Scold's bridle mask which partially covers face, large nose-piece and jagged mouth, hinged neck ring and bell suspended at top of head, probably German, 1550-1800
The custom of using Scold’s bridles (sometimes known as ‘branks’) developed in Britain in the 1500s, spreading to other European countries throughout its use until the early 1800s. These masks have been written in history as a misogynistic punishment reserved for ‘gossiping’ or ‘nagging’ women – or witches – but there is evidence they were used on men too. The bridle’s intention was to prevent talking, so its predominant use on women plays to stereotypes that feminists are still fighting against. Its use on men was usually to punish blaspheming, or as a method of restraining prisoners.
It could be said that punishment differed according to gender, with men tending to be sent to the stocks or pillories for a more physical humiliation, whilst women were humiliated by being paraded in these masks, which were sometimes decorated to enhance the humiliation factor. This example has a bell, a noise which would draw attention to the punishment. Some masks had parts that would be inserted into the mouth - sometimes even including spikes – so physical punishment wasn’t reserved solely for men.
Records of the use of scold’s bridles are few and far between. It is possible that this is because it was not legal to use as punishment in England as it was considered a form of torture, so any implementation was not publicised. However, some historians argue that the punishment was not common at all.