Imprisonment is a relatively new concept in the Old World. A surprising notion, but not surprising when you realize that the most common form of punishment was fines, death or mutilation.
Case in point of the 10th century record showing Count Albertus II “the Sober” of Nuln, who ordered the jailing of town drunks rather than a public beating which would have been the preferred method at the time, because, as he said, “they are often impervious to pain when apprehended, but the suffering they will endure in the morning will be far worse than any whipping.” Today, many towns and villages maintain small lockups to hold drunks or petty criminals who are awaiting the next visit of a traveling magistrate. Count Albertus was the rare exception for his time, implementing a method that would not become widespread until much later.
The idea of holding someone against their will for an extended amount of time was simply ridiculous in those ancient times. The expense needed to incarcerate a criminal, then to house that criminal, feed him and not to mention to pay for the magistrate to pass judgement, was just an unnecessary cost that often fell on the responsibility of the ruling noble. As such, a good flogging or a couple of days in the stocks or a swift execution was usually desired.
Yet there was a renaissance period in which a new way of dealing with the criminal arose. The Cult of Verena had grown from its roots from Tilea and penetrated the Empire with its idealism surrounding law and justice. They pressured the nobles and local magistrates to carry out justice in the way that would be befitting a man given the responsibility of judgement over his fellow man. In the eyes of Verena, all are deserving of fair justice, a fair chance at redemption.
It was a hard sell. But during the late period of the 10th century towards the end of the First Millennium, things were starting to change. The nobles were starting to adopt the Verenian principle of Law and Justice. Those suspected of criminality were given a voice.
This all changed during the time of the Second Millennium.
The turmoil of the Second Millennium changed many people’s thinking. With the breakdown of the Empire came insecurity and crime on a scale never before seen. Both in the city and in the country, the upheavals that rocked the Old World turned desperate people into criminals, and gave golden opportunities to those with immoral inclinations. Highway and river travel became unsafe even in times of official peace, and the collapse of authority left cracks in society where the rot of Chaos could take root.
The first response of those in power was violent repression. Mutilation and then death became the standard punishments for even non-violent crimes. Roadwardens became judges and executioners, not often bothering with the niceties of a trial. Witch Hunters were given broad licence to treat any crime as evidence of Chaotic taint. More and more the hangman’s noose or the pyre became the usual sentence, and executions became mass events. This wave of repression reached its climax in 2111, when the Grand Duke of Middenland, the Witch Hunter Liutprand III, had the entire town of Rotebach hanged for “Chaotic allegiance.” Their actual crime had been hiding half their wheat crop from the Grand Duke’s collectors.
The push for Verenian justice fell on deaf ears. Magistrates soon found themselves out of the job.
In the century before Magnus the Pious reunited the Empire, a synod of Shallyan priestesses gathered in Marienburg to consider the sorry state of the world. The harsh punishments for even the most minor crimes were an affront to the White Lady and they resolved to dedicate themselves to finding a better way. Using Marienburg’s prison of Rijker’s Isle the newly formed Order of the Tears of Piety sent missionaries to rulers throughout the Empire.
The missionaries argued that widespread executions were not just ineffective, but also counter-productive. “If you kill everyone for the least offense, who will be left to pay your taxes?” cried Sister Hildegarde to the Graf of Middenheim. Ridiculed at first, they argued that a period of incarceration that involved prayer and work could reform a criminal much better than a headsman’s axe.
Slowly but surely, they convinced one ruler after another to build what they called “penitentiaries and reformatories” where the Shallyans could try to reclaim these lost souls. Some notable successes spread their fame, particularly when the Grand Countess Beatrice of Nuln sponsored the founding of an “Academy for the Salvation of Wayward Youth” in the city.
Finally, in 2319, they scored their greatest victory when Emperor Magnus the Pious was convinced by their deeds and issued the Lex Imperialis Salvationis et Misericordiae, the Law for Imperial Salvation and Mercy. With this new code to act as a standard for the reunited Empire, Magnus encouraged the Electors to found prisons following the Shallyan ideal “for the promotion of mercy and healing among Sigmar’s children.” Such was his prestige that few nobles resisted the idea, and many even embraced it. While the record has been mixed since then – and in many prisons today, Shallyan precepts are far from the minds of inmate and warder alike – the modern concept of the prison was firmly planted in Imperial Law.
Prisons of Note:
Reiksfang, Altdorf – Situated at the center of the River Reik, this island castle used to be home to a Reikland prince, but now serves as an imperial prison. It’s infamous for its harsh treatment of prisoners and the fact that there has only ever been two escapees from it, both of which are believed to have died on their attempts.
Rijker’s Isle, Marienburg – Situated in the center of Marienburg, Rijker’s Isle is another castle that once housed a noble, which has now been turned into a prison. Run by an exiled Bretonnian prince, Vicomte Louis De Beq, Rijker’s Isle is where the political enemies of the ruling council of The Ten tend to go. Shallyan order also has a moderate presence here, trying to ensure that the prisoners are treated well and that they are given a chance at redemption. However, the order does not have access to all the prisoners, particularly those who were put away for political reasons.
Iron Tower, Nuln – Rising from the center of the River Reik is a black and red tower, pointing like a finger at the heavens, as if to remind Nulners of Sigmar’s wrath. Constructed over 50 years ago, the Iron Tower was a show of support for the efforts of the Empire’s Witch Hunters. The tower is 75 feet tall and comes to a sharp point at the top. Balconies allow guards to survey the grounds of the island on which it stands. Despite its name, it is not exclusively made of iron; most of it is stone. The iron elements typically are the gargoyles, the latticework on the windows, and a few sections of wall. All of these components are rusted, and long orange-red streaks run down the exterior as if it were bleeding. Of all the prisons in the Empire, the Iron Tower has the most sordid reputation when it comes to the treatment of its prisoners. This might be something to do with the fact that the Witch Hunters have a degree of control when it comes to the Iron Tower.
Fauschlag Prison, Middenheim – Named after the mountain upon which Middenheim was founded, Fauschlag prison lies underground deep within the mountain. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. Prisoners here are treated much better than elsewhere as the Cult of Verena has been given overall responsibility for running the prison. Yet this takes nothing away from the fact that Fauschlag prison is immensely uncomfortable and disorientating for those staffing the prison and the prisoners themselves. But what else can you expect from a prison built into the underside of a mountain. It has also suffered from many escapee attempts as the prison is notorious for not being secure. Problem with escaping from Fauschlag prison is trying to find your way out again as the Ulricsberg is one giant labyrinth. Many who have escaped simply vanish, or have been found in some old forgotten mining shaft, starved to death. High valued prisoners and political prisoners usually do not end up in Fauschlag prison, and often find themselves in the dungeons beneath the Middenheim Palace.
The Carcerem – Operated by the Grey Order, the Carcerem is a prison built specifically to house those with the gift of magic and who have become far too dangerous for their own good. Its location is kept as a closely guarded secret. It is believed to house some incredibly dangerous and magically unstable wizards, witches and other magical entities that are kept under lock and key either for study or for other reasons. The Order of the Silver Hammer in particular has had suspicions for a long time that the Grey Order has a secret prison and has been hunting for the location of it ever since including making several demands in the past for its location to be revealed, upon which the Grey Order just flat out denies its existence. The Witch Hunters do not buy it however, and are ever watchful for any signs of such a place existing.