With torment and with shameful deeth echon
this provost dooth thise Jewes for to sterve.
That of this mordre wiste, and that anon.
He nolde no swiche cursednesse observe.
"Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve";
Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,
And after that he heng hem by the lawe.

      From Chaucer's The Prioress's Tale:  Lines 1818-1824

Torture was the primary punishment given to criminals by most European countries during the period between 1250 through the late 1700's. Popularly called questio in Latin terms, it is the infliction of pain and suffering on a criminal's body in order to obtain a confession of truth. This does not include minor forms of interrogation and/or threats to their health. (Peters, Torture 54)

If a person was found guilty of a crime, torture could be decreed by the judge as punishment. People exempted from this law were people over and under a certain age, pregnant women, knights, nobility (especially the king), and sometimes members of the clergy. The kind of torture that could be used on a criminal was limited according to certain protocols. It could not be:

  1. savage or cause permanent injury,
  2. must be of ordinary kind with no new art form accepted, and
  3. a doctor or some other medical expert was required to be present.

In order for a confession to be valid while torture was given, the same confession was to be repeated after the torture was completed. If it was recanted, then application of further torture was repeated. (Peters, Torture 57)

Click here to view different instruments used for torture during the Middle Ages.