Monday, 27 June 2011

Judicial Corporal Punishment of Women

The bad news for anyone interested in the judicial corporal punishment of women is that it was completely abolished in 1820. The very bad news is that it was invariably inflicted on the back, rather than the rump, although as we shall see some of the more informal punishments did involve the bare bottom.

The usual way to whip both sexes was to strip them to the waist and then tie them to either a flogging post or a cart's tail to administer the punishment. A cart's tail flogging had the decided advantage in that it could be seen by more people as the victim would usually be tied to the cart for a preliminary dose of the cat of nine tails, and then the cart would be moved to another part of town and another dose handed out in front of another crowd of eager onlookers.

In March 1817 one of the last such floggings occurred in Inverness to "a young and handsome woman" named Grant. This was the third time that she had been flogged though the streets of the town and the Inverness Journal was led to thunder that:
The spectacle of a naked woman, from the waist upwards, in the public streets, must of itself be shocking to our best feelings; and the flogging one woman three times through the streets, within a few weeks, twice in  succeeding weeks, shews the inefficacy of a punishment which must be allowed, for many reasons, to be highly objectionable.
In the short term this flogging helped to persuade Parliament to abolish the public whipping of women, but what is interesting from our point of view is that the account confirms that when a woman was judicially flogged it was always on the back.

Women did not serve in the military, but throughout history they have followed the armies as they trailed across the countryside. The Duke of Cumberland during the 1745 campaign against the Jacobite army of Prince Charles Stuart was the first commander to try to bring some kind of order to camp following with his instruction that any woman who ventured beyond the baggage train would be flogged.  Although not a part of the army, the soldiers' women were subject to its discipline, and that discipline was usually administered to the bare bottom.

So when the army rested one day a woman decided to steal from a house, whereupon as General Pulteney related to Cumberland over dinner, she "had her tail immediately turned up before the door of the house where the robbery was committed and the drummer of the regiment tickled her with 100 very good lashes."

Fast forward fifty years to the Peninsular Campaign and recalcitrant women were liable to "a dozen on the bare doup from the drum-major's cane." That was probably for looting as Wellington the army commander was always complaining about the actions of the army harridans. Later on in the campaign a gang of such creatures were found looting a store and being unable to run very fast owing to their long skirts were quickly apprehended.  Another Scottish onlooker recorded that they received 36 with the cat of nine tails, also on the "bare doup."

These canings were obviously a common occurrence in the army because the soldiers who commented on them do not give the impression that they are in any way out of the ordinary. On the other hand they were recorded in soldierly correspondence which is why we know about them. The reason for that seems to be that they were  regarded as ribald entertainment and groups of men would gather around to watch a brawny-arsed camp wench get her just deserts in the traditional manner.

Which is how it should be.

Unless otherwise indicated, the main source for this posting was:

Holmes, Richard; Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket, Harper Perennial, London, 2001, P. 295.


Anonymous said...

But didn't I read somewhere that WRENs were subject to corporal punishment as late as during WWII long after such things had been abolished for men in the British military? Can''t remember WHERE I read that though.

Karl Friedrich Gauss

Uncle Nick said...

Probably in some porno mag. They weren't by the way.

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