Scold's Bridle From Armagh Jail, Northern Ireland, Early 1900s

May 25, 2021

The woman in this photo colorized by Duriez is wearing a device called a Scold’s Bridle or Branks as a form of punishment, although nothing is known about her specific crimes to warrant this punishment. The Scold’s Bridle had an iron muzzle, surrounded by several strips of iron. The muzzle itself was wrapped around a woman’s face, similar to a mask. The bridle also had a small piece of iron which went inside the woman’s mouth, pressing down her tongue, and preventing speech; this piece was known as the “bridle bit.” The bridle was both a form of public punishment, as the man would lead her around town, occasionally attaching a bell to the top of the bridle to attract even more attention, as well as a physical punishment, as the wearer was unable to speak, eat or drink, and it could cause pain.

The original photo bears the caption 'Scold's bridle from Armagh Jail.' Colored by Duriez,

The origins of the Scold’s Bridle are not clear, but it is believed to have come out of the Middle Ages as part of the penal system. The first recorded use of the bridle for scolds was in the 17th Century. The photo of a woman wearing one in the Armagh Jail in Northern Ireland shows that the practice survived long after that. The punishable crime of being a “common scold” or communis rixatrix which was part of common law of England and Wales until it was abolished by section 13(1)(a) of the Criminal Law Act 1967.

Designed To Silence

Scold's bridle photo colored by Duriez,

The medieval definition of a scold was a woman who had a “vicious tongue,” or one who quarreled with the neighbors or the authorities. The scold could also be a gossip, or a woman who was “running out of control,” meaning that they might defy their husbands, riot, or challenge priests, just in general disturbing the peace and not behaving as women were expected to behave; in other words, the woman was not behaving in a quiet, virtuous manner. The barrator, a male equivalent, was a “common wrangler who setteth men at odds, and is himself never quiet but at brawl with one another” went out of use around the time the bridle began to be used in the early 17th Century. Another punishment for gossip, as well as telling off her husband was the ducking stool. The offending woman was strapped to a chair and dunked in the closest body of water repeatedly.