There used to be a saying that if you were upset with someone or in the mood to give them their comeuppance, you had designs to go “medieval” on them. This was largely considered to be a humorous threat at best, but its roots are in anything but. The Medieval time is not a period most of us would ever want to travel back to for a number of reasons. One of these, however, has to be the common use of torture on prisoners and the truly ghastly instruments that were used for this purpose. Here are 15 examples of the absolute worst.
1. The Head Crusher
This device probably doesn’t need much of a description beyond its name. When medieval authorities wanted information, they only needed to apply the head crusher to its task. The prisoner’s head was placed under a metal cup that was then used to crush their head. Teeth were typically the first to go; then the eyes. Finally, if a confession wasn’t offered, the skull would break.
2. Impaling Devices
There was nothing fancy about impaling people during this dark time period. All it took was a pole sharpened to the point of being lethal. If the culprit wasn’t cooperating with information about a crime he was said to have committed or his alleged accomplices, he would be made to sit upon the spike. Their own weight would then be their undoing. Generally the pole would poke through their sternum and then be replaced under their chin for maximum effect.
3. Scold’s Bridle
No one likes people who nag too much or partake in gossip. But during medieval times, some who were guilty of this act were dealt with harshly. The Scold’s Bridle was a cage made for a woman’s face. Once on, spiked plates and metal were forced into her mouth. The result was pierced tongue that would bleed continuously. Worse still, some bridles came with metal gags designed to irritate the back of her throat.
4. The Breast Ripper
Here’s another example of particularly brutal ways of dealing with women. If one was accused of adultery, medieval society would feel very little for her. As such, they would use the breast ripper to permanently deform her. This device was also used on women accused of heresy, blasphemy, abortion and many other crimes.
The machine had claws that were used to tear apart a woman’s chest. Sometimes it was even heated up first. Either way, the result is painful to even imagine.
5. The Breaking Wheel
From a distance, the breaking wheel may have appeared like simply a larger version of other wheels. But nothing could be further from the truth. While typical wheels were designed for travel, this one was made for torture.
Crimes like thievery were punishable via the breaking wheel. Criminals were tied to it before it began turning. As the wheel made its revolutions, the torturer used a club or iron hammer to beat them fiercely, breaking bones along the way. When the physical torment was over, the criminal was simply left to die.
6. Cat’s Paw
Whether you called it the cat’s paw or the Spanish Tickler, either was a creepy way to describe a handle with protruding claws of sharp metal. The torturer could take it in his hand and then use it to effortlessly peel away flesh from the criminal’s bones. This type of punishment was generally reserved for thieves, adulterous wives and other kinds.
7. Knee Splitter
Here’s a device with a far more straightforward name. The knee splitter is self-explanatory. It was designed to split the knees of the accused. To achieve this end, two blocks were armed with sharpened wood teeth. Each block took separate parts of the knee, one on top and one below. When the knee splitter was used, it essentially chewed through a person’s leg, enforcing maximum pain and damage on the knee.
8. Scavenger’s Daughter
Henry the VIII is known for many things, the majority of which aren’t very flattering. Well add the Scavenger’s Daughter to the list. While there’s no reason to think he invented it, the machine was definitely used under his reign.
The device itself looked innocent enough with a simple A-frame design. But it was used to lock the victim’s head, hands and ankles in such a way that they could be compressed in a way that resulted in blood spraying from the ears and nose.
9. Judas Chair
During a time period dominated by Christianity, you knew you were in trouble if a device bared the name of Judas. The device was a small pyramid supported by four legs, just like a chair. However, unlike a normal chair, the seat had a sharp point that a victim would be forced to apply their anus or vagina too. Once they did, ropes were used to lower the body onto the device further.
These ropes also allowed the executioner to pull the body over the point quickly or rock it over a period of time. Either way, the result was grizzly and only made worse by the fact that it was often a public spectacle.
10. The Lead Sprinkler
This might be one of the simplest devices on the list, though it is no less terrifying. The lead ladle was used to “sprinkle” liquids like boiling water or oil or even molten tar, metal or pitch onto the accused who was tied down in place.
11. Crocodile Shears
While we mentioned some terrifying devices that were clearly designed for a woman in mind, don’t think men had it any easier. Medieval torturers were plenty fond of going after their reproductive organs. One example is crocodile sheers.
The shears were really a pair of pincers that had partially cylindrical blades that could make a sharp tube right from hell. These were used to clamp down on a man’s penis (often erect—don’t ask) and then rip it right from his body. Others were simply left with the device attached so they bled out.
12. The Rack
The rack may be one of the most well-known devices on the list and for good reason. During the medieval era, it was one of the most favored forms of punishment. It was one large wooden panel made so a body could lie down on top of it. Then ropes were attached to all four limbs at the wrists and ankles.
An attached wheel would pull on the ropes with each turn so that the prisoner’s limbs were eventually dislocated. Eventually, they’d be torn right from the body. Many versions of this awful device also included a bed of spikes so the victim’s spine didn’t escape un-maimed.
13. Brazen Bull
With the Brazen Bull we get another sense of how ingenious, yet terrifying, medieval torturers were. On the outside, the device looked like nothing more than a beautiful statue of a bull cast in metal. But the device was hallowed out and made with a door so people could be put inside. Once the accused was in, fire would be applied to the belly. Basically, the victim was roasted alive.
But actually, the device goes as far back as ancient Greece. During that time period, the inside of the bull had a number of tubes that worked to turn the victim’s screams of pain into loud noises that sounded like an angry bull.
14. The Saw
This device might not be the most imaginative, but wait till you hear how it was applied. First, the victim was tied upside down. Thus the blood would rush to the brain and keep them from bleeding out and dying mercifully early when they were then saw either across the abdomen or length-wise, starting at the crotch.
15. The Rat Cage
Most people don’t like rats, but many during medieval times hated them to death, literally. That’s because they would be tied up with a box placed on their stomach. Inside this metal box was a rat. When heat was applied to said box, the rat inside would do anything they could to get out, including rip right through the victim’s stomach and internal organs.