The Breast Ripper

Women Torturers: Queen Mary I of England

There are many cases in which entire classes of people were systematically tortured (usually to death) with no desire to acquire information, determine guilt or enact a religious conversion. For example, Queen Mary I of England used burning at the stake to combat the Protestant Reformation. During her five-year reign, from 1553 to 1558, 300 people were burned to death for their religious views. The goal was to strike fear into the hearts of other Protestants [source: Kellaway].

­Torturers seemed to reserve special horrors for women. Surprisingly, few torturers had­ any reservations about torturing women -- in fact, women-only tortures often seemed especially cruel and were designed to destroy specific aspects of femininity. In medieval England, differing torture practices were virtually codified: male criminals were hanged, while women faced the "drowning pits" [source: Parry].

The practice of torturing women sexually extends back to Roman times (and surely even before then). Female victims were given to soldiers to be raped, or sent to brothels. They might be tied up or paraded through public streets naked. These public humiliations were sometimes followed by bizarre sexual mutilations. Torturers had a strange fixation on breasts, which were burned, branded or simply amputated. Worst of all was a device known as the Breast Ripper. It was a metal claw that pierced the flesh of the breast. The victim was tied to a wall, and then the claw pulled forcibly away, shredding the breast to pieces [source: Medieval Times & Castles]. It was used as both a method of punishment and interrogation -- to mark the breasts of unmarried mothers and mutilate women convicted of heresy, adultery and a host of other crimes.