Although the administration of justice was a royal privilege, it was not uncommon for the monarch to sell it to the nobility. For this reason, from the time that Pere d’Icart purchased the mixt i mer imperi (civil and criminal jurisdiction) from Joan I the Hunter in 1391, the barons of Torredembarra had the absolute power to administer justice within their jurisdiction, whether for minor cases (mixt imperi) – a prerogative they had already enjoyed in the past – or for more serious crimes (mer imperi), which could lead to the death penalty, mutilation of body parts, or expulsion from the jurisdiction.
Therefore, it hardly surprising that there was a prison within the residence to keep those who had been detained in custody.
Having said that, due to their characteristics – small, well-fortified places – it was very common for towers to be used as prisons, something that was the case all over Europe, including Torredembarra Castle.
In fact, some people believe that the etymology of Torredembarra may stem from torre d’embarrar. Embarrar means ‘closing with a bar’, which might refer to shutting a person or animal in a place it cannot leave. In Teruel, for example there is a village called Torrelacárcel (lit. prison tower).