• Sign up or login, and you'll have full access to opportunities of forum.

Judicial Corporal Punishment Of Women: Stories And Novels

Go to CruxDreams.com
I'm probably boring everybody by now with the Doris Ritter story, but in trying to get the historical background right for a fictionalisation, I have now found the relevant passage from Voltaire's "Memoirs" (somewhat of a misnomer, as it's actually a postumous publication of a private and wonderfully gossipy account of his trip to Prussia in 1740, unfortunately of dubious factual accuracy). Voltaire is scathing about the reign of Frederick William I, whom he paints as a boorish mysogynistic miser only interested in money and collecting extremely tall soldiers. Violence to women was a speciality. According to Voltaire:

"After Frederic-William had reviewed his giants, he used to walk through the town, and everybody fled before him full speed. If he happened to meet a woman, he would demand why she stood idling her time in the streets, and exclaim, 'Go - get home with you, you lazy hussy; an honest woman has no business over the threshold of her own door;' which remonstrance he would accompany with a hearty box on the ear, a kick in the groin, or a few well applied strokes on the shoulder with his cane."

Here is Voltaire's account of the punishment of Doris Ritter:

View attachment 878220

"The prince had a sort of mistress, the daughter of a schoolmaster, of the town of Brandebourg, who had settled at Potzdam. This girl played tolerably ill upon the harpsichord, and the prince accompanied her with his flute. He really imagined himself in love, but in this he was deceived; his avocation was not with the fair sex. However, as he had pretended a kind of passion, the king, his father, thought proper that the damsel should make the tour of Potzdam, conducted by the hangman, and ordered her to be whipped in presence of his son. (...) The father was present at [Katte's subsequent execution], as he had been at that of the girl's whipping-bout."

So, not much detail but lots of innuendo about the prince's sexual inclinations being "not with the fair sex" (note later on the same page his reference to his "young, well made handsome" servant in captivity having "more than one way of amusing the royal visitor"), all in Voltaire's inimitable writing style. The reference to Doris's "tour of Potzdam, conducted by the hangman" does confirm the ritual humiliation aspect of the punishment, painting the picture of her being driven in undress and shame through the streets from whipping post to whipping post. Despite Voltaire's claims, it's pretty certain that neither King nor Prince were present in person.

Voltaire of course wasn't an eye witness, so he is relaying (and relishing in sharpening) gossip he picked up when he visited some years later. However, I have now also found the full text of the King's actual cabinet order by which he convicted Doris, in the form it was first published a century later, in 1823:

View attachment 878221

There are two orders: one to the lord mayor (and chief magistrate) of Potsdam, Counsellor Klinte, to have Doris whipped, and the other to the governour of the Spandau Spinnhaus to incarcerate her "for ever".


"His Royal Majesty orders Counsellor Klinte, that he should tomorrow arrange the whipping of the Cantor's daughter here incarcerated, and the same then deliver forever to the Spinnhaus in Spandau. Firstly shall she be whipped in front of the Town Hall, thererafter in front of the Father's house, and then at all corners of the Town. Potsdam, the sixth day of September 1730."

"To the Government at Spandau. His Majesty orders the Governour hereby that the daughter of the Cantor here, once she is being sent over, shall be admitted for ever to the Spinnhaus there."
Do we know exactly how Fraulein Ritter was stripped for her whipping? Completely naked to the waist, only her back bared, entirely naked?


Do we know exactly how Fraulein Ritter was stripped for her whipping? Completely naked to the waist, only her back bared, entirely naked?
No idea. The closest direct confirmation of any stripping is a recent book about the Katte process that says that the King appears to have based Doris's punishment on a military regulation saying that "Whores are not tolerated in camp, at head quarters or garrisons, but are to be stripped to the shirt and chased away", applied in a sharpened version to Doris. See below extract:

Katte Doris 4.jpg

There aren't that many sources about the actual punishment. The most authoritative, and most contemporaneous, is the King's actual order quoted above. That makes no mention of stripping but does mention two very locatable places of whipping (the town hall and her father's house), plus the rather vague "then at all corners of the Town". I know exactly where the Town Hall and Doris's home were located on an old map of Potsdam, only about 50m from each other. The Town Hall was (and still is) on the east side of the Alter Markt, whereas Doris's father had lodgings in the four-story school building adjuncted to St. Nicolai Church, located right to the East of the Church. Here is an old map of the time:


The Town Hall is marked "Rathaus", and is the red building at the east of the market square, i.e. south east of the church. Doris and her Family lived on the top floor of the school, which is the red building directly east of the church (red demarks buildings of four stories or higher). The Royal Palace was also directly opposite, the large red building at the south west of the market square (now the State Parliament of Brandenburg). All very cosy and near to each other -- Potsdam was then a very small town recently transformed into a combination of royal residence and military garrison, with all these buildings having been built in the previous five years after the King relocated his court from unruly Berlin. The Prince got to know Doris when he heard her sing during a church service at St Nicolai (where her father was cantor, i.e. director of the church music, a post that was combined with that of running the affiliated grammar school), a short stroll from the Palace, and then on the spur of a moment followed her to her lodgings and knocked at the door. All this happened in this little market square.

So, we had a first whipping outside the town hall, then she was dragged to the next block and whipped again outside the school building where her family's lodgings were. Nobody knows in detail what happened thereafter when she was whipped at "all corners of the Town". Several sources say with confidence that there were another four whippings, but as far as I can see that is simply based on the fact that Potsdam at the time had a broadly rectangular outline, and interpreting the "corners of the Town" as the corners of that rectangle. The alternative would be to think that they were street corners, but even in 1730, Potsdam had a few dozen crossroads which is unworkable even if the King's malice may have liked that. Voltaire's description sounds like a humiliating circuit of the entire town, maybe something like a whipping at the cart's tail. I'm still trying to decide what option to go for in my fictionalisation (if I ever get around to it). Either way, at the end of that ordeal she was brought to Spandau for incarceration. That may have been by cart, but it may have been easier dumping her on a boat going down the River Havel which connects both towns.
Last edited:


Graf von Kreuzigung
I've found a few more historical images of the flogging of females in Germany -- the first one (the flogging of an unwed mother) a few decades after Doris's punishment and the second (a flogging of a female delinquent in a house of correction) a few decades earlier. The latter seems particularly brutal as unlike any other images of whipping posts I've seen, here the delinquent is strung up entirely from her tied wrists, with her feet dangling well clear off the ground.
The second pic is not the punishment of a delinquent in Germany, but an interrogation of a protestant woman by the inquisition in the Spanish Netherlands. The woman got burned at the stake.


The second pic is not the punishment of a delinquent in Germany, but an interrogation of a protestant woman by the inquisition in the Spanish Netherlands. The woman got burned at the stake.
Thanks, Loxuru. That would explain the brutality. The filename and the explanation is how I found it online, but of course that doesn't mean it's reliable info.


