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A whipping boy, in the 1600s and 1700s, was a young boy who was assigned to a young prince and was punished when the prince misbehaved or fell behind in his schooling. Whipping boys were established in the English court during the monarchies of the 15th century and 16th century. They were created because the idea of the Divine Right of Kings, which stated that kings were appointed by God, implied that no one but the king was worthy of punishing the king’s son. Since the king was rarely around to punish his son when necessary, tutors to the young prince found it extremely difficult to enforce rules or learning.

Whipping boys were generally of high birth, and were educated with the prince since birth. Due to the fact that the prince and whipping boy grew up together since birth, they usually formed an emotional bond, especially since the prince usually did not have playmates like other children would have had. The strong bond that developed between a prince and his whipping boy dramatically increased the effectiveness of using a whipping boy as a form of punishment for a prince. The idea of the whipping boys was that seeing a friend being whipped or beaten for something that he had done wrong would be likely to ensure that the prince would not make the same mistake again.

The life of a whipping boy was usually one of sorrow and pain, but sometimes they were rewarded by the princes they served. King Charles I of England made his whipping boy, William Murray, 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.


  • Martin, Gary. "A Whipping Boy." The Phrase Finder. Accessed June 6, 2008.



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Middle English wippen "flap violently", from Proto-Germanic wipp-, from Proto-Indo-European wib- "move quickly". Whipping boy first recorded 1647.


whipping boy

whipping boys

whipping boy (plural whipping boys)

  1. Someone punished for the errors of others.
    "As the whipping boy, he must take the whippings for the royal heir, Prince Brat."
  2. Slang. Something that is blamed for the problems of a given society.




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