Medieval punishments were horrific ways to keep citizens controlled.
These days, no one's going to punish you for doing magic, but a couple of centuries ago, women were sentenced to death simply because someone pointed at them and shouted, "Witch!" The trials could hardly be called as such because the only thing that could prove someone’s innocence was if they survived the deadly punishment, the court's reasoning being that God would intervene if they were truly innocent. Hanging people was just one of the many punishment methods used at this time. Medieval punishments were creatively evil, and to be honest, I think punishers took their time coming up with these cruel and terrifying methods. There wasn't any kind of written code or law that dictated what offense deserved which punishment. You could get anything from public shaming to decapitation, and there were two different kinds of trials, depending on the crime committed. The non-serious crimes were determined by a jury, and the serious ones were sort of tricky because they were taken to the king’s court, where the trial (by ordeal) almost always meant death.
Pear Of Anguish
This is what I meant when I used the word “creative.” The object really is unthinkable, and it definitely shows someone put some thought into it. The pear-shaped object was used as punishment for the alleged crimes of witchcraft, prostitution, and homosexuality. The metallic object was introduced into either the vagina or anus and as the stem was turned, it would slowly open damaging the insides and causing inevitable pain. The book Letters From The Inquisition cites a case where a woman who received the punishment died from the pain after 27 turns.
The Judas Chair
This pyramid-shaped stool was a punishment method during the Spanish Inquisition. Offenders sat on the tip of the pyramid (metallic or wooden), which would cause them tremendous pain in the anus or vagina. The punishment could last for hours, or even days, and it was also used for interrogation purposes. Their hands and legs were tied to prevent them from resisting, and weights were added to inflict maximum pain. When they fell asleep, or passed out, victims of this horrible act were woken up by guards. If they didn’t die from the extreme pain, they would usually die from an infection or of virus, since the stool was never cleaned.
Also known as wooden horse or chevalet, this triangular bench with small spikes on it is similar to the Judas Chair. Like the stool, this punishment method originated in the Spanish Inquisition. It consisted on having the person sit down (like riding a horse) fully naked with weights tied to the legs to ensure the tips would pierce all the way through.
Although more associated with torture, this wooden bed is one of the most recognizable forms of pain infliction created in the Middle Ages. You’ve probably seen it in a movie. The criminals were laid on the rectangular bed, and their hands and legs were tied up from the ankles and wrists to prevent resistance. Then, the interrogator would question the victim, while the roll that was tied to the robes would rotate, stretching the body parts and causing infinite agony. A later, more modern version of the rack included blades to stretch the spinal cord as well.
At first glance, you might think this one was less horrible than the previous methods, but you'd be very mistaken. Being sentenced to death in Italy or England, usually meant spending the rest of your life inside this man-shaped cage. The cage was hanged on the streets, so the community would see the criminals as they starved to death, died from the freezing cold or dehydration, or before an enemy would take the opportunity to kill them.
We couldn't talk about medieval punishment without mentioning the iconic stocks, usually implemented for petty crimes like stealing. The delinquents were restrained on the wooden blocks with their head and hands out, or sometimes just the feet. The criminals were placed outdoors where they were publicly shamed, and citizens threw food and rocks at their faces. The method remained incredibly popular for centuries, even during colonial times in America.
Although this method was more of a trial than a form of punishment, it’s worth mentioning because being taken to the king’s court was seen as the ultimate punishment, and all offenders were found guilty. This trial by ordeal consisted of holding a burning iron as the offender was forced to walk – and it didn't end there. After three days, the alleged criminal had to go back to court and show their healed wound as proof of innocence. If the wound showed no progress, they were found guilty.
Thrown into the water
This was another trial by ordeal that didn't take into account any evidence, or testimonies. Serious criminals were taken to the king’s court, and the delinquents were tied to a chair, and thrown into the water – that's the trial. If they sank, they were innocent. If they floated, they were guilty. Even if they somehow managed to release all air from their stomach and sink, I doubt they had a chance to escape.
As bizarre as they might sound, these methods were really used on people, and the punishments were meant to inspire fear because authorities wanted citizens to think about the consequences of committing a crime, but sometimes people were innocent, and no authority figure bothered to hear their side of the story. It sure makes you appreciate the current justice system, which (usually) listens to testimonies and bases the sentence on the evidence.