In many corners of the globe, aristocrats and nobles, kings and young princes, were all deemed to be ‘ untouchable’ and protected by divine right . To lay one’s hand on a nobleman or noble child was often a transgression punishable in the most severe way, sometimes even by death. So how then do you go about reprimanding a young boy who also happens to be your king, his heir, or simply a very highborn lad? The answer was a ‘whipping boy’.
A whipping boy, otherwise known as a “proxy for correction”, was a boy educated alongside a prince or boy monarch who would receive corporal punishment such as whipping or spanking for the young monarch’s faults and transgressions. The prince would be made to watch this happen, the rationale being that seeing a friend being punished on their behalf would deter them from further misdeeds.
“Edward VI and his Whipping Boy” by Walter Sydney Stacey ( Public Domain )
Young Edward VI of England was mentioned to have had a whipping boy named Barnaby FitzPatrick, son of the 1st Baron of Upper Ossory. It was written in 1592 by Konrad Heresbach that the whipping boy was whipped in front of the young king, especially when the latter uttered swear words and profanities. Barnaby FitzPatrick received the highest education at the royal court and later rose to become a prominent noble in his life, becoming the 2nd Baron of Upper Ossory.
The young Louis XV of France, who later became king, was also known to have a whipping boy. In the controversial age of French bourgeoisie, the boy king’s governess, one Madame de Ventadour, found many young boys to act as his playmates. One of them was a simple cobbler’s son, who would be regularly punished instead of Louis. This was mentioned in 1769 by Marie, Marquise du Deffand, and was seemingly known to all during that era. Young Louis continued to misbehave and neglect his studying regardless of the beatings the young whipping boy received.
Being a whipping boy sounds like a pretty lousy job to have, but historical records suggest that many saw it as a privilege that allowed them to rise up the ranks in the royal court.
Read more: Fact or Fiction? The Unjust Reality of a Whipping Boy
Top image: Royal children were untouchable, so whipping boys would be punished on their behalf. Source: liyasov / Adobe Stock
By Aleksa Vučković