Nursery Rhymes

Ducking Stool

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Ducking Stool
The Medieval period of the Middle Ages was violent, and blood thirsty. In these barbarous times the cruel and pitiless torturers were induced to inflict the horrors of tortures, including the Ducking Stool, on prisoners by water. Torture methods, devices and instruments were used to inflict the deliberate, systematic, cruel and wanton infliction of physical and mental suffering.

There were no laws or rules to protect the treatment of prisoners who faced torture, such as the Ducking Stool by water. Torture was seen as a totally legitimate means for justice to extract confessions, obtain the names of accomplices, obtain testimonies or confessions.

Crimes which warranted the use of / Method of inflicting the Ducking Stool
Different types of torture were used depending on the victim's crime and social status. There were also different tortures used according to the customs of each country. There were also different tortures used for men and women. The Ducking Stool was specifically used as a torture method for women. The device was a chair which was hung from the end of a free-moving arm. The woman was strapped into the chair which was situated by the side of a river. The device would then be swung over the river by the use of the free-moving arm. The woman would then be ducked into the freezing cold water. The length of immersion into the water was decided by the operator and the crime of which the woman was accused. It could last for just a few seconds but in some circumstances this punishment process could be continuously repeated over the course of a day.

Crimes which warranted the use of the Ducking Stool
The Ducking stool was a punishment strictly designed for women. The crimes which deemed such a punishment were prostitution and witchcraft. Scolds were also punished by this method. A scold was a term given to a gossip, shrew or bad tempered woman during the Middle Ages. A scold was defined as: "A troublesome and angry woman who by brawling and wrangling amongst her neighbours breaks the public peace, increases discord and becomes a public nuisance to the neighbourhood". The device was used in cases of witchcraft. Ducking was seen as a foolproof way to establish whether a suspect was a witch.

The ducking stools were first used for this purpose but ducking was later inflicted without the chair. In this instance the victim's right thumb was bound to left toe. A rope was attached to her waist and the 'witch' was thrown into a river or deep pond. If the 'witch' floated it was deemed that she was in league with the devil, rejecting the 'baptismal water'. If the 'witch' drowned she was deemed innocent. This particular method of ducking was also inflicted on men accused of witchcraft.

Middle Ages Torture
Middle Ages Index

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