Lesson #318: Whipping boys

There are a slew of terms in the English language that we, as a society, take for granted. They often have a historical point of reference, but we don’t usually know the point of reference because the historical aspect of it has been swallowed up over a few centuries. Today, I learned about the whipping boy.

The whipping boy was a tradition of the 15th and 16th century English monarchs (the Tudors and Stuarts, mostly). English monarchy held that the king  ruled under the divine right of kings* and, as a result, no one but the king had the right to punish the king’s son(s). And since the king was rarely around to reprimand the prince(s), enter the whipping boy. A whipping boy was a boy assigned to a prince whose duty it was to take punishments intended for said prince if he misbehaved or fell behind in his schooling.

Now, you’d think that this would be perfect for the prince because what’s it to him if someone else is taking his punishments, but the whipping boy was not a peasant. He was a boy of noble birth, close in age to the prince, and brought up and schooled with the prince. As a result, the prince and his whipping boy were usually close friends, which, as you can imagine, is a really effective tool in keeping your prince in line.

Point of interest: Charles I made his whipping boy an Earl.

P.S. Guess who never read The Prince and the Pauper?

More information here and here.

*which stipulates that the monarch rules by divine right and is answerable to no one but God.

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