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Torture And Puishment In Elizabethan Engalnd
Torture And Puishment In Elizabethan Engalnd
Torture and Punishment in Elizabethan England
A notable time during the late middle ages was when Queen Elizabeth was in power, from 1558-1603. She was a dictating, powerful, and cruel monarch. She also believed in extreme punishment for crime, in order to run a peaceful country. The death penalty could be prescribed for any offense, even some as minor theft, or highway robbery. During this time, a person of higher social standing could accuse a peasant of a crime without any evidence. Chances are the peasant would be tortured until they admit to the crime. Frequently, the accused would be tortured to death. If he or she admitted to the crime, the punishment would be death, probably by hanging. During this era, many devices were invented to dehumanize, humiliate, or simply to be uncomfortable to the victim. For a severe crime, the devices used were often just to inflict the most amount of pain possible onto the victim.
One punishment for women who gossiped or spoke too freely was called “the brank”. It was a large iron framework that enclosed the woman’s head. It had a metal strip that fit into the mouth that was either sharpened to a point or covered with spikes, so that any attempt to speak would lead to severe injuries to the mouth. The woman was then led on a chain by a city official through the town, and tied to a whipping post or pillory to endure the cruel and verbally abusive public.
Another more severe punishment for women who gossiped or spoke too freely was “the ducking stool”. The ducking stool was a wooden or iron chair that was attached to a large lever system. The lever allowed the chair to be raised or lowered without tipping the chair, making it parallel to the ground at all times. It was always placed at the waters edge so that it could be dunked repeatedly underwater with the woman strapped to it. Based on the level of the offense and cruelty of the deciding party, the woman could be dunked underwater for any number of times, for any period of time. In some extreme cases, the woman could be drowned by the amount of time spent underwater. Most ducking stools where fixed at the waters edge as a grim reminder to the village women of what free speaking can lead to, but some were mobile and could be moved to the water at the necessary time.
Another humiliating, painful, and uncomfortable torture instrument was the “pillory”. It was a wooden post with holes in it for the persons hands and head to go in, and would be locked in place. The pillory was always displayed in public. The person would have to stand there for days on end with minimal food and water, and was also subjected to verbal abuse, rotten food, and having his or her hands whipped.
An unusual and humiliating punishment for public drunkenness was “the drunkards cloak”. The drunk was forced to wear a barrel that had holes cut into it for hands and head for several days, while wandering through town with villagers jeering and beating on him.
A thief or pickpocket would often have his or her right hand cut off, or some times their eyes plucked out with hot tongs. If any of a persons limbs were cut off for punishment, an amputation saw would be used. This is a kind of saw that it much more painful and jagged than a regular saw.
There were many ways of executing invented attempting to create the absolute most amount of possible pain, ranging from mild to severe. The most honorable way to be executed during this time was beheading. The lower a persons social satus, and the higher the crime, the more painful and slow their execution would be. A person could be hung until half dead, then disemboweled or quartered alive. They could be stretched to death, or have weights put on their chest until the persons ribs cracked. They most common for of execution was hanging. It was so common that there were areas were many people would be hanged at once, called “gallows”.
In conclusion, punishments of this dark time are much more cruel than what would be allowed today. Private and relatively humane executions have replaced public hangings and disembowelments. Punishments for crime were extreme, and unnecessarily cruel and painful. There are now holding cells for criminals awaiting a fair trial, instead of the stocks. All I can say is that Im glad I’m not living in Medieval England.
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