Some courts used torture to determine if someone accused of a crime was truly guilty. This torture would take strange forms: Someone’s arm would be forced into boiling water, and the verdict would be based on how well the arm healed days later. Other courts simply tortured people to get them to confess to the crime. The courts themselves even recognized, in their twisted way, that a confession given under torture held no legal meaning. Such a confession had to be confirmed by the victims while not being tortured within 24 hours. If they refused, however, they were simply tortured until they confessed again.
Torture as Sentence
Torture was often included as part of a judicial sentence against a criminal. Authorities responded to increases in crime rates by enacting excruciating tortures upon convicted criminals, usually in a very public manner. The horrifying nature of the punishment was meant to deter other criminals. While the most serious offenses (high treason, mass murder) resulted in severe torture, children were sometimes hanged for stealing food, so not everyone who visited the torturer’s chamber was a hardened criminal.
Bad Cop, Worse Cop
Once a person was convicted of a crime, he or she might be tortured again until they identified his or her accomplices. Critics of these criminal “justice” systems pointed out the absurdity of such a practice: If a person would confess to committing a crime themselves under torture, why would a person hesitate to accuse others while being subjected to incredible pain
Women Torturers: Queen Mary I of England
There are many cases in which entire classes of people were systematically tortured (usually to death) with no desire to acquire information, determine guilt or enact a religious conversion. For example, Queen Mary I of England used burning at the stake to combat the Protestant Reformation. During her five-year reign, from 1553 to 1558, 300 people were burned to death for their religious views. The goal was to strike fear into the hearts of other Protestants.
People were often tortured to force religious conversions. They also faced torture because they may have committed heresy against the established church. Thousands were tortured during the Inquisition on the pretext of religious heresy or conversion, although Inquisitors in general were often motivated by more earthly concerns – they took over the estates and wealth of their victims