Graf von Kreuzigung
Thanks, Loxuru. That would explain the brutality. The filename and the explanation is how I found it online, but of course that doesn't mean it's reliable info.
As far as I recall, the woman under torture is Ursula van Beckum. She and her sister in law Maria were burned at the stake in 1544 for heresy (for being anabaptists more exactly). The case drew some attention, because both were noblewomen.


In German: Cornelia Naumann: "Scherben des Glücks - das Leben der Wilhelmine von Bayreuth" (link on Amazon.de). This is a mainstream historical novel based on the life of Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia, the sister of Frederick the Great who had just as much conflict with her father as the prince had and was suspected by the King to be part of the escape plot in 1730 that resulted in the flogging of Doris Ritter. The first chapter has a fictional passage in which the Princess's lady in waiting is threatened with flogging and both the Princess and her lady in waiting are forced to witness the flogging of Doris Ritter. The description of the flogging is pretty graphic and certainly better written than the above story:

"In diesem Moment war von der Straße Trommelwirbel zu hören. Eversmann schlenderte ans Fenster und sagte wie beiläufig: „Richtig, Euer Hoheit. Ich versprach Ihnen ein Schauspiel. Hier ist es!“ Eine Auster schlürfend sah Wilhelmine zum Fenster hinaus. Zwei Trommler bogen um die Ecke des Schlosses. Ein Trupp Soldaten in preußisch-blauen Uniformen und mit hohen Blechkappen folgte ihnen. In ihrer Mitte führten sie ein Mädchen von höchstens sechzehn Jahren, das sich kaum auf den Beinen halten konnte. Sie
lief barfuß, war an den Händen gefesselt, ihre offenen, braunen Haare hingen wirr in ein Gesicht, das sicher einmal hübsch gewesen war, nun aber vor Angst und Schmerz dunkel und verzerrt aussah. Ihr einfaches, hellblaues Leinenkleid war verschmutzt und zerrissen.

Die Soldaten zerrten das Mädchen zu dem Schandpfahl an der Ecke, zu der die Menge der Gaffer schon geströmt war, und banden es mit gefesselten Händen an einen Eisenring am Pfahl, der hoch über ihrem Kopf angebracht war. Der Offizier entrollte ein Papier und verlas mit lauter Stimme: Er tue allen kund und zu wissen, dass diese schandbare Metze namens Dorothea Ritter den Kronprinzen verführt und ihn zur Flucht verleitet habe. Wegen Unzucht mit einem Mitglied des Königshauses und gemeingefährlicher Verschwörung solle sie an allen Straßenecken Berlins ausgepeitscht und danach ins Spinnhaus der Festung Spandau verbracht werden, um dort zu lernen, womit sich eine achtbare preußische Jungfer zu beschäftigen habe. Damit wolle Seine Majestät, der Allergnädigste König Friedrich Wilhelm I., ein Zeichen setzen für alle verwerflichen Subjekte, jene Verschwörer, die Sympathie für den Kronprinzen und seine schändliche Fahnenflucht gezeigt hatten.

Die Soldaten ließen den Henker – ein zwar kurz geratener, aber kräftiger Mann, der eine neunschwänzige Katze hervorzog – durch. Mit kräftigen Schlägen drosch er auf den Rücken des Mädchens ein, während die Soldaten laut mitzählten. Noch bevor der Henker die Zahl Zwanzig erreicht hatten, brach die Unglückliche lautlos zusammen. Sie wurde losgebunden, die Soldaten nahmen sie wieder in ihre Mitte und schleiften sie mit sich. Der Henker folgte.

Wilhelmine war kreidebleich geworden. „Sonsine! Bring mich weg von hier!“ Voller Verachtung sah das Fräulein den Kammerdiener an und trug die halb Ohnmächtige mithilfe der Mermann zu ihrem Stuhl zurück. Wilhelmine erbrach sich über das kostbare Frühstück, das sie hatte genießen wollen. Die Amme hielt der Prinzessin den Kopf und strich ihr sanft über die Haare. „So lauten also die Befehle des Königs“, fragte die Hofmeisterin, außer sich vor Zorn, „ein Frühstück mit Henker?“ „Genau so“, erwiderte Eversmann ungerührt, „der König zwang auch den Kronprinzen, der gerechten Bestrafung eines Verschwörers zuzusehen …“ „Verschwörer? Der Enthauptung seines besten Freundes Leutnant Katte musste der arme Prinz zusehen!“ „… analog dazu wünscht der König, dass die Prinzessin der Auspeitschung der Mätresse ihres Bruders, einer Mitverschwörerin, zusehe. Sie solle begreifen, welche Strafe weibliche Verräter und Verschwörerinnen erwartet“, beendete Eversmann kalt seinen Auftrag. Wilhelmine griff nach einer Serviette, wischte sich den Mund ab und fragte ungläubig: „Die Mätresse meines Bruders?“ „Ja, diese Dorothea Ritter, mit der er fliehen wollte.“ Wilhelmine sah ihn ungläubig an, dann geschah etwas Merkwürdiges. Blass, beschmutzt und mit wirren Haaren fing sie an zu lachen. Sie lachte ein so schreckliches Lachen, dass alle verstummten. Dann hielt sie plötzlich inne und sagte sehr ruhig: „Das arme Mädchen, arme Doris. Sie war niemals die Mätresse meines Bruders und sie wollte auch nie mit ihm fliehen. Das weiß ich am allerbesten. Was will der König wirklich?“

„Der König befahl mir, im Verlauf des Tages alle Vorbereitungen für Ihre Hochzeit zu treffen, Euer Hoheit. Er schwur bei Tod und Hölle, dass er auch Sie, seine eigene Tochter, in die Festung Spandau sperren werde, sollten Sie sich seinem Willen nicht unterwerfen.“ Dann wandte er sich an die Hofmeisterin und sagte: „Auch Sie sollen sich die Auspeitschung genau ansehen, weil Sie die Ursache für den Ungehorsam der Prinzessin seien. Vorher jedoch wird er Sie an allen Straßenecken Berlins auspeitschen lassen, genau wie Demoiselle Ritter.“

