Methods of Medieval Torture

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Without a doubt, there is not a single person living today that would attempt to disprove the known fact that methods of torture during medieval times were both cruel and most definitely did not fit the crime in which they were intended to compensate for. This paper is intended to confirm the media’s portrayal, specifically Hollywood, of the tortuous methods of a time period where the techniques and procedures utilized to prove a point were perceived as reasonable. Contrary to most popular opinion, methods of medieval torture were actually chosen with much deliberation and were not executed until a legitimate conviction had been proven. A conviction “of serious crime required either the testimony of two impeachable eyewitnesses or the defendant’s confession before the judge.”1 It is evident that the methods used to torture, maim, and kill criminals between the 13th and 16th centuries were definitely heinous, but during that time period, these methods were proven to be successful, just, and a crucial element of a very historical judicial system. Within that “judicial torture” system, the most popular methods of horrific medieval torture included, but were not limited to, water torture, Before scrutinizing the different methods of medieval torture, a more in-depth analysis must be written to explain the science behind all of these methods. In 1866, Edward H. Lecky put the strange science of medieval torture into his own descriptive words: What strikes us most in considering the medieval tortures is not so much their diabolical barbarity … as the extraordinary variety, and what may be termed the artistic skill, they displayed. They represent a condition of thought in which men had pondered long and carefully on all the forms of suffering, had compared and combined the different kinds of torture, till they had become the most consummate masters of their art, had expanded on the subject all the resources of the utmost ingenuity, and had pursued it with the ardor of a passion. The system was matured under the medieval habit of thought, it was adopted by the inquisitors, and it received its finishing touches from their ingenuity.2 Most methods were not torture techniques that consisted of their face value; torture methods were strategically created for two reasons: in order to reprimand guilt or the reason that most individuals have never known or realized, in order to prove innocence. Although some torture methods were definitely more effective than others, many forms existed that everyone in the middle ages thought could prove guilt or innocence; the philosophy behind it being that the Gods above would prevent any pain to the individual if that person was innocent. If the individual was guilty, then the method of medieval justice became grueling torture.3 However, on the contrary, would it not be suffice if other methods were used to deem innocence or guilt? Christopher Einolf wrote the following regarding medieval torture methods: Finally, medieval ordeals are not considered torture, even though some ordeals involved pain, as inflicting pain was not the goal of the ordeal. Instead, pain was an incidental part of a procedure designed to ascertain God’s opinion of whether the person was truthful or untruthful, guilty of innocent. Some ordeals, such as the ordeal to test for witchcraft by having a suspected witch float in water (on the theory that water would “reject” a witch as unnatural and a witch would float), did not involve pain at all, demonstrating that the infliction of pain was not a necessary component of the ordeal.4 It is interesting to hear the opinion of another author, especially when speaking about something as horrific as torture. Regardless, if the medieval justice system was attempting to prove innocence or guilt through torture, in retrospect, it seems obvious that maybe other means were available and could have been utilized to prove that- not necessarily pain. In addition to proving...
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