The torture of the boot was considered by contemporary observers to be the "most severe and cruel pain in the world". So dreadful was the sight of a human being suffering this torment that, says Burnet, "when any are to be struck in the boot, it is done in the presence of the council, and upon that occasion almost all offer to run away." (Bishop Burnet, History, 1823)

This instrument of torture was an iron container made in the shape of a boot and designed to encase the naked limb from foot to the knee. Wedges of wood or metal were inserted between the flesh and the sides of the apparatus and driven in with a hammer. The flesh was lacerated and often the bones were crushed and splintered in a shocking and dreadful manner. The terrible punishment would continue until the victim confessed. It was rare for anyone who experienced this torture to be other than a cripple for the rest of his life.

In 1583, in Dublin, an Irish priest named Hurley - suspected of treason - remained mute when brought before the Lord Justices, Archbishop Loftus and Sir H. Wallop. On appying to London for instructions, the Irish council was told to put him to the torture in order to induce him to speak. As no rack was available, "hot boots" - in which melted resin was poured - were applied, and Hurley confessed. (J.A. Froude, History of England, 1863)