Torture and Punishment, pp.328-329.

[Scottish National Memorials Contents]

   WHILE all countries and all times have possessed instruments of torture and of punishment, it has been the unenviable distinction of some to have discovered new methods of torture and to have exercised all methods without hesitation. Without going back in history beyond the Middle Ages, and without going outside of Europe, there is enough of torture described to fill volumes, and enough of ingenuity displayed in the way of inflicting it to excite profound astonishment and horror. Long practice and close observation had enabled judges and executioners to find out the sensitive parts of the human economy, and they applied their knowledge unsparingly. The mere enumeration of the different forms is even a difficult matter. There were, for example, the cold-water drop on the head, cold water poured by a funnel down the throat, pressure by a board loaded with weights, floating in water with the thumbs and toes tied together; there were the jougs, branks, thumbscrews, the long irons, the pilliwinkes, the cashielaws or caspieclaws, the boot; all the methods of stretching the body by the rack, or by hanging on weights, all the methods of contracting the body, as by the ‘Scavenger’s Daughter,’ or of keeping it in unnatural positions; there was the breaking on the wheel, tearing with hooks, knives, sharp points, stones, pricking, burning the finders with tapers and touch paper, roasting the soles of the feet, scalding with boiling water, oil, and red-hot or molten metal, maiming and cutting, ‘thrawing the bead with a rope,’ and the exquisite torture of keeping the victim awake. 

   These are a few of the common forms, allusions to which are numerous, and abundant illustrations of them, and of others even more appalling, will be found in such books as Tanner’s Societas Jesu usque ad sanguinis et vitæ profusionem militans, etc., Prague, 1675; Morland’s History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont, London. 1658, folio; Antonio Gallonio’s Trattato de gli Instrumenti di Martirio, Rome, 1591, 4to, and in Latin, Cologne, 1602, 12mo; Verstegan’s Theatrum Crudelitatum, Antwerp, 1588; De Cavallerijs’ Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ Trophæa, Rome, 1514, 4to; and in that extraordinarily rare book, The Lamentations of Germany, by Dr. Vincent, London, 1638, 12mo. 

   For some methods of torture no special apparatus was required, but for others very elaborate contrivances were employed. Those enumerated hereafter are simple enough, but a trial of any one of them will convince the most sceptical of their efficiency. It is not surprising that King William, when operated on by Principal Carstairs’ thumbkins, admitted to the Principal that under their influence he would confess anything.1 

   THE HEADSMAN’S AXE of St. Andrews. The heading axe, judging from this and other specimens, was differently formed from the ordinary axe, and must have required considerable skill to use it for its terrible purpose. In this specimen the blade from the handle to the edge measures 17 ½ inches, and is quite straight. The edge is very slightly curved, and is 9 ⅞ inches long. The handle is 19 inches long. Both sides of the blade are ornamented with various devices in dotted lines, which seem to have been etched into the metal. The blade is preserved in a leather cover. (See Fig. 258.) 


   BLADE OF THE ‘MAIDEN’ from Aberdeen. This blade, Scottish guillotine, is 18 inches long. The edge is 9 ⅝ inches wide, but at 8 ½ inches from the edge the blade widens out to 11 inches, and then it is finished off by a narrow piece of about 3 inches wide. In the middle of this is a circular hole through which passed the hook by which the blade was drawn up to the top of the framework above the neck of the victim. Riveted to each side of the broad part of the blade are thick blocks of lead. The whole weighs 4.5 lbs. An illustration of the whole instrument will be found in Daniel Wilson’s Archæology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1851, p. 689. The blade, however, is differently shaped from the present one. Although death by hanging, drowning, or burning was the common mode of execution in Aberdeen, yet that the ‘Maiden’ was employed, particularly about the close of the sixteenth century, is evident from the fact that the place of execution still bears the name of the Heading Hill. The following entry appears in the Master of Kirk and Bridge Works Accounts:- ‘The alevint day of September (1595) robert scherar was deidlie hurt by Ion donaleson notar – on ye twelt instant ye said robert deid – ye said Ion Donaleson was hedit ye said xiii day and bureit in ye kirkyard.’ (See Fig. 259.) 


1  See Chamber’s ‘Edinburgh Journal’ article, ‘Judicial Torture… in Scotland;’ 

   “It is worthy of remark, that, after the Revolution, when Carstairs had come into high power, the Privy Council, then composed of different persons, presented to him the identical instrument by which he had been so severely tortured a few years before. It is related that, being one day at court, the king said to him, ‘I have heard, Principal, that you were tortured with something they call thumbikens; pray what sort of an instrument of torture is it?’ ‘I will show it you,’ answered Carstairs, ‘the next time I have the honour to wait on your majesty.’ The principal was as good as his word. ‘I must try them,’ said the king: ‘I must put in my thumbs here – now, Principal, turn the screw. Oh, not so gently – another turn – another – Stop! stop! no more – another turn, I’m afraid, would make me confess any thing.’ ”

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