Punishment in the Middle Ages came in all sorts of forms. The weight depended on the crime committed. Common stealing of food was often seen as a last resort to provide for oneself or family. On rare occasions that it did receive punishment, it did it by humiliating. The form of punishment depended mostly on how the perpetrator looked; if he was malnourished and ashamed for what he had done, he would have been often helped by the communities and given a warning. If the thief was normal or heavy of weight that was seen as stealing for greed, and was punished by terrible humiliation in front of a large gathering of people. Crimes by burglary of wealth were punished in weight of how much he/she had stolen and of who did they stole. If the object of thievery was gold, silver or jewelry, (since the victim was most likely given authority or was high-born) the thief was beaten until blood was drawn or knocked cold out of him, then thrown in a cell in accordance to how much they have stolen. Highway robbery was seen as the biggest crime that could be committed during these times, and the perpetrators were punished either by hanging, being drawn and quartered, beaten to a pulp, or on rare occasions even enslaved. Those disobeying orders given to them by the bishops of the Pope himself were given the cat-o’ nine tails, a whip used on their own flesh to purge them of self-thought. Pillaging, marauding and raiding were not seen as a crime, rather an act of war and as such if caught, the people committing the acts were usually killed or tortured for more information.
Torture comes from the Latin word tortura meaning to extract information by use of force from a person. Practiced in antiquity, it was done so towards slaves. It was by law decreed that to acquire admission from the slave was to be done only by torture. Since Europe was a Christian land, the drawing of blood was strictly forbidden by the church, as such, torture was at first done by twisting of limbs and ligaments to acquire the confession of the tortured. As time went on, and the church had no say in domestic affairs, torture became much more brutal and grotesque. People were tarred and feathered if they continued being thieves after their release. People were hanged using ropes or chains on trees to warn others of disobeying the law or in front of a cheering crowd in a towns square. Captured enemies were drawn and quartered during war. Additionally, they were drugged, boiled or frozen with water if caught for spying. Beheaded by axe, sword or guillotined in front of a cheering crowd on a dedicated day for punishment in the towns square. The punished most harshly were murderers, traitors and rapists. Given order and free reign by the church, the Inquisition was let loose in Europe to track down anyone practicing heresy and to be brought to holy justice. Practice of any pagan rituals was seen as heresy and to purify the soul of the heretic, the Inquisition had all sorts of ways to extract their confession. Hanged by their thumbs, by their hands or upside down on a ceiling, chained like an animal, malnourished and dehydrated, beaten and broken, having their feet burned in a cauldron, pressed by metal spikes in iron maidens, the list is ever long, and more disturbing with each iteration of punishment. The burning on a stake was reserved to those accused of the highest crimes by the Inquisition. Practice of witchcraft or helping the populace by using alchemical mixtures and concoctions, ended in choking if luck had smiled on them from the burning wood beneath their feet … or screaming in agony as their flesh burned and writhed in pain. Torture was done so in private. In the sprawling darkness of the dungeons of the keeps and castles of the highborn, to later entire forts being constructed for imprisoning the punished and tortured. The screaming and pleading of the tortured fell on deaf ears, and when they were lent an ear, was as swiftly discarded as it was given a thought.