Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Rack Definition:

A medieval form of punishment or confession extractor in which the subject was affixed to a wooden platform and separate ropes attached to each of his four limbs, which were then pulled apart by a system of pulleys.

According to the 1896 The World of Wonders: A Record of Things Wonderful in Nature, Science, and Art:

"The rack was a large open frame of oak, raised three feet from the ground. The prisoner was laid under it, on his back, on the floor, his wrists and ankles were attached by cords to two rollers at the ends of the frames. These were moved by levers in opposite directions, till the body rose to a level with the frame. Questions were then put, and if the answers did not prove satisfactory, the sufferer was stretched more and more, till the bones started from their sockets.

"The Inquisition had a rack, which, in addition to the above, had an apparatus for torturing each toe. The suffering caused by this instrument was extreme, the prisoner after torture being often unable to stand up for several days ; and it is said that in the case of Anne Ascue, the only woman known to have been racked in this country, the punishment was so severe as almost to tear her body asunder."


  • Anon., The World of Wonders: A Record of Things Wonderful in Nature, Science, and Art (London: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1896). Image taken from this publication.

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!