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The Rack Torture Device

The Middle Ages were renowned for brutality, pain, and misery, and this was when most torture devices were invented and utilized. Though many torture devices were famous for the level of torture they inflicted on people, there have been none so brutal as the Rack Torture Device.

Working and Mechanism of Torture Rack

The Rack of Torture device was a rectangular wooden or iron frame which was usually raised from the ground with a roller at one or both ends. The victim’s wrists and ankles were chained to the rollers, and as the interrogation progressed, a handle and cord mechanism attached to the top roller was used to gradually retract the chains. 

It gradually increased the strain on the prisoner’s shoulders, hips, knees, and elbows, all the while causing excruciating pain. By means of pulleys and levers, the roller could be rotated on its own axis, thus straining the ropes until the victim’s joints were dislocated and eventually separated from the body. Additionally, when muscle fibers were stretched excessively, they lost their ability to contract, rendering them ineffective.

Rack Torture Device – Painful Torture

Rack Torture Device - Painful Torture
The Rack Torture Device is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The Rack Torture Device was so gruesome that even if the individual’s joints weren’t dislocated or torn from their sockets, the victim would be maimed and, in some cases, paralyzed for the rest of their life. 

Rack Torture Device was initially a system of ropes and pulleys, but modifications were made over the centuries throughout Europe. In France, spikes were added to the Rack to increase the victim’s suffering. As the victims were put on the Rack, the spikes dug into their back and further into the spinal cord while their limbs were stretched out.

If you think that the previous description of the Rack Torture was torturous, Russia’s version of the device was devil’s hell. Russia had its own form of the Rack where the victims were hanged by their chained hands. The suspension allowed for the individual to be stretched out while being whipped and having candles applied to different parts of their body. This form of medieval torture device, the Rack, was also used during the Inquisition period. However, there was an excruciating addition of violently dropping and raising the victim until their joints shattered.

When was The Rack Torture Device Used

According to historians, the use of the Rack Torture Device was first done in antiquity, and the earliest examples are from Greece. The Greeks may have been the first to use the Rack to torture enslaved people and non-citizens. The torture device has been used in situations of standard charges like blasphemy and heresy. Eventually, witchcraft and other crimes against religion and morality were also included, although the crimes were not exclusively confined to religion. While in Britain, the device was used as an instrument to extract information. After the first half of the 17th century, the practice continued in other European countries and Russia, where it was also used during the 18th century. The spread of enlightenment ideals and the age of reason eventually overcame this fanaticism of the medieval times’ torture devices.

Who Invented The Torture Rack

In 1420, John Holland, the second Duke of Exeter, introduced the rack torture device during the middle ages. The Duke famously used it to torture women and thus earned the device the nickname, ‘The Duke of Exeter’s daughter.’ The Duke also infamously used the torture device on the Catholic martyr Nicholas Owen and the Protestant Saint Anne Askew. Anne Askew was reportedly so stretched out after the torture that she had to be carried to her execution. Guy Fawkes of the infamous Fifth of November Gunpowder Plot was also said to be a victim of the torture device.

The Rack Torture Device Facts

Some of the Rack Torture Device facts are:

  •   In the fourth century B.C., an arsonist named Herostratus was brutally tortured to death on the Rack torture device for setting fire to the second Temple of Artemis. 
  • Among this device’s most famous alleged victims was the Scottish rebel William Wallace, who inspired Mel Gibson’s movie- ‘Braveheart.’ Wallace met a particularly gruesome end when after being stretched, he was publicly emasculated, with his genitals burned in front of him, and disemboweled before a crowd.


The Rack Torture Device was nothing short of a brutal assault on both the physical and mental faculties of a person. It is a form of torture that takes corporal punishments to another level and makes one lose hope in humanity. Thankfully, Britain formally banned the practice of torture as a part of the Treason Act, in 1708. However, the punishment wasn’t officially outlawed worldwide until the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1984.

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