Choke pear (torture)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Pear of Anguish. Torture museum in Lubuska Land Museum in Zielona Góra, Poland.

The choke pear (or pear of anguish) is the modern name for a type of instrument displayed in some museums, consisting of a metal body (usually pear-shaped) divided into spoon-like segments that could be spread apart by turning a screw. The museum descriptions and some recent sources assert that the devices were used either as a gag, to prevent people from speaking, or internally as an instrument of torture.


Spikeless Pear, Museum der Festung Salzburg, Austria

There is no contemporary first-hand account of these devices or their use. However, through the design of the devices, such as metal consistency and style, these are often dated to the early modern period (circa 1600). An early mention is in F. de Calvi's L'Inventaire général de l'histoire des larrons ("General inventory of the history of thieves"), written in 1639, which attributes the invention to a robber named Capitaine Gaucherou de Palioly in the days of Henry of Navarre. Palioly would have used a mechanical gag to subdue a wealthy Parisian while he and his accomplices robbed the victim's home.[1][2]

Further mentions of the device appear in the 19th century. They are also mentioned in Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) as "Choke Pears," and described as aids used in extortion (see next paragraph) "formerly used in Holland."[3]

They were also discussed in a book by Eldridge and Watts, superintendent of police and chief inspector of the detective bureau in Boston, Massachusetts (1897). While accepting that ordinary pear-shaped gags exist, they observed that contemporary robbers used no such device as Palioly's Pear and cast doubt upon its very existence in the first place, saying that "fortunately for us this 'diabolical invention' appears to be one of the lost arts, if, indeed, it ever existed outside of de Calvi's head. There is no doubt, however, of the fashioning of a pear-shaped gag which has been largely used in former days by robbers in Europe, and may still be employed to some extent. This is also known as the 'choke-pear', though it is far less marvellous and dangerous than the pear of Palioly."[4]

Another mention is found in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898), which claims that "robbers in Holland at one time made use of a piece of iron in the shape of a pear, which they forced into the mouth of their victim. On turning a key, a number of springs thrust forth points of iron in all directions, so that the instrument of torture could never be taken out except by means of the key."[5]

Museum pieces[edit]

Though there is little or no evidence of its being used by bandits, there are a number of extant examples of ornate and elaborate, pear-shaped devices with three or four leaves or lobes, driven by turning a key that rotates the central screw thread, which spreads the leaves. These are generally held in museums devoted to the subject of torture, and are described as instruments of torture by distension or evisceration. Some, but not all, have small spikes of uncertain purpose at the bottom of each leaf. However, these devices do not seem to match the descriptions given by Calvi or the 19th century sources.

In popular culture[edit]

In Season 2, Episode 1 (entitled "The Borgia Bull") of The Borgias, King Charles VIII of France uses a choke pear to torture the fictional Prince Alfonso of Naples before executing him.

In Season 2, Episode 2 ("Ash Wednesday") of Borgia, a choke pear device is referred to as the Pope's pear, and shown to be an instrument of torture. It is used to torture a homosexual (called a sodomite in the episode) by having the "pear" inserted up his rectum and opened.

in Season 3, Episode 7 ("Identity") of the television series Criminal Minds, a choke pear device, referred to in the show as "pear of anguish", is referred to as a means of torturing abducted women. Emily Prentiss finds one among the torture tools of deceased Unsub Francis Goehring (who had killed himself earlier in the episode). When she asks what it is, Spencer Reid recognizes it and refers to it a Pear of Anguish.

The device is used as a murder weapon in "The Princess and the Pear", Season 4, Ep. 15 of the TV series Bones.

In Season 1, Episode 10 (entitled "The House of Pain") of "Salem," the use of a choke pear is explained, threatened and visually suggested, in an attempt to extract information from a suspected witch during a historical-fantasy dramatization of The Salem Witch Trials.

In Season 1, Episode 12 (entitled "Ashes, Ashes") of "Salem," the same choke pear from Episode 10 is revealed to the audience of townsfolk at trial. The character Cotton Mather (who is based on the real Cotton Mather, yet not a historically accurate representation) argues it is a "vile instrument used to torture women" rather than a legitimate tool of interrogation.

In Season 2, Episode 3 (entitled "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge") of "Inside No 9," a choke pear is one of the tools Mr. Warren and Mr. Clarke have on hand to torture potential witches. Sir Andrew, the judge, seems to have an obsession with it, mistaking its purpose for "ecstasy" rather than "agony", and is later caught with it as he tries to leave the barn.

In the novel NYPD Red 2 by James Patterson, a choke pear is used by the fictional "Hazmat Killer" to torture his victims.

In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, when Edward Kenway mentions he expected to find tools of torture in the mansion of French Templar Julien du Casse Great Inagua, James Kidd mentions a Pear of Anguish in passing as one of the torture tools one might expect.

See also[edit]

  • Choke pear (plant), a hard-to-swallow fruit that may have been the origin of the instrument's name.


  1. ^ "La redoutable poire d'angoisse/Une expédition du voleur Palioli". La France pittoresque (in French) (21). Winter 2006–2007. 
  2. ^ marquis de Adolphe Chesnel (1856). Dictionnaire des superstitions, erreurs, préjugés et traditions populaires (in French). Paris: Migne. pp. 915–916. 
  3. ^ Francis Grose (1811). Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue; a.k.a. Lexicon Balatronicum, A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence. Pall-Mall, London. 
  4. ^ Benjamin P. Eldridge and William B. Watts (1897/2004). Our Rival, the Rascal: A Faithful Portrayal of the Conflict Between the Criminals of This Age and The Police. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 285–286. ISBN 1-4179-5952-5.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ "Choke-pear". Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Choke pear at Wikimedia Commons ((