Stocks and pillories were not always used as a punishment. They were also a very effective form of restraint.

Villages and small towns would rarely have a jail. So someone arrested for a serious crime would be held in the stocks, as the only means of secure confinement available. He or she would remain there until they could be brought to trial, either to a court in a large town or by a visiting judge.

stox11 almondbury


Stocks were also used as a means to punish unruly prisoners. This practice continued in the USA until well into the 20th century.

13859 lollards fultoncounty_florida georgia1937 16458 pivak7


Stocks were a common punishment in workhouses, which were 19th century "benevolent" institutions for the poor. Failure to obey the strict and numerous rules could entail a spell in the stocks.



Stocks and pillories were also employed in torture chambers, to restrain victims during or between torture sessions.

kol15 stox16 inquisition

The stocks were particularly favoured for any torture of the feet. For example, roasting the victim’s feet in front of a fire, and the bastinado (beating the soles of the feet). More subtlety, Chinese torturers would put their victims in the stocks and tickle their feet continually until they confessed.

Stocks sometimes formed part of a torture instrument, for example to immobilise the victim’s ankles while he or she was being stretched on the rack. Here are some illustrations of other instruments of torture which incorporated stocks.

4663 With this device the victim’s feet would be secured in the stocks, while the hands were manacled to the other end, leaving him or her bent backwards over the large wedge in the middle.

stox17 As if this was not enough, a funnel would be inserted into the victim's mouth, into which would be poured a considerable quantity of water.

trono1 This device was mockingly called the "throne" (trono in Spanish), due to its resemblance to that item of furniture. The victim's ankles were placed in the stocks at the top, then he or she was left upside down until the increasing strain of that position forced a confession.

trono2 The throne in use. The edge of the throne forces the victim's spine to bend backwards.

jban The victim sits in the stocks, while hot coals are placed under her feet.

elsp2 A more refined torture, where the hot coals are in a brazier under the victim's feet. The feet are then basted with oil, so that they roast rather than burn. This was done to keep the nerve endings intact as long as possible.

bastinado Bastinado involved beating the soles of the feet, and could be used as a punishment or a torture. Bastinado was practised throughout the Middle East and a number of other countries. The picture shows bastinado being used as a harem punishment, with the victim's feet inverted in stocks.

[Return to index page]  

Last modified 3 April 2013.
Copyright © StocksMaster. All rights reserved.