Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘torture’

torture

Many of the posts I have done for Tudor Stuff have touched upon people who were outlawed for their Catholic beliefs; many of these people were fined, imprisoned, tortured or executed.  In researching these stories I have often come across the name of Richard Topcliffe. Although this name is less well known today it was infamous in Elizabethan times for its association with torture and cruelty.

Early years

Somerby Church Linconshire : Rick Wilks on Flickr (Click image)

Somerby Church Linconshire : Rick Wilks on Flickr (Click image)

 

The Topcliffes were an old family from Somerby in Liconshire, Richard was born in 1531 but orphaned when he was aged 12 and was placed in the care of Sir Anthony Neville, his uncle.  It seems that Topcliffe may have entered the Queens service in some capacity before she ascended to the throne. Family connections helped him to become Member of Parliament for Beverley in Yorkshire and eventually secured him a role in the official investigation of those perceived to be enemies of the state.

Torture chamber I HDR : Photo hans jesus wurst on Flickr (Click image)

Torture chamber I HDR : Photo hans jesus wurst on Flickr (Click image)

Bully  and sexual fantasist?

From the 1570’s onward, England had no shortage of external enemies but the most suspicion fell upon its Catholic minority. Special attention was given to the Priests who were being smuggled into England to minister to these Catholics, it was in the persecution of this group that Topcliffes talents were most often employed.

Although Topcliffe seems to have been used at different times by the Privy Council, Lord Burghley and the spy master Walsingham, he was known to boast of his links to Queen Elizabeth. One of his victims, a Priest called Thomas Pormont reprted that Topcliffe had boasted to him that the Queen had allowed him to touch her breasts and legs and also;

‘that he felt her belly and said unto Her Majesty that she had the softest belly of any womankind’

It is hard to read anything about Topcliffe without getting the impression that this was a man who enjoyed his work. John Gerard wrote about meeting him after he was arrested in 1594. Apparently Topcliffe said to him

You know who I am? I am Topcliffe. No doubt you have heard people talk about me?

Clearly, Topcliffe thought that the mention of his name might be enough to frighten people. In order to heighten the effect Topcliffe hit the table with his sword as he said this. Gerard reported that he was unimpressed although he had indeed heard of Topcliffe, describing him as ‘a cruel creature’ who ‘thirsted for the blood of Catholics’

Torture bed : jeff caires on Flickr (Click image)

Torture bed : jeff caires on Flickr (Click image)

Torturer

So closely was Topcliffe associated with the practice of Torture that the term ‘Topcliffian practices’ became known as a euphemism for torture. There are many accounts of his involvement with this, and again it is easy to get the impression that he took personal enjoyment from this.

He is known to have had his own ‘stronge chamber’ in his London house where he boasted that he kept a personally designed machine for torture – ‘compared with which the rack was mere childs play’ – we can only guess what form this machine may have taken. It is also likely that he helped to pioneer the use of manacles, a ‘lesser torture’ than the rack but still devastating in its effect upon victims.

Torture chair : Brian Gilmore on Flickr (click image)

Torture chair : Brian Gilmore on Flickr (click image)

A useful but little regarded servant of the State

Although he was useful to the Elizabethan state it seems likely that there was no love for a man who may have been considered a necessary evil. In his later years Richard Topcliffe retired from London and spent most of his time in his estates in Yorkshire and at Badley Hall in Derbyshire where  he died in 1604.

There are no pictures of Topcliffe that I know of ( unless anyone can correct me?).  I though it appropriate to use images of torture instead. Also, as an Amnesty International supporter I have added a link to their information about torture – sadly, there are plenty of modern Topcliffes still at work.
See also our earlier post ‘Torture – rack and manacles’

end-bit
Stumble

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The Tower of London at night : Antoine Debroye on Flickr (click image)