Wilhelmine erhob sich von ihrem Stuhl. Als sie die Lehne losließ, schwankte sie. Aber sie verfügte über die Würde, mit Domestiken nicht zu streiten. Bestimmt sagte sie: „Ich möchte in meine Gemächer zurückkehren.“ „Aber selbstverständlich, Euer Hoheit.“ Eversmann öffnete die Tür, offenbar hatte er genaue Order. Mit raschem Blick überzeugte er sich, ob Wilhelmine ihm zuhörte, um dann überdeutlich und laut zum Fräulein zu sagen: „Sie tun mir herzlich leid. Eine so schimpfliche Verurteilung zu erfahren, und das in Ihrer Position. Aber es ist an der Prinzessin, sie Ihnen zu ersparen.“ Leise zischte er ihr danach zu: „Wenn das Blut Ihren Rücken hinunterläuft, werden Sie einen schöneren Anblick abgeben als diese gemeine Bürgerdirne! Sicher ist Ihr Rücken schön und weiß, das Blut wird ihn noch blendender hervorheben. Wie verlockend …“ Stumm half das zu Tode erschrockene Fräulein der Amme, die Prinzessin aus dem königlichen Gemach zu tragen. Wie eine Puppe nahmen sie sie in ihre Mitte. Schweigend traten sie den Rückweg an. Die Gänge und Treppen des Schlosses erschienen ihnen dabei noch schmutziger und kälter und unendlich lang.
I posted the above excerpt from Cornelia Naumann's novel in my first post on Doris Ritter, thinking that other than the whipping scene observed through the window (and translated by me here), the dialogue was fictional. And indeed, we know that Princess Wilhelmine did not witness Doris's whipping. However, it turns out the meeting itself between these three protagonists (Princess Wilhelmine, her governess/confidante Dorothea von Sonsfeld and the King's personal valet/pet bully Eversmann) and most of the words exchanges are historically accurate, but took place several months later, in May 1731.

Here are the memoirs of Princess Wilhelmine (the King's daughter and the sister of Friedrich II) in full and in her own words. They were written around 1740 and focus mainly on the events of 1730/31 when she was caught up in the fight between the King and Crown Prince. It is littered with outbreaks of rants by the old King, issuing violent threats of arrest, torture and incarneration at Spandau against everybody suspected to be on the Crown Prince's side, male or female, including his own wife and daughter. She also describes in graphic terms being beaten nearly-dead by her own father in the presence of her helpless mother, the Queen, in a fit of rage taking place in the very week between Doris's arrest on 1 September 1730 and her whipping on 7 September (a beating also mentioned by Voltaire, to whom she was showing off her scars some years later). Clearly, he was unhinged at the time, and more likely than not Doris's misfortune was that some lackey (Eversmann, I suspect -- based on the below extract he makes a wonderful movie villain for my story) was copying down the order when he was invoking vile punishment against her in one of his many rants. Her being a commoner, there were no second thoughts or delays to let the King's rage cool down -- the King's words are the law.

Wilhelmine wasn't really interested in the fate of commoners and mentions Doris only in passing as hearsay from a courtier ("... a mistress of the Crown Prince was whipped and banished ..."), but the below extract does contain near-verbatim the above conversation from the novel in a different context:

Am nächsten Tag, dem 10. Mai [1731], dem denkwürdigsten Tag meines Lebens, kam Eversmann erneut zu Besuch. Kaum war ich wach, erschien er schon vor meinem Bett. „In diesem Augenblick komme ich aus Potsdam zurück“, sagte er zu mir, „wo ich gestern hinfahren musste, nachdem ich von Ihnen fortgegangen war. Ich konnte mir nicht vorstellen, welche dringende Angelegenheit mich so eilig dorthin rief. Ich fand den König und die Königin zusammen. Die Königin weinte heiße Tränen und der König schien sehr erzürnt. Sobald er mich erblickte, befahl er mir, so schnell wie möglich hierhin zurückzukehren, um die nötigen Einkäufe für Ihre Hochzeit zu machen. Die Königin wollte einen letzten Versuch machen, um den Schlag abzuwenden und ihn zu besänftigen, aber je dringender sie ihn anflehte, desto ärgerlicher wurde er. Er schwor bei allen Teufeln der Hölle, Frau von Sonsfeld unehrenhaft zu entlassen, und um an ihr ein Exempel zu statuieren, wolle er sie öffentlich an allen Straßenecken der Stadt auspeitschen lassen. ‚Denn sie allein‘, sagte er, ‚ist schuld an Ihrem Ungehorsam.‘ Und was Sie angehe, wenn Sie sich nicht unterwürfen, würde man Sie in eine Festung bringen; und ich darf Sie warnen, die Pferde dafür sind schon bestellt.“

Dann sagte er zu Frau von Sonsfeld gewandt: „Ich bedauere Sie von ganzem Herzen, zu einer solchen Schande verurteilt zu werden, doch es hängt von der Prinzessin ab, sie Ihnen zu ersparen. Ich gebe freilich zu, dass Sie ein schönes Schauspiel abgeben werden und das Ihren Rücken hinablaufende Blut dessen Weiße noch deutlicher herausstellen und einen reizenden Anblick bieten wird.

The relevant passages translated into English are:

[The King] swore by all devils in Hell to dismiss Frau von Sonsfeld in dishonour, and in order to make an example of her, he would have her publicly whipped at all street corners of the Town. ... Then he turned to Frau von Sonsfeld and said: "I pity you with all my heart, to be condemned to be so shamed, but it is up to the Princess to spare you. I will however freely admit that you will make a beautiful spectacle and that the blood running down your back with bring out the whiteness of your flesh to even greater advantage and will make an arousing view.

[Can't you just feel Eversmann leering at the poor lady-in-waiting, and Wilhelmine's flesh crawling as she retells the scene -- having been threatened with incarneration herself seconds earlier, the prospect of whipping must have felt very personal to Wilhelmine.]

From which we learn that:
  1. The phrase "whipped at all corners of the Town" appears independently of each other in the official royal order for Doris's punishment and in Wilhelmine's memoirs in respect of a diffferent woman several months later, suggesting that it was a favourite fantasy of the misogynistic and sadistic King which the Hangman then had to translate into a practical punishment regime. I can't find any other references to such a punishment online other than relating to the actual whipping of Doris and the threat of whipping of Frau von Sonsfeld, both sprung from the mind of the old King and retold with horror in all 18th and 19th century sources, so I don't think it was a common sentence in Prussia at the time.
  2. Wilhelmine used the expression "an allen Straßenecken" [at all street corners], whereas the King's order for Doris said "an allen Ecken", i.e. not specifically street corners. As discussed in my previous posting, the count of six separate whippings for Doris appears to be based on Potsdam having precisely four corners, the town walls being roughly rectagonal in outline at the time. If the King was talking about street corners, the punishment is potentially much more severe, although the hangman may have struggled to execute it verbatim. So, perhaps it was after all a version of whipping at the cart's tail while being driven on a circuit through the town's streets. However, I note that "Straßenecken" is itself a translation as Wilhelmine wrote her memoirs in French, the common language of 18th Century aristocrats.
  3. Whipping was indeed on the naked skin of the stripped woman, as can be seen from Eversmann's gleeful image of red blood running down the white flesh of a whipped back. For the purposes of retelling the story, I'd like to think that Eversmann witnessed (and maybe even directed) Doris's whipping as the King's representative, and was relishing in the memory of Doris's blood-streaked back when threatening Frau von Sonsfeld with a repeat performance.
Last edited:


Wilhelmine used the expression "an allen Straßenecken" [at all street corners], whereas the King's order for Doris said "an allen Ecken", i.e. not specifically street corners. As discussed in my previous posting, the count of six separate whippings for Doris appears to be based on Potsdam having precisely four corners, the town walls being roughly rectagonal in outline at the time. If the King was talking about street corners, the punishment is potentially much more severe, although the hangman may have struggled to execute it verbatim. So, perhaps it was after all a version of whipping at the cart's tail while being driven on a circuit through the town's streets.
Three more authors with opposing views on this point, although all writing well after the fact and thus (unlike Wilhelmina) not a primary source.

