10 of the Most Notoriously Evil Medieval Torture Weapons

4/05/2011 08:08:00 AM ·

 Guest Writer Sarah Moses

Torture weapons during the medieval period operated in a variety of different ways for essentially the same purpose: to cause as much pain as possible with death often the end result. Though some of them may have existed prior to the Spanish Inquisition, which began at the end of the medieval period, it was during this time that some of the medieval torture weapons were most used. Some of the medieval torture weapons were based upon simple tools while others were more complex and still others gender-specific. Unlike widespread incarceration, these torture weapons could be used to specifically fit the crime.

The Saw

Not all torture weapons during the medieval period were elaborate devices. Some were common tools like the saw, which was used as a method to draw out confessions from heretics. To add to the pain and humiliation, many of those who faced this sort of torture were suspended upside down with a saw placed at the crotch, where the sawing would begin downward toward the abdomen, occasionally all the way to the head.

The Heretic's Fork

The heretics fork was a form of non-fatal torture weapons. The use of the fork reached its peak during the Spanish Inquisition and would be used to prolong pain in its victims and prevent them from speaking. The fork actually consisted of two, one at either end of the central bar. One would be positioned under the chin and the other at the upper chest of the victim; each penetrated the flesh. To keep the fork in place, a collar would wrap around the victim's neck and attach to the fork and the victim's hands would be bound. Because it wasn't fatal, the victim could be incarcerated while wearing the fork.

The Thumbscrew

Though it bears the name for the one digit, the thumbscrew could be used on any of the victim's fingers or toes. Used throughout the middle ages, the thumbscrew would tighten on the digits like a vice until they confessed of their crimes, which was a common purpose to medieval torture weapons.

The Knee Splitter

Resembling a set of monstrous jaws full of spiked teeth, the knee splitter was used largely during the Spanish Inquisition. The two spiked bars could be crushed together by twisting large screws on either side, destroying the knees -- or other body parts. The width of the individual spikes could vary, depending upon the type of pain the torturer wanted, but they were typically metal, allowing them to be heated before being used on the victim.

The Head Crusher

The head crusher was one of the common medieval torture weapons. Though designs varied, it typically had a metal cap attached to a screw, held within a square frame. The bottom bar of the frame would go beneath the victim's head and the cap at the top. As the screw would be turned, it would compact the head, shattering teeth and jaw, popping out the eyes, crushing the skull and damaging the brain before death. This was used throughout the medieval period, particularly during the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Tickler

Also known as the Cat's Paw for their shape, the Spanish Tickler acted as an extension of the torturer's hand with metal claws that could easily tear away a victim's flesh, muscle and even bone. The victim would be bound and stripped naked before torturers began to mutilate the victim. Like a number of torture weapons during the medieval period, when a person faced the Spanish Tickler, it was done in public to serve as an example to others. It was common in Spain, particularly during the Inquisition, though some use was recorded in France and England.

The Lead Sprinkler

This device was designed like a ladle with holes in it. The sprinkler would be filled with molten metals, then shaken over the victim. The intense heat would easily burn the victim's flesh and the randomness of the droplets would make it difficult for the victim to anticipate.

The Breast Ripper and the Spanish Spider

Some torture weapons were designed to target women in particular. The breast ripper was designed to torture women, especially those those who conducted a miscarriage or was accused of adultery. This device had claws that could be used hot or cold on the victim's exposed breasts. This may not kill the woman, but it would rip her breasts apart. A similar variant on the breast ripper was the Spanish spider. The claws of the spider would be attached to the wall as well as the woman's breasts, and she would be pulled away from the wall, tearing her breasts from her body.

The Pear of Anguish

Said to be used on women, homosexuals, blasphemers and liars, the pear of anguish, also known as the choke pear, resembles the fruit until a screw on top is turned, opening it into four leaves that slowly spread apart. Considered by some as one of the cruelest medieval torture weapons, a pear of an appropriate size would be inserted into an orifice, which would depend upon the person's crime and gender. Women had the pear inserted into the vagina, homosexuals into the anus and liars and blasphemers into their mouths. The screw would be turned and the pear would open once inside the orifice, stretching and tearing it.

The Crocodile Shears

According to records, though few, the crocodile shears were torture weapons set to punish a specific crime: attempting to assassinate the king. Though they could be designed to look like a crocodile on the outside, they got their name from the inside, which had a tube containing numerous spikes on both sides. While it could be used to mutilate fingers, it was most often used on a man's penis. Torture weapons during the medieval period varied in the way they brought about their desired result, but extreme pain was always a guarantee. They might be targeted to fit the victim or the crime the victim was accused of committing. Some were complex devices that needed to be specially made while others were variations on basic tools.
Biography: Sarah has worked as a reporter and later as a copy editor at a newspaper in western Maryland for the last five years. A graduate of West Virginia University in both Journalism and English, she has always had a great interest and fascination for history. 

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