A new practice began making its way in certain countries during during the time I spent in France. This practice was primarily used as a punishment, especially for women of unruly or unseemly character, though I also found it useful as a form of persuasion.
This technique was called “Dunking”, and is a variation on the method of drowning, and a form of water torture. I do not think that it will last as a technique in general, as it requires rather special equipment and an appropriate location. It also does not allow access to the victim and is therefore not very useful for interrogation.
The technique does have the advantage of being very public, thus increasing the humiliation of the victim, and graphically demonstrating the consquences of their crime to the observing public.
The ducking stool, as it was called, was a long pole balanced in the middle on a base that allowed one end to be swung over the water and then lowered. A place for a rope and weights to be added were at one end, and the other contained a simple chair with brackets for restraints to hold the victim in place.
One experience that stands out when dunking was used occured in a small town called Montejean-suir-Loire. The townspeople there had been dealing with increasing troubles with wives meeting and deciding to disagree and cause conflict with their husbands. This in turn caused much discord within the community. After having been warned, on particular woman had actually assaulted her husband. This unacceptable behavior had to be punished, as it was an affront to local law, the church, as well as the natural order of life.
This harpy of a woman was brought forward in chains. She had been languishing in the jail for the past week, rather than performing her duties as a wife. It was time she was truly punished for her crime.
She was unchained, and forced on to the chair, were she struggled momentarily until the metal restraints were in place, making her struggles useless. Metal loops covered her wrists and ankles. Struggling against them caused cutting of her flesh, and as she began to bleed she calmed herself. A rope was then used to tie her waist to the back of the chair, to prevent her from attempting to rise.
Sitting calmly in the chair, she had a haughty demeanor. She shook the straggling long black hair out of her face and cursed the representatives of the town that were performing this punishment.
I boldly walked up to her, took a hold of her dress and ripped it from the neck down to the waist, exposing her large breasts and stomach. This action struck her with fear, and her haughty attitude melted away, as humiliation overcame her. She began to shake as I tore her clothing further, and cried out to me for mercy. My only answer to her was that mercy was not mine to give, and that chastisement was a gift that she should embrace and use wisely.
Her body now exposed to the townspeople, two strong men began pulling on the other end of the beam, lifting her chair up in to the air. She hung there, suspended for all the townspeople to see, her nakedness and bloody wrists and ankles just the beginning of her torment. The beam was slowly swung over the water and she began to cry, screaming out to all that could see her for mercy.
Over the water, she looked down in fear. The water was moving, but not quickly. It was very, very cold. She began struggling again by twisting her wrists in the metal bands, in spite of the obvious uselessness. Her wrists became bloody with the constant pulling, and her breathing was labored and heaving against the ropes around her chest.
At the local sheriff’s signal, the rope holding the other end of the pole was slowly released. As she slowly edged closer to the water, foot by foot, the panic in her mind was visible by the constant writhing of her naked body and screaming. As the chair and her feet came in contact with the water, she suddenly took a deep breath, fingers clawing the arms of the chair tightly. Her head flung back, and she looked skyward, probably in an attempt to keep her face above water for as long as possible.
Her breath was mistimed and a mistake. The chair was being slowly lowered in to the water. Her feet were surrounded, and then her legs. The flow of the river brushed her legs and made a small wake as she descended. When the water reached her thighs and surrounded her hips, the shock of the coldness forced the air out and she took another deep breath, still staring at the sky, her hair flung against her back, naked breasts pushed out and protruding for all to see.
The water swirled around her stomach, her chest… finally it reached her neck, and she once again took a deep breath, a paniced, shallow breath, for she knew it was moments before the water would cover her face. And so it did. With no noise or even a splash the water flowed over her head and face, obscuring her from view as she sank in to the depths. The last thing we saw was her hair, floating up and drifting in the water like seaweed.
She remained below the water. We could only imagine what it must be like, fastened securely to the chair, in the dark dirty water of the river. A faint sunlight would be seen, but nothing else, really. The water surrounding her face, intruding in to every orifice. Her lungs crying out for air, chest burning, heaving, as if in doing so she might be able to breathe when there was no air. The rational mind would be in place for a while, telling her not to breathe, that opening her mouth and lungs would produce nothing but pain and suffering worse than she felt…
The water flowed around the rope, which was the only thing escaping the water. It left a very small wake, but moved slightly, wobbling back and forth. Below, the victim was struggling, moving the chair around under water.
