An iron maiden is a presumed, though likely fictional, torture device, consisting of an iron cabinet with a hinged front and spike-covered interior, sufficiently tall to enclose a human being.
The iron maiden is often associated with the middle ages. However, no account has been found earlier than 1793, although medieval torture devices were catalogued and reproduced during the 19th century.
Wolfgang Schild, a professor of criminal law, criminal law history, and philosophy of law at the University of Bielefeld, has argued that supposed iron maidens were pieced together from artifacts found in museums to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition. Several 19th-century iron maidens are on display in museums around the world, including the San Diego Museum of Man, the Meiji University Museum, and multiple torture museums in Europe. It is unlikely that any of these iron maidens were ever employed as instruments of torture.
The original 17th century iron maidens may have been constructed as probable misinterpretation of a medieval Schandmantel (“coat of shame” or “barrel of shame”), which was made of wood and metal but without spikes.
The most famous iron maiden that popularised the design was that of Nuremberg, first displayed possibly as far back as 1802. Historians have ascertained that Johann Philipp Siebenkees created the history of it as a hoax in 1793. The original was lost in the Allied bombing of Nuremberg in 1944. A copy “from the Royal Castle of Nuremberg”, crafted for public display, was sold to the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1890 along with other torture devices. This copy was auctioned in the early 1960s and is now on display at the Medieval Crime Museum, Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
The British heavy metal band Iron Maiden was named after the torture device.