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.
Stocks were also used as a means to punish unruly prisoners. This practice continued in the USA until well
into the 20th century.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The throne in use. The edge of the throne forces the victim's spine to bend backwards.
The victim sits in the stocks, while hot coals are placed under her feet.
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 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 in some other countries. The picture shows bastinado being used
as a harem punishment, with the victim's feet inverted in stocks.