Medieval Torture

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Torture (Latin torquere, “to twist”), in law, infliction of severe bodily pain either as punishment, or to compel a person to confess to a crime, or to give evidence in a judicial proceeding. Among primitive peoples, torture has been used as a means of ordeal and to punish captured enemies. Examination by torture, often called the “question,” has been used in many countries as a judicial method. It involves using instruments to extort evidence from unwilling witnesses.
In ancient Athens, slaves were always examined by torture, and for this reason their evidence was apparently considered more valuable than that of freemen. A free Athenian could not be examined by this method, but torture may have been used occasionally in executing criminals. Under the Roman Republic only slaves could be legally tortured, and as a general rule, they could not be tortured to establish the guilt of their master. Under the Roman Empire, however, by the order of the emperor, torture was frequently inflicted even on freemen to obtain evidence of the crime of laesa majestas (“injured majesty,” or crime against a sovereign power). The statesman Cicero and other enlightened Romans condemned the use of torture.
Until the 13th century torture was apparently not sanctioned by the canon law of the Christian church; about that time, however, the Roman treason law began to be adapted to heresy as crimen laesae majestatis Divinae (“crime of injury to Divine majesty”). Soon after the Inquisition was instituted, Pope Innocent IV, influenced by the revival of Roman law, issued a decree (in 1252) that called on civil magistrates to have persons accused of heresy tortured to elicit confessions against themselves and others. This was probably the earliest instance of ecclesiastical sanction of this mode of examination.
During the Middle Ages the influence of the Roman Catholic Church contributed to the adoption of torture by civil tribunals. The Italian municipalities adopted torture early, but it did not appear in other European countries until France legalized its use in the 13th century. Ultimately, torture became part of the legal system of every European nation except Sweden and England. Although torture was never recognized in the common law of England, it was practiced by exercise of the royal prerogative. In the American colonies torture was illegal; the few instances of its use were in ...

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...nclose the head. Some resembled iron masks, with holes for mouth, nose and eyes. The victims mouth was clamped shut by an iron band passing under the chin and a flat piece of iron projected inside her mouth. This mouthpiece was sometimes armed with a short spike. The whole contraption was fastened round the neck with a heavy padlock.
Branks were not only used to punish nagging wives. Any women found guilty of malicious gossip and slander, abusive language or breaches of the peace were silenced in this way.
The branks were also padlocked on women convicted of witchcraft and condemned to die at the stake - but for a different reason. They prevented the unfortunate creatures for screaming horrible curses on their tormentors.


Medieval Punishment - Torture and Executions in Europe - 1100-1600 -- Cy Stapleton

Rack, Rope and Red-Hot Pincers: A History of Torture and Its Instruments by Geoffrey Abbott Reissue edition (July 1995) Trafalgar Square

The Book of Execution: An Encyclopedia of Methods of Judicial Execution by Geoffrey Abbott Reprint edition (August 1995) Trafalgar Square

Torture by Edward Peters Expanded edition (December 1996) University of Pennsylvania Press

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