More Russians and their wicked whipping ways
Most of the illustrations above depict the more typical judicial flogging of Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the first two illustrate a rather more unusual procedure.
Picture this, if you will, a group of men and sometimes women milling around in a large room, perhaps having paid a small coin. On one wall there are a row of holes through which women have been made to bend so that only their legs and hips are visible. By now the audience is looking at a row of bared bottoms of women whose skirts have been turned up and whose heads and everything above their waists is out of sight on the other side of a wall.
It has been hard trying to find out more about this ever since it first cropped up. Somewhere there is even a contemporary Russian movie that depicts this very practice. The practice in question is a very public-private judicial correction for Russian ladies with a certain social standing during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Women found guilty of various misdemeanours might be, and usually were, flogged. If they were from the lower orders they could expect to be summarily chastised at the local police station as illustrated in the third picture (actually from Austria in this instance) by a male officer on the bare bottom whilst bent over a birching block. If they were lucky they were indeed only birched, although the Russians often favoured something called a knout, which was a heavy multi-tailed whip.
However, it was not only lower class women who were punished. Any woman might be hauled before the courts in age that might be described as an era of zero tolerance. The feeling was that respectable women should not be out at night and a well-dressed woman might not be what she seemed. Therefore even the aristocracy might be rounded up after a night on the tiles.
Of course the very rich and powerful might pull rank, but what if Daddy or the husband did not know where you were and she wanted to keep it that way?
Now here is the dilemma – it would not do to be identified at public flogging; you might as well not go through with it and what if you took the risk? Might not a powerful Duke or minister take a dim view of a policeman who had birched his wife?
Another thing to consider is that the lower orders might have less respect if they could see a certain lady of otherwise high standing being flogged. Also in earlier times leaders like Catherine the Great and Peter the Great and even stressed that the aristocracy should not be above the law. What to do then?
Enter the solution described above. Well-to-do women could pay to be displayed below the waist and keep their identities secret. That way high class courtesans, adulteresses and wilful wayward girls could go on getting away with it and their fathers and husbands need never find out.
The police and officials won out all ways. They got to uphold the law free of the fear of recriminations and made money from the miscreants as well as the spectators. The added benefit was that often the great ladies being flogged did not know who wielded the whip or birch that ravaged their bottoms, so certain gentleman might pay extra to take a turn themselves.
It is not clear how widespread this practice was, maybe someone out there knows more.
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Tags: 1700s, 1800s, birching, corporal punishment, judicial, public humiliation, public spanking, punishment, Victorian, Victorian Russia