Birch discipline and the rule of the rod in days of empire


In the dark days of the Hapsburg Empire the Austrian nobility valued strict discipline for its sons and daughters. The sons were taken care of in military academies but during the 18th century there were few if any formal schools for young women.

Some young women were sent off to Prussia where they went to strict colleges in the Maedchen in Uniform or Prussian Girls mould. Where they received strict floggings with the birch, sometimes in public.

For others the custom was for an Austrian governess to be brought into the home. In the best households, it was the custom to engage two grades of governess, an Instructress for girls between 12 and 16 or 17 and then a Mentor or a Grand Instructress for older girls to be guided until they were married. These women were often presented as ladies companions to spare the daughters blushes.

Indeed such was the disgrace of having an dangerously unschooled adult daughter at home that in 1772 Catherine Steiner Beck wrote to her husband Count Steiner, who was away at the front, complaining that she could find no Senior Instructress to tend to her daughters floggings.

He wrote back that she should on no account write to a convent and that she should take the task in hand herself.

She wrote back that “I have subdued her with great dignity and she has submitted to a prolonged thrashing upon her lower person without complaint even though I first stripped her for it. You would have been proud of your noble daughter.”

The reference here to a convent was a mention of a common alternative. Good families, usually of the petty gentry class, a rank below the nobility, used to call upon sisters from the local religious order to serve as mentors for their adult daughters once they were deemed to old for a tutor.

These poor women had little prospect of an early marriage and were rarely married before the age of 25 on account of the need to save for a dowry. Therefore, they could expect to be subject to thrashings such as the one depicted above on a regular basis as young adults.

An extract from a treatise on etiquette for the governing of young women said:

“If you are in charge of young women do not shy away from what is necessary when it comes to your charges. Young women who will one day be themselves mothers should be addressed firmly and with severity.

Although it does not do to strip a young women under your charge before a man, even a brother or father, it is meet that the skirts and underthings be pinned up or set aside so that the posteriors are left bared for a thrashing.

A good practice is to leave your charge attired so both before and after chastisement. Do not shirk from concealing the correction from female servants. This serves to teach them not to get above themselves.

For the chastisement itself, always use a birch rod. Nothing else will serve to inflict adequate pain without the permanent marks of a more brutal whip. Do not be afeared to draw, as such markings will pass within a week or two and the girl will be much humbled during this time.”

The practices of a convent school, perhaps depicted in the lower picture, were far more severe away from the loving eyes of a parent. Margaret-Louise Piermont wrote of her own experiences when bring up her daughter:

“I still rue the rod and fancy that I can still feel it sometimes as I sit. Such beastly horrors did I survive away at that school. Far better that my own sweet girls be schooled at home where I shall not spare them but will make their behinds smart with love as well as severity.”

8 Responses to “Birch discipline and the rule of the rod in days of empire”

  1. 1 Danni

    Very interesting.

    I love all this kind of thing. I have read loads of things about Prussian whippings and you are not kidding. Never heard of the Austrian side of things though.

    Is the picture above an actual depiction of this practice do you know?

    My grandmother told me that in her grandmother’s day nuns were sometimes brought in to thrash daughters. This was in Belgium she said (but my great grandmother was French so there might be some confusion here.)

    I don’t know much more about it than that – only that the girls were already at a convent school and it was their instructors I think. I don’t know why. I don’t even know who exactly she was talking about.

    My grandmother was also brought up going to a convent school – she hated ‘penguins’ as she called them (no offence) – she got the cane my mother said – but granny only talked about the other stuff if I asked her about it.

    Thanks for the post.


  2. 2 DJ

    Thanks for the input.

    I have no idea about the picture. The lower picture is a Louis Maltese I think.

    Some of the info came from a book on the Hapsburg Empire, the rest from a blog that I couldn’t find again when I went back for more details. It was a German language blog with some English, German speakers may have more luck with Google.

    There was a lot more info around this I found on a visit to Prague, they seem to be a) into anything to do with whipping and b) anything that makes German peoples look bad.


  3. 3 Evan Dellamore

    I really like this blog. I bookmarked this post and will unquestionably be making a return visit.


    Why dont we bring back the birch for really naughty school girls? The ones who shout and smoke at my bus stop, I say we should birch their bare bottoms till red and sore and give them a damm good hiding.

    (No need to shout.)

  5. I say bring back corporal punishment, be it a good birching, or a good caning. Just warm those tender female bare bottoms. And while we are at it, those mature female bare bottoms need the same treatment. Up with their dressess, down with their knickers, and wallop those naked rear ends most painfully.

  6. what they need is a good spanking with a hard wood hairbrush they would kick howl and wriggle do it front of their friends and they would not be able to sit on the bus!!

  7. 8 OldSchoolGirl

    I’ve been studying Victorian & Edwardian clothing for some years now. In the first picture the two girls have fairly narrow skirts and moderately high wastes, the girl in my favorite position appears to have somewhat wider skirts. There is no sign of drawers so I’d peg this late 18teens to early 1820’s when waists were starting to drop and skirts getting wider but a transition period when you see both.

    The second picture is probably c1900 maybe 1902 sleeves were getting much narrower though there were often vestiges of the 1890’s leg of mutton. Skirts were also narrowing for the softer look of the Edwardian period. Note the pen on the desk not a quill.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: