Torture was frequently employed during the Dark Medieval to punish criminals and extract confessions. Hundreds of devices were used, developed by ingenius (some might say devious and deranged) individuals, sometimes with a flair for human anatomy. Most medieval towns had a council to determine a person's guilt. In bigger cities such as London or York the law was more harshly enforced than in small settlements. Most castles had torture chambers, usually located in the dungeon or tallest tower, where many could be tortured at the same time. When a town was becoming rebellious, open acts of torture frequently occurred.

The Judas Cradle


The Judas Cradle, a terrible medieval torture where the victim would be placed on top of a pyramid-like seat. The victim's feet were tied to each other in a way that moving one leg would force the other to move as well - increasing pain.

The triangular-shaped end of the judas cradle was inserted in the victim's anus or vagina. This torture could last, depending on some factors discussed below, anywhere from a few hours to complete days.

  • Death Factors - The time it took someone to die varied enormously from individual to individual. Torturers would sometimes add weight to the victim's legs as to increase pain and hurry the victim's death. Other torturers would place oil on the device which increased pain considerably. This device was rarely, if at all, washed. If the victim did not die quickly enough, or their painful execution was interrupted, they would invariantly die from an infection. The victim was sometimes rocked or made fall repeatedly onto the "pyramid". This was done so torturers could acquire vital information from the victim. If he or she refused to talk, the torturer would either add more weight to the victim or make him or her fall repeatedly on the device.
  • Other information The Judas cradle was called the culla di Giuda in Italian, the Judaswiege in German and The Wake in French. The victim was usually naked when subject to the Judas Cradle. This was to increase humiliation. To prolonge the victim's life and cause more pain, torturers would sometimes rise the victim with ropes for the night and continue the torture during the morning.

Coffin Torture


The Coffin Torture was feared throughout the Middle Ages. It is enough for one to look at the picture to the left to realize the reason.

The victim was placed inside the "coffin". Torturers were well-known for forcing overweight victims into the device, or even making the "coffin" slightly larger than normal to make the victims more uncomfortable.

The period of time a victim was to be kept inside the coffin was determined by his or her crime. Very serious crimes, such as blasphemy, were punished by death inside the coffin where the victim was to be kept inside under the sun with animals eating his or her flesh.

The coffin was sometimes placed in a public plaza so the local population would congregate around it and mock the unlucky victim. Sometimes death occurred because of the hatred towards the person as others often threw rocks and other objects to further increase the pain.

The Brazen Bull


The brazen bull is an executionary device first invented in Ancient Greece.

Its inventor, Perillos of Athens, proposed to Phalaris; a tyrant, the need of a more painful way to kill criminals. This was done hoping to disuade the poor population from committing any more crimes.

As the story goes, when Perillos finished the brazen bull, Phalaris asked Perillos to try it out by himself. He then ordered him locked inside the brazen bull and set a fire underneath it. He was very pleased with the results. Being burned alive was a very exciting act to watch.

When a victim is placed inside the brazen bull, he or she is slowly burned to death. This device gradually became more sophisticated until the Greek invented a complex system of tubes in order to make the victim's screams sound like an infuriated ox.

Even though this torture was not used as frequently during the Middle Ages as it was used earlier by the Greek and Romans, it was still used in Central Europe. This torture is similar to being boiled alive.

The Rack


The rack is commonly considered the most painful form of medieval torture. It was a wooden frame usually above ground with two ropes fixed to the bottom and another two tied to a handle in the top.

The torturer turned the handle causing the ropes to pull the victim's arms. Eventually, the victim's bones were dislocated with a loud crack. If the torturer kept turning the handles, some of the limbs were torn apart, usually the arms.

This method was mostly used to extract confessions, as not confessing meant that the torturer could stretch more. Sometimes, torturers forced their victim to watch other people be tortured with this device to implant psychological fear.

Many knights from the Knights Templar were tortured with the rack. The limbs collected from this and other punishments of the time were "emptied by the hundreds".