The Tower of London at night : Antoine Debroye on Flickr (click image)

for alleged treason. Gerard had been facing accusations that he had tried to turn people from loyalty to Queen Elizabeth. As
part of his examination, he had been tortured which had left him in a weakened physical state. Had he eventually been found
guilty then he would have faced a terrible execution. A decision was made that Gerard would try to escape – but how could
this be done?
After bribing the warder, Gerard had been allowed to visit and conduct mass with a fellow Catholic called John Arden who had
been imprisoned following accusations of involvement in an anti-Government plot. Gerard was being held in a part of the Tower
of London called the Salt Tower which was across a garden from the Cradle Tower, where Arden was being held. Whilst visiting
Arden one day, Gerard realised that the Cradle Tower was close to the outside wall, which overlooked the moat at the foot of
the Tower of London. Gerard worked out that with outside assistance, it might be possible to lower oneself from the top of
the tower to the other side of the moat.
A letter (written partly in orange Juice) asking for help was smuggled out to Richard Fulwood, an old servant of Gerards, and
also to John Lillie a Catholic sympathiser. On October 3rd, 1597 Gerard and Arden were allowed to spend the evening together.
As soon as they warder had gone they began to loosen the stone around the bolt on a door which led to the roof of the cradle
tower. They reached the roof at midnight, in time to see a rowing boat containing three men approach the walls. As they were
about to make contact,a man came from a house below and assuming the men were fishing began to engage them in conversation.
Gerard waited patiently for the man to leave but by the time he left it was too late for an escape that night. The tide had
risen on the Thames and as the men rowed back towards Old London Bridge they were pinned by the rising water against the
piles of the bridge. At this point there was a danger of the boat capsizing – drowning the would be rescuers. Luckily, they
were saved by the presence of a large sea going boat and the skills of a group of sailors who managed to rescue them.
Thinking that the escape was doomed, Gerard was suprised to hear next day that the rescusers were going to try again. Waiting
again until they had been locked in the Tower together, Gerard and Arden climbed onto the roof. Throwing down a weighted cord
they raised up a rope that had been tied to it by the rescuers below. The plan had been to slide down the rope but the angle
it made meant that instead the escapers had to pull themselves hand over hand along it’s length. It is worth remembering that
Gerard had recently been tortured by being suspended in manacles, which made a hazardous descent even more difficult.
After his companion managed to climb down gerard realised that the rope which had been straight was now sagging – making the
climb even more difficult. Holding the rope between his legs, Gerard pulled himself out from the high roof. Half way across
he became exhausted and at one point was left hanging in the darkness, strength failing. Incredibly he managed to find
strength and reached the end of the rope too weak to pull himself up without help from Arden. Gerard was assisted into the
waiting boat which was rowed at speed away from the Tower of London.
Gerard was eventually smuggled out of England and escaped to live the rest of his life as an exile in Rome. Here, he wrote
his life story, ‘The Autobiography of an Elizabethan’ which is where the above account is taken from. I can really reccomend
this book to anyone who is interested in Elizabethan history. Whilst I at it I can also recommend the story of these times to
any Hollywood producer who happens to read this!

In 1597 the Tower of London was the scene of an incredible and daring escape. Had this happened recently it would end up being re-enacted by Hollywood. As it is, this is a little known event – but hopefully, a better known one when you have read this post.

Having been betrayed and captured by Pursuivants, the Jesuit Priest John Gerard had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, awaiting trial for alleged treason. Gerard had been facing accusations that he had tried to turn people from loyalty to Queen Elizabeth. As part of his examination, he had been tortured which had left him in a weakened physical state. Had he eventually been found guilty then he would have faced a terrible execution. A decision was made that Gerard would try to escape – but how could this be done?

Bribery & a secret message to the outside

After bribing the warder, Gerard had been allowed to visit and conduct mass with a fellow Catholic called John Arden who had been imprisoned following accusations of involvement in an anti-Government plot.

A map of the Tower of London 1597

A map of the Tower of London 1597

Gerard was being held in the Salt Tower – across a garden from the Cradle Tower, where Arden was being held. Whilst visiting Arden, Gerard realised that the Cradle Tower was close to the outside wall, overlooking the moat. Gerard calculated that with outside assistance, it might be possible to lower oneself by rope from the top of the tower to the other side of the moat and freedom.

squeeze

A letter written in Orange Juice – click image to see our earlier post on this subject

A letter (written partly in orange Juice) asking for help was smuggled out to Richard Fulwood, an old servant of Gerards, and also to John Lillie a Catholic sympathiser. Between them they helped to work out a possible, but dangerous escape plan.

