The Iron Maiden was a presumed torture and execution device, uniquely a Germanic invention, consisting of an iron cabinet with a hinged front and spike-covered interior, sufficiently tall to enclose a human being.
The device was so tortuous that initially it was considered to be a fictional device with no real existence.
However, various documented proofs of the device were subsequently found and thus it was confirmed that the device was actually in vogue, although perhaps not during medieval times, as there is hardly any concrete evidence of it being used as a torture device during that era.
While it is disputed that the device was used during the medieval times, it is generally agreed that some variation of the device was used at some point in history.
The first recorded description of an Iron Maiden was from Johann Philipp Siebenkees, a German philosopher and archaeologist, in 1793.
According to Siebenkees’ colportage, it was first used on August 14, 1515. He wrote about a coin forger who suffered a terrible fate — being enclosed in a casket full of spikes that slowly impaled him.
As it turns out, Siebenkees made up the story of the iron maiden. According to historians, he created the history of it as an actual mock-up of the real device implemented in the torture of witches and others who opposed the Christian church prior to 1793.
The mechanism of operating the Iron Maiden was quite simple. Once inside, the doors were shut on the victim and the spikes would pierce several organs of the body. The spikes were supposedly short and positioned so that the victim wouldn’t die quickly.
This meant that they would only result in relatively small wounds and the victim would bleed to death over the course of several hours. To add to the abject horror of it all, two spikes were positioned specifically to penetrate the eyes.
Several 19th-century iron maidens are on display in museums around the world.
Probably the most famous, that popularized the design, is the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, which was built in the early 1800s and destroyed in an Allied bombing in 1944.
This copy is the most important surviving specimen of an Iron Maiden still in existence.