Object Title

Thumb screws

Thumb screws

Object Number

XV.18

Dimensions

OverallHeight90 mm
OverallWidth74 mm

Notes

The use of purpose made thumbscrews as a torture device in Britain seems to date from post 1684, when their use is mentioned in conjunction with the boot in Scotland, and were known as thumbekins (see Borg "Heads and Horses" (Oxford, Soc of Ants, 1976 p.346-7) . There was a rumour that the Spanish Armada (1588) had brought thumbscrews with them to force the English to disclose where they had hidden their money. 7 August 1684 Sir John Lauder recorded "At privy Consell, Spence is again tortured, and his thumbs crushed with pilliwincks or thumbekins ...... [footnoted 'Historical Notices of Scottish Affairs, selected from the MSS. of Sir John Lauder of Fountainhall' (Edinburgh, Bannatyne Club, 1848) ii, 548] Lauder believed that they had come from Muscovy via Generals Dalzell and Drummond, who had come across them in their travels. Borg cites a 1663 reference, however, suggesting that the "screws"were in use at Bedlam for use when no ordinary methods can be used to cure a violent patient (Laurence Womock "An Antidote to cure the Calamities of their Trembling for fear of the Arke" (London, 1663) p.32).
The exact nature of the pilliwinck is not known - English texts of the late 14th C reference what appears to be a type of manacle. 16th C references to the torture of the pilliwincks on the fingers do not make clear exactly what this might involve.

There was a rumour that the Spanish Armada (1588) had brought thumbscrews with them to force the English to disclose where they had hidden their money - gleefully recorded in 18th c Tower guidebooks Boreman's child's Guide of 1741, calls them Spanish thumbakins.

Hamilton's illustration of the weapons in the Tower show thumbscrews (looking remarkably like XV.6), attributed to the French.

There seems evidence that they were used inj the 18th c to encourage confession - seeJames Heath "Torture and the English Law", footnote 51, p.249.

Getty images show a very similar set to XV.18 said to be French. XV.18 appears more substantial and industrial than xv.6 which seems to be the oneshown in Hamilton's illustration of the weapons in the Tower and also said to be of French origin.
xv.21 is in excavated condition.