A failed escape – which nearly ends in tragedy.

On October 3rd, 1597 Gerard and Arden were allowed to spend the evening together. As soon as they warder had gone they began to loosen the stone around the bolt on a door leading to the roof of the Cradle tower. They reached the roof at midnight, in time to see a rowing boat containing three men approach the walls. As they were about to make contact, a man came from a house below and assuming the men were fishing, began to engage them in conversation.

Gerard waited patiently for the man to leave but by the time he departed it was too late for an escape that night. Meanwhile, the tide had risen on the Thames and as the men rowed back towards Old London Bridge they were pinned by the rising water against the piles of the bridge. At this point there was a danger of the boat capsizing – drowning the would be rescuers. Luckily, they were saved by the presence of a large sea going boat and the skills of a group of sailors who managed to rescue them.

Old London Bridge - the Thames is powerful and dangerous at this point

Old London Bridge – the Thames is powerful and dangerous at this point

A second attempt is made

Thinking that the escape was doomed, Gerard was suprised to hear next day that the rescusers were going to try again. Waiting again until they had been locked in the Tower together, Gerard and Arden climbed onto the roof. Throwing down a weighted cord they raised up a rope that had been tied to it by the rescuers below. The plan had been to slide down the rope but the angle it made meant that instead the escapers had to pull themselves hand over hand along its length. It is worth remembering that Gerard had recently been tortured by being suspended in manacles, which made a hazardous descent even more difficult.

After his companion managed to climb down, Gerard realised that the rope which had been straight was now sagging – making the climb even more difficult. Holding the rope between his legs, Gerard pulled himself out from the high roof. Half way across he became exhausted and at one point was left hanging in the darkness, strength failing.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

‘I managed to work myself as far as the middle of the rope, and there I stuck. My strength was failing and my breath, which was short before I started, seemed altogether spent’

Incredibly he managed to struggle on, reaching the end of the rope too weak to pull himself up without help from Arden. Gerard was assisted into the waiting boat which was rowed at speed away from the Tower of London.

Escape and exile from England.

Gerard was eventually smuggled out of England and escaped to live the rest of his life as an exile in Rome. Here, he wrote his life story  ‘ The Autobiography of an Elizabethan‘  from which the above account is taken. His book is packed with stories about his life in Elizabeths England – well worth a read if you are interested in this period. Also, if you do read it then pass it on to any movie producers you come across as this would make a really great historical epic!

end-bit-4

Read Full Post »

the-rack-in-action-6

The Rack.

The rack in the Tower of London was used throughout the Tudor period in England. It was reserved for those identified as having committed the most serious of crimes against the state.

In theory there were rules about the use of torture. For example, people were not meant to be tortured to death or tortured repeatedly. People who were physically weak were not mean to be tortured because they might not survive the process. Attempts were made to start with ‘milder’ tortures before moving on to the rack if all else failed.

1984 Burg Bewartstein Torture Devices 02 (broken thoughts Flickr: Click image)

1984 Burg Bewartstein Torture Devices 02 (broken thoughts Flickr: Click image)

Terrible physical damage.

On the rack, a victims legs and arms were tied to bars at either end of the device, rollers were then used to stretch the body.  The tension was maintained and gradually increased by use of a ratchet.

This caused terrible pain for the victim as well as increasing physical damage as the torture continued. Tendons were ripped, joints separated and bones fractured. The sounds of muscles and tendons tearing and snapping provided audible signs of the damage being done. A victim of the rack was often left with permanent physical disability. For example, because of injuries suffered after being racked three times the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion was unable to raise his hand to swear at his trial.

The rack

The manacles.