Sometime this method was limited to dislocating a few bones, but the torturer often went too far and rendered the legs or arms (sometimes both) useless. In the late Middle Ages, some new variants of this instrument appeared. They often had spikes that penetrated the victim's back - as the limbs were pulled apart, so was his spinal cord increasing not only the physical pain, but the psychological one of being handicapped at best, too.

Water Torture

We'll cover the most popular variants of torture with water in this article.

  • Dunking: Dunking is a form of punishment that was mainly reserved for supposed witches. The victim was tied to a chair which was elevated or lowered by the torturer. If he noticed that the victim was going to pass out, he elevated the chair. When he needed information and the victim was unwilling to cooperate, he lowered it. This method was widely used during the Spanish Inquisition and in England and France. The victim was usually intermittently submerged for many hours until he or she revealed information or death occurred. While witches were commonly tortured using this method, thieves and murderers could be subject to it in order to extract a confession. This was more common when other more sophisticated torture devices were not present.
  • Drops of Water: A very painful method of torture consisted of fixing a victim's head under a small tube that constantly filtered drops of water. These fell on the same spot of the victim's head leading to, in prolonged periods of time, perforation and eventually death.
  • The Cauldron: The unlucky victim was placed inside an empty cauldron attached to chains. The cauldron was filled with cold water and beneath it, a fire was set. Eventually the water began to boil cooking the victim alive. This was more frequently a way to execute a prisoner rather than to extract a confession.
  • Freezing with water: In the winter, the naked victim was forced to stand outside in full view of everyone. Slowly, the torturer poured water on his head which eventually became frozen making the victim die slowly and painfully. Sometimes the body was left for the whole winter to terrify the population and dissuade any further crimes, as punishment was imminent.
  • Force Drinking: This torture was mostly used in more recent times, but some historians believe that its origins date to the Middle Ages. The effect is this: the victim is forced to drink much water until his confession or death.


As its name implies, this method consists of exposing a victim to the elements. The victim could be buried up to his neck letting any animals, insects or other people kill him slowly.

In some towns there were chains, stocks or ropes used to quickly restrain someone. In many cases, the victim was simply left to die of hunger and thirst.

Due to its cost efficiency and cruelty, the exposure torture was very widespread in medieval Europe. The victim's remains often served as a warning to the population.

In many cases, the victim was sentenced to a short period of exposure, depending on the crime. However, death was frequent since they were completely defenseless.

The Chair


There are many variants of the chair. They all have one thing in common: spikes cover the back, arm-rests, seat, leg-rests and foot-rests. The number of spikes in one of these chairs ranges from 500 to 1,500.

To avoid movement, the victim's wrists were tied to the chair or, in one version, two bars pushed the arms against arm-rests for the spikes to penetrate the flesh even further. In some versions, there were holes under the chair's bottom where the torturer placed coal to cause severe burns while the victim still remained conscious.

This instrument's strength lies primarily in the psychological fear caused on the victims. It was a common practice to extract a confession by forcing the victim to watch someone else be tortured with this instrument.

The time of death greatly varied ranging from a few hours to a day or more. No spike penetrated any vital organ and the wound was closed by the spike itself which delayed blood loss greatly.

The Pear of Anguish


The Pear of Anguish was used during the Middle Ages as a way to torture women who conducted a miscarriage, liars, blasphemers and homosexuals.

A pear-shaped instrument was inserted into one of the victim's orifices: the vagina for women, the anus for homosexuals and the mouth for liars and blasphemers.

The instrument consisted of four leaves that slowly separated from each other as the torturer turned the screw at the top. It was the torturer's decision to simply tear the skin or expand the "pear" to its maximum and mutilate the victim.

The Pear of Anguish was usually very adorned to differentiate between the anal, vaginal and oral pears. They also varied in size accordingly.

This torture very rarely provoked death, but was often followed by other torture methods.


A cheap and effective way to torture someone was with the use of rats. There were many variants, but the most common was to force a rat through a victim's body (usually the intestines) as a way to escape. This was done as follows:

The victim was completely restrained and tied to the ground or any horizontal surface. A rat was then placed on his stomach covered by a metallic container. As the container was gradually heated, the rat began to look for a way out - through the victim's body.

