The late great Alex Birch gave us many terrific stories and this fascinating series is no exception. These are anecdotes of actual instances of corporal punishment of females as real historical accounts. Obviously the people involved were members of the aristocracy or close to it, otherwise why would such accounts be of interest at all? I don’t know how AB came by these snippets or what research methods were used. Hell, I have no idea if they are true at all, but they sound true. At any rate, they are quite entertaining, so just enjoy.
Drawings by Paula Russell
*Catherine Cadiere and Father Gerard*
Catherine Cadiere was born in 1709 in Toulon into a deeply religious
Catholic family. She was, as a very young girl, put into the Royal
Seminary to be schooled by priests and eventually came into the care,
fatefully, of Father John Gerard. Gerard became obsessed with the girl
and she fell under his spell, being induced into fits and hysterical
hallucinations for which Gerard prescribed whippings on her naked body
and these became regular happenings, soon followed when Catherine was
about 19 by regular sexual intercourse
Eventually Catherine became pregnant and the terrified Gerard managed to
concoct a potion which induced a miscarriage. Fearful that their liason
might soon be discovered, Gerard sent Catherine off to a convent as soon
as she was fit to travel. The Abbess became suspicious of Gerard’s
frequent visits and refused him access to the girl’s cell but allowed
him unsupervised access to her through the grille of her small monastic
Ever resourceful, Gerard would bring a knotted flail with him under his
cloak and persuade Catherine to climb up on the cell table and thrust
her naked bottom against the grille for a whipping – as shown in Paula’s
delightful drawing, and incidentally, if you ever thought Paula was just
a spanking artist, albeit a great one, just look at the depth of
expression in Catherine’s face .
Eventually the truth came out and Gerard faced an ecclesiastical trial.
To cut a long story short, it ended well for both of them. He was
acquitted because of a divided ecclesiastical jury and Catherine was
returned to her mother, Gerard being denied any further access to her.
*Jeanne de la Motte*
Jeanne de la Motte was one of the architects of ‘The Diamond Necklace
Affair’ when , in a gigantic fraud, she persuaded one Cardinal
Rohan-Guemene to buy a fabulous diamond necklace on behalf of the ill
fated Marie Antoinette. The Queen, who had been criticised for her
lavish spending could not be seen to buy it herself. The Cardinal was
desperate to curry favour with the Queen and Jeanne, who moved easily in
court circles offered to be the ‘middle woman’ who would pass the
necklace on to the Queen. In truth of course she was planning to steal
it and flee the country
The Queen, she said, would pay back the cardinal in many ways. Jeanne de
la Motte managed to locate a double of Marie Antoinette who met the
Cardinal at dusk in the gardens of Versailles and promised him sexual
favours as well as money if he would purchase the necklace. The Cardinal
was won over completely by such promises and fell into the trap.
Eventually the plot was blown apart by the jewellers becoming suspicious
and petitioning the real Queen, who knew nothing about it. Jeanne de la
Motte was arrested along with some co-conspirators and sent for trial.
At the end of the trial her fellow defendants were acquitted but Jeanne
received a terrible shock. The royal court was determined that Jeanne
should pay a heavy price for her embarrassment of the Queen and she was
sentenced to be stripped naked and whipped publicly at a scaffold in the
Cours de Justice , before being branded on her shoulder and sent to the
whores prison at Saltpetriere.
She goes down in history as the last woman to be publicly whipped in
France. However, in the long term, she did a lot better than poor Marie
Antoinette, for she escaped from Saltpetriere, fled to England and grew
rich on her notoriety while, of course, the poor Queen was destined for
Jane Digby was, back in the early 1800s, what would be known today as a
‘wild child’. She was born into a rich family, the Coke-Digbys, and was
an only daughter. Thus she was spoiled, wilful and headstrong though
given of a very warm and considerate disposition towards those less
well-off than herself. Her parents loved her dearly but were also firm
disciplinarians. When Jane was ten, they decided her wilful nature
needed to be curbed and a Governess was appointed, one Margaret Steele
who lived up to her name. The redoubtable Miss Steele not only taught
Jane music, needlework, religious studies and social deportment but also
the consequences of breaching her instructions.
Jane wrote in her diaries of the ‘dreadful anticipation of Miss Steele’s
strap’ as she knelt over an armchair, sobbing, with her skirts raised
and her drawers down. Despite, or maybe because of this firmness, Jane
loved her governess dearly and they remained close for many years into
Jane’s adulthood. When Margaret Steele died, Jane was almost
inconsolable. Her parents, enlightened for their time, had decided that
Jane would receive the same education as her brothers and to achieve
this she was given the best tutors and, at the age of fifteen, was sent
to a seminary in Tunbridge Wells to be instructed by priests among girls
of her own social class.