The older source is from 1871 and available in full scanned copy on archive.com: "History of Frederick the Second, called Frederick The Great" by John S.C. Abbot. His description is very much along the lines of the "Hurenkarch"/"whore's cart" I had described earlier:


There was a young lady in Potsdam by the name of Doris Ritter. She was the daughter of highly respectable parents, and was of unblemished character. As Fritz was extremely fond of music, and she played sweetly on the harpsichord, he loaned her pieces of music, and occasionally, under the eye of her parents, accompanied her with the flute. The life of a colonel in garrison at Potsdam was so dull, that this innocent amusement was often quite a help in beguiling the weary hours.

The young lady was not beautiful, and there was no evidence of the slightest improprieties, or of any approach even to flirtation. But the infuriate king, who, without the shadow of reason, could accuse his own daughter of infamy, caused this young lady, under the pretext that she had been the guilty intimate of his son, to be taken from her parents, to be delivered to the executioners, and to be publicly conveyed in a cart and whipped on the bare back through the principal streets of the town. She was then imprisoned, and doomed to beat hemp as a culprit for three years.

One's faith in a superintending Providence is almost staggered by such outrages. It would seem that there could scarcely be any compensation even in the future world for so foul a wrong inflicted upon this guileless and innocent girl. There can be no possible solution of the mystery but in the decree, " After death cometh the judgment."

" It is impossible," writes Lord Dover, " not to perceive that the real reason of his conduct was his enmity to his son, and that the crime of the poor girl was the having assisted in making the son's existence more supportable. The intention of Frederick William apparently being that the infliction of so infamous a punishment in so public a manner should prevent the possibility of Frederick's ever seeing her again."

So, Abbot is taking the text of the King's order and is trying to make sense of it. "Whipped at all street corners of the town" becomes "whipped through the principal streets of the town", which sounds equally painful and humiliating but more practical, possibly also because Abbot would have been aware of the English punishment of whipping at the cart's tail. You can also feel Abbot's Victorian romanticism and suppressed voyeurism coming through. The source Abbot quotes in his final paragraph is Lord Dover's "Life of Frederick II." (1831) which through the miracle of Google Books is also online and downloadable in full. His pages on Doris are here (handily in English, so no translation needed):

Dover 1.jpgDover 2.jpg

So, Lord Dover says "[The King] caused the girl to be taken from her parents, and delivered to the executioner, by whom she was publicly whipped through the different parts of the town: the intention of Frederic William apparently being, that the punishment in so public a manner should prevent the possibility of Frederic's ever seeing her again." Both Dover and Abbot clearly have read Voltaire, the only source for Doris being "ugly" and a poor harpischord player, which each repeats despite both accusing Voltaire of being an unreliable source, and deliberately misrepresenting the record.

A much more recent retelling is in a fictional autobiography of Frederick II ("Ich, Friedrich II.: Das Leben des großen Preußenkönigs nacherzählt", by Hans Bentzien, 2013):

Bentzien 1.jpgBentzien 2.jpg

Bentzien goes with the other interpretation of "all the corners of the town", which he makes into "Vorm Vaterhaus und vorm Rathaus wurde sie ausgepeitscht, ebenso an den Stadtecken". It's difficult to convey in translation, but the German phrasing here would be read as "town corners" as in corners of a rectangle, not street corners. In the second extract, Bentzien summarises the passage on the threat to Frau von Sonsheim I have quoted above from Wilhelmine's memoirs, and (unlike Wilhelmine herself) makes the direct link between Doris's actual and von Sonsheim's threatened whipping explicit: "If [Wilhelmine] refused [the proposed marriage arranged by her father], she would be incarcerated at the Fortress Memel at the far edge of Prussia, and would have to watch her confidante, Fraulein von Sonsheim, to be whipped like Dorothea Ritter at all corners of the town."

More generally going through this material, it has to be said that the primary sources, Wilhelmine and Voltaire, are a lot more fun and more engagingly written than all these po-faced later recountings, none of whom has any actual factual evidence to add to those two contemporaries and the copies of the official royal orders. I think I see the way forward as to how to fictionalise this in a forum-appropriate way while being more faithful to the record than those mainstream novels.

As an aside, and while posting primary sources, Google Books even has a scanned copy of the Prussian military regulations saying that whores found in camp are to be stripped and chased away:



The older source is from 1871 and available in full scanned copy on archive.com: "History of Frederick the Second, called Frederick The Great" by John S.C. Abbot.
I love Google Books! As it turns out, the above book by John S.C. Abbot was serialised by Harper's Magazine in 1870, in illustrated form. Of course, any magazine editor worth his post knows what sort of picture needs to go with this particular book -- a full-page engraving of Doris Ritter's public whipping! Here it is:

Doris Ritter Punishment - Harpers Magazine 1870.jpg

We see the hangman swinging a cat-o-nine-tails. We see Doris naked to the waist, being dragged by a platoon of Prussian soldiers through the streets of Potsdam. We see a crowd of rather downbeat citizens watching the spectacle. No cart in evidence, despite Abbot saying she was mounted on a cart. For some reason, we also see a soldier with a drawn sword -- no idea why, maybe to quell any unrest by the good people of Potsdam at the sight of a respectable daughter of the town being dishonoured.


Louise Mühlbach (1814-1873) was a Victorian author of rather overwrought historical romances, including "Frederick the Great and his Court", which is available in English translation as PDF or EPUB ebook from the Library of Congress website (link). The book is absurd, but it does contain a lengthy first-person account of Doris's whipping - complete with stripping and blood running down her back - as remembered by her ten years later when one of her former tormentors, now courtier to the freshly-crowned Frederick II, seeks her out in her poverty-stricked home with a hare-brained scheme to install her as the King's mistress. Doris has none of it:

