Early Modern Waterboarding

I’ve had several requests for a blog post on early modern torture, and what follows is a gruesome snippet from an account of the torture of several Englishmen in the Netherlands, published in 1653. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, so those of a nervous disposition please look away.

Samuel Closon was examined, being brought before them, who was so appalled at the sight of Collins (whose eyes were blown out of his head with the torture of water) that he chose rather to confess than to be tortured, and so he was dismisssed, but went out weeping.

Next came John Clerk to be examined and put to the torture, so that he was heard without the hall to crye out in an extreme manner, for they tortured him with fire and water for the space of two hours. The manner of his torture was as followeth. First they twisted him up by the hands with a cord on a large door, where they made him fast to two staples of iron, fixt on both sides of the top of the door posts, stretching his hands asunder as wide as they could: and being thus made fast, his feet hung about two foot from the ground, which also they extended as far as they could, and so made them fast unto the bottom of the door.

Then they bound a cloth about his neck and face, so close, that little or no water could go by.  When they had done this, they poured the water softly upon his head, until the cloth was full-up to his mouth and nostrils, so that he could not draw his breath, but he must suck in the water; which being still continued to be poured softly, forced his intrails to come out at his eyes, ears, and nose, almost to strangling. They were so cruel to him that they tormented him till his breath was gone, so that he fainted, then they took him quickly down, and made him vomit up the water. Then they pull’d him up again, and poured him with water again. And this was exercised on this poor wretch three or four several times, till his body was swoln twice as big as ordinary, his cheeks puft up like a pair of bladders and his eyes starting and strutting out beyond his forehead.

Then they burnt him with lighted Candles in the bottom of his feet until the fat dropt out of the Candles.  They burnt him also under the elbows; likewise in the palms of his hands; they moreover burnt his arm-holes, till his entrails might be seen.

After what appears to be several days of this treatment John Clerk finally confessed to a crime he had not committed.

After they had thus mascerated his body, they sent him out to the Dungeon, and there laid him in heavy irons for five days without any Christian pity so much as to send a Surgeon to dress his putrifyied wounds, which were filled with great Maggots, which dropt and crept from him in a most loathsom manner.
© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved


  • November 15, 2009 - 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I have few principles as it is, and those I have evaporate at the prospect of pain ….

  • November 15, 2009 - 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comments. It’s shocking to note this practise continues almost unchanged to this day.

    Like This Cat’s Abroad, I would be singing like a canary on first hearing the screams…

  • November 14, 2009 - 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Just when I think I’m a relatively creative person, I read something like this to take me down a peg or two. Who comes up with stuff like this? I’m with Samuel Closon: one look @ the fellow without eyes and I’d confess to having sex with the baby Jesus.

  • November 13, 2009 - 10:18 pm | Permalink

    It beggars belief to wonder what must be going through the minds of the torturers. It seems hardly possible that anyone could think that treatment justified no matter what crime had supposedly been committed. One wonders if those meting out this appalling violence genuinely believed the victim to be guilty, or whether they were simply exercising their sadism. Perhaps we should begin by asking our contemporary torturers? Oh, I’d forgotten, that would be a danger to national security…

  • Comments are closed.

    All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

    Join other followers:

    © Shakespeare's England 2009-2014