At last, the rope began to slip up out of the water, then a glimpse of her hair and all at once her head broke the surface of the water, and she gasped hugely, gulping huge lungfuls of air as she rose up out of the water. The water streamed off of her body in a torrent, draining over the chair and joining the river below her. Her breathing was a rasping, quick pulse as she hung above the water.
Her body glistened with wetness. The remaining tatters of her clothes hung about her, but her legs were slightly parted, arms secured, and her entire body was open and viewable by the townsfolk who jeered and laughed by the side of the river.
It was truly a beautiful sight, and one that helped resolve me to use the ducking stool again, when occassion allowed. A beautiful woman, dark hair plastered to the light flesh of neck and shoulders, breasts exposed and heaving, stomach pulsing with desparation, legs and arms glistening in the daylight.
The signal was given once again, and she began her slow descent back to the water. She struggled, her breathing eratic.
All at once, one of the men lost his grip of the rope at the other end of the pole and she plunged down, hitting the water hard with a huge splash. A glimpse of her face just as it slipped under the water showed she had not been able to get a good breath and was already panicing as she was submerged. Once again, the gossamer floating hair was the last trace of her to be seen.
The man who had lost his grip was chastized by the town sheriff. Another man was brought in to replace him, to make sure it did not happen again. They disagreed. They argued. All the while I watched the rope where it entered the water, and observed it wiggling slightly as the woman struggled below.
Time slipped by again, and it was decided that both men would assist on the rope. The sheriff realized the woman had been underwater for some time, and ordered her pulled up.
She broke the surface quickly, as the three men were able to pull more effectively. The water splashed all about and she dangled about five feet above the surface. At first, I thought she had died, for there was no paniced gasping as before. Her now naked body shown wet in the light, breasts hanging down slightly and covered by black hair that stuck to them, for her head was bowed down over her chest.
With a sudden cough, she spit out some water, gagged, coughed more, took a huge breath and cough up more water. Her breathing resumed the ragged desparation of someone that had been without it for some time. A cheer went up from the townspeople watching.
A period of a few minutes passed, in which all observed the wife in her nakedness, hung for all to see over the river.
The signal was given, and she was lowered again. A loud cry echoed against the water as she screamed. Wild eyes looked for anyone, anything that might save her, and the scream mixed with tears as her feet touched the water a third time.
It is seldom I have seen such a beautiful woman, in such agony and despair as when that woman sank below the surface the last time. Her stomach was heaving, making ripples as she descended. I saw the exact moment her erect nipples slipped below the surface, and observed how the water bouyed her large breasts. The water slowly lapping around her beautiful neck seemed a gentle but deadly force as she wagged her head back and forth.
One large gulp of air was timed perfectly just before the cold green water flowed over her face. She descended deep, out of site. The rope once again remained the only evidence of her existence in the world.
By the third time a woman is dunked in a river, most of the strength and will has been sucked out of her. Three dunkings is the most that is ever given unless the process is viewed as an execution. This punishment was severed, and it was not at all certain whether she would survive, especially considering the mistakes made with her second submersion.
A breeze blew, and birds sang in the warm sun, as the river flowed before us. The rope left a wake, made wider by a bit of weed that had caught on to it. It was stable, and did not move or wiggle this time.
Bubbles were seen. She had certainly lost control and released the air in her lungs. She was breathing in water now. I of all the people their knew exactly what a burning, cramping, horrible agony breathing water can be.
With a giant heave, the three men pulled the chair and woman up and out. Water flooded off of her still form, which was slumped in the chair. Blood from where she had struggled was mostly washed away, though fresh blood appeared as she hung over the water. The crowd was excited, wondering, not sure whether she was alive. I knew… for I knew that she would not be bleeding as she was if her heart was not beating. But she sat still, and did not appear to be breathing.
The pole was swung sideways and the naked woman was brought over the bank of the river, and lowered to the ground. Her restraints were removed, wrists and ankled. When the rope around her waist was removed, she fell forward slowly, on to the grassy turf of the river bank.
She lay on the ground, naked legs spread wide for all to see her privacy, one arm slightly below her body, the other awkwardly laying to the side.
Moments after her chest hit the ground, water spewed out of her mouth, followed by a cough. The woman’s husband came up to her, and covered her with a cloak as she continued coughing up river water. Two men lifted her between them, and she was dragged away from the river, weak and helpless.
I caught one last glimpse of her naked body as she began pleading with her husband for mercy.
This punishment had a lasting effect on the wife. I wish I could say the same for the other women of the town, but barely two weeks later, a woman was caught stealing bread and lying about it. She was sentenced to the ducking stool.