The cucking stool was a chair in which those accused of offences such as drunkenness, sexual impropriety or dishonest trading were constrained and then publicly displayed as a punishment. It was in use since at least the time of the Saxons, who called it the scealding, or scolding stool.
Analogous to the pilloryDevice used to publicly humiliate those found guilty of minor offences. or stocksDevice used to publicly humiliate those found guilty of minor offences., it is often confused with the ducking stoolSeesaw-like device for the punishment of disorderly women, scolds and dishonest tradesmen., in which the victim was subsequently immersed in water while still restrained in the chair. The cucking stool’s use as a punishment for scolding women declined during the mid-16th century, replaced by the scold’s bridleDevice used to punish women whose language was considered to be unacceptable., and a little later the ducking stool.
Also known as the stool of repentance, particularly in Scotland, it took the form of an elevated seat in a church, to be occupied by those found guilty by an ecclesiastical court of fornication or adultery. Publicly forced to repent their sins in that way, the humiliation was evidently very real, as some victims were driven to suicide, and some pregnant women who had not conceived with their husbands attempted infanticide rather than face the congregation. As an alternative, the church would accept a fine known as buttock mailFine payable to the ecclesiastical courts for the crime of fornication, as an alternative to a session on the stool of repentance. to those who could afford to pay.