“I!” cried she, with mocking laughter, “ and you will make that of me! You, Baron Pollnitz, you, who were partly the cause of my misery, and who looked smilingly upon my shame!
What, then, what have I done to deserve so much humiliation and sorrow ? My God ! ” cried she, in heart-rending tones, “ my heart was pure and innocent; I dared raise my head without fear, and look God and my parents in the face; even before him, my prince, I needed not to cast down my eyes; I was innocent, and he loved me because he could also respect me. Alas ! it was so silent, so resigned a love; it asked for nothing, it had no speech. Was it our fault that others saw and pointed out this love without words, and which eyes of innocence only expressed ? We stood far removed from each other, and a gulf lay between us, but heavenly music formed a golden starry bridge over this abyss, and the holy and melodious tones whispered to our young hearts the complaints and longings of a speechless, self-renouncing love. Only thus, only thus, a sweet dream, and nothing more! Then you came to awaken us, to accuse the prince of high-treason, to make of me a miserable prostitute I You cast my love, which I had only confessed to my Father in heaven, like a dirty libel and foul fruit in my face; you wished to spot and stain my whole being, and you succeeded; you crushed my existence under your feet, and left me not one blossom of hope ! Oh, I will never forget how you tore me from the arms of my poor father ! How you cast me into prison and chained my hands, because in the anguish of my shame and despair I tried to take that life which you had dishonored! They came at last, and dragged me before the king. Two men were with him, one with a common red and swollen visage, with thick, lascivious lips, with red and watery eyes—that was Grumbkow; the other, with the fine friendly face, with the everlasting deceitful smile, the cold, contemptuous, heartless glance, that was you, Baron Pollnitz. Ah, with what horrible glances did these three men look upon me ; what mockery and contempt did their cruel voices express ; I threw myself at the feet of the king; I prayed to him for mercy and grace; he kicked me from him, and shamed me with words and accusations which made my soul blush. I swore that I was innocent; that no sin lay upon me; that I had never been the beloved of the prince; that I had never spoken to him but in the pres ence of my father. Then laughed they, and mocked me, and loudest of all laughed Baron Pollnitz, and his words of scoffing and insult pierced my heart like a poisoned arrow, and checked my flowing tears.”

“ It is true,” murmured Pollnitz; “ she has forgotten nothing.”

“ Forgotten ! ” cried she, with a wild laugh, “ can I forget that I was driven through the streets like a wild beast; that I was stripped by the rough hands of the hangman’s boy; that I heard behind me the scoffings and insults of the wild mob hired for the occasion; that I felt upon my naked back the cruel blows of the executioner’s whip ! Oh, I have borne, and I have suffered; I did not become a maniac, I did not curse God, but I prayed to my Father in heaven as I ran like a baited animal through the streets. I saw that all the houses were closed, that no one stood at the windows; no one had the courage to look upon my path of martyrdom, and it comforted me even in the midst of my torture, and I blessed those men who were pitiful to me, and who appeared to bear testimony to my innocence by refusing to witness my cruel punishment, and I ran farther, and the hot blood flowed down my back. Suddenly I came upon a house which was not closed, the door was open; before it stood the servants and pointed the finger of scorn at me, and mocked and jeered at me. On the balcony stood Baron Pollnitz, with his stony, heartless face ! Then I uttered a cry of rage and revenge, then my prayers were hushed or changed into wild curses, and I yelled and howled in my heart: ‘ He is guilty of my shame; he with his cruel jests, his pitiless sneers, has poisoned the ear of the king, and destroyed the last doubt of my guilt in the heart of his majesty. Disgrace and shame upon Baron Pollnitz I may he be despised, lonely, and neglected in the hour of death; may remorse, the worm of conscience, feed upon his soul, and drive him hither and thither, restless and homeless all his life long ! ’ ”

She uttered a wild cry, and sank back powerless and broken in her chair.

Baron Pollnitz was self-possessed and smiling throughout; he laid his hand upon the nerveless arm of the sobbing woman, and said with a soft, flattering tone:

“ It is true I have done you injustice, but I have come to make amends for the past. You shall yet raise your head proudly, and no one shall doubt of your innocence.”
She shook her head sadly. “ How can that help me ? My father died of shame; my husband, who married me from pity, and because I had a poor two thousand crowns, could not bear that men should flee from me as from a branded culprit; this grief drove him to drink, and when he comes home drunk at night, he beats me and shames me; the next morning he prays, with strong crying and tears, for forgiveness, but goes again and begins anew the same sad existence. My children!—”

She could say no more; her words were choked with tears, as she thought of the hard and frightful language her little boy had used to her that morning.

Pollnitz was weary of the complaints and sobs of this wretched woman.


I'm disappearing down the rabbit hole of Victorian (and later) melodrama based on Doris Ritter, of which there is no end -- clearly, her connection with the towering historical reputation of Frederick The Great had made her story a household name even more than a century later, even in the US, and as the fact that Frederick was (almost certainly) gay was conveniently glossed over she got a bit part as doomed lover of the hero's youth in countless retellings. As this section is titled "Mainly poems and stories", with poems in rare supply, here is one from 1918: "A Ballad Of Doris Ritter" by Ruth Comfort Mitchell (rather a famous popular American poet in her day, though now forgotten):

A Ballad of Doris Ritter.jpg

No backstory or annotation was provided or required on the poem as published: it is simply assumed that her readers know all about Doris. Mitchell sets her poem squarely at the whipping itself ("The sheen of her hair was fouled with mud; Every flick of the lash drew blood") , with no mention of before or after. Note that both of these romantic treatments I've posted today say that the public whipping marked Doris as a whore ("Neighbor, put your knitting down! / There'll be rarer fun; / They lash a wanton through the town. / Neighbor, neighbor run!").


Gay? Or rather he had a misogynist character in the first place?
His father was certainly misogynistic, especially towards educated and cultured women (such as his wife and daughter, and also Doris). Frederick II didn't form any close relationships with women in his entire life, the one glaring exception being whatever he had with Doris (and nobody knows where on the range of "convenient musical accompanist" to "teenage crush" that was), and I understand consensus amongst historians is that he was at least a suppressed homosexual, and most likely a practicing one. Voltaire (quoted earlier by me) was certainly in no doubt on that point, but then his memoirs were deliberately intended to scandalise.


I have also now bought (for all of EUR 0.55 on Amazon) a copy of the only factual book I know that is solely about Doris Ritter: "Die heimliche Gefährtin Friedrichs von Preussen" by Anna Eunike Röhrig, published in 2003. It turns out this is a slim volume of 78 pages containing an expanded version of the essay I posted earlier in this thread here. While there is quite a bit more about Doris's life and her family prior to meeting the prince, the chapters on the arrest, whipping and incarceration are almost verbatim as posted before. The only relevant addition is that the author has inserted a short paragraph at the end of the whipping, saying:

"We know from historical photographs of abused black slaves in the USA that the penalty of whipping resulted in life-long visible scars. That would have been no different for Doris Ritter."

I've found a few more historical images of the flogging of females in Germany -- the first one (the flogging of an unwed mother) a few decades after Doris's punishment
The image I posted before was from this book, but I have now found a better copy online. It's dated 1782, so about 50 years after Doris. The scene is in an enclosed courtyard, possibly a Spinnhaus, and the executioner is using a cat-o-nine-tails on a dressed back (which sounds impractical as the knots would shred the dress in no time - surely Doris would have been whipped on her bare back). The woman is tied very tightly indeed, pulling her right on her toes. I presume the dead(?) babies lying around are allegorical showing what she is being whipped for, i.e. being an unweb mother.


