Friday, March 12, 2010

Men (and boys) Behaving Badly at Eton

Friday, March 12, 2010
Loretta reports:

Most of my Regency era heroes attend Eton and Oxford, even though I know a great many men of the time passed through both institutions with little effect on their intellects.  In fact, I have often wondered how much the Eton experience contributed to the stunning number of occasions of Men Behaving Badly.  There was the fagging for one thing, and the Spartan living conditions and—oh, yes—there was the flogging.

“George Heath, known to the boys as ‘Ascot Heath’ after the racecourse with which they were no doubt familiar, was appointed Head Master in 1792.  He was a strict disciplinarian, and on one occasion is said to have flogged seventy boys at one session, if that is the word, administering ten strokes to each.  As a result ‘ he was laid up with aches and pains for more than a week.’  In 1798 he gave fifty-two boys ‘a round dozen each.’  Despite these severities he quite failed to suppress the driving of tandems around Eton and Windsor, and on two occasions during Scrope’s* time at Eton virtually the whole school failed to appear for Absence.**  On the first occasion they preferred to attend the first ever cricket match between two public schools, Eton against Westminster, and on the second they made an excursion by boat up the river to Maidenhead…

“The occasion is still recalled at Eton when Keate confused the list of those to be confirmed with that of those to be punished, and flogged the confirmands with a will reinforced by their apparently blasphemous protestations.”

He was about five feet tall.

*Scrope Berdmore Davies, a great friend of Lord Byron

**Roll call




From The Rise & Fall of a Regency Dandy: The Life and Times of Scrope Berdmore Davies, by T.A.J. Burnett.

The print of Eton and some of its illustrious students above left is courtesy the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Lower right is the Long Chamber, the dormitory.  Illustration from A History of Eton College, 1440-1910, by Sir H.C. Maxwell Lyte

15 comments:

Monica Burns said...

Despite knowing corporal punishment was pretty standard up until about 30-40 years ago, it never ceases to amaze me that people would do this to others, thinking one could beat everyone into compliance. Guess I would have had my skin flayed off me by Heath, and I doubt I would have cried when he hit me. I never did when I got hit with a belt as a child. I wonder what mothers thought of this then, I'm certain most fathers thought it was appropriate because that's how they'd been raised.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

So much of the flogging/whipping/thrashing of children seems to fall under that old "spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy. Where today we nurture our children to be individuals, back then the goal as to break their spirit and make them docile and obedient by any means. As strange as this seems to us now, I can't begin to imagine what 18th c. English parents would make of modern childrearing methods –– though as a modern parent I can say there still don't seem to be any guarantees! *g*

Rowenna said...

I just imagine those boys playing a game of comparison before doing something they knew would result in punishment if caught..."Is XYZ worth a dozen lashes? Yeah, worth it." And they had to have felt some vengeful satisfaction when poor old Heath was laid up from administering too vigourous of floggings!

Les said...

Love this clip. It bears out one of my pet theories - that while the rest of the world tsk-tsks about the flogging that's so traditional in English public schools and military, the English themselves always treated it like one more Monty Python joke. They don't take it seriously in the least, and don't understand what the fuss is. Makes no sense but there it is.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Forget the flogging - that bedchamber is a nightmare!

LorettaChase said...

Les, everything I've read inclines me to agree. They seemed to have a strangely jaunty attitude toward flogging.

LorettaChase said...

Vanessa, oh, yes. That dormitory was one of the visuals that inspired Dain's Eton experiences in Lord of Scoundrels.

Les said...

"Strangely jaunty" is as respectable a way as any to express it. Pretty good one, in fact.

Anonymous said...

Flogging was very much the order of the day at Eton in the 18th and 19th centuries, and consisted of severe birchings applied to boy's bare buttocks with a large birch. This punishment was meted out to young boys aged 10 or 11, right up to young men aged 17 or 18 years. Eton's greatest flogging headmaster, Dr Keate, was said to have known his pupils by their naked posteriors, better than by their faces!

Anonymous said...