Digging a hole usually took a few hours of agonizing pain for the victim. This almost invariantly resulted in death.

The Breast Ripper


Used as a way to punish women, the breast ripper was a painful and cruel way to mutilate a woman's breasts.

This instrument was mostly reserved for women accused of conducting a miscarriage or those accused of adultery.

The claws were used either hot or cold on the victim's exposed breasts. If the victim wasn't killed she would be scarred for life as her breasts were literally torn apart.

A common variant of the breast ripper is often referred to as "The Spider" which is a similar instrument attached to a wall. The victim's breasts were fixed to the claws and the woman was pulled by the turturer away from the wall; successfully removing them.

The Head Crusher


The head crusher was widely used during most of the Middle Ages, especially the Inquisition. With the chin placed over the bottom bar and the head under the upper cap, the torturer slowly turned the screw pressing the bar against the cap.

This resulted in the head being slowly compressed. First the teeth are shattered into the jaw; then the victim slowly died with agonizing pain, but not before his eyes were squeezed from his sockets.

This instrument was a formidable way to extract confessions from victims as the period of pain could be prolonged for many hours if the torturer chose to. This could be done by repeatedly turning the screw both ways.

If the torture was stopped midway, the victim often had irreparable damage done to the brain, jaw or eyes.

Many variants of this instrument existed, some that had small containers in front of the eyes to receive them as they fell out of their sockets.



The Saw was widely used throughout the Middle Ages, mainly because the tools required were found in most houses and no complex devices were required. It was a cheap way to torture and kill a victim who was often accused of: witchery, adultery, murder, blasphemy or even theft.

The victim was tied to an inverted position. This had several "benefits": first, it assured sufficient blood diverted to the brain, second, it slowed down the loss of blood and third, it humiliated the victim.

Depending on the victim and torturer, this torture could last several hours. When a confession was required, the victim was frequently forced to watch someone else be subject to this method. If he didn't confess, he'd be slowly cut in half.

During the Inquisition, this method became even more popular as the inquisitors traveled from village to village often without any torture devices at their disposal.

While some victims were cut completely in half as a symbolical gesture, most had only up to their abdomen cut, this was done to prolongue the time of death.

The Virgin of Nuremberg (The Maiden)


The Iron Maiden, otherwise known as the Virgin of Nuremberg, was a device used from the XVI century to torture criminals.

It stands seven feet tall and is able to accommodate a man. The victim was tied inside the Maiden and one of the two doors was shut, penetrating the victim's flesh with the strategically-placed spikes that didn't penetrate any vital organs. When completely closed, the screams from the victim could not be heard outside, nor could the victim see any light or hear anything. This increased the psychological pain. Additionally, the spikes blocked the wounds so it took many hours - or even days - for death to occur.

If the door was opened, the victim would stand in the exact same position so if the torturer chose to close the door again, the spikes would penetrate the exact same wounds. Sometimes the door was intermittently closed to maximise the victim's pain without delivering death.

The Spanish Tickler

This terrible device was used in most of Europe during the Middle Ages. It's a very simple instrument that was used to tear a victim's skin apart. Due to its shape, neither bones nor muscles were spared.

The victim was naked and tied making him or her completely defenseless. Then the torturers began the (sometimes public) act of mutilating the victim. They often began with the limbs and slowly moved into the chest, back, neck and finally the face.

In short, the Spanish Tickler or Cat's Paw, is nothing but an extension to the torturer's hand. The spikes were sharp enough to tear anything in their path.

This instrument was very common in Spain, mostly during the Spanish Inquisition. Though its use in France and England is well recorded, they often adopted different torture methods.

The Spanish Tickler varied in shape and size. Some were long and had a pole attached to the rear so the torturer could tear the skin from a distance, while others were nothing but the claw itself. Depending on the instrument, the torture varied. This torture often resulted in death, but some victims were spared or convicted to a shorter torture session.



Very common in all the world, the Garrotte received its Spanish name due to its popularity in the area. The Spanish also perfected this instrument to cause a painful and decisive death.

The victim was tied to the instrument and his or her neck forced inside the iron collar. With the handle that can be seen in the picture, the executioner slowly crushed the victim's neck causing death from asphyxia.

