BRANKS, (probably akin to Irish brancas, a halter; Ger. Pranger, fetter, pillory), or Scolding-Bridle, a contrivance formerly in use throughout England and Scotland for the punishment of scolding women. It is said to have originated in the latter country. It seems to have never been a legalized form of punishment; but corporations and lords of manors in England, town councils, kirk-sessions and barony courts in Scotland assumed a right to inflict it. While specially known as the "Gossip's or Scold's Bridle" the branks was also used for women convicted of petty offences, breaches of the peace, street-brawling and abusive language. It was the equivalent of the male punishments of the stocks and pillory. In its earliest form it consisted of a hoop head-piece of iron, opening by hinges at the side so as to enclose the head, with a flat piece of iron projecting inwards so as to fit into the mouth and press the tongue down. Later it was made, by a multiplication of hoops, more like a cage, the front forming a mask of iron with holes for mouth, nose and eyes. Sometimes the mouth-plate was armed with a short spike. With this on her head the offending woman was marched through the streets by the beadle or chained to the market-cross to be gibed at by passers. The date of origin is doubtful. It was used at Edinburgh in 1567, at Glasgow in 1574, but not before the 17th century in any English town. A brank in the church of Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, bears date 1633; while another in a private collection has the crowned cipher of William III. The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, the Scottish National Museum of Antiquities at Edinburgh, the towns of Lichfield, Shrewsbury, Leicester and Chester have examples of the brank. As late as 1856 it was in use at Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire.
See W. Andrews, Old Time Punishments (Hull, 1890); A.M. Earle, Curious Punishments of Bygone Days (Chicago, 1896).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)