She returned at sixteen to her home at Holkham a beautiful young woman
with a good command of French, German and Italian plus a good grounding
in the arts and history. So this young lady, due to be presented at
court in 1824 , was no ‘bimbo’ but a very intelligent young woman. She
was also, by her own admission, very sexually repressed and frustrated
as she grew into womanhood having taking her first tentative steps in
sexual exploration with other girls at the seminary.
She would be presented at court when 18 and for the twelve months
preceding that, Jane’s parents decided that she would have her education
‘polished’ under the tutelage of a former Public School tutor named Mr.
Mardon (first name never mentioned for some strange reason). It was
during this period that Jane began to explore her sexuality. She was in
love with her cousin, George Anson, who ignored her and in frustrated
desperation began to have sexual liaisons with one of the stable grooms.
When this impropriety came to the notice of Jane’s mother, Lady Andover,
the good lady had had enough. She told Jane’s tutor to take whatever
disciplinary steps he considered necessary to get this ‘wild child’ back
Thus after several warnings, Jane was summoned to her father’s study
where her tutor was waiting along with, to Jane’s surprise, a
maidservant. On the study table lay a birch rod and Jane was told she
was to be birched for her behaviour, an intimate punishment which
required a female witness. Jane was more horrified by the knowledge that
she was to be humiliated in front of a servant than by the punishment
itself. She begged that the the girl be removed but to no avail.
She was ordered to remove her dress, petticoats and drawers and to bend
down holding her calves. She later confessed ‘Though my cheeks were
burning with shame, I shuddered with excitement at having to remove my
drawers in front of a man’. With her chemise raised to her shoulders,
Jane was quite naked, the maid holding the chemise up while the birching
As the punishment continued, Jane became quite visibly sexually aroused
by it and the whipping was brought to a premature end by the embarrassed
tutor. Jane later admitted a latent love of spanking since childhood but
this experience opened the floodgates, Jane confessing to a love of the
rod which would last until her dying day.
Within a few months of that incident, Jane Digby was presented at court
in 1824 where she met Lord Ellenborough, a well known womaniser and
rake, to whom she was married within six months. The marriage was a
disaster, though she bore him a child, but it was then she became famous
– or rather notorious – for a whole series of affairs and liaisons in
high places which made her the gossip of the land. Faced with all these
rich men from whom she could have demanded anything, she turned her back
on it and went to live as the mistress of an Albanian bandit chief, in a
mountain cave. Finally, when in middle age, she married an Arab sheikh
young enough to be her son, living out her life as a Princess and
subjected, very happily, to the strictures of Arab discipline. She died
at the age of 74 and was buried in Damascus, ignored by family and
friends after a life of adulterous notoriety – but she claimed never to
have regretted a single minute of it.
On Easter Sunday, April 3rd 1768, a woman stood outside the Church of
the Little Fathers in the Place des Victoires in Paris begging for alms.
She was a respectable woman named Rose Keller and had done this each day
since losing her job as a cotton spinner. She had been a respectably
married woman from Strasbourg, but the death of her husband suddenly and
the loss of her job had reduced her to penury and she decided that
begging, while shameful in her eyes, was preferable to selling herself
on the streets. She might have been forced into this sad state until she
died of exposure but strange and unexpected circumstances came to her aid.
A man approached her, after watching for some minutes as passers by
thrust small change into her hand, and offered her two livres (almost £6
in English money) if she would follow him to his country cottage. This
in 1768 was an enormous sum of money. Rose was no fool and immediately
sensed what might be involved in such a visit and indignantly announced
that she was not that kind of woman, despite her circumstances.
The man glibly informed Rose that he was a temporary resident in Paris
who needed a housekeeper and this was a way to help her out of her
difficulties. She was persuaded that the job carried a guarantee of
plentiful food and a shelter and then she gratefully accepted.
He introduced himself as Donatien Alphonse Francois, the Marquis de Sade
and Rose was impressed by his title. He took her to his cottage at
Arcueil, just outside Paris, and showed her a bedchamber in which she
could rest while he prepared food. The poor woman was overwhelmed by her
apparent good fortune.
