Tower torture

Tower torture

Handcuffs

See replicas of three terrifying instruments of torture in the bottom of the Wakefield Tower.

Torture at the Tower

The bottom of the Wakefield Tower holds an exhibition about prisoners and torture at the Tower.

One of the best descriptions of the place where people were tortured at the Tower comes from Jesuit prisoners John Gerard;

‘We went to the torture room in a kind of solemn procession. The chamber was underground and dark. It was a vast place and every device and instrument of human torture was there. They pointed out some of them to me and said that I would try them all...Then they took me to a big upright pillar, one of the wooden posts which held the roof of this huge underground chamber.’

Gerard is probably describing the basement of the White Tower and the torture he underwent was the manacles.

The replicas of torture instruments used at the Tower

The manacles

‘Then they put my wrists into iron gauntlets and ordered me to climb two or three wicker steps. My arms were then lifted up and an iron bar was passed through the rings of one gauntlet, then through the staple and rings of the second gauntlet. This done, they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it slipping and then, removing the wicker steps, they left me hanging by my hands and arms fastened above my head’, John Gerard.

The rack

Gerard was arrested and imprisoned during a time of religious and political upheaval in Britain. In the 16th and 17th century torture was used to gather information. Prisoners were tortured and interrogated to give up the names of their conspirators.

Anne Askew was put on the rack to get her to confess the names of protestant sympathisers. The diary of her ordeal was smuggled out of the Tower;

‘Because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands till I was nigh dead…’

The scavenger’s daughter

At the Tower, another type of torture was carried out based on the opposite idea to a rack. Instead of stretching the victim, the ‘scavenger’s daughter’ compressed or contorted the person. Two versions exist. The replica in the Wakefield Tower crushes a body like a nut cracker. The other version, in the Spanish Armouries of the White Tower, is an elaborate set of handcuffs which also grasps the neck and ankles – twisting the victim into an excruciating position.

Downloadable Resources

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    Prisoners tortured - background
    (Adobe PDF, 39KB)

    Torture instruments - backgroud info
    (Adobe PDF, 38KB)

    Tower of London and torture
    (Adobe PDF, 37KB)

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