The garrote was widely used during the Spanish Inquisition in order to kill heretics who confessed to their crime. If he didn't confess, he was burned at the stake alive instead. The reason is that being killed by the garrote takes a few minutes at most, while being burned alive takes much longer.

This device was used in Spain until 1975, when a student was executed. He was later found innocent.


Flagellation, or whipping, was very common in Rome. It was still in use during the Middle Ages most notoriously in the army where flagellation was a very common form of punishment.

The British army was very notorious for using flagellation to punish minor offenses. The amount of whipping depended on the victim's crime and it sometimes incurred death.

Many towns had a post in the main plaza for the sole objective of displaying public whippings. Deserters, thieves and traitors were common victims to this torture method. In the High Middle Ages, flagellation became less common due to newer torture methods.

Some authors call whipping "half death" because the amount of people who died from it, caused by an infection, lack of blood or damage to an organ, was a very significant percentage. The whipping generally occurred against the victim's back, but when a more severe crime was committed his chest could be whipped, which was especially dangerous and painful.

There were different types of whips. Some had small metal spikes at the end to inflict more pain. These whips could cause some serious trauma including teared skin, eye damage and even the loss of a vital organ.

Flagellation was greatly associated with slavery. Most masters had a whip at hand in order to punish disobedience. The act of whipping continued well into the past century and reached its peak during the Roman Times. Medieval lords were also especially fond of using this torture method. Some countries still whip as a form of punishment in recent times.

The Wheel


This device was used as a capital punishment during the Middle Ages. Reserved for hated criminals, The Wheel always killed its victim, but did so very slowly.

The Wheel originated in Greece and quickly spread to Germany, France, Russia, England and Sweden. The device consists of a large wooden wheel with many spokes. The victim's limbs were tied to the spokes and the wheel itself was slowly revolved. Through the openings between the spokes, the torturer usually hit the victim with an iron hammer that could easily break the victim's bones. Once his bones were broken, he was left on the wheel to die, sometimes placed on a tall pole so the birds could feed from the still-living human.

In France, many executioners used the coups de grâce, which caused lethal injuries, to make the victim's death faster. When extreme pain was desired, the victim just had his bones broken and left there to die. It could take up to two or three days for him to die of dehydration.

Foot Roasting

In Medieval Times, foot roasting was a popular way to extract a confession or punish a criminal of minor crimes.

The victim's feet were imprisoned in the stocks (see picture) and then red-hot coal was placed right under them. When the subject was interrogated, a screen was put between the heat and his feat, acting as relief. If he refused to confess, his bare feet were exposed to the flames.

The torture progressed until the victim's feet were charred to the bone. When this occurred, the phalanges and other bones fell as the feet were completely burned. This very rarely resulted in death, but if the victim refused to confess, he could be subject to other tortures.

The Knights Templar were tortured with this method.

Burning at the Stake

Burning at the stake was a very common way to execute blasphemers, thieves and witches. It was used throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

If the fire was big enough, death occurred first by asphyxia rather than damage done by the flames. However, this was a known fact and the victims were usually burned in a smaller fire so they would "suffer until the end". When the fire was small, death occurred because of loss of blood or a heatstroke which could take even hours.

When the victim was hated by the population if he, for example, raped a woman, the general populace often congregated around the stake to see the victim die. The smell was terrible and lasted for many hours or even days after his death.

Burning at the stake was often preceded by other torture methods. Hundreds were burned alive during the Spanish Inquisition.

Joan of Arc and many other important people were killed with this method.



The thumbscrew was used during the Middle Ages.

The victim's fingers were placed inside the instrument and slowly crushed as the torturer turned the handle on top. This method was primarily used to extract confessions as it was both painful and very lasting.

If the victim refused to speak, the torturer could choose from many other torture methods.

The same instrument was also used to crush victim's toes.

A bigger variant of the instrument that followed the same principle was used to crush victim's feet, knees and elbows. The Head Crusher was used for crushing the head.

Heretics Fork


The heretics fork was used in the Middles Ages mainly during the Spanish Inquisition.

