The Museum of Judicial Objects, truly one of a kind.
Cruel punishments under the Ancien Régime
In the late 12th century, the aldermen of Ghent were given administrative and political power by Countess Matilda. This had far-reaching consequences for criminal law in the city. The street vendettas of the old days—‘an eye for an eye’—were done away with. But what came in their place? Which practices were adopted in the name of justice?
According to the criminal law of the time, nobody could be punished without a confession. It was impossible to pronounce a judgment without one. So, forcing confessions out of people through cruel torture soon became standard practice. And for the actual punishments after the verdict, inhumane methods and implements were used as well.
The Gravensteen was the seat of both the Council of Flanders and the Board of the Oudburg. This meant that, from the 14th to the 18th century, the Gravensteen had an important administrative function. It was used to temporarily detain suspects; the accused were put through hell in its underground torture chambers; judgments were pronounced in its upper chambers; and executions were carried out within its walls or in front of the gatehouse.
Only by the end of the 18th century was degrading and corporal punishment gradually abolished. Thanks to the invention of the guillotine, all layers of the population began to perceive the death penalty in a more humane light.
Not for sensitive viewers
Centuries-old instruments of torture and coercion, such as handcuffs, shackles, iron collars, a leghold trap, thumb screws, neck restraints, a little hammer for crushing one finger at a time, a torture wheel, the infamous torture rack, the mask of shame, the instruments used by Ghent’s last executioner, and many more items give us an idea of how justice was served during the Ancien Régime. And people with mental handicaps were not spared, for that matter. They met a tragic fate as they were "restrained" with instruments of torture. Those labelled as “witches” or “heretics” received the most heinous treatments of all.
Suffice it to say that no hands-on visitor activities are planned in these chambers ... just reading about how these instruments of torture were used will be more than enough!