Going back to Doris, here is a still from the 1921 silent movie "Fridericus Rex" showing Doris and the Prince playing music together. As they cast Doris presumably they also showed the whipping, but the film is not online and there are no stills of any whipping scene. It was remade in 1935, and that version is online but they cut the entire Doris storyline.

Fridericus Rex (1921).jpg


On the Confinement of Young Ladies in Workhouses and Prisons

A short illustrated story by Poser CP Art.

During the eighteenth century, houses of correction (which were often generically termed “Bridewells”) evolved into workhouses. In places like the Bridewell, prostitutes were sentenced for a stipulated period of confinement. More than half of offenders were released within a week of their commitment, and two-thirds within two weeks. For the most part, punishment in houses of correction took the form of a short, sharp shock. Over two-thirds of the prisoners were female.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, the whipping day at the Bridewell, ladies and gentlemen of quality arranged parties of pleasure for the purpose of seeing the women who beat hemp there whipped.



If you have a look at these two drawings, you may be forgiven for thinking they show the arrest of Doris Ritter: there is the 16-year-old innocent musician's daughter, there are her distraught but helpless parents, there are the merciless bailiffs taking her away to jail, falsely arrested for punishment as a whore:


However, this is not Doris Ritter, this is Luise Miller from Schiller's 1784 play "Kabale und Liebe" ("Love and Intrigue", free English PDF here). Looking at her story again after researching Doris, it appears to me obvious that Schiller deliberately modeled the plot setup on the Doris Ritter story. Check this:

1. Powerful aristocratic father wants to force his 20-year-old son and heir into a marriage against his choice (Schiller: the Duke's Minister President rather than the King of Prussia)
2. Son is secretly in love with innocent and virginal 16-year old daughter of a deeply religious musician, socially far below him (Schiller: Ferdinand von Walter und Luise Miller rather than Crown Prince Friedrich and Doris Ritter)
3. Father is outraged when he discovers the unsuitable match, has the girl arrested and condemned as a whore (Schiller: put Luise in a pillory as a whore, rather than whipped as Doris was), with the intention of dishonoring her in such a public way that it is socially impossible for his son to ever see her again.

Schiller's dialogue in the arrest scene (Act 2, Scenes 6 and 7) is outrageous, even allowing for the archaic language:

PRÄSIDENT: (Boshaft zu Luisen.) Aber er bezahlte Sie doch jederzeit bar?
LUISE (aufmerksam) : Diese Frage verstehe ich nicht ganz.
PRÄSIDENT (mit beißendem Lachen): Nicht? Nun! ich meine nur – Jedes Handwerk hat, wie man sagt, einen goldenen Boden – auch Sie, hoff ich, wird Ihre Gunst nicht verschenkt haben – oder war’s Ihr vielleicht mit dem bloßen Verschluss gedient? Wie?
FERDINAND (fährt wie rasend auf): Hölle! was war das?
LUISE (zum Major mit Würde und Unwillen): Herr von Walter, jetzt sind Sie frei.
FERDINAND: Vater! Ehrfurcht befiehlt die Tugend auch im Bettlerkleid.
PRÄSIDENT (lacht lauter): Eine lustige Zumutung! Der Vater soll die Hure des Sohns respektieren.
LUISE (stürzt nieder): O Himmel und Erde!
FERDINAND (eilt auf Luisen zu, die ihm halb tot in den Arm fällt): Luise! Hilfe! Rettung! Der Schrecken überwältigte sie!
MILLER (ergreift sein spanisches Rohr, setzt den Hut auf und macht sich zum Angriff gefasst).
FRAU (wirft sich auf die Knie vor dem Präsident).
PRÄSIDENT (zu den Gerichtsdienern, seinen Orden entblößend): Legt Hand an im Namen des Herzogs – Weg von der Metze, Junge – Ohnmächtig oder nicht – wenn sie nur erst das eiserne Halsband umhat, wird man sie schon mit Steinwürfen aufwecken.
FRAU: Erbarmung, Ihro Exzellenz! Erbarmung! Erbarmung!

The pillory in Germany usually had the form of being chained by an iron neck collar rather than a wooden board, hence the above line by the President when Luise faints during the arrest: "Step away from the whore, son - fainted or not - once she is wearing the iron collar, they'll wake her up with thrown stones."

Whores in the pillory were likely to have had their hair shorn, fully or partially stripped, forced to put on a straw crown and/or forced to straddle a wooden pony as shown in these two 18th century sketches (the sign above the pillory says "Punishment for whoring"):


Getting back to corporal punishment, here is some more art on public punishments in Prussia in the 18th century:
Whipping in Prussia.jpgmilitary-military-justice-running-the-gauntlet-and-in-the-background-BK07R4.jpg

The first picture, showing a public flogging, is an enlargement of the background of the second picture, which has running the gauntlet in the foreground. As fas as I know, the gauntlet was strictly a military punishment and never used for women. The flogging in the picture is probably also a soldier, although looking at the torso it looks an awful lot like there may be breasts...

The interesting thing was that running the gauntlet ("Spiessrutenlaufen") was considered an honourable punishment, even though it was often fatal, whereas being flogged (or put in a pillory) by the public hangman was considered dishonourable, and resulted in the loss of civic privileges and public disgrace. Poor Doris!


Here are two sources on historical corporal (and capital) punishment in Germany, both loosely related to Doris Ritter, at least as useful background information. Apologies that they are in German -- I will try to summarise/translate the key bits:

1) The attached PDF is a very detailed article (107 pages!) on the office of the public hangman in Germany in general and in the town of Brandenburg in particular. As Brandenburg was in the same jurisdiction (Prussia), and only about 20 miles due west of Potsdam (which is the capital of the modern German state of Brandenburg), much of this would also have applied in Potsdam. As the article covers several centuries of history from the late middle ages to the 19th century, it is not always clear which practices were continuous and which applied only in particular periods and may already have been obsolete by the 18th century. However, there are a few interesting bits relevant to judicial corporate punishment:
  • There's a lot about the special role of the public hangman (in German "Scharfrichter", literally "sharp judge") in civic society, and in particular that his office was the subject of a powerful taboo with everybody who touches him (intentionally or accidentally) becoming dishonoured and e.g. may be expelled from their guild. That of course applies in particular to those actually punished by the hangman, which is why in the Prussian army the "honourable" punishment was running the gauntlet, though often fatal, whereas being handed over to the public hangman for a whipping or birching was "dishonourable" and therefore considered a much more severe punishment even if it may have been objectively less physically damaging.
  • Every town in Prussia (and presumably wider Germany) had its own public hangman. However, even in those days there wasn't actually enough work in a typical provincial town to keep a full-time hangman gainfully employed and hence the office was usually combined with that of the "Abdecker" (the knacker, responsible for disposal of dead animal carcasses) and -- peculicarly -- some medical and surgical treatments.
  • Being a hangman was a skilled and regulated activity, with training organised along the lines of medieval trade guilds. As with other Master tradesmen, the office usually passed from father to son. After finishing their apprenticeship, journeymen hangmen travelled to learn from recognised centres of the trade, with Hamburg being recognised as the leading centre of excellence within Northern Germany. This being Prussia, by the 18th century there were public exams required before any appointment being confirmed -- page 31 of the article has a list of 26 questions set at the public examination in the early 18th century (i.e. Doris's time), including knowledge of when to apply the various grades of torture and what they involve.
  • In addition to executing the corporal or capital punishment stated in the judgment, the hangman was also the public torturer, and in some towns also the public prosecutor at the court hearing. The article has a lot of detail on the rules governing torture in judicial cases on paged 39-42.
  • Non-capital punishments are covered on pages 44 to 46, and came into three categories: dishonoring penalties (e.g. the pillory), mutilation (cutting off hands/fingers and/or branding -- see the photo of old branding irons on p. 46), and corporal punishment. The milder form was caning on the clothed bottom, usually given as full or half "shillings", where a shilling is 30 strokes. The more severe form was given on the naked skin (male or female), either the exposed bottom or exposed back, where the forced nudity was considered a particularly humiliating and dishonoring part of the penalty.
The verbatim passage on corporal punishments is:

