Weeping Sores

"Under his clothes, it is well known, More wears a jerkin of horsehair. He beats himself with a small scourge, of the type used by some religious orders.
Lord Chancellor Thomas More. Hans Holbein, 1527. Frick Collection, New York.
Mantel mentions this portrait in More's home on page 210.
What lodges in his mind, Thomas Cromwell's, is that somebody makes these instruments of daily torture. Someone combs the horsehair into coarse tufts, knots them and chops the blunt ends, knowing that their purpose is to snap off under the skin and irritate it into weeping sores. Is it monks who make them, knotting and snipping in a fury of righteousness, chuckling at the thought of the pain they will cause to persons unknown? Are simple villagers paid--how, by the dozen?--for making flails with waxed knots? Does it keep farmworkers busy during the slow winter months? When the money for their honest labor is put into their hands, do the makers think of the hands that will pick up the product?" (80)

Mantel, Hilary. Wolf Hall. New York: Picador, 2009.

Thomas Cromwell: costume historian, material culturalist. Of course, I often wonder the same thing, but the torture aspect is one I hadn't hit upon yet. I wonder who puts the screws in our Bodum coffee press, or who operates the machinery that made the legs of my desk at work? Because it's rarely craftsmanship anymore, whether the intent is supportive or sinister. Or, maybe, craftspeople have gained so much by identifying themselves that it's no longer a question?