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Know Your Place… Medieval Shame Masks

ne6kjaWhile today we put the exploits of the most disrespectful, ill-mannered, drunken and depraved people we can find on TV to laugh at and make millionaires out of, in medieval Europe you would have seen Snooki and JWoww shuffling down the street muted by what’s known as a Scold’s Bridle, Branks or Schandmaske – a “shame mask,” intended to silence their wagging tongues and offensive behaviour. In a perfect world, it would be used on the cast members of the Bad Girls Club; but unfortunately it was used on women who spoke their minds to their husbands instead of being subservient like the Bible demanded, or on women accused of being witches or gossips; or in the Americas on disobedient slaves or on Quaker women who preached in public. It was also occasionally used on men and children, but it’s main application was to intimidate and control grown women, reminding them that God had placed them on earth solely to serve men and pop out babies…sounds like terrorism again…but anyway. The masks were fashioned of iron, with features that often displayed the wearer’s offense, like big ears and a long tongue for accusations of being nosey and gossipy; or bells to warn the public that the scold was approaching. Once warned, the public often took part in beating and humiliating the wearer in good old mob fashion. In Scotland, sometimes they were chained to the public square so that everyone could come by and abuse them. There was often a spiked or sharp appendage that went into the mouth of the wearer, preventing them from speaking lest they cut or pierced their tongue or the roof of their mouth, but also preventing them from eating while wearing it. The length of time the branks was worn varied on a case by case basis, but was upwards of 24 hours. The mask encouraged the wearer – in one of the gentler forms of medieval torture – to think before they spoke their minds, and to remember their place in society. Check out some shame masks below…











mask of shame











Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.



  1. Humanism or GTFO

    December 10, 2014 at 4:40 am

    Here is what the Cyrillic text translates to:

    1 Bronze tournament helmet, 1630
    2 visor for “hussar” tournament, the middle 16-th century
    3 tournament visor helmet Emperor Ferdinand 1530

    Or is this approach a little too fact-based? Let us not have facts get in the way of a good story!

  2. Humanism or GTFO

    December 10, 2014 at 3:29 am

    Thank you for the post. The attached image (with the Cyrillic script) depicts helmets that are part of suits of armour – more specifically they are anthropomorphic jousting visored masks, as a cursory google search might have revealed. I enjoy your articles but would recommend better fact-checking.

  3. Hagetissen

    December 10, 2014 at 2:38 am

    The one in russian is not a shame mask from what I can read in the description.
    The one top left, with the “human” face is definitly not one as i have encountered it before. Its a tournament helmet 🙂

    Just thought you should know

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