Die andere Form war der „Staupenschlag“ (Stockschlag) oder das Ausstreichen mit der Rute. Sie war besonders entehrend, weil man sie am teilweise entblößten Delinquenten öffentlich durchführte. Der Stockschlag ist auch für Brandenburg belegt. So ist am 17. November 1618 ein Freudenmädchen mit dem Stock gezüchtigt worden, im Februar 1624 bekam ein unverheiratetes Freudenmädchen Schläge und Hiebe mit dem Stock. Im Juli 1622, so ist den täglichen Aufzeichnungen des Pfarrherrn Joachim Garcaeus zu entnehmen, hat der Scharfrichter von Brandenburg einen Räuber ausgestrichen, und zwischen dem 21. und 31. Juli hat er vier Bürger, die des Plünderns verdächtig waren, ebenfalls ausgestrichen. Der/die Verurteilte wurde auf eine Bank gebunden, an den Pranger, eine Staupsäule oder einen Schandpfahl gestellt und in der Regel mit 40 Stockhieben – eine Zahl, die dem alten Testament entnommen war – gezüchtigt. Oft waren diese Strafen mit Stadtverweis und/oder Brandmarkung verbunden.

The other form [of corporal punishment, in addition to caning on the clothed bottom] was the beating with the stick or flogging with the lash or birch. This was particularly dishonoring as it was performed in public on the partially naked delinquent. Beating with the stick is documented for the town of Brandenburg. On 17 November 1618, a prostitute was disciplined with the stick, in February 1624 an unmarried prostitute got blows and hits with the stick (...). The condemned -- male or female -- was tied to a bench or stood at the pillory, whipping post or column, and usually received 40 blows, a number taken from the Old Testament. Frequently, these penalties were combined with branding and/or exiling from the town.

For those interested in the gorier aspects of the hangman's trade, there then follows a long section on capital punishments and execution methods. Less gory, but interesting in understanding how corporal punishment fits into civic society as a whole, are the sections on local history and the social standing of the hangman. What is clear is that this was an intensely hierarchical society with a clear distinction between "respectable" citizens and common riff-raff (they had separate arrest cells for "respectable" prisoners away from the jail cells for common criminals in the town hall in Brandenburg and presumably also in Potsdam where Doris was held after her arrest). These flesh out just what it would have meant for Doris as the respectable educated daughter of one of Potsdam's most prominent citizens -- holding the offices of the cantor at the town's main church and rector of the town's grammar school where he would have taught the sons of the local civic elite -- to be sentenced to a public punishment for prostitutes, executed by the hangman and hence bringing with it all the taboo and dishonouring aspects described in the article. This social class and loss of civic honour aspect is central to Schiller's play where the tragedy flows direcly from the threat of putting Luise Miller in the pillory.

I think it's unlikely that Doris got the additional branding said to be "frequently" combined with public whipping. Although I can't be sure, I feel that given the prominence of her case, this would have been specifically recorded in the contemporaneous sources.

2) Complementing that article is this German website describing one particular notorious murder and resulting capital punishment of the female murderer Dorothea Götterich in the town of Neubrandenburg in 1770:


For those interested, the website has exhaustive detail of the murder, the investigation and the execution -- this was the last public execution in Neubrandenburg, and the only instance I can find of a female delinquent being broken on the wheel (which the article discussed above described as an exclusively male form of execution), in its most cruel form "from the bottom up", i.e. first breaking the limbs before applying the killing stroke to the chest or neck. During Dorothea Götterich's execution, they didn't manage to kill her even after repeated blows to the chest ("because the subject was heavily breasted") and then also messed up multiple attempts of breaking her neck and even of driving a nail through her head to finish her off. Part of this incompetence may be that breaking on the wheel was already an obsolete punishment in 1770 and the hangman didn't have a clue as to how to actually do it.

No direct relevance to Doris Ritter, except to illustrate that even forty years after her case there were still barbaric judicial punishments practiced in Germany, and the fact that Neubrandenburg (which was just outside the borders of Prussia into Mecklenburg) was where Doris's family fled to when her father lost his position after her punishments, and where she herself then lived for several years after her pardon from the Spinnhaus in 1733 until after her marriage in 1738.


Last edited:


I've just come across the following quote, from the book "Heidelberg im Mittelalter" (also the source of this image of a whore cart that I posted earlier):

Auszug aus der Sittenstrafordnung für Dirnen des Heidelberger Kurfürsten Ott-Heinrich aus dem Jahre 1532

"Wir, Ota-Henricus, Pfalzgraf bey Rheyn und des Reiches durchlauchtiger Churfürst, ordnen hiermit an und bestimmen, dass sich all seyne Unterthanen, gleich wess Standes, geziemlicher Sittlichkeit zu befleyssigen und den Verlockungen fleischlicher Lust zu enthalten haben, wenn sie nicht dieneten zum Segen der Zeugnis.

Ehen, und dieda, so solches missachten und nur zu ihrer Freuden sich lassen von Mannsleut beschlafen oder gar solche hierzus verführen, ihnen gar dafür noch Münz oder Wertens abnehmen, sollen strenglicher Straff unterzogen werden sonder Gnaden, so sie seyn ehrlos und ihnen gebühret Schanden und harte Peynen.

