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A branked scold in New England, 1685

File:Brank - Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.jpg

16th-century Scottish brank. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.

File:Branks dsc05369.jpg

Branks were used in Scotland to punish slander, cursing, witchcraft or irreligious speech.

A scold's bridle, sometimes called a branks, was a punishment device for women, also used as a mild form of torture.[1] 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' .[2] Branking[3] 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.[4]

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.

Quaker women were sometimes punished with the branks for preaching their doctrinal message in public places.[5]

Jougs were similar in their purpose as a pillory, however they did not restrain the sufferer from speaking.

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.[6]

Historical examples

In 1567 Bessie Tailiefeir slandered Baillie Thomas Hunter in Edinburgh, saying that he was using false measures. She was sentenced to the brankit and set on the cross for one hour.[7]

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.

As late as 1856 it was in use at Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire.[8]


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.

In literature

The Scold's Bridle is the title of a novel by Minette Walters, where a scold's bridle is a key element in the plot.

See also


  1. Free Dictionary
  2. Classic Encyclopedia
  3. Chambers, Robert (1685). Domestic Annals of Scotland. Eddinburgh : W & R Chambers. p. 37.
  4. Torture devices
  5. Quakers
  6. Classic Encyclopedia
  7. Chambers, Robert (1885). Domestic Annals of Scotland. Eddinburgh : W & R Chambers. p. 37.
  8. Classic Encyclopedia

External links


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