10 Most Cruel Punishments in Medieval Times

In the Middle Ages, punitive punishment was viewed as the right method of extracting confessions, performing executions, and punishing offenders. Other ways were known to be crueler than others – the ten we’re going to look into in this post were the most brutal and barbaric. 

The medieval duration in Europe span between the 5th and 15th centuries. At this period, torture was usually used to make someone make confessions, make them say the names of all their accomplices, or even at some point used for someone to speak up about a particular crime. Local customs and law didn’t give limits on prisoners’ treatment or the limit in which torture could be inflicted on the victim. As a fact, confessions were not taken to be genuine, or real when things like light torture were imposed like strappado and toe wedging. 

Depending on the victim’s social status, gender and crime committed, different torture was used. Professional torturers would leverage instruments, devices, methods to ensure victims could live long while they underwent the agonizing experience. Most prisoners were taken through painful torture before they were executed for additional information to be extracted; in most such cases, the method of execution was among the torture persevered by prisoners. 

What was the cruelest punishment in medieval times? 

There are many various torture methods and devices. But after I scoured the internet, I managed to come up with a selection of the well-known 10 cruel punishments. That said, let’s break it down for you. 

Note: Before you can read on, the contents we are writing are disturbing. 

#1. Head Crusher

This was the other sorrowful punishment that was used in medieval times. Yes, it means what the sub-topic says. The head crusher was a unit that was made and designed to be used to crush someone’s head. It is known that the device could crush slowly the skull and even all the facial bones in a frightening experience. This torture was very tormenting to an extent if the torturer could stop before someone’s death, would also cause permanent deformation of the facial muscles and would also lead to death. 

#2. Rat Torture

Yeah, rats also played a role in torture during medieval times. Of course, there are tons of variants, but the used and common technique was to get a starving rat via the body of victims – usually the intestines, as a technique to make its escape. And to make the technique work, victims were fully enclosed and tied on a horizontal surface or the ground. Then a rat was put on the stomach that was enclosed using a metallic container, that was heated gradually. The rat started to search for a place to escape, and the obvious option was to come out via the body of the victim. Circumnavigating through the victims’ internal parts was painful and took some hours, and in the long run, the victim would die. 

#3. Coffin Torture

This stands out as the most feared form of execution in medieval times. The victim was inserted into an enclosed coffin, hence making them fully immobile. The time was dictated by the crime that was committed by the victim, and when bad come to worse, mistakes like blasphemy were punishable through death. The accused were often placed on public display, for them to be abused and mocked by angry locals. Also, they were not provided with any food and they survived, they’ll be required to toe the line of their leaders. 

#4. Breast Ripper

Another nasty torture was the use of a breast ripper. This was referred to as Iron Spider and was notably among women that were notorious for blasphemy, heresy, self-abortion, adultery, or even being accused as witches. Also, the method was useful for interrogations. The appliance that was used was usually heated in the process of torture and had four claws that were helpful in gradually and painfully removing women’s breasts. The blood at times could be splattered to her kids. In case the women didn’t die, the women could remain disfigured forever. 

#5. Knee Splitter

This was notable during the inquisition. The knee splitter had two wood spiked blocks that were inserted behind and in front of the knee. The woodblocks that were linked using two big screws, would then be closed and could move closer to each other, which implies that it could disfigure the knee of the victim. Such a technique could leave the victim’s legs destroyed forever. The spikes on the woodblock would differ between three and twenty, and the nature of the crime could dictate the number of spikes to be used. 

#6. The Judas Cradle

This is also referred to as the Judas Chair. It is one of the cruelest punishments that was invented in Italy. Here a prisoner would be lowered onto a pyramid-shaped seat using some ropes. The point is inserted in his or her anus or vagina. Victims of this punishment would face permanent damage. This is because one is tortured with so much pressure and the orifice expanding. Those who face this punishment would mostly have their muscle tissues torn that would get infected after some time. Heavier weights would be added to enhance their entire effects. One would die through impalement as a result. During other circumstances, a Spanish donkey or wooden horse would be used to achieve the same results. Prisoners were forced to sit on the triangular horse as they exert all their weight on the anus at a certain angle.

#7. Saw torture

This punishment involved the use of the saw. Here, the victim was sawed into two either transversely or longitudinally through a body mass. The victim by tortured by just cutting him or her in half using a saw. Mostly the victim would be hanged upside down and slowly sawn into two parts. If they were sawn all the way, victims would die instantly. In some circumstances, they were sawn up to the stomach part and left to die slowly. This wouldn’t take some days before they succumb to death. This method has never been believed by many. It was so questionable how it could happen to a real human being with the most unfortunate souls.

#8. Pear of Anguish

This castigation was mainly used during the Middle Ages as a way of punishing those ladies who facilitated miscarriages in society. It was also used to punish liars, homosexuals, blasphemers, and many other people who promoted vices. Some devices were used as an insertion to the victim’s orifices. For example, an insertion was made on the vagina for women, anus for homosexuals, and the mouth for blasphemers and liars. This is the reason why it was also regarded as the Choke Pear. This torture device featured some four metals that would separate as the torturer inserts it on the prisoner’s orifice. Therefore, it would expand more to cause more pain to the victim. This method rarely caused death however, it caused more pain. It was followed by other punishment methods.

#9. Breaking Wheel

This classical mode of executing capital punishment was also referred to as Catherine wheel. This device was mostly used to torture and kill those victims for public executions. It was a very large wagon wheel that is equipped with radial spokes. Here, the prisoners were scourged to this torture wheel where their limbs were beaten using an iron cudgel or club. The wheels had some gaps which would automatically break the limbs. Since the prisoners were strapped to the wheel their limbs would break severely. The victims would survive for a long later on, however, they felt so much pain. Some of these offenders would survive for some days before succumbing to death due to major injuries.

#10. Iron chair

This method was commonly used during the Middle Ages. This iron chair was equipped with many spikes. The offender was forced to sit on this chair and the torturer would tighten the iron restraints. The spikes would force themselves deep into the skin causing the worst pain. What’s so disturbing about this method is that this never lasted for a few minutes. This would go on for several hours or even days depending on the many factors. These spikes did not penetrate the vital organs of the body, therefore, minimizing blood loss until the victim was released from this chair. What happened next was the person succumbing to death. So, this Iron chair was overall used as a physiological device for this painful torture. People who wouldn’t want to confess their crimes would be forced to watch other victims being tortured. This would make them confess everything.


There you have it! Those are most of the 10 most cruel punishments in medieval times that were taken as part and parcel of life. During those eras, laws were not followed such as prosecution on the court, and conflict resolutions were not part of the times. The list is endless, but we only decided to present you with some of the notable punishments that could sometimes cause death. 

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