Item man solch, welche zur Anzeig gebracht oder beim Sündtun ergriffen, soll verbringen sogleich in den Weibsturm am Staden. Dorten soll einer jeden fürs erst der Unzucht zur Sühnen wegen ein kräftiglicher Stockschilling erteilet werden, solcher ist zu exekutieren im Zuchtstübel im Wölben des Turmgelass. Hierzu soll die Dirnen über die Schramnen geleget werden, ihr die Röck wie das Hemd gelupfet, ihr aber auch die Schlupfen niedergestriffen, drauff ihr der Züchtiger soll 25 kräfftige Hieb auf dem nackten Arsche linieren, dass sies im sündigen Fleische schmerzhaft verspüre. Soll aber kein Knüttel benutzet werden, so ihr kein Knoch werd gebrochen, sondern ein Haselgerten von Kleinfingerstärken und 5 Fuß längen, derarten man soll ausreichlich bevorraten und schmeidig halten in einer Salzessigbeizen.

Sojenige aber, dies da tan haben für Löhnung und sich gemacht haben ein lüstig und gar faul Leben, soll man zum Hofe vom Fängnis verbringen und dorten vor aller Leut und Insass zur Schanden und Abschrecknis lassen ihre Kleider vollends aus-ziehen, sie sodann in den Stock spannen. Dann soll der Meister die Karbatschen nehmen und ihr ein halbhundert Schläg verabreichen, so ein jeder recht knallet. Und soll ihr kein Schönheit, noch ihr Gewinsel oder lauthals Plärren von nutzen seyn, sondern der Profoß ist anzuhalten, ihr scharff umb die Lenden zu peitschen und sie auch an den Brüst zwicken machen, daß die Teibelstrieb ihr vergehen.

Die so Mannsleut oder gar noch unwissend Burschen zum ihr Beiwohnen ver-führet, soll man die Schamgeissen reiten lassen durch die Gassen und über die Plätz. Soll das Weibsstück im kurzen Hemed, und falls solch ihr zu lang, man es ihr an den Taillen abtrennet, rittlings sich mit der blossen Studen auf die Spitzkanten, die soll seyn scharf gehobelt und die kann noch mit Pfeffer einrieben sein, aufsetzen und ihr die Bein unten geschlossen mit einer 10pfündigen Ketten. So soll sie der Henkersbüttel umbherkarren, sie mit einer Schellen ausläuten und ihre Schanden überall verkündigen.

Solche wieder, die von gieriger Geilen oder nicht halten sich sauber oder gar sind voller Ungeziefer, sol'. man zum Fluß niederbringen, sie dort ohn Kleider sich lassen bäuchlings zu Ufer legen, ihnen binden am Rücken zusammen Arme und Bein, sie an den Strick von der Balkertwippen hängen, dann hochziehen, daß sie gestreckt baumelet, und sie drauf niederschnellen lassen ins Wasser bis zum Grund. Dorten soll man sie getaucht verhalten für ein Paternoster, nicht gar länger, so sie nicht ersäufe. Kann man bis 10malen wiederholen, bis sie gar gründlich gewassert. Soll man die Dirnen auch ihnen zum Spott für 3 Tag lang ausstellen im Käffig, oder die Huren für l - 3 Jahr ins Arbeitshaus stecken und dorten bey scharfer Zucht, harter Arbeit und schmaler Kost gefänglich verwahren."

My rough and slightly abbreviated translation would be:

Excerpt from the morality justice regulations for harlots issued by Elector Ott-Heinrich of Heidelberg in 1532:

" (...) Those who for their pleasure allow menfolk to sleep with them, or even seduce them to do so, and even take money or gifts from them, shall be punished severely as they are without honour and deserve shame and severe pain.

Those that are denounced or seized in the act shall be brought to the Women's Tower at the Staden. There they shall be given a strong shilling with the stick, to be executed at the punishment chamber in the Tower. The harlots shall be laid across the bench (?), their skirts and shift lifted and their drawers pulled down, and the bailiff shall line up 25 forceful lashes to the nacked arse, so that she shall feel them painfully in her sinful flesh. However, no stick shall be used so that there are no broken bones, but a hazel switch of the thickness of the little finger and five feet in length. This shall be laid in store and kept supple in salty vinegar brine.

Those that have made a lusty and lazy life taking money shall be brought to the prison courtyard and there in front of all people and prisoners shall be stripped of all of their clothes anf put in the stocks. The the Master shall take the Karbatsche [a type of single strand rope whip traditional to South West Germany, see attached image] and deliver half a hundred lashes, making everyone sound loudly. And neither beauty nor pleas or loud crying shall be of use to her but the process shall continue to whip her sharply around the loins and also the breasts so that the devil's spirit is driven from her.

Those that have seduced menfolk or even innocent lads to sleep with them shall ride the perch of shame through the alley and over the town squares. The harlot is to be placed in a short shift, which shall be cut off at the waist if it is too long, astride with the naked crotch onto the sharp edge, which shall be planed to a point and can be coated in pepper. She is to be sat on the perch and her legs closed underneath with a ten-pound chain. The hangman's bailiff is to cart her through the streets, ring the bell and loudly proclaim her sins everywhere.

Those that do not keep clean or are bug-ridden shall be brought to the river and without clothes shall lie down on their bellies with the arms and legs tied together at their backs [i.e. a hogtie], hung on the rope of the beam crane, drawn high up so they are stretched and dangling, and then let drop into the water to the ground. There they shall be left for the length of a paternoster, but not longer so she doesn't drown. May be repeated up to ten times to properly water her.

The harlots shall be displayed in a cage for public sport for three days, and the whores shall be put in a workhouse for one to three years to be imprisoned at heavy labour, strict discipline and little food."

I have to say I am slightly sceptical as to the historical accuracy of this supposed regulation (the language sounds like a pastiche, for one), but it's fuel for the imagination.


Wunderbar! Nsur1, danke für alle deine Untersuchungen!

Nsur1, thanks for all your research on old German books and documents. I always read your posts with pleasure. I'm sure you can write very good stories of your own with such a detailed historical background.
I would like to ask you about one fact from the story "Visit to the Ludwigsburg Museum", which was posted earlier.
It said that repeated offenders were punished with 500 strokes on the buttocks, divided into 4 sets of 125, during one day. Do you think such a severe punishment could have happened, or is it pure fantasy?


I would like to ask you about one fact from the story "Visit to the Ludwigsburg Museum", which was posted earlier.

It said that repeated offenders were punished with 500 strokes on the buttocks, divided into 4 sets of 125, during one day. Do you think such a severe punishment could have happened, or is it pure fantasy?
Depends on the implement, I guess. However, I would tend to think that 500 in a day is fantasy. Indeed, I have been thinking about how many lashes Doris could realistically have received and have come to the conclusion that she wouldn't have survived six full whippings in a single day if each of them was 40 lashes with the cat, as is described as the typical number for a judicial whipping, i.e. 240 in total. So, I was envisaging maybe six half-whippings (120 lashes in total) with an hour in the pillory or on the cart after each full 40 to recover (and be humiliated).


Perhaps a fantasy about an old German Zuchthaus is appropriate for one of your future stories, if this theme interests you. For example, "A few days from the life of the Ludwigsburg House of Punishment."
Last edited:
Top Bottom