How Mediaeval Husbands Chastised Wives Who Talked Too Much

Aug 17, 2019 1 comments

Scold's Bridle

By putting a muzzle on them, of course. Known as Scold's bridle, these devices of torture and public humiliation were used mostly in England and Scotland during the 16th and the 17th centuries.

“Scold” is an archaic word that means a woman who nags or grumbles constantly, a woman who “disturbed their neighbours’ peace with gossiping, ‘chiding and scoulding’ or unruly behaviour”, according to the British Library. Women who ran afoul with the neighbours, defied their husbands and argued with the priests became a source of grave concern among the menfolk. It is not known which twisted mind first hit upon the idea of bridling his woman, but it surely caught on.

The Scold's bridle was an iron muzzle with an iron framework enclosing the head. When the device was worn, it was impossible for the person to either eat or speak. Some bridles had spikes projecting inside the mouth when the bridle was closed and padlocked, preventing the wearer from making any movement of the jaw as doing so caused severe piercing of the mouth and the tongue. It was barbaric.

Scold's Bridle

This Scold's Bridle from Germany has a bell on top to draw even more attention to the wearer, increasing their humiliation. Photo credit: Science Museum, London

The bridle was first used in Scotland as a punishment for witches in the late 16th century. Later in England, some began to use them on troublesome women and transgressors. Many communities had their own established punishment for nagging wives and cuckolded husbands. The “ducking stool” was the most common, where the victim was seated in a chair and ducked in a river or pond. But some preferred the Scold's bridle.

Getting bridled was not only physically discomforting, it was humiliating too. In Scotland, a bridled woman was often paraded on the streets, sometimes by her own husband. Scolds were also punished by permanently displaying them on the town’s cross or tollbooth. These acts were intended to remind people how to behave and the consequences of any rash action or slander.

Scold's bridles were in vogue for more than a century, but in other parts of Europe, such as Germany, they were used until the early 1800s mainly as a punishment in workhouses.

Scold's Bridle

A woman wearing a scold's bridle being led around the town by an officer, 1655. Photo credit: British Library

Scold's Bridle

Engraving of a woman wearing a scold's bridle in New England, from A Brief History of the United States by Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele, 1885.


  1. A copy of this monstrocity was stolen, it had an ingraving quote on quote “ Chester presents Walton with a bridle, To curb women's tongues that talk too idle." I can’t think of any other way that men punished woman so severly and so humilatingly (though there are many different ways). I wonder if the person who invented it try it out, maybe they would regret it if puished so.


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