top of page
  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 91 - Seven Times on the Nob (Best Friends Week)

Tom's Notes

Strange noble companions

Audience feedback:

Tommy Guns 7777 let us know that we had him in stitched when you we talked about British RAF pilots dive jazzing Francis Birtles as he drove through the Middle East. Daga-daga-daga…

I was keen to for ‘best friends’ as a topic this week because I’d come across something that I found amusing. I then sat on my laurels for a week and then realised this morning that there wasn’t really 30 minutes of goodness to be squeezed out of it. So I’ve expanded slightly to fulfil my requirements, much like Putin in Ukraine.

Here’s a funny one for you Sam, I say, I say, I say, Justin Timberlake is touring Russia. Vladimir Putin calls him and says, ‘how do you fancy joining me for a boat party?’ Timberlake responds, ‘whereabouts?’ Putin says it’s a ‘Crimean River, oh, Crimean River, oh’. ‘Now the annexation is done, I won’t be leaving.’

Yeah, sometimes it takes me a week to think up a joke Sam, but I do get there eventually. With outstanding results as I think you’ll agree.

So I started this week with the term ‘whipping boy’ which means someone who takes a punishment on behalf of someone else. A quick aside, the related term ‘scapegoat’ has an interesting origin too; it’s biblical, first mentioned in Liviticus and so part of the Torah and Old Testament. It refers to part of the Ancient Jewish Yom Kippur celebrations/observations. Yom Kippur is still an important Jewish festival today. It’s the Day of Atonement. Anyway, in ye olde times, Two goats would be chosen from the ‘lottery of the goats’. CIRCUS VOICE ‘Ladies and gentlemen! Roll up, roll up for the lottery of the goats! Which will choose? The one that moos? The one with the beard, the one that’s weird, the one with small hooves, the one with dance moves, the one that does bleat, the one with human feet, the one with the piercing stare, the one with Afro hair. The lottey of the goats! Which one will be freed? Which one will bleed! The lottery of the goats!’

Anyway, one would be sacrificed, the other symbolically burdened with the sins of man and then sent out into the desert to die. My Jewish theology isn’t the best but I understand that all this goat malarkey stopped after the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in 70AD. This was much to the delight of the local goats who thought the whole thing was rather unfair, as it was the humans who had sinned, not the goats.

Connected to this, in Ancient Greece there was a concept of a Pharmakos which I found rather funny despite its brutality. The word does sound like ‘pharmacy’ and the two are distantly related although I couldn’t work out why! So in Ancient Greece, during times of crisis, so invasions, plagues, famines etc. someone would be chosen to be a Pharmakos, or a scapegoat, or a whipping boy, for society. This individual was usually someone lowly or undesirable, like a murdered or someone disabled. In an example from 6th Century BC poet Hipponax, a particularly ugly man was chosen to be honoured with wonderful feasts and other special treatment. He would then be smacked with fig branches, including 7 times on his nob, then driven out of town. The practice varied from city state to city state, sometimes the individual was stoned to death, sometimes they were treated like a prince for a year and so on. The general theme though was that some poor person was duped into thinking they were having a whale of a time, then they were treated horribly. Hooray! It was a form of communal catharsis and was well thought through because no well-bread or honourable noble was hurt. Just ugly men, so tidying up the gene pool too.

So, about 10 minutes ago I mentioned that I was going to start with the term ‘whipping boy’. Let’s try again shall we?

There are lots of examples from the Early Modern period in Europe of noble children having a ‘whipping boy’. A popular example is William Murray, the 1st Earl of Dysart. Dysart being somewhere in Fife, Scotland. When Murray was a boy, his uncle took him under his wing and educated him alongside the future King Charles I. Murray’s uncle was Charles’s tutor. Because Charles was the son of King James I of England (and James VI of Scotland) how could he possibly be punished by his tutor? Remember that James I was a particularly pompous twat, believing himself to be divinely appointed. So poor old William Murray, who became a very good friend of Charles, was punished in his stead, and in front of him. The theory being that this would encourage good behaviour from Charles because he wouldn’t like seeing his best friend whipped. This theory obviously falls down when a noble child is a psychopath SNOTTY KID VOICE, ‘Oh whoopsie, I would appear to have dropped my quill again! You must punish Jenkins over there. Good and proper. Ooooops, I’ve drawn a picture of the Headmaster with a big cock on his head. Fetch the ruler! Silly me! I shat on Headmaster’s mortar board hat, and it’s fallen on his copy of Plato’s Republic.’

Now being whipping boy, despite what you’d initially think, wasn’t a bad thing. You became very close to the King, or whichever noble it was, and so it was a great opportunity for improving your lot in life, particularly when you were grown up. William Murray became a loyal advisor to Charles I and in that capacity, he was very influential and his support was sought after because he had the kings ear. He did do well out of this arrangement, for example, Charles granted him Ham House in London which was incredibly desirable because of its location so close to the centre of London and also because it was made out of cured pig products. The pepperoni ping pong parlour was particularly popular.

