Mediæval Instruments of Torture

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Mediæval Instruments of Torture  (1892) 
From Popular Science Monthly Volume 40, April 1892 Popular Miscellany


Mediæval Instruments of Torture.—A curious exhibition was held in London last fall of instruments of torture from the royal castle at Nuremberg which had been bought by the Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot. With one or two exceptions, such as the "scavenger's daughter," no mediaeval instrument of torture appeared to be unrepresented. The principal object of interest was the "iron maiden" {ciserne Jungfrau), which is probably the most terrible instrument of torture ever invented. It is the figure of a woman made of strong wood, bound with iron bands, opening with two doors to allow the prisoner to be placed inside. The interior is fitted with long, sharp iron spikes, which, when the doors are pressed to, forced their way into various parts of the victim's body and inflicted inexpressible agonies upon him till he died a lingering death. A trap-door was then opened in the base, and the body was allowed to fall into the moat or river below. The Scotch "maiden" of the sixteenth century was different from this, and was not an instrument of torture, but a kind of guillotine. Other objects were the racks; the "Spanish donkey," which cut the body into halves; the wheel on which malefactors were broken alive; the small lever with a sharp-toothed thumb and finger screw ; the ducking-cage for bakers detected in giving short weight; the iron tongue-tearer, in the shape of a pair of tongs with screw; the Spanish "mouth-pear" or gag; and the yoke in which couples found guilty of acts of immorality were pilloried in the marketplace. Of a different kind of interest are the copper mask worn by the judge of the Vehmgericht, the "drunkard's cloak and helmet," and carvings of Satan that were supposed to have been worshiped by witches. There were also manacles, body-rings, hand-screws, scourges, branding-irons, pillories, stretching-gallows, garters for torturing the legs, spiked collars, heavy chains for fastening prisoners to the wall, " mouth-openers" for slitting the tongues of blasphemers, sieves through which boiling water was poured on to the body, iron rings for fastening up criminals in public places, masks for the punishment of scolds and others, crucifixes which condemned criminals carried on their way to execution, iron mail chain gloves that were made hot before being put on, settles belonging to a torture-chamber, and many other things. A number of old prints accompanying the collection illustrated the application of some of these instruments.