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The Historic Ludlow Ghostwalk
 

The study of punishment and torture is both macabre and mesmerizing. Mankind has always been a cruel and unusual species of animal, and when Kings and the law of their courts required a confession in order to exact guilt (and thereby place a sentence of death); grievous torture was the first thing that came to mind. It's probably of no surprise that the majority of historical tortures have been undertaken to curb religious differences, and for other religious reasons. As old as civilization itself, the torturing of an individual by another has a primordial satisfaction to it.

Physical human suffering strikes a cord of bloodlust into most people whether they admit it or not, so to create the quintessential spectacle of pain and agony would be a near sexual experience for viewers and, most especially, the torturers.

The most widespread use of torture in the middle Ages occurred during the Inquisitions, where supposed witches and heretics were rounded up by the hundreds, tortured and executed for crimes against the church. "The Malleus Maleficarum", a book written in 1484 by Kramer and Sprenger - two of the most famous inquisitors of the age, was used for nearly three centuries by inquisitors and witch-hunters alike.

This book spawned many an anti-witch crusade, giving precise information about recognition and subsequent punishments of a witch. Following is a compilation of common methods of torture and torturous execution throughout the middle Ages. Pick through and find a few of your favourites to spring on a few of your own victims, if you feel your personal level of cruelty is becoming a bit too routine.

We must stress that much of the following information may be too graphic for some readers, so if you have a weak constitution or are easily offended or squeamish, you may not wish to read on.

 


Bastinado

Also referred to as "caning", the bastinado is a form of punishment still used throughout the Middle and Far East. The accused would be stripped bare, then bound in a way convenient to receive numerous blows to the backside, soles of the feet, or the back of the legs with a heavy shaft of bamboo or rattan. This procedure often broke bones in the feet or pelvis. Occasionally after the caning, the wounds would be further aggravated with hot coals, scalding water, itching dust, or even the bites of red ants.

Boiling/Roasting

Popular in a number of Civilizations, boiling and cooking was most classically used in Ancient Rome, where large human frying pans were used to slowly cook to death those Christians who would not renounce their religion, or perhaps they would be boiled in a caldron of oil. Another popular form of roasting involved a chair made from iron with a fire pit underneath it. A victim would be bound to the iron chair and then slowly roasted in the open air as the coals heated the iron chair. Henry VII, notorious for his sadism, was also a fond fan of boiling victims alive. Boiling was the death penalty sentence for prisoners. This was abolished after Henry's son took the throne. In mid-17th-century Silesia, more than two thousand girls and women were cooked during a nine-year period in the oven at Neiss

The Boots

Also known as boot kens or as cashielaws, the boots consisted of wedges that fitted the legs from ankles to knees. The torturer used a large, heavy hammer to pound the wedges, driving them closer together. At each strike, the inquisitor repeated the question.

Burning

It was once commonly believed that a witch’s power could be nullified by destroying her blood in a fire, hence the practice of burning at the stake. By far the most well-known punishment for witches was death by burning, a fate reserved also for heretics. Perhaps the most famous death by burning was the execution of Joan d’Arc for heresy. In the Dark Ages, the Celts were fast at work appeasing their hundreds of Gods, and these gods were hungry. Criminals were stuffed into giant human-shaped cages made of wicker known as the "Wicker man", and burned alive to appease the gods. When the supply of criminals ran out, they resorted to the innocent - proving that hungry gods were not always picky eaters.

Crucifixion

Crucifixion was devised by the Phoenicians in about 1,000 BC, and eventually exported to the Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, and Romans. Crucifixion was considered the most humiliating form of death in Ancient Rome. The victim was stripped down to the loincloth then either bound or nailed through the hands and feet to the cross of wood. Occasionally the victim's limbs would be broken to hasten the death. Death was slow, being left in the beating desert sun, flies feasting on the victim's sweat, and more importantly, the hanging by outstretched arms produced slow suffocation as the ribs, lungs and diaphragm were restricted.

The Ducking Stool

The ducking stool was a punishment which most often befell women prisoners. Grossly unpleasant, and often fatal, the woman would be strapped into a seat which hung from the end of a free-moving arm. The seat and the woman would be dunked into the local river or pond. It was up to the operators of the stool as to how long she remained under the water. Many elderly women were killed by the shock of the cold water.

 

The Garrotte

Originally, the garrotte was simply hanging by another name. However, during Medieval times, executioners began to refine the use of rope until it became as feared and as vile as any punishment of that dark era. European executioners first used the garrotte to end the suffering of men broken on the wheel, but by the turn of the 18th century the seed of an idea involving slow strangulation was planted in the minds of Europe’s law-makers. At first, garrottes were nothing more than an upright post with a hole bored through. The victim would stand or sit on a seat in front of the post, and a rope was looped around his or her neck. The ends of the cords were fed through the hole in the post. The executioner would pull on both ends of the cord or twist them tourniquet-styled, slowly strangling the victim. Later modifications included a spike fixed into the wood frame, at the back of the victim's neck, parting the vertebrae as the rope strangled.

