A scold’s bridle, sometimes called “the branks”, as well as “brank’s bridle” was a punishment device used primarily on women, as a form of torture and public humiliation.
It was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head. The bridle-bit (or curb-plate) was about 2 inches long and 1 inch broad, projected into the mouth and pressed down on top of the tongue.
The “curb-plate” was frequently studded with spikes, so that if the tongue moved, it inflicted pain and made speaking impossible. Wives who were seen as witches, shrews and scolds, were forced to wear a brank’s bridle, which had been locked on the head of the woman and sometimes had a ring and chain attached to it so her husband could parade her around town and the town’s people could scold her and treat her with contempt; at times smearing excrement on her and beating her, sometimes to death.
First recorded in Scotland in 1567, the branks were also used in England, where it may not have been formally legalized as a punishment. During 1500s it spread out to some other European countries, including Germany. Some even had a bell on top of them to draw even more attention to the wearer, increasing their humiliation. It was finally used until the early 1800s as a punishment in German workhouses.