Medieval times were marked by the accumulation of most of the powers being in the hands of the authorities. The authorities included royalty, nobility and the Church. In the absence of any actual police force or civic authorities, the aforementioned authorities were tasked with arresting, interrogating and punishing criminals. A key part of this process included torturing the person in question, sometimes for political reasons and at other times, simply as a punishment. 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 extraordinary tools of torture.
The term “medieval” is sometimes applied to such practises which seem inhumane today. This easily refers to the torture methods of the medieval era. The saw was a prominent tool used in medieval torture. The most common way of using a saw was to first tie the criminal in question upside down from the ceiling. The saw was then used to either dissect the criminal in two using a saw. For this purpose, two men positioned at each end of the saw pulled it, usually dissecting the criminal vertically.
The Breaking Wheel was one of the most notorious and worst forms of medieval torture for persons sentenced to capital punishment. It involved the use of a wagon wheel to which the criminal, or the victim, in question was tied. The limbs of this criminal were then beaten into the gaps of the wheel so much that they were broken. After having the limbs broken, the criminal was left to suffer and die, a period which could extend from a few hours of excruciating pain to a few days.
The Iron chair was a fairly common medieval torture technique. It involved the use of an iron chair studded with hundreds of spikes, on the seat area, back and arm-rest of the chair. The criminal was seated on the chair and tortured gradually. The iron restraints of the seat were turned tighter and tighter until they pierced deeper and deeper into the flesh of the person. This form of torture could go on for weeks without the person dying since the iron spikes plugged the blood flow from the wounds and delayed death. Only after the persons was removed from the chair did they finally suffer death.
The rack was a special rectangular wooden frame often used in medieval interrogation and torture. The wooden frame was set up with rollers at both ends and chains attached to the rollers. The person to be tortured was laid flat on the frame and his ankles and wrists were tied to the chains at each end of the frame. The rollers were then gradually rotated so that the chains became tighter and tighter until they yanked the muscles out of their places, broke the bones, dislocated the limbs and finally, tore them away. Sometimes, even when the torture was stopped at muscle damage, the person tortured was scarred with permanent muscle dysfunction.
This was a fairly simple but nightmarish method of medieval torture. In this method, an iron bucket was wrapped around the stomach of the person. The bucket was strapped tightly so that a mouse or rat placed inside it had no way to escape. A fire was then lit at the bottom end of the bucket, agitating the mouse inside. As the bucket grew hotter, the mouse became more and more agitated until it was forced to gnaw its way through the person’s intestines to escape the hot bucket.
This method was particularly associated with the Spanish Inquisition. The victim was placed on top of a wooden frame which was shaped like a donkey but had a sharp protruding angle on top making a wedge shaped like V. Before being placed on the frame, the victim was stripped naked so that the groin was directly in contact with the edge of the wedge as the victim was made to sit astride. Weights were added to the feet so that the body of the victim pressed down into the wedge until the wedge sliced into the body.
Pear of anguish was a pear-shaped iron tool which had a key at its bottom. When the key was turned, the spoon-shaped leaves of the tool slowly opened and expanded. Typical torture using this tool involved placing the tool inside one of the orifices of the victim and then turning the key so that the tool opened its leaves and expanded inside the body of the victim.
The breast ripper was a tool that was used specifically to punish women, usually on the charges of adultery, heresy, blasphemy or abortion. The tool was circular and made of iron, and before the torture began it was heated to make it pierce the flesh easily. During torture, it was used to circle and grasp the breast which was then slowly ripped off.
This was a medieval torture practice which was notoriously common in medieval England. First the victim was hanged by the neck just before the moment he would actually die. He was then laid on a wooden frame and was castrated. Finally, both his arms and his legs were tied with ropes to four different horses who were whipped to run into four different directions, literally tearing apart the victim.
Iron maiden referred to a medieval torture cabinet made of iron. The interior of this cabinet was spacious enough to accommodate an adult person and it was thoroughly set with iron spikes. As soon as the victim was placed inside and the door of the cabinet closed, the spikes on the interior of the cabinet pierced through the victim’s body.
Knee splitter was a popular tool used in the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition. It comprised of two spiked wooden blocks fitted together with large screws. The victim’s knee was placed between the two spiked blocks and the screws were slowly tightened so that the spikes crushed the knee.