Louis XV of France also had whipping boys apparently, one of whom was a cobblers son, but this didn’t stop him from being a spoilt little shit.

Edward VI of England apparently had a whipping boy called Barnaby Fitzpatrick, the son of an Irish noble who had sworn fealty to Edward. As part of the deal, and to secure his loyalty, Fitzpatrick was sent to the king’s court as a child to be educated with Edward VI. They became very close friends and Fitzpatrick profited from this arrangement in later life. Friends in high places and all that.

There is an argument that whipping boys never actually existed and that the concept was a satirical one born out of the pomposity of James I and his son Charles I who believed that kings were above all criticism. This attitude led to the English Civil War and Charles’s beheading. The example of Edward VI who reigned before the Stuarts is also based on very little evidence. I have to say, in my research, I found very few solid examples whipping boys from history.

So anyway, when I reached this disappointing conclusion, I decided that I’d need to branch out slightly. So, on the subject of best friends and close political advisors, let me introduce you to the Groom of the Stool. This wasn’t someone who pampered a poo in preparation for a photo shoot, or someone who was walking down the aisle with a big steaming pile. No, it was someone who helped the King in his time of most need, when he was forcing out a particularly stubborn turd in the middle of the night. You see, the Groom of the Stool was someone who helped the King when he was taking a shit. They probably didn’t wipe the arse, or point the penis, but they would have fetched the stool (hence stool) and stood diligently with the bog roll and some shiterature, occasionally lending a forearm to be grabbed tightly.

There’s a bloody long list of British royal Grooms of the Stool, 400 years’ worth in fact! Oddly, it evolved from a proper position, to an honorary position, without any evidence of condescension. I.e. it was a respected title! I’m going to be honest, these silly privy chamber positions are very confusing, and I couldn’t be arse to work out exactly what was going on because it wouldn’t have been very interesting, but it would appear that the title evolved as well as the role, and there were similar positions such as Gentlemen of the Bedchamber (or equivalent titles for Queens). Before the title became more ceremonial, and less, erm, vocational, it was very important that the Groom updated the monarch’s physician too, in case of unpleasant movements that could indicate sickness. They were basically posh Gillian McKeiths.

Regardless of specifics, these individuals who had a very intimate relationship with a monarch, whether it be holding a candle whilst he or she exited the bishops palace, quite a risky position if the monarch had recently consumed a vindaloo and a few too many pints of lager, or helping the monarch pull up their undies in the morning. In fact, members of Henry VIII’s inner circle often acted as pimps, finding him hussies to shag. But I digress, these intimate positions often led to intimate relationships and closeness to a monarch meant power. Not only because of what the monarch could do for you, but also because of what you could do for people who wanted to influence the monarch.

From loyal bum wipers to another type of loyal courtier from history; eunuchs. Cor blimey! Humans have been getting stuck into genital mutilation since time began. Why? Because we’re over evolved chimps that do fucking horrible things to each other. The more intelligent we became, the more ways of hurting other people we thought up. I was thinking this last week when discussing exorcisms and the horrible torture and execution of men thought to be responsible for the devils in people. Animals kill other members of the same species when they feel threatened, or scared, or they’re trying to becoming the alpha male. Only humans prolong the experience and really torture people. Although as I say this, I think killer whales have been shown to torture seals haven’t they?

Anyway, eunuchs have been a very popular choice of courtier for forever, because they are not a threat. They are not a sexual threat; i.e. they’re not going to try to bonk the harems, and there not as much of a political threat because they cannot start their own dynasty and are presumably less aggressive due to less testosterone? I don’t know. It has to be said, they have often been desired for sexual reasons too. Just like whipping boys and Grooms of the Stool, eunuchs were often very powerful due to their close proximity to statesmen and women (kings, queens, emperors, empresses etc.)

I’ll give a few quick examples, and there are lots that I could have chosen:

Now I did mention that eunuchs couldn’t start their own dynasties. Well there are exceptions, Philetaerus (Fill-a-tear-us) founded the Atallid Dynasty in the aftermath of Alexander the Greats death. He apparently was a eunuch after having had his scrotum crushed as a child in a tight crowd. Ouch.

Talking of Alexander the Great, he apparently fell in love with a Persian eunuch called Bagoas and Bagoas utilised their relationship to settle some old scores.

Halotus was a Roman eunuch who was suspected of poisoning Emperor Claudius; a good example of the position of power these courtiers had being so close to statesmen.

Then there is Gang Bing who couldn’t gang bang because he lopped off his dongle to serve the Yongle Emperor. I added that one in simply because it sounded funny.

There have been lots of successful military generals too who were eunuchs.

Next week; imitation

Mad military inventions

bottom of page