Instead he came up to her bedroom and locked the door behind him. He
ordered Rose to take off all her clothes. Genuinely shocked and angry,
Rose refused saying she was not a prostitute and had been tricked. Sade
told her that unless she obeyed he would kill her and bury her in the
garden. Terrified , she obeyed but refused to remove her chemise. The
enraged Marquis tore off her chemise, pushed her face down on the bed
and began to whip her back and buttocks with a bundle of canes and a cat
o nine tails. During the whipping, she later testified, Sade poured
molten wax into her cuts and weals. The louder she screamed, the harder
he whipped until he reached orgasm and then the whipping stopped.
Rose was then locked in the bedroom and, terrified, she tore the
bedsheets into strips and escaped through the window. Hysterical she ran
to the nearest village and reported the crime to the local Bailiff. The
Bailiff’s wife, one Mme Lambert, was given the task of inspecting Rose’s
wounds to establish the truth of her story and she was so shocked by
Rose’s condition that she burst into tears and fled to her room. To the
credit of the local magistrate, De Sade’s title counted for nothing and
a a charge was brought before a judge the very next day on Easter Monday.
De Sade’s family now realised that Donatien was in serious trouble and
they tried to buy Rose off. To their shock they discovered that this
‘simple beggar woman’ had a sound business head on her shoulders and she
demanded 3000 livres – nearly £9000 – to drop any charges. Well, of
course, in 1768 that was a phenomenal sum but they paid up.
Rose Keller’s life changed for the better overnight. A nightmare
encounter during which she feared death had resulted in riches beyond
her dreams, and she took the chance of a new life and met a new husband
then, as far as we know, lived happily ever after.
For the Marquis de Sade, although he appeared to have got away with it,
it was the final act by which his mother-in-law, who despised him and
his influence on her daughter, could get rid of him. She petitioned the
King to have him committed to an asylum and, even while the King was
considering it, De Sade organised a week long orgy of flagellation with
young girls which led to more protests and his arrest.
He was finally locked away in the lunatic asylum at Charenton where he
would spend most of the rest of his adult life, and where he wrote most
of his controversial works, until released, an old and sick man, by the
forces of the French Revolution.
The humiliating flogging of the Druid Queen Boadicea (or as Winston
Churchill once famously wrote ‘Boudicca, to the learned’) was one of the
earliest documented examples of public corporal punishment and one which
prompted a violent and unexpected backlash which took the occupying
Roman army by surprise and forced a terrible and bloody conflict.
Boadicea was the wife of Prasutagus, Druid King of the Iceni, a tribe
whose lands spanned the modern English counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and
parts of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. Prasutagus had come to an
agreement with the Roman conquerors that he would cooperate if left to
rule in peace, a deal beneficial to both parties. However by AD60 there
was a mood of simmering revolt among the Druids, especially after the
Romans had tried to subjugate the historic Isle of Mona, a Druid
sanctuary, by force. They were at first repelled by an onslaught of
screaming naked Druid women (that must have been some sight!) who
charged the Roman ranks carrying only fiery torches, but eventually the
Romans triumphed after killing virtually every man, woman and child in
The incident created violent unrest in the rest of Britain as news was
carried from tribe to tribe. Prasutagus, now very ill, recognised the
danger and tried to protect his wife and daughters from harm by making a
will which left the Roman Emperor, Nero, a third share in his lands and
property. In AD61 Prasutagus died, content that he had safeguarded his
Unfortunately, when the terms of the will were declared to Paulinus
Suetonius, Nero’s British Consul, he was enraged that this Druid
‘underling’ should have the temerity to decide what the Emperor of Rome
was owed. Telling his commanders that the Iceni needed a lesson in
humility he told them to accomplish just that.
The result was swift and shocking for within days, a Roman regiment,
including some slaves, was despatched to Prasutagus’s palace where they
forced an entry and began to ransack the place. Boadicea, then around 45
years old, and her two daughters, were then dragged out of the palace
into the grounds where the shocked Boadicea was forced to watch while
the two girls were stripped and raped by the Roman soldiers who then
handed them over to the slaves to be further violated. Boadicea herself
was taken prisoner and taken to a large public square where she was tied
to a whipping post in front of Roman soldiers and many of her subjects,
then stripped and flogged until blood was drawn. ( I love this picture
by Paula and the outraged angry expression on the Iceni queen’s face)
Until this moment, Boadicea had been a quiet and dutiful queen but the
old adage ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ …or in this case,
humiliated, has never rung truer. Boadicea and her daughters travelled
the length and breadth of the Iceni lands urging revolt and soon were
joined by other tribes sick of the Roman yoke. Thus began a wave of
revolt the like of which the Romans had never seen. The raggle taggle
Iceni forces attacked Colchester, a centre of Roman culture, burned the
city virtually to the ground and killed virtually every Roman soldier
and citizen in it. The Iceni then turned their attention on London, much
smaller then of course, and killed everyone who stood in their way. They
did the same to St. Albans, the death toll exceeding 70,000.
