A Real Scold’s Bridle

These metal frames are often mentioned in 17th and even 18th century England and though not called this are held up as examples of brutality towards slaves. They were always used on women, sometimes called the brank, and this is the only account I’ve found. this comes from Stevie Davies’ Unbridled Spirits:

The brank was composed of bands of iron, often painted in gay colours, to match the carnival air of the occasion. A protrusion of metal was attached to the inner part of the iron hoop, to receive which the woman had to open her mouth when the bridle was fitted and locked into place. This was the ‘bit’, measuring from 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, which would reach the back of her throat. If she panicked, she would retch or vomit throughout the experience of being ‘ridden’ around town,. Te bitt came in several styles, either lying flat or turned down a the end, holding down her tongue, which would be spiked by, for instance, a design such as the bridle held at Stockport, whose gag terminated in a rounded extremity, fitted with 9 iron pins with sharp points 3 on the upper surface, 3 on the lower, 3 pointing backwards. This torture implement was only equalled by the witch’s bridle at Forfar, in which condemned witches were led to the stake, the bitt being a spur with 3 sharp pointed spikes, to pierce the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Even the least barbarous scold’s branks were liable to shatter the teeth as the ‘rider’ tugged the wearer along. She stood in danger of breaking her jaw, since with every jerk of the lead, the cage on her head twisted. She might be whipped at the same time.

The procession generally headed for the market square, where the victim was tethered and left for a stipulated period, exposed to ritual humiliation such as spitting, stone throwing or urination. Pain, din and shock would traumatise her…Scolding was next to cursing, and cursing next to witchcraft….”

In 1656 a militant Quaker, Dorothy Waugh, went to Carlisle market cross where she was arrested for preaching…

The irate mayor called for the scold’s bridle and conferred a summary sentence of 3 hours. Dorothy seems never to have seen such a contraption which she describes as:

like a steel cap and my hat being violently plucked off which was pinned to my head, whereby they tare my clothes to put on their bridle as they called it, which was a stone weight of iron… & 3 bars of iron to put over my face, and a piece of it was put in my mouth, which was so unreasonable big a thing for that place as cannot be well related, which was locked on my head, and so I stood their time with my hands bound behind me with the stone weight of iron upon my head, and the bitt in my mouth to keep me from speaking; and the Mayor said he would make me an example to all that should evercome in that name.

At seeing her ‘so violently abuse’d the people around wept – further frustrating the mayor,.. he never envisaged that a scold’s brank, exposing the wearer to public ridicule, could stand s a martyr’s crown.

the mayor had the brank removed, then put her into prison, then put the brank on her again, then whipped her out of town – passed from each town’s constable to the next till she returned to her place of settlement.

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