Thursday, January 1, 2009

The tortuous brodequin: Crusher boot

The Scots have never been backward when it comes to ingenuity and invention and were at the forefront of niche torture, inventing the boot (referred to as brodequins or bootkins).

The cunning device ensured maximum agony without endangering life in anyway. There were several versions of the boot and all caused excruciating pain. The earlier boot consisted of a wooden frame around the lower leg and foot, similar to those that support young saplings. This was tightly bound in position with a strong rope. The victim was seated and had both legs encased, side by side. In a systematic way tension was increased to the tissues by driving wooden wedges into the framework causing compression of soft tissue, and crushing the legs and feet. Four wedges were used for ordinary torture and eight wedges in extraordinary torture. As the chords bit through the flesh it caused absolute agony. In many cases the bones were fractured.

Later the wooden frame was replaced with an iron boot. Wedges were driven downward between the boot and flesh causing, pure agony. Sometimes the boot was heated until red hot during interrogation, a reference to this practice is found in Grimm's fairytales. Torture of the boot was considered by contemporary observers to be most severe and cruel and it was rare for anyone to survive the ordeal without permanent disfigurement. The alarm caused by the idea of the boot was often enough to loosen tongues but the event of the foot crushing was considered so upsetting to witnesses, many official observers would avoid the torture sessions. This created problems since there had to be independent witnesses present to confirm confession. Orders compelling the number of people required to stay were necessary.

Royals frequently visited the torture sessions and considered them entertainment.

The boot was used from sixteenth century onwards and equally applied to men and women. The boot was often reserved for suspected practitioners of the occult with many accused witches and warlocks were forced to endure foot torture. So successful was this torment several versions of the boot began to appear across Europe. In Spain, the Inquisition used the Spanish Boot which was an iron casing for the leg and foot and had a screw attachment for compressing the calf of the leg. Sometimes the leggings were heated whilst on the leg, alternatively they were pre heated then applied to the naked flesh. The advantage of the former method was questions could be asked before applying heat, otherwise damage was so immediate by the latter method, and there was little advantage to the interrogator. This was done only as a last resort.

The French version of the boot consisted of high boots made of spongy leather. These were placed on the legs of the victim who was sat in front of a burning fire. Boiling hot water was poured into the watertight boots penetrating the leather; and causing the flesh to cook. The subsequent shrinkage of the leather as it dried out tore mercilessly at the flesh. The Irish customised the boot and modified the French practice by pouring melted resin into the boots. Confessions were swift.

The Austria Hungarian Empire used both crusher boots with wedges as well as the iron boot. Later variations on the basic boot theme included shin crushers from Germany and bone crushing tongs from Spain and the Lisbon Inquisition (1704) used the iron slipper.

An alternative to the boot was called the foot press, and consisted of a pair of horizontal iron plates lined with spikes. Systematically each foot was squeezed between them. Another fiendish variant was the instep border, a boot like device with a six-inch retractable spike positioned over the instep. The victim was strapped to a chair and the crank was turned to drive the spike into the boot like enclosure, piercing the instep and emerging through the sole of the foot.

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