9 AM – ‘J’ Stage, Shepperton Studios. J stage is transformed this morning into a torture chamber in the Tower of London.
There are a lot of common misconceptions about crime and punishment in the Tudor period. Despite the ‘chamber of horrors’ image we have of this time, executions were rarer than in the following three centuries, burnings at the stake were rarer still, and even torture was unusual – in fact it was actually already illegal in England at this date.
This does not mean however that it wasn’t used in special circumstances. Whilst torture was not (at least theoretically) used as a form of punishment it was allowable in certain cases where an individual had to be forced to divulge information on matters affecting the State, such as treason. The most common way of extracting such information was using the rack – a flat wooden bed with arm and leg restraints on which the victim was stretched. This allowed the operator to inflict pain (and provide relief) by degrees and at will. Walsingham’s notorious rackmaster Thomas Norton once claimed that he left one victim of the machine “one foot longer than ever God made him”, which, even allowing for exaggeration, must have involved dislocating every joint in the poor man’s arms and legs.
We find our prisoner however hanging in chains. As well as racking, information could be obtained by putting people in stress positions, manacled to walls or floors or hung in cages. Indeed one of the instigators of the Prayer Book Rebellion was hung in chains not as a torture but as a slow and terrible execution – suspended in an iron cage and left to die. It is information Walsingham wants from our prisoner however, although it is not the torture that finally makes him talk.