Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Ducking Stool Definition:

A contraption of medieval English justice comprised of a chair in which a convict was affixed and then immersed repeatedly into a body of water.

Related Terms: Cucking Stool, Scolding

ducking stoolAlso known as a chair curule, this form of punishment was usually imposed only on women and the most common offense for which it was exacted was the offense of scolding. Often confused with but distinct from the lesser-known cucking stool, the latter simply being a chair in which an offender was restrained for public humiliation, but not otherwise dunked into water.

Williams Andrews, in his book Old Time Punishments, quotes a 1700 French travel log by a man named Misson who writes:

"The way of punishing scolding women is pleasant enough. The afternoon armchair to the end of two beams… They set up a post on the bank of a pond or river and over this post they lay … the two pieces of wood, at one end of which the chair hangs just over the water. They place the woman in this chair and so plunge her into the water as often as the sentenced directs, in order to cool her immoderate heat."

Many towns and villages kept their ducking stool in good working order, built on wheels so it could be wheeled to the water edge and back, as required. Or, if a bridge was handy, such as in Cambridge, the ducking stool constantly hung in place as a visual deterrent.

The English poet Vincent Bourne (1695-1747) wrote a Latin poem since translated into English, one of which follows:

"Near many a stream was wont to meet us a stool, to broils a sure quietus. It curbed the tongue, the passions reined and reason's empire firm maintained. Astride it set but a Xanthippe, then twice or thrice virago dip ye. And not a lambkin on the lea Will leave the stream more meek than she. A Lethe over her memory shed, the very shades of anger fled. Cool grows the fever of the breast, and surging passions seek to rest. The lesson ex cathedra taught here balance in the scale of thought. Then say if ever Socratic school such lesson taught as ducking-stool."

Many cities and towns in England have preserved their ducking stool as a tourist attraction. For example, that of Leominster is very well engineered a solid, heavy bass with four wheels and a long extendable wooden arm at the end which is affixed a simple chair with appropriate restraint hardware. Similarly, that at Fordwich, Kent, and at Christchurch, Dorset, the latter embedded into the ground next to a small river.

The last recorded use of a ducking's stool in England was in 1807.

REFERENCES:

  • Andrews, Williams, Old Time Punishments (New York: Dorset Press, 1990).
  • Image of a fatal ducking stool event in London, from an anonymous English booklet entitled Strange and Wonderful Relations of the Old Woman who was Drowned at Ratcliff Highway a fortnight ago.  See, Andrews, op. cit., page 5.

Categories & Topics:


Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!