The flogging system in England’s public schools during the 18th and early 19th centuries became completely ineffective and self-defeating as a method of maintaining order and discipline, due to sheer overuse. Public schools such as Eton and Rugby were riotous undisciplined places during this period, despite a regime of incessant flogging. The flogging block and birch were in constant use. Flogging became more of a ‘way of life’ than a punishment. Boys who were flogged most frequently, which could be as often as twice a week, became habituated to it. They became physically and mentally hardened to the pain and shame of birching. After a first flogging at age 12 or 13, a boy might be confined to bed for a few days to recover from shock, and for the weals and lacerations on his bottom to begin to heal. By the age of 16 or 17, having notched up maybe 300 floggings, he would be completely habituated and hardened to the birch. The skin of his flagellated parts (buttocks, upper thighs, anal region & perineum) would have become hardened and calloused to a state of almost total insensitivity, with scarring and discolouration that would last well into adulthood, as in the case of Henry Labouchere (early 19th century politician) who had permanent scarring as a result of constant floggings throughout his school years. Once habituated and hardened to the birch, boys took their floggings with contemptuous abandon, even joking about them, and with a ‘don’t care’ attitude of nonchalant indifference, with no fear, and therefore no deterrent value at all from the punishment.

Anonymous said...

The New Monthly Magazine, a popular periodical of the Regency period, in one of its 1827 editions (available to view on Google Books), contains an article on the great Public Schools of the time. In this article, it condemns the ‘degrading habit of corporal punishment’, and in particular the ‘indecent and disgusting exhibition of flogging’ as practiced in those schools.

Anonymous said...

Great information, but it left me a little confused. I noticed the large range of ages mentioned of the boys who were punished. At what age did most children begin to attend public school, and at what age did they move on to university?

Anonymous said...

In reply to the previous post, boys started at public schools at age 12 or 13, and remained there to age 18 or 19. Only the most academic boys (who probably suffered the least amount of flogging) went on to university. The greater majority who were lower achievers academically (and therefore suffered more frequent floggings) went into the army or navy as trainee officers, or into the church as trainee clerics. The military or the church were the main career paths for the majority of less academic boys from the aristocratic classes after going through the public school system, and who were not considered as university material. Those that went into these professions would have left earlier – possibly at 16 or 17 if going into the army or navy as trainee officers, as there would have been no point in them pursuing academic studies on to age 19. The hardening and habituation to both witnessing and receiving floggings throughout their school years would certainly have prepared them for the brutal regime of the army or navy in those times, where savage floggings, ordered by the officers upon the common soldiers or sailors, were common place.

CP Historian said...

One aspect of the flogging system practiced in the great public schools of history, which is rarely mentioned because of the associated Taboo, is the sexual aspect. Middle aged schoolmasters birching the bare buttocks of adolescent boys has obvious sexual connotations, but the particular modus-operandi of the birch and flogging block at Eton and similar schools had blatant sado-erotic overtones.
The twin stepped 'flogging block' used at Eton, put the flogging victim into a very exposed position. He would be kneeling, and bent almost double over the block, so that not only his buttocks, but also his anus, perineum and genitalia would be fully exposed to the rear. The birches used were grotesque instruments, the Eton version being a 5 feet long thick heavy bundle of brine soaked slender birch twigs, with the hard buds left on them. Twelve strokes (a typical minimum flogging) would have made quite a raw and bloody mess of a boy's buttocks. A severe flogging or four or five dozen strokes, as would have been given to a 16 to 18 year old senior boy in the 18th century for a serious offence , would have left the whole of his buttocks and upper thighs, including the anal and perineal sphere, a solid mass of raw, lacerated and bloody flesh. It should be noted that there are no records of any precautions being taken to protect the exposed genitalia during flogging, so any mis-directed or 'low' strokes would have whipped the exposed posterior scrotum.
One of the physiological effects of this manner of flogging males, which has been documented in historic medical papers, is that it nearly always induced and erection. Erections were triggered by 2 autonomic responses 1. The violent stimulation and inflamation of the gluteal and anoperineal region being transmitted to the genitals via the pudendal and perineal nerves and 2. The large rush of blood to the pelvic floor region, causing inflammation and vasocongestion in in the bulbospongiosus and ischiocavernosus (muscles of the perineum) and genitals. Floggings were a literal whipping up of blood to the pudenda, and thus a highly sexualised form of corporal punishment.

Anonymous said...

‘The Man’ – a progressive Regency periodical advocating rationalism and human rights, in an 1833 edition refers to the practice of flogging at such schools as Eton as being ‘the most powerful among the causes of the delinquencies it is employed to abate’, and the method of its infliction as ‘among the most odious and shameful barbarities that the wisdom of our ancestors has bequeathed to us’.

 
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