A scold's bridle (also the brank or branks) was a torture device for women, resembling an iron muzzle or cage for the head with an iron curb projecting into the mouth and resting precariously atop the tongue. The curb was frequently studded with spikes so as to cruelly torture the tongue if it dared stir: with the tongue lying calmly in place, it inflicted a minimum of pain.
It was designed as a mirror punishment for "scolds" — women whose speech was "riotous" or "troublesome" — by preventing them from speaking; however, it was also used as corporal punishment for other offences, notably on female workhouse inmates. There are no records of it being used on men; however, a similar punishment, where a cleft stick was placed on the tongue, was used on men. Records exist for such a punishment in the town of Boston, England. The scold's bridle did not see much use in the New World.
In Walton on Thames, also in England, a scold's bridle is displayed in the vestry of the church, dated 1633, with the inscription "Chester presents Walton with a bridle, To curb women's tongues that talk too idle." The story is that one Chester lost a fortune due to a woman's gossip, and presented the town with the instrument of torture out of anger and spite.
The tongue curb could be as gentle as a flat iron plate that passively discouraged tongue movement or as painful as a spike-festooned iron bit that punished it rather more painfully. Other variants are shaped like an animal's head, such as a donkey or a pig.
The Scold's Bridle is the title of a novel by Minette Walters, where a scold's bridle is a key element in the plot.