Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buried Alive...Dungeons

There is something eerie and haunting about entering a dungeon. Your breath feels halted in your chest, your heart rate quickens, and your eyes scan the dark depths for shadow people and ghosts of past prisoners who died, having already been buried alive, beneath the castle fortress.

While the word dungeon, brings to mind underground places--and indeed in many places they were, the word is originally derived from donjon, a French term for Tower--which is above ground. Throughout history, most prisoners were kept, in actual towers cells, however the most famous and immortalized are those dark, decrepit underground cells.

It has been said that the underground cells were occupied by those who would spend the remainder of their lives there, while tower cells were reserved for those who would be quickly executed, or set free.

As terrifying as it may have been to be, taken to the Tower of London--shoved in a cell with no idea if you should live or die--at least you might have had a glimpse of the outside through a window... or not... No, it may be the case that you would be taken to "Little Ease," the infamous dungeon of torture within the Tower of London's White Tower. There is a cell at the bottom, just four feet by four feet, so you can not stand, but neither can you lay flat. Not only would this grow extremely uncomfortable for your body--but would also wreak havoc with your mind.

In Carlisle Castle--first built by William II, the son of William the Conqueror, the dungeon is famous for its "licking stones." These stones collected enough moisture to keep prisoners alive, by licking them--that is until they were executed on Gallows Hill. (click HERE to see pics)

Oubliette's were popular in medieval times... Just a deep hole, maybe in the ground, maybe in the dungeon, closed with a hatch door. Prisoners were tossed inside the holes, and could not get out unless a rope was thrown in.  In other words, there was no escape, unless you had help, and most often, you did not. They were dank, dark, filled with excrement, worms and rats. Often those tossed in were forever forgotten about, and thus the oubliette became a darkened grave where it took days upon days for your torment to end with death. In fact, the word oubliette, means "to forget" in French.

Most torture was performed in the dungeons--which in my mind, most resembles a hell for the living. Here you would be racked--your body stretched until your sockets pulled out, your muscles tore, maybe flesh ripped and bones were broken.  Perhaps your fingers would be crushed one by one with a thumbscrew. Or your fingernails ripped off one by one. Hot pokers might burn your flesh. You may be whipped, or drowned. In any case, your stay would not be pleasant... pleasant would be for you to take your last breath.

In some of my works--mostly my medieval romances and my Tudor-era historical fiction (all of which have yet to be published--but soon, dear readers, soon!)--I make mention of dungeons, towers, prisons, oubliettes, mostly because the threat of death, of imprisonment was very real, especially for nobles and courtiers. Factions pitted against factions, one lord seeking revenge on another, someone scorned, someone jealous, someone wanting what you had, being born to the wrong parents... all of those things could lead to your death, and there was little you could do about it.

I've visited many dungeons in Ireland and France.  They were eerie, they were haunting, they left me breathless, and my mind whirling. Have you ever visited a dungeon? Have you put any dungeons into your work? Tell us about it!



Eliza Knight is a multi-published author in historical romance, erotic romance, historical fiction, non-fiction and middle-grade mystery.  Visit her at http://www.elizaknight.com/ (romance/erotic romance and non-fiction writing craft), http://www.historyundressed.blogspot.com/ (Historical blog), http://www.authormichellebrandon.com/ (historical fiction) or http://www.mleighingles.blogspot.com/ (middle-grade mystery fiction).


Loni Lynne said...

Talk about your scary nightmares! I've seen Ghost Hunters International go into some dungeons and other places in which ghosts have been known to haunt--what a horrible way to die. If I had to choose, I think the tower would be preferable--at least there I would have some hope of either 'knowing I would die quickly' or perhaps being released. Dungeons or the oubliette--no thank you.

Great blog!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

You gave me the shivers just reading your post, Eliza. My heroine has to go into the bowels of the earth into a gold mine, but all she had to deal with is the dark, eerie sucking wind and her imagination. I've not been in a real dungeon, but we do have a concrete room in our house we lovingly call the dungeon.

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Loni. I love the Ghost Hunter shows!!! I think they did one on the Tower once and it was CREEPY! I too would rather die quickly or have the hope at least of getting out... *shudders*

Thanks Paisley! That is very visceral with the sucking wind sound, gave me the shivers! lol about your concret room! I call my laundry room in the basement (concrete/unfinished drywall walls) the dungeon. WE keep the dog there when we go out because he likes to destroy the house, and I always say, Come on Diesel, time to go to the dungeon, lol

Victoria Gray said...

Fascinating post! I would love to tour the Tower of London...love ghostly places :)

Nancy said...

Eerie photos. I hope to use some of this info in my next book. How did you know my heroine is locked in a dungeon, accused of witchcraft? Mind-reader, you.

aarbaugh said...

You're giving me chills. This is a perfect follow-up to a writers retreat and a writers group meeting from last week. Good thing it isn't near Halloween. Otherwise I'd never be able to sleep!

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Victoria! Me too! That is my #1 on places to visit in London.

Oh, Nancy, I hope you do! That will certainly add some visceral narrative to your story!

lol Ann,that may have been where I got my idea from... I was in a spooky mood :)

Renee Vincent said...

Hey Eliza, what dungeons did you see in Ireland. I was supposed to go this year, but it fell through. However,when I do go, I'd love to see some.

Great blog post!

Liz said...

Your post gives a spooky and realistic idea of what a dungeon must feel like! I have never been in one, although I have been in many caverns. Not the same thing tho!! Thanks for your post. Just found this blog - love it already.

Clive said...

A few years ago l visited a modern fortress in Brussels that had fallen to the Nazis and was then used as a transit prison for prisoners going to concentration camps.
lt has been preserved with the original tiered bunk beds, crude furniture and worst of all, a torture room with a huge hook hanging from the ceiling. All too real this, no Madam Tusseaud's scary tableau.
The evil atmosphere was overwhelmingly oppressive and l'd NEVER go there again. (l'd
visited thinking it was "only" a fortress.)