Little ease Tower of London
“It was during the time of the Tudors that the use of torture reached its height, ” wrote historian L.A. Parry in his 1933 book The History of Torture in England
. “Under Henry VIII it was frequently employed; it was only used in a small number of cases in the reigns of Edward VI and of Mary. It was whilst Elizabeth sat on the throne that it was made use of more than in any other period of history.”
Yeoman Warder John Bawd admitted he had planned the escape of Alice Tankerville “for the love and affection he bore her.” Unmoved, the Lieutenant of the Tower ordered Bawd into Little Ease, where he crouched, in growing agony. The lovers were condemned to horrible deaths for trying to escape. According to a letter in the State Papers of Lord Lisle, written on March 28, Alice Tankerville was “hanged in chains at low water mark upon the Thames on Tuesday. John Bawd is in Little Ease cell in the Tower and is to be racked and hanged.”
Today no one knows exactly where Little Ease was located. One theory: within the nooks and crannies of the White Tower. Another: in the basement of the old Flint Tower. No visitor sees it today; it was torn down or walled up long ago. Besides Little Ease, the most-used torture devices were the rack, manacles, and a horrific creation called the Scavenger’s Daughter. For many prisoners, solitary confinement, repeated interrogation, and the threat of physical pain were enough to make them tell their tormentors anything they wanted to know.
Often the victims ended up in the Tower for religious reasons. Anne Askew was tortured and killed for her Protestant beliefs; Edmund Campion for his Catholic ones. But the crimes varied. “The majority of the prisoners were charged with high treason, but murder, robbery, embezzling the Queen’s plate, and failure to carry out proclamations against state players were among the offenses, ” wrote Parry. The monarch did not need to sign off on torture requests, although sometime he or she did. Elizabeth I personally directed that torture be used on the members of the Babington Conspiracy, a group that plotted to depose her and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. But usually these initiatives went through the Privy Council or tapped the powers of the Star Chamber. It is believed that in some cases, permission was never sought at all.
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