The instrument consists of two forks set against each other that penetrated the flesh under the chin in one end and the upper chest in the other. As usual, this instrument didn't harm any vital points; thus avoiding death and prolonging pain.

The victim's hands were tied behind his back to prevent any chance of escape. The Heretics Fork made speech and neck movement almost impossible and was used after a confession to avoid hearing the victim any further. As can be seen in the picture, a small collar supported the fork forcing the victim to hold his head erect.

Sometimes the victim was incarcerated and subject to this instrument as well. This instrument often harmed the neck of the victim, as well as potentially spreading an infection or disease.

A similar device was used for medical purposes in order to straighten the fingers of warriors who had been injured. The effectiveness of such instrument is debated.


Flaying is a very old torture method that was used thousands of years ago in the Middle East, Africa and even America. During the Middle Ages, it was frequently used to torture and execute criminals, captured soldiers and witches.

In one version of the Flaying Torture, the victim's arms were tied to a pole above his head while his feet were tied below. His body was now completely exposed and the torturer, with the help of a small knife, peeled off the victim's skin slowly. In most cases, the torturer peeled off his facial skin first, slowly working his way down to the victim's feet. Most victims died before the torturer even reached their waist.

In another version, the victim was exposed to the Sun until his skin reddened. This was followed by the torturer peeling off his flesh with the same method described above.

In yet another version, the victim was submerged into boiling water and was taken out after a few minutes. He was slowly flayed.

Some cultures believed that human skin contained magical properties. Others used human parts, such as scalps, to show social status.

Lead Sprinkler


At first sight, it looks like a holy water sprinkler, but in reality it's a bit more complex. The torturer poured molten metals in one end and its contents slowly rushed to the other side where they fell on any part of the victim's body. Many executions occurred with this instrument.

A common way to execute a victim was by pouring molten silver on his eyes. This caused a great deal of pain and eventually provoked death.

Knee Splitter


The knee splitter, a terrible torture, was mostly used during the Inquisition. What this instrument accomplished was to permanently render the knees useless.

Even though the name implies that this instrument was only used for "splitting" knees, it was also used in other body parts including: the elbows, arms and even the lower legs.

As the torturer turned the handle, the claws slowly slammed against each other mutilating any skin in between. The number of spikes the knee splitter contained varied from three to more than twenty.

There were many variants to this instrument. Some claws were heated beforehand to maximize pain - others had dozens of small claws that penetrated the flesh slowly and painfully.

Even though this method very seldom provoked direct death, it was often followed by other more painful methods if the victim refused to cooperate.

The Spanish Spider

The Spider was designed to mutilate a woman's breasts. The spider is nothing but a variation of the famous breast ripper, though the spider is believed to be more painful.

The spider was usually chained to the wall - the claws were usually heated before being fixed to the woman's breasts. The torturer just had to pull the woman away from the wall to successfully remove her breasts.

This was a brutal punishment that often resulted in the victim's demise. Fortunately, it was rarely used and only reserved for women who committed very serious crimes: deliberate miscarriage and adultery.

The spider is also known as the Spanish Spider because it was used during the Spanish Inquisition.

The Pillory (stocks)


The pillory was used to publicly humiliate a victim. Even though it was meant as a mild form of punishment, the crowd sometimes made it lethal.

The pillory often served as a post for Flagellation. When the victim was restrained with the device, he was completely defenseless and subject to the crowd.

In many cases the crowd threw harmless objects such as vegetables, but when the victim committed a serious offense they threw stones or other heavy objects. The crowd often humiliated the victim by cutting his hair, putting marks on his body and even mutilating some of his body parts.

The pillory didn't last more than a few hours, but it was sometimes carried on for days. The device was situated in either the marketplace or the plaza - where most villagers could see the victim's suffering. The army was also well-known for using the pillory as a means of punishment.

Crocodile Tube

The crocodile tube wasn't common, but it was used to kill many infidels and thieves.

The victim was fixed inside a tube just big enough for the victim's entrance. The tube, having crocodile teeth-like spikes, was slowly compressed leaving the victim totally immobilized. The torturer could only see his face and feet.

