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Via Reddit's Today I Learned (329+ votes):

The History Learning Site's Medieval Christmas page claims:

In Medieval England, children were reminded of Herod’s cruelty by being beaten.

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    Weren’t children in medieval times beaten every day to remind them of King Herod’s cruelty? Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 12:05

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in Faiths & Folklores 1905 By W. Carew Hazlitt it says

Dufresne, in a note to Clement Marot’s cxxxvth Epigram, observes, that on Innocents’ Day there used to be a custom of slapping on the hinder parts any young folks who were surprised in bed on that morning, and occasionally it proceeded further. But this practice had even then fallen into disuse. The following is the passage in Dufresne :—" Innocentes. Allusion a un usage pratiqué lors en France, où les jeunes personnes qn’on pouvoit surprendre an lit le jour des Innocens, recevoient sur le derrière qnelques claqnes, & quelque fois un peu pins, qnand les sujet en valoient lan peine. Cela ne se pratiqne plus aujourd’hui: nous sommes bien plus sages & plus reservés que nos pères."

But that's

  • France not England.
  • A punishment for indolence?
  • Fallen into disuse.

Ref


According to The Hyms and Carols of Christmas

Gregory observes that it hath been a custom, and yet is elsewhere, to whip the children upon Innocents Day morning, that the memory of Herod’s murder of the Innocents might stick the closer, and in a moderate proportion to act over the crueltie again in kinde." Gregorii Posthuma, 1649. See Cotgarve’s "Dict." and the "Dictionn. de Furetiere."

The source is given as

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.
In Two Volumes
London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.


Mediaeval attitudes to children and corporal punishment were, of course, different to current ones.

In Childhood in Medieval England, c.500-1500 Nicholas Orme, University of Exeter says

Then as now, adults cared for children and encouraged their play.

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Infancy up to the age of 7 was viewed as a time of growth, childhood from 7 to 14 as one of play, and adolescence from 14 onwards as one of physical, intellectual, and sexual development.

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Corporal punishment was in use throughout society and probably also in homes, although social commentators criticised parents for indulgence towards children rather than for harsh discipline. Children were given tasks in keeping with their ages. For younger children this meant looking after their smaller siblings, or running errands. As they grew older they might be allocated lighter domestic or agricultural duties, but they were not capable of doing serious work until about the age of puberty when they began to acquire strength of an adult kind.

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