, as people cheered the person was set alight and burned to their death, quite a simple method really for medieval torture.
The Iron Maiden or Virgin of Nuremberg – Medieval Torture Devices
The iron maiden was a torture device that was also known as the virgin of Nuremberg, it was basically like a giant coffin or container that had two doors that opened from the middle, like a double door cupboard and Inside the doors were talons similar to spikes. The poor victim was forced inside the iron maiden and then the iron maidens doors were closed, as the doors closed the talons would enter the victim’s body all over, as you can imagine this was a very painful way to die. However, it was made worse by the fact that the iron maidens talons were specifically designed to cut into the skin but not to kill the victim, so that the victim was left to die slowly in excruciating pain. If that was not enough some other, models of the iron maiden had two spikes positioned to stick through the eyes of the victim.
The Judas Cradle – Medieval Torture Device
The Judas cradle was an iron pyramid with belts attached, the victim was usually naked and placed on top of the pyramid, hoisted above and then lowered. The victim dropped down onto the pointed pyramid capstone after their legs had been stretched out over it and sometimes their legs had weights put on them so that the point of the pyramid would penetrate both orifices. Obviously due to the pain that the victims were in, they were unable to sleep or relax.
The Strappado – Medieval Torture Device
The strappado was another stretching torture device where the victim would be hung from a sturdy rafter by their wrists with a rope and their arms would be bound behind their backs. The rope would be dropped from height after it had been tossed over the beam repeatedly. The method used was designed so that the victims arms and shoulders would be dislocated, this form of torture was practised until around 1820.
As we can see in medieval times, there was a lot of barbaric cruelty towards torture victims who in many cases were innocent of any crime. The torture devices that were invented were particularly sickening and it beggars belief that human beings could have used torture devices like this to inflict maximum pain on their fellow man. The use of medieval torture devices is one of the darker aspects of the medieval times.