Mulier taceat in ecclesia
- 'Let the woman be silent in church'
A scold's bridle is a British invention, possibly originating in Scotland, used between the 16th and 19th Century. It was a device used to control, humiliate and punish gossiping, troublesome women by effectively gagging them. Scold comes from the 'common scold': a public nuisance, more often than not women, who habitually gossiped and quarrelled with their neighbours, while the name bridle describes a part that fitted into the mouth. The scold's bridle was also known as the 'gossiping bridle' and the 'Brank(s)', and was commonly used by husbands on their nagging or swearing wives. The device was occasionally used on men; however, it was primarily used on women who agitated the male-dominated society of the era.
Made by blacksmiths, the bridle was a cage-like device, made from iron. It was approximately nine inches high and seven inches wide, and was fitted to the woman's head. The most basic type was made of a band of iron, which was hinged at the side and had a protruding part, or tongue piece, that could be flat or with a spike, which went into the woman's mouth, to hold her tongue down. Another band of iron went over her head, the front of which was shaped for her nose to go through. Depending on the design, the bridle could be uncomfortable, painful or torturous, and scarring of the tongue was not uncommon. Some had a bell secured to a spring, which was attached to the bridle, so the wearer could be heard as she approached.
Let the Woman be Silent in Church
Over four centuries, thousands of women were subjected to the wearing of these contraptions. The main principle behind the scold's bridle was: let the woman be silent in church, though the word 'church' referred to the Parish community, or to be more precise; the male hierarchies of a community, rather than the building of bricks and mortar. Further translation would suggest more accurately - 'Let the woman be silent in the presence of the male'.
Some houses had a hook in the wall at the side of the fireplace where the wife would be chained, until she promised to behave herself and curb her tongue. Although sometimes fitted to a nagging wife by the local gaoler (jailer) at the request of her husband, or by the husband himself, it was more often a punitive sentence ordered by a magistrate. Judicial bridles were more elaborate than the basic type; they always had at least one spike and they could be locked. They also had a chain attached to the side of the bridle, with a ring on the end. This could be used to publicly humiliate the woman by leading her through the town, or staking her at a designated area for a set time period. The amount of time the bridle was worn could be from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the seriousness of the offence, during which time the miscreant would not be able to eat or drink. It was also said to be used on witches to prevent them from chanting or casting spells.
Scold's bridles were purchased and used by various workhouses - including Forden Workhouse, Powys, Wales - to punish female inmates for disobedience and other misdemeanours.
A Museum Piece
There are over 50 bridles of various different sizes and styles in museums, churches and town halls across the country. Of those, one is on display in the Torture Chamber at the Tower of London. Another, which is dated 1632, is in a glass case in the vestry of a church at Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, with the inscription:
Chester presents Walton with a bridle
To curb women's tongues that talk too idle.
It is said that an angry Chester presented this bridle to the town after he missed out on an expected fortune, which he believed was due to the lies of gossiping women in the town.
The bridle is believed to have last been used in Britain in 1824, at Congleton, Cheshire, though there are reports that it was used to silence a woman very effectively when used in terrorem (as a warning or deterrent) in 1858.
It's unclear how many different countries the Scold's Bridle spread to. In Germany a version of the bridle known as Der Maulkorb (the muzzle) was used, with small nails being added to the tongue piece to increase the severity of the muzzle.
The Scold's Bridle – Television Film
In 1998 a television crime-drama film, based on the novel, The Scold's Bridle, written by Minette Walters was first shown. It features the murder investigation of a woman found dead in her bath wearing a Scold's Bridle.
Today, adults in consensual erotic or as a part of punitive role-playing games, such as BDSM1, use various types of gags. From the gentle silk scarf, to the ball or bit gag, to the full-head leather or rubber mask, which often incorporates a tongue piece or other type of gag.