With the help of carbon and fire underneath the tube, the torturer gradually heated the tube until he extracted a confession or killed the victim. The former was most common, as this is one of the cruelest and most painful tortures ever used on human beings.

With the face and feet exposed, the torturer was able to inflict painful wounds on the victim. Facial mutilation and toe ripping were preferred choices.

The Brank


The Brank was used to humiliate women who "by brawling and wrangling amongst her neighbours breaks the public peace, increases discord and becomes a public nuisance to the neighbourhood." In short, women who gossiped with their neighbors with no purpose other than to offend, ridicule or lie about someone else were subject to this torture.

The device was a metal cage or mask that enclosed the head, often with ridiculous adornments designed to humiliate its victim. In some towns, the Brank had a bell attached to its rear only to announce the presence of the victim who was instantly mocked by the people she "endangered" through gossip.

Many variants of the Brank appeared throughout the Middle Ages, some included spikes that penetrated the victim's flesh when she spoke.

The duration of this torture could range from a few hours, to months. In some cases, the victim was left to die with the Brank; if she ever removed it, she'd be tortured with another method and sometimes killed.

Crocodile Shears

The crocodile shears had a very specific purpose: To mutilate those who attempted to assassinate the king.

The interior design closely resembles a tube containing numerous spikes on both ends. Although it was sometimes used to mutilate the fingers, its most common purpose was to mutilate a man's penis.

This torture method was frequently also a way to execute victims, as the arterial damage that ensued from the torture provoked death very frequently.

There are few records of the crocodile shears actually being employed.

Toe Wedging


The victim's feet were secured on a small platform. Using wooden or metallic wedges, the torturer slowly fixed the wedges underneath the victim's nails, almost exclusively for confessionary purposes.

What followed next was agonizing pain for the victim, as failure to confess would mean wedging the next nail, and the next. Toe wedging was considered the prelude to more painful and humiliating torture methods that would ensue if the victim failed to confess.

Since the same wedges were used on several victims, it was common for infections, amputations and even death to result.

Toe wedging became popular hundreds of years before the Middle Ages, its origins probably date to Ancient Egypt or before.

A variant of toe wedging was finger wedging, which was similar, except that the wedges were presses against the fingernails.

Copper Boot

The copper boot could be used in several different ways. First, the torturer placed the victim's feet inside the boot and secured them with chains inside the device. Depending on the crime, the victim could be tortured in many different ways:

  • Boiling Water: Although it was more common for victims to be Boiled Alive with the cauldron, torturers could fill the boot with water and place some fire underneath, slowly burning the victim's feet until the victim passed out, died, or confessed.
  • Molten Metals: Although the boot would become unusable for later victims, filling it with molten copper, lead or silver was a common practice as it would produce third degree burns and even cause intoxication.
  • Beat it: Another way to prolong pain was by repeatedly beating the boot with a hammer. Although the legs would not suffer lethal damage, the pain this incurred often made the victim pass out.

The Pendulum

The pendulum was a good way to extract confessions. With the help of a rope, the victim's wrists were tied behind his back. As the torturer turned the handle, the rope slowly elevated eventually dislocating the victim's shoulders.

This was very seldom a lethal torture method, as torturers used the pendulum mostly for inflicting psychological fear to extract confessions before actually hurting the victim.

If the victim refused to confess, the torturer could elevate the rope high enough to dislocate both shoulders, causing permanent damage. If the victim still failed to confess, torturers could employ more painful devices to finally extract the confession.

Many confessed by the mere sight of this device.

The Street Sweeper's Daughter


Very possibly called the Street Sweeper's Daughter after the Scavenger's Daughter from England, this device was mostly used in Russia and the Middle East.

The Street Sweeper's Daughter worked by compressing the victim's body; just like The Rack, but inversely so. The torturer Could tighten the device or loosen it up, depending on the victim's offense.

This device although not very painful-looking, was often employed publicly to humiliate the victim. Those particularly hated individuals were often at the mercy of an angry crowd that often threw stones and fecal maters to the exposed victim.

The immobilized victim was also frequently led to madness, as the torture period could last for weeks or months.