The House of Fiction

By Phyllis Richardson

A cultural exploration of British houses in fiction from Shandy Hall to Manderley

Monday, 30 June 2014

A Disquieting practice

Scold's Bridle on display at Stoneleigh Abbey
Image: Phyllis Richardson

This is an object on display at Stoneleigh Abbey, and while it has nothing to do with Jane Austen or literary houses, it is such a strange and disturbing piece of equipment I thought I should say something about it here. No, it's not a war helmet, well not for open warfare. This lovely device was invented by some ingenious man, no doubt a loving husband, as a punitive device for overly talkatvie, gossiping or 'nagging' women. It was to be plonked onto the wife's head, and locked at the back. A sort of tongue-depressor is attached from the front to keep the prisoner from speaking. Just for added incentive there were sometimes barbs on this piece so that any movement of the tongue would be very uncomfortable indeed. Thus habited, a woman could then be paraded around the town or village to show to the gaping public just who wore the trousers in the family, ie, NOT the person wearing the bridle. First used in Scotland in about 1567, similar items were also used in Europe. It must be said that the puninshment, meted by a magistrate, was not always imposed on women. In some places it was used on men also and was sometimes attached to a public spot, so the wearer had to remain stationery and subject to public humiliation,

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