Hideously unjust and psychotic in their devotion to duty, the Inquisitors went to any lengths to wring confessions from their victims. Anyone who denied being a heretic was tortured. Among the devices monks had at hand were the rack which would pull the limbs in different directions until tendons tore or bones cracked. There was the strappado in which the accused was suspended by his wrists and heavy attached to his ankles.
In its most extreme form, the ropes of the strappado were jerked violently downwards, dislocating the bound arms the victim. This was called squassation. Prisoners were clapped in an ‘iron boot’ and then had wedges of wood had hammered between their skin and the metal. The array of implements available to Inquisitors also included the lash, thumbscrews, hot pincers and a brazier of burning coal. In addition there was water torture, in which the victim might be forced to swallow or breathe in water until he felt he was drowning.
If the confession of heresy was not forthcoming, then the accused clearly would not renounce his alternative faith. Those heretics who did not confess were paraded through the streets in marked garments before being handed over to the secular authorities to be burned at the stake. While the number burned at the stake might have been relatively few, many died during torture or in the hellish Papal prisons. To survive it was essential to confess to heresy before being judged as a heretic. Of course, many victims broke and confessed to heresy. Yet confession might not mark the end of their plight. The Inquisitors wanted the names of their cohorts and would continue torturing until they got them.
Even the dead were unsafe. Such was the frenzy inspired by the Inquisition that dead men were named as heretics. This was a disaster for their living relatives. Not only was the corpse dug up, paraded through the town and burned at the stake but the estate and wealth of his descendants was seized. Here was punishment brought against those who could not defend themselves, illustrating the Inquisition’s disregard for justice. Those that confessed after torture were fined by the Inquisitors. Anyone who could not afford to pay was thrown in jail. The Inquisitors’ prisons were notorious. Still suffering the effects of the torture, the victim would be dumped in a stinking dungeon. Sometimes the penalty included solitary confinement. If not he would be hung up in chains next to others, left to beg for bread and water. Although saved the horror of the stake, death was protracted and agonising. On a Sunday morning the doomed heretics were handed over to the authorities for their ultimate punishment. Without a trace of irony, the Inquisitors appealed for clemency.
None was given for there was an unspoken rule that the magistrates or royal houses in charge of proceedings would be excommunicated from the Catholic Church without ado if the death sentence was not hastily carried out. Too late, Rome realised that a monster had been created. Pope Clement V tried to curb the bloodlust by declaring that the accused should be tortured once only. The Inquisitors’ response was to continue that torture session day-in, day-out.
from ‘History of Punishment and Torture’ by Karen Farringdon