The medieval period had many positive attributes; however, there was a dark side to the time that saw men cause terrible pain and suffering on other men, sometimes based upon little more than rumor or speculation. To bend the will of individuals, torture was often used as a grim tool.
One of the most common methods of torture was called strappado. An individual’s hands were bound behind their back then they were suspended by their wrists. This caused their arms to be pulled behind their backs, dislocating their shoulders. Weight could be added to dislocate their legs joints. Other methods of torture were the thumb screw where a devise was fitted over one’s thumb then by way of a screw mechanism increased pressure was applied to the thumb joint. This devise was also incorporated into a boot to cause pain to the foot, ankle or calf. Water was also used. A person would be given massive amounts of water, sometimes mixed with urine, feces or other substances while their nose was clamped shut. This caused severe pain.
Pincers or tongs would be heated to sear the tortured individual’s flesh. Another method involved the feet being secured and coated with a layer of grease. A heat source would then be moved near causing them to slowly roast. Many different objects and devised were used in torture and the methods were only limited by the torturer’s imagination. Overall, the balance in torture was to slowly inflict the maximum amount of pain while keeping the victim conscious and alert for questioning.
The Church was not immune from torture as was seen in the Inquisition. Christianity had spread through Europe due to the Great Schism of 1054. While Christianity was spreading, the Church was careful to put down any threats or competing religious movements, perceived or real. To quell any threats, the Pope authorized torture. Since bishops and higher church rulers often lived away from their areas of responsibility, traveling Inquisitors conducted the heresy investigations. It is interesting to note that no inquisition was ever conducted in England. However, the inquisition was not the only time torture was used.
Secular courts frequently used torture and their methods were much more extreme than those of the Church. In fact, the Church, while allowing torture, forbade the mutilation of the tortured individual’s body; however, if the Church torturers could not extract a confession, the victim was often handed over to the secular authorities who were not bound by the Church anti-mutilation decree.
The main goal of torture was to cause intense, agonizing pain designed to break the will of a person to coerce them to confess to whatever their torturers demanded. Interestingly enough, many times the individual who was being tortured had no idea what they were accused of. However, the pain often was so intense, that they would confess to anything to stop the pain. However, the reprieve was often short lived as heretics were generally burned at the stake as a result of their confession.