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Whipping boys were established in the English court during the monarchies of the Early Modern Period. The purpose of a whipping boy was to receive the punishment that was assigned to the young prince for general misbehavior. Whipping boys were created to satisfy the idea of the Divine Right of Kings, which states that God appoints the monarchy and that the prince would be an extension upon that lineage, thus no one but the king would be worthy of punishing the prince. The idea that no one is worthy of punishing this future king would create considerable problems for the hired tutors and court servants that might find the need to punish the young prince while the king is away.
The whipping boy can be from virtually any background. Occasionally the whipping boy was from high born, but could have been an orphan or foundling. In order to have the whipping boy be an effective tool for disciplining the prince, the prince must feel empathy for the whipping boy so they must form an emotional bond. This connection between the two boys rests in the idea that a prince seeing a friend being whipped or beaten for something that he had done wrong would increase the likelihood that the prince would not make the same mistake again.
The job of being a whipping boy was not necessarily as bad as it may seem. The whipping boys were often educated with and given similar privileges to the prince. Whipping boy was an established title at court during the Tudor reign. Often times, the whipping boys were rewarded later in life by the princes they served. King Charles I of England appointed his whipping boy, William Murray, as the first Earl of Dysart in 1643 after he had been living in the palatial Ham House since 1626 under the request of King Charles I.
The children's book The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, which is about a prince and his whipping boy, was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1987. The Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper had a whipping boy character, Humphrey Marlow, who, unaware that the prince was an impostor, helped him "relearn" the intricacies of court etiquette. In George R. R. Martin's fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire the characters Tommen Baratheon and Joffrey Baratheon have a whipping boy named Pate. In the 2014 film Sleeping Beauty, one central character is a whipping boy seen fulfilling his appointed function.
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- "Whipping boy - meaning and origin.". The Phrase Finder.
- Beddard, Robert (January 1995). "Ham House". History Today. 45 (1).
- Pritchard, Evelyn (2007). Ham House and its owners through five centuries 1610-2006. Richmond Local History Society. ISBN 9781955071727.
- Fleischman, Sid (1986). The Whipping Boy. United States: Green Willow Books. pp. 1–89. ISBN 0688062164.
- Twain, Mark (1881). The Prince and the Pauper. England: James R. Osgood & Co.
- Martin, George R. R. (2005). A Feast for Crows. United States: Bantam Spectra. pp. 344–363. ISBN 055358202X.
- The dictionary definition of whipping boy at Wiktionary
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