Apologies, apologies, dear reader. If you have logged on expecting to be regaled with details of Hermione's brush with a bundle of birch-rods, you are to be disappointed. For this post is not about a birching, or any other form of punishment for that matter. No. It is a response to a question on Hermione's blog. She asked why birching was such a common feature of a British spanking, and I offered her an explanation which I thought might interest some of you. For not only is it my pedagogical duty to discipline the young ladies enrolled in this academy - a duty I perform with great solemnity - but I am also something of an expert on the history of corporal punishment. Having made its practical application my life's work, I thought it high time I researched its history. Here are just a few of the things I have discovered.
The birch was a sacred tree to the Druids, who believed its branches had the power to cast out evil. Many commentators believe that this is how spanking originated - with the ritual use of birch rods to cleanse Celtic society of its anti-social elements. With the rise of scholasticism in England, the standard tool of the schoolmaster's trade became the birch. Indeed, one Cambridge college insisted that its students (who would almost all have been destined for the schoolroom) demonstrate their prowess with the birch as a condition of graduation!
Of course, a birching over clothing hardly constitutes a salutary punishment, hence the requirement to disrobe, or at the very least to bare your bottom. Now, in the heyday of the public school, with pupil numbers rising and this the number of punishments thus increasing, preparing birch-rods (which are not long-lasting) became impractical. Thus the British gradually replaced the superstitious nonsense of the birch-rod with a simpler alternative - the easier to maintain rattan cane. And, although the cane can be effective over clothing, the tradition of administering punishment on the bare buttocks (and in public) remained.