Eventually the Romans were reinforced after suffering terrible losses
and, though still outnumbered, chose a battleground which suited their
military skills, the result being a massive annihilation of Boadicea’s
forces, the British tribes losing 80,000 men and women while the Romans
lost only 400 men. The Romans exhibited terror tactics for one of the
earliest recorded occasions, cutting off the genitals of the dead
British, disembowelling them and hanging the mutilated bodies up for all
Boadicea herself, seeing defeat was inevitable, took poison and died on
the battlefield while her daughters were captured and sent into slavery.
The Romans were forced to send another 40,000 troops from Germany to
keep the British under control, which they did with terrible violence
but one wonders if Paulus Suetonius ever reflected ruefully on the cost
of his decision to humiliate and degrade Boadicea and her daughters!.
*Lady Sophia Lindsay*
In 1660, after a bitter Civil War and many years of Cromwell’s
protectorate, England was restored to a monarchy with the triumphant
return of Charles II as King. The delight of many at the return of the
King was soon tempered by the degree of retribution the new monarch
exercised for past crimes against his father and against those who had
Before his return from exile, the new King had promised that all
religious opinions throughout England and Scotland would be respected –
yet soon after taking the throne signed an Act of Parliament which
outlawed any religious gathering which did not subscribe to the
recognised Prayer Book. A prime target for this legislation was the
Presbyterian Scots whose religious dissent was put down with ruthless
The King’s brother James, Duke of York, was appointed a sort of roving
representative for Scotland, more or less his brother’s eyes and ears in
the rebellious north. He was a Catholic which made him suspect to the
new Anglican parliament in London. A new law covering Scotland was
brought in at the Duke’s behest which insisted that every Scot pledged
allegiance to the organised Protestant faith – a breathtaking piece of
hypocrisy from a man who continued to practise his Catholicism in private.
The Scottish Parliament included the Earl of Argyll, a Presbyterian, who
publicly announced that he could sign the pledge of allegiance while
still remaining true to his Presbyterian values. The claim was
inflammatory and the Earl was arrested and charged with high treason. He
was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
The news was received with horror by his family and it was resolved that
something daring needed to be done to save him. One of the visitors
allowed him during his incarceration was his beautiful daughter, Lady
Sophia Lindsay, wife of the Earl of Buccleugh. She very bravely decided
to visit her father accompanied by a number of maidservants and pages.
She was allowed such luxuries given her status in society. They took
extra clothing with them and after distracting the guard, they made up
the Earl’s bed with rolled up blankets to make it appear he was
sleeping, then spirited him out of jail dressed as a page. The deception
was not discovered until too late and the Earl was on his way, in a boat
, to Holland.
When the deception was discovered , Lady Sophia Lindsay was arrested and
tried by a Civil Council. Such was the anger at her effrontery, the
Council voted that she should be stripped to the waist like a common
prostitute, tied to a cart tail, and whipped all day through the streets
of Edinburgh. The sentence was received with horror by her family, not
least by her husband who sought urgent talks with the Duke of York,
pleading desperately for the humiliation to be reduced and citing that
the whole family had long been supporters of the new King and had worked
for his return.
The Duke listened sympathetically and to the Earl of Buccleugh’s relief,
agreed to substitute an alternative private punishment. Thus on a May
morning in 1681, Lady Sophia Lindsay was taken to a private room in
Edinburgh Castle and there she found a waiting Sergeant-At-Arms, a duty
guard, her embarrassed husband and her frantically weeping mother. She
was told to kneel over a low stool after which her long dress and
petticoats were raised and pinned to her shoulders, exposing her naked
bottom to all. The Sergeant-at-Arms then took one of a sheaf of birch
rods from a bucket of brine and proceeded to give Lady Sophia a very
thorough and painful birching, some reports say she received 50 strokes,
after which she was released into the custody of her husband. The
experience must have been embarrassing and painful but surely preferable
to the original sentence!
Sad to say the sacrifice of Lady Sophia’s bottom – and accompanying
dignity – was in vain for her father, the Earl of Argyll, made his way
secretly back to Scotland where he was caught, tried once more and this
time he was executed.