Branks Torture Device

The Horrors of the Branks Torture Device

The Branks Torture Device, also known as the Scold’s Bridle, was a metal cage or mask that was fastened around the victim’s head and was a means of slow torture and humiliation rather than inflicting physical harm. Let’s explore the history, purpose, and usage of this medieval device that sheds light on the social and cultural factors of the time.

What is Brank Torture?

Branks Torture Device
Brank Torture by wellcomeimages is licensed by CC BY 4.0

The Branks Torture Device was employed during the medieval period, particularly in Europe, as a method of public punishment and shaming. It was a physical device that covered the head of the accused person, resembling a metal cage. The device had a bridle-like design, with a protruding tongue-shaped piece that was inserted into the mouth, preventing the person from speaking coherently. Made from metal, usually iron, the Branks Torture Device featured various additions depending on the period and location. Some versions even had bells attached to draw attention to the victim, inviting verbal abuse and spitting from the surrounding community. The Brank was often used on women accused of being “scolds,” a term used to describe those who were outspoken, argumentative, or engaged in public altercations. It was an effective way for the male-dominated society to control women’s behaviour and ensure their subservience.

Purpose of The Branks Torture Device

One of the primary purposes of the Branks Torture Device was to humiliate the wearer publicly. When a woman was accused of scolding, gossiping, or engaging in other offensive behaviours, she would be subjected to the Branks as punishment. Once fitted with the device, the woman would become a spectacle in the community, enduring verbal abuse, spitting, and other forms of public humiliation. 

This form of punishment served not only to inflict physical discomfort but also to discourage other women from engaging in similar behaviours, as the fear of public shame was a powerful deterrent.

History of The Branks Torture Device

The origin of the Branks Torture Device remains shrouded in mystery, making it challenging to pinpoint its exact inception. However, historical records suggest its usage dates back to at least the 16th century. The first known written mention of the Brank was in Scotland in the mid-1500s. The Branks Torture Device was known by different names in different places, such as the “Scold’s Bridle” in England and the “Gossip’s Bridle” in Scotland. These names reflect the device’s association with women and the perceived “nagging” and scolding behaviours often attributed to them.The use of the Branks Torture Device persisted into the 19th century, but over time, its popularity began to wane. As societies evolved and attitudes towards punishment and human rights changed, such methods were increasingly seen as barbaric and cruel. The last recorded use of the Branks was in 1856 in Bolton le Moors, Lancashire.

Use of Method of Brank Torture Device

The Brank was employed as a punishment for a range of offences, particularly those perceived as causing public disorder or social disruption. Crimes that warranted the use of the Brank included breaking the peace, being a public nuisance, engaging in gossip or insults, criticizing religion, and witchcraft accusations. Women accused of witchcraft were especially vulnerable to the Brank as it aimed to silence them and prevent them from spreading alleged malicious rumours or curses. Notably, the method of Brank torture varied based on the gender and social status of the victims. While women were the primary targets, men could also face the Brank, albeit less frequently. This gender disparity highlights the inherent biases in the application of this punishment, further emphasizing the subjugation of women in medieval society.The impact of the Brank on society was profound. Its use perpetuated the belief that women should remain silent and obedient, reinforcing traditional gender roles. The fear of public humiliation through the Brank contributed to the control and suppression of dissenting voices, effectively stifling any form of protest or criticism against the prevailing authorities.

Brank’s Torture Device Crimes

In medieval times, the definition of crimes and offences differed significantly from our modern understanding. Many actions that were considered minor or even trivial today were met with severe punishment if they disrupted the established order. 

  • Breaking the peace, which could include arguing in public or disturbing the peace in any way, was an offence that might lead to Brank’s punishment.
  • Being a public nuisance or gossiping could also result in Brank’s torture. These behaviours were seen as potential threats to the cohesion and stability of the community. Moreover, criticizing religion was deemed unacceptable, as the Church held immense power and influence during that period.
  • The accusations of witchcraft were particularly dangerous, as they could lead to a death sentence in severe cases. The Brank was one tool used to silence and condemn those accused of practising witchcraft, perpetuating the witch hunts and trials that plagued Europe during that time.

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