Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Witches on Wednesdays 3: the grisly tools of the Witchfinder!

Today I'm sharing some of the grisly tools of the Witchfinder! 

Anyone who has visited Scotland will nod in agreement when I say that the country has the most amazing museums and galleries, most of them with free entry, enabling you to go back several times (as I often do, any excuse.) For lovers of history and those doing research, the past is accessible through these amazing collections.

In terms of the witch trials, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has a superb (and gruesome!) collection. Here are just a few of the pieces.

Thumbscrews and manacles used for interrogating those accused of witchcraft. Often those who were accused were deprived of food and water for long periods of time. They'd be held in stocks, manacles or chains, and then subjected to torture to gain the confession of witchcraft. 

One of the most common used tools to gain confession was the thumbscrews. Here with these two examples we can see what nasty little devices they were.

Branks with a chain, also called "witches bridles." The jagged edge cuts into the skin on the neck to enforce a confession. 

The witches bridle is something that was used in both England and Scotland, and I'll be sharing some the Lancashire artefacts from the Pendle Witch trials later on. 

Thumbscrews with padlock and key, and iron branks with a gag - used by the Kirk particularly to silence women accused of gossip. This awful looking device has a metal strut that sits over the tongue.

Close up of thumbscrews. Nice, huh. 

Seeing these instruments and the stocks and chains was important for me to get into the mindset of those who feared discovery, those were constantly watchful or on the run, as my Taskill witches are.

The history of those times reveals that many innocents were put to death, and in the second book in the series THE LIBERTINE, the heroine, Chloris, finds herself in danger of being presented to the Witchfinder, because of her connection to people who are suspected of witchcraft. She is not a witch herself, and through Chloris I explored how that might happen -- having been helped by a healer, and to have the finger pointed because of that. In the book Chloris has a powerful male witch who loves her deeply and who may or may not be able to rescue her ;) History is there for us to acknowledge, but also to re-imagine, perhaps with a happier ending…

Here's a snippet from THE LIBERTINE:
"Ah, and here she is."  Gavin looked at her from hooded eyes. He pressed his lips together as if he were containing a smile.
"You know what this is about, I wager," Tamhas snapped at her.
Chloris held her head high. "No, I do not. Would you care to enlighten me?"
Tamhas looked enraged by that and he strode over to her, stepping between her and Gavin. When he glowered at her there was a warning in his eyes. "I know that Lennox Fingal has come here, and you would do well to reveal his whereabouts and quickly, lest you get dragged down to hell with him."
Chloris glared back at him. He could rant at her all he wanted, but she was not about to reveal Lennox's whereabouts.
"Speak out, Chloris," Tamhas urged when she did not respond. "Your husband has already summoned the Witchfinder General."
A rushing sound filled her ears and her mouth went dry, her heart hammering in her chest. The Witchfinder? Visions of what they might do if they found Lennox or Jessie filled her thoughts. It could not happen. She would not let them harm her lover or his sister. The very thought that they might get their hands on either one of them made her want to warn him and send him on his way. It was her fault that they had come here. She had to stand between them and their persecutors, there was no question about that. Chloris vowed she would, because she loved him and it pained her deeply to think that he'd come here for her and put himself in such danger.
From behind Tamhas Gavin emerged, approaching her. "Tamhas has explained what happened to you in Saint Andrews. Now I understand why those dreadful changes I discovered in my wife have occurred. You've been consorting with witches, you have been subject to their evil ways." He looked her over with disgust. "I will hand you over to the Witchfinder General without a qualm, for I would rather forfeit my wife in order to have your soul redeemed."
Chloris fought the mad urge to laugh. How well this had played into his hands, she realized. He did not want her to leave him, for that would show him up, but he could play the martyr in front of the whole Burgh if it suited him. People would talk about his brave sacrifice and his position would be maintained. "You can do what you want with me. I will never reveal his whereabouts."
"So it is true, you are in league with a witch." Gavin scrutinized her, calmly. "Well, the Witchfinder will get the information from you. They have some canny tools for the task." He flashed her a brief smile. "Once he puts his thumbscrews on you, you will plead for mercy. When you get none, you will tell him everything he needs to know and then you will sign the confession with your bloodied and broken hand."
How he relished the prospect.
"I will die before I reveal anything," she replied.
Gavin inclined his head. "Your choice."
"Don't be a fool," Tamhas interjected, and raised his hands in a gesture of disbelief. "You cannot sacrifice yourself for one of the devil's slaves."
You can read the first chapter of THE LIBERTINE (the moment Chloris meets Lennox) here.

In a future post I'll talk a bit about law and order during the period. Next week I'll talk a bit about the landscape of the Taskill books, the cities and the adventures of travelling in the early 1700s.

Until then, why not go on a virtual tour of the National Museums of Scotland. 

1 comment:

Casey Sheridan said...

Just the thought of those thumbscrews would make me confess to anything whether I was guilty of it or not.