A scold's bridle, sometimes called a branks, was a punishment device for women, also used as a mild form of torture. It was an iron muzzle or cage for the head with an iron curb-plate projecting into the mouth and pressing down on top of the tongue. The "curb-plate" was frequently studded with spikes, so that if the tongue remained lying calmly in place, it inflicted a minimum of pain.
Origin and purpose
First recorded in Scotland in 1567, the branks were also used in England, where it may not have been formally legalized as a punishment. The kirk-sessions and barony courts in Scotland inflicted it upon transgressors or women that were considered to be 'naggers' or 'common scold' . Branking was designed as a mirror punishment for 'shrews' or "scolds" — women of the lower classes whose speech was "riotous" or "troublesome" — women accused of witchcraft — by preventing such 'gossips or scolds' from speaking; however, it was also used as corporal punishment for other offenses, notably on female workhouse inmates. The women were placed in a public place for additional humiliation and sometimes beaten.
When the branks was placed on the 'gossiper's' head, they would then be led through town to show that they had been doing something wrong or scolding too often. This would also humiliate them into 'repenting' their 'riotus' actions. There was a spike inside the gag that would prevent any talking since any movement of the mouth could lead to a severe piercing of the tongue.
There are no records of it being used on men; however, a similar punishment, where a cleft stick was placed on the tongue, was used on men. Records exist for such a punishment in the town of Boston, England. The scold's bridle did not see much use in the New World. Men were placed in the stocks as an equivalent punishment.
In Walton on Thames, in England, a scold's bridle is displayed in the vestry of the church, dated 1633, with the inscription "Chester presents Walton with a bridle, To curb women's tongues that talk too idle." The story is that one Chester lost a fortune due to a woman's gossip, and presented the town with the instrument of torture out of anger and spite.
The tongue's curb could be a flat iron plate that prevented the tongue's movement or a painful spike-festooned iron bit that punished its victim rather more painfully. Other variants are shaped like an animal's head, such as a cow for a lazy bones, a donkey for a fool, a hare for an eavesdropper or a pig for a glutton.
|40x40px||Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Branks.|