Photo credit: Science Museum, London. The bridle was first used in Scotland as a punishment for witches in the late 16th century.
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Later in England, some began to use them on troublesome women and transgressors. Many communities had their own established punishment for nagging wives and cuckolded husbands.
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But some preferred the Scold's bridle. Getting bridled was not only physically discomforting, it was humiliating too.
In Scotland, a bridled woman was often paraded on the streets, sometimes by her own husband. These acts were intended to remind people how to behave and the consequences of any rash action or slander.
Scold's bridles were in vogue for more than a century, but in other parts of Europe, such as Germany, they were used until the early s mainly as a punishment in workhouses. A woman wearing a scold's bridle being led around the town by an officer, Photo credit: British Library.
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The Scold’s Bridle
Trending Stories. Meteor Burst Communication. Gender-specific punishments became the norm in England in the 15th century, with the most infamous fate faced by women being the ducking stool, or cucking stool — often incorrectly associated with suspected witches. While men were sentenced to physical abuse in the pillory or stocks as punishment for their petty offences, a woman convicted of disturbing the peace would be strapped into a chair mounted on the back of a dung cart. She was then paraded around the town to draw an audience on her way to the ducking, and there she would be dunked repeatedly beneath the surface of a pond or river to the delighted cheers of the onlookers.
Compared to the stocks there was clearly an extreme level of humiliation designed to punish not just the crime, but the fact that a woman had stepped out of line to commit it. Like the bridle on a horse, it was a dehumanising and degrading sign that the offending woman was little better than an animal to be tamed. The masks were fashioned to draw attention and jeers from the crowds, with some surviving examples having horns or antlers, or styled into grotesque faces.
Sometimes musicians would be involved, following the victim around and making comic noises like the sound of breaking wind.