The Iron Maiden

The Iron Maiden of Nuremberg was a tomb-sized container with folding doors. Upon the inside of the door were vicious spikes. As the prisoner was shut inside he would be pierced along the length of his body. The talons were not designed to kill outright, however, and the pinioned prisoner was left to slowly perish in the utmost pain.

Knotting

This form of torture was specific to women. It involved tying a stick into a woman’s hair and twisting it tighter and tighter. When the Inquisitor no longer had the strength to twist, he would hold the victim’s head or fasten it in a holding device until burly men could take over the chore.

Pressing

Pressing, also known as peine forte et dure, was both a death sentence and a means of drawing out confessions. Adopted as a judicial measure during the 14th century, pressing reached its peak during the reign of Henry IV. In Britain, pressing was not abolished until 1772.

The Rack

This was a very simple and popular means of extricating confession. The victim was tied across a board by his ankles and wrists. Rollers at either end of the board were turned, pulling the body in opposite directions until dislocation of every joint occurred.

Scalding

It was often believed, in Catholic countries that the soul of a heretic or witch was corrupted, filthy, and bedevilled by all manner of foulness. To cleanse them before punishment, sometimes the victims were forced to consume heated or scalding consumables (scalding water, fire brands, coals, even soaps). The modern day ‘washing the mouth out with soap’ is a direct descendant.

The Scold's Bridle

First used in late medieval Scotland, the scold’s bridle, witch’s bridle, or brank, as it was sometimes called, had many different appearances. Fundamentally, it was the same: a metal cage for the head with a built-in gag. Some branks were very cruel pieces of work, with spikes which pierced the tongue. Some simply had a bell built in, a device which would further humiliate the scold who wore it through the streets. In the streets, the scold would be subjected to the taunting and jeering of the crowds which gathered to witness the spectacle. “In Ipswich the scold was drawn around the town on a cart in the ‘gagging’ chair or ‘tewe,’ as it was known.”

A scold was defined as: "A troublesome and angry woman who by brawling and wrangling amongst her neighbours breaks the public peace, increases discord and becomes a public nuisance to the neighbourhood."

It remains unclear why men should not be pulled up on a similar charge. It was up to the judges to pronounce on whether a woman was indeed a scold. Frequently, it was a disgruntled husband bringing his wife to court. In the old-fashioned, half-timbered houses in the borough, there was generally fixed on one side of the large open fireplaces a hook so that when a man’s wife indulged her scolding propensities, the husband sent for the town gaoler to bring the bridle and had her bridled and chained to the hook until she promised to behave herself better for the future. This was presumably carried out as a favour to the husband, to spare him the trouble of appearing in court. Branks were first seen in Edinburgh in 1567, and in Glasgow in 1574. They appeared as far south as Surrey by 1632. The Surrey bridle was inscribed: Chester presents Walton with a bridle, to curb women’s tongues that talk too idle

Squassation

Squassation was a form of torture used in conjunction with the strappado. It was the process of hanging weights from the victim as they were being tortured with the strappado. Weights ranged from fifty to five hundred pounds. The greater the weight, the more bones would be dislocated.

Stoning

Stoning is well-documented as a punishment from Biblical times onward, where a victim would executed by a stone-throwing mob.

Strangulation

Strangulation was used either on its own or as the merciful partner to burning at the stake. Because being burnt alive evoked sympathy from the crowds, victims were generally dispatched of before being consigned to the flames.

The Strappado

The strappado was one of the easiest and, therefore, one of the most common torture techniques. All one needed to set up a strappado was a sturdy rafter and a rope. The victim’s wrists were bound behind her/his back, and the rope would be tossed over the beam. Then, the victim was repeatedly dropped from a height, so that her/his arms and shoulders would dislocate. Sometimes weights were attached to the feet (known as "Squassation"), to ensure more dislocations and greater pain. Weights of up to 500 pounds have been recorded.

Tormentum Insomnia

In England, torture was not allowed against witches because witches were not believed to be conspirators. Tormentum insomnia is torture by sleeplessness, and was allowable perhaps because it did not seem to be a real torture. Nonetheless, Matthew Hopkins used it for his advantage in Essex. In one instance, John Lowe, 70-year-old vicar of Brandeston, was swum in the moat, kept awake for three days and nights, and then forced to walk without rest until his feet were blistered. Denied benefit of clergy, Lowe recited his own burial service on the way to the gallows.

The Witch's Cradle

One method of torturing accused witches was to tie them up in a sack, string the sack over a tree limb and set it swinging. The rocking motion of this witch’s cradle...caused profound disorientation and helped induce confessions. Most subjected to this also suffered profound hallucinations, which surely added colour to their confessions.

     
   
     
 
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