Eventually, public disgust led to the Rack’s use being restricted. Richard Topcliffe, a notorious torturer, claimed to have invented the use of ‘gauntlets’ or manacles as a torture instrument. This was considered to be a lesser form of torture, however, this distinction may well have been lost upon people who experienced it. John Gerard, another Jesuit Priest described being hung by his wrists from a post in a torture chamber in the Tower of London.

manacles-tower

‘ such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood in my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing out from the ends of my fingers and the pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it.’

Gerard remained hanging for several hours and was only taken down after fainting. As soon as he revived he was put back into the manacles and suspended again. This continued until after 5’oclock when he was eventually returned to his cell. Incredibly, Gerard never broke and maintained his refusal to answer the questions put to him.

A terrible death.

Official reluctance to use torture was abandoned in cases of those suspected of involvement in the Gunpowder plot. In an incident which became infamous, Nicholas Owen the builder of secret hiding places was racked to death in the Tower of London. Owen, who was starved out of a hide during a search in Worcestershire was taken to the Tower for examination. Because of his knowledge about the secret Catholic organisation, Owen was a potentially valuable source of information.

Unfortunately for the authorities however, he never revealed any secrets and died on the rack without saying anything of use. An embarassed Government tried to suggest that he had killed himself with a knife. The truth is that an earlier injury ruptured and according to John Gerard ‘his bowels gushed out together with his life’ .

Torture – a controversial practice.

Official use of torture continued in England until the 1640’s. Throughout it’s use in this country it caused controversy, both on moral grounds as well as it’s usefulness – obviously, evidence obtained under torture has very limited use.

Sadly, this subject has current relevance as we continue to  hear discussion around the rights and wrongs of torture. The rack is no longer employed, having perhaps been replaced by ‘waterboarding’ ? We are left to question whether we have really moved on all that much from our Tudor predecessors?

PS Since writing this post I came across this – things really haven’t moved on much from the 16th/17th Century!

I also found this blog which is worth a look.

See also this related post about John Gerards eventual escape from the Tower as well as more about Topcliffe here

end-bit-3

100x20-digg-button

PS – anyone got a spare Google wave invite? You could become Tudor Stuff flavour of the month? (if you do just leave a comment somewhere on the blog for me – it will never appear in public btw)

See also:

Google books Torture & democracy

Human rights education association

Medieval torture

Middle ages torture

Wikipedia – Torture

Read Full Post »

Tower of LondonTower of London

In 1597,the Jesuit Priest John Gerard was held in the Tower of London on charges of Treason.  Gerard had been tortured and was awaiting trial on charges that would certainly have brought him to the scaffold.

Whilst held in the Tower Gerard was able to smuggle secret messages out to friends and I thought it would be interesting to try and re-create these messages.

Apparently, Gerard managed to please the warden by making him a gift of some oranges that he had been sent. Because of this gift, the warder agreed to allow Gerard to send a gift of crosses made from orange peel to his friends in the clink prison (also in London). The warder agreed that Gerard could write them a message in charcoal as long as he was allowed to check the message first.

Gerard wrote a message in charcoal which must have been all that he had to hand with which to write – as you can see from the poor handwriting below, I found it hard to write anything at all!

Charcoal message
Charcoal message

Once the warder had left the cell, Gerard used the saved orange juice to write another letter onto the paper. Once it had dried,it was used to wrap the crosses and sent to his friends.

squeeze

All that the recipieint of the message then had to do was to hold the paper up to a fire, as you can see, a new message appears on the paper. I don’t think it is known what Gerard wrote – I would have written something like this asking for help to escape!

Apparently, this was a well known technique for sending messages.  Sometimes lemon juice was used, but Orange juice has the advantage of permanently marking the paper once heated up. This quality makes it less easy for a  letter to be intercepted and read without detection.

As you can see, from the picture below, the orange juice turns to a dark brown once heated. In practice, it took quite a lot of heat to produce this effect and it was difficult to avoid setting the paper on fire!

Hidden message
Hidden message

I did wonder whether this was where we got the expression “reading between the lines”? – I was unable to find the origin of this and would be interested if anyone knows where this comes from.

(See related post)

end-bit-3


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: