Noble families faced the problem that their sons were too high in standing to be beaten by anyone below their father, who was often unavailable. So the solution was to have a boy of the same age as the noble boy, but with a lower rank, who was raised together with him as his playmate. Whenever the prince misbehaved or slacked in his studies, the other boy was whipped (or spanked, or otherwise punished) in his place - hence the name whipping boy.
This may seem quite unfair from a modern point of view, but the logic behind this was twofold: first, an offense could not be left unpunished, so if the offender could not be punished, someone else had to take the beating in his place. Second, punishing the innocent boy in front of the young nobleman was meant to be a form of psychological 'indirect punishment' ("see what you deserve") for him.
There were, it seems, no "whipping girls", as literature mentions boys only. A possible explanation is that noble girls may have been low enough in standing to be punished by their teachers and educators (or their mother), so no "whipping girl" was required.
Famous whipping boysEdit
Whipping boys of famous people include:
- Mungo Murray, whipping boy of Charles I
- Barnaby Fitzpatrick, whipping boy of Edward VI
- D'Ossat and Du Perron, whipping boys of Henry IV of France, whipped by Pope Clement VIII, and later in life made cardinals
In modern times, the term "whipping boy" has come to mean a scapegoat, or something that is a frequent recipient of undue pain, punishment or mistreatment, including inanimate objects.
The corresponding term in French is souffre-douleur; in German, it is known as Prügelknabe.
Literature, film and comicsEdit
- "A Sock for Christmas", published in the comic book anthology Vault of Horror #29 (1955), is about a Medieval whipping boy who gets spanked with a hairbrush.
- The novel The Whipping Boy (ISBN 0-688-06216-4) by Sid Fleischman was published in 1986. It was also made into a film, Prince Brat and the Whipping Boy (1994).
- In the film Lady Jane (1986) is a scene where King Edward VI refers to having had a whipping boy as a child. He tells the main character of the movie about him when he is witness to the aftermath of Jane being whipped by her mother.
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