One probably shouldn’t admit this, but I am fascinated by torture chambers and such. I don’t condone torture, of course, and I’m horrified that it went on. It still does in some cases and places, I’m afraid. But there is just some forbidden pull (no pun intended) from those twisted instruments and their history. Thumbscrews, the iron maiden, the Catherine wheel, the coffin: they are horrific and amazing all at once — perhaps in a “How could humans do such dreadful things to fellow humans?” kind of way.
The torture tools on the Tudor-era menu could simply extract a confession or humiliate the victim, or instead be just the opening act to certain death. (That last bit was against the formal “rules.” Whatever. ) A sampling of some of these include manacles, the dunking stool, and the rack.
Manacles (above) were handcuff-like gadgets hanging from the ceiling, which would then be clamped around the wrists and hands of the accused so that they too would be hanging from said ceiling. Which doesn’t sound like that big a deal when compared to, say, being stretched from here to kingdom come.
But Father John Gerard described his 1597 experience with manacles as such: “It seemed to me that all the blood in my body rushed up my arms into my hands; and I was under the impression at the time that the blood actually burst forth from my fingers and at the back of my hands. This was, however, a mistake; the sensation was caused by the swelling of the flesh over the iron that bound it.” So, not quite the field trip you’d think.
The dunking stool (above), as you can imagine from the name, would dunk the victim into water repeatedly until they drowned. Its cousin is waterboarding, and I’m not going to go there.
The rack (main photo, at top of this post) was also called the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter, after a 15th-century constable of the Tower, John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter. You may recall that one Anne Askew took a ride on the rack before being burned at the stake. Mark Smeaton supposedly spent four hours on the darn thing.
I suppose I can’t be the only person morbidly fascinated by this subject, not when there is The Big Book of Pain on Amazon. At least I’m in good (??) company.