Cucking Stool

ducking stool

Ducking-stools and cucking-stools are chairs formerly used for punishment. They were both instruments of social humiliation and censure, primarily for the offense of scolding or back biting, and less often for sexual offenses like having an illegitimate child or prostitution. They were technical devices which formed part of the wider method of law enforcement through social humiliation.

Most were simply chairs into which the victim could be tied and exposed at her door or the site of her offence and publicly shamed. Some were on wheels and could be dragged around the parish. Some were put on poles so that they could be plunged into water, hence ‘ducking’ stool.

The cucking-stool, or Stool of Repentance, has a long history, and was used by the Saxons, who called it the scealding or scolding stool. The term cucking-stool is known to have been in use from about 1215. It means literally ‘defecation chair,’ as its name is derived from the old verb cukken which means ‘to defecate,’ rather than, as popularly believed, from the word cuckold. Commodes or chamber pots were often used as cucking-stools, hence the name.

In sentencing a woman to ducking the magistrates ordered the number of duckings she should have.  Another type of ducking-stool was called a tumbrel. It was a chair on two wheels with two long shafts fixed to the axles. This was pushed into the pond and then the shafts released, thus tipping the chair up backwards. Sometimes the punishment proved fatal, the unfortunate women dying of shock.

In medieval times, ducking was seen as a foolproof way to establish whether a suspect was a witch. The ducking stools were first used for this purpose but ducking was later inflicted without the chair. In this instance the victim’s right thumb was bound to left toe. A rope was attached to her waist and the ‘witch’ was thrown into a river or deep pond. If the ‘witch’ floated it was deemed that she was in league with the devil, rejecting the ‘baptismal water.’ If the ‘witch’ drowned she was deemed innocent.

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