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The following picture appeared in my Facebook feed. Looking around, I was not able to find anything that could at least somewhat prove that the device was genuine (many people create random things now a day) and what it was used for if indeed genuine. Clearly, we never went after scientists/artists as spelled out in one of the versions of this graphic.

The best research I've found was on the Truth or Fiction website.

An interesting aspect was the following reference to a French executioner:

“Torture Instruments of Fernand Meysonnier”

making me think that the device is genuine. However, several of the references place the device in the 18th century, not 15th as the graphic claims. At the same time, the inquisition was around the 15th century. Also, Fernand was in love with such things and built some of his own, which sounds like it could be something he created. The one reason I think that is not the case is that the device was for sale in an auction and I would imagine that the people organizing that auction probably verified that the device was indeed genuine.

I'm wondering whether one of the buff historians here has seen a reference to that device in an old book or parchment and has a better idea of what the device was used for?

I also found this instance of the picture on facebook where there is no text around the picture.

enter image description here

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    tbh, it looks completely fictional.
    – jwenting
    Apr 2 at 4:34
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    This is one of those instances where I'm not going to attempt to research this to answer, not because I have any problem with you the poster, but because the things I would see while researching this would be extremely unpleasant, and that's not my kind of fun here.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 2 at 17:04
  • Looking closely at the image, I think that the vertical sections attached to the handles would be threaded if the device was functional. Therefore, I think it's likely a fake device, probably created in the 19th century when exhibition of such things was popular. However, there are more credible seeming devices of similar function around. Apr 3 at 11:41
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    Better photos exist showing the threads which are pretty fine. Probably too fine for 15th/16th century but I am no expert. Quick look at antique screw presses suggest the offset handles are not the go-to design for such things.
    – Yorik
    Apr 3 at 21:01
  • According to this page, the first industrial bolts were built in 1568. Earlier ones were done by hand. I would imagine that means it would be possible to have such find threads around inquisition time. Apr 6 at 0:55

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There is a massive industry around displaying and selling alleged medieval torture devices and very little actual evidence that most of them were ever used as claimed.

A recent Reddit thread includes a link to the auction catalog. The catalog doesn't even make any claims (nevermind hint at any evidence) about the provenance of the device. The entire description on this "INSTRUMENT POUR LA QUESTION" (Item # 637) translates to:

Wrought iron. Rectangular base. Two screw clamps operated by cranks, with turned boxwood handles. Locked by a central screw padlock. The whole topped with a cross. (oxidation) 48 x 28 x 51 cm. 3000-4000 €

Although a photo caption included in a description of Meysonnier's former museum published by UNESCO implies that the device was "(sixteenth/seventeenth century) used by the Inquisition," I cannot find evidence to support this.

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  • I would say that UNESCO book makes it somewhat legitimate. It looks credible. I read the French original. Excellent translation here. Thank you! Apr 6 at 0:49
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    @AlexisWilke In my view the UNESCO report is a credible description of a claim made by a very non-credible museum owned by a very non-credible individual, Meysonnier.
    – Brian Z
    Apr 6 at 1:00

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