The Whipping Boy Summary

Sid Fleischman

The Whipping Boy

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The Whipping Boy Summary

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Sid Fleischman’s 1987 The Whipping Boy is a Newbery Award winning children’s book. The story tells of an orphan named Jemmy who is kept in the royal palace of a fictional medieval kingdom. Jemmy is used as a “whipping boy”–a child who receives punishments on behalf of the heir to the throne, Prince Brat, who cannot be touched due to his royal status. Without fear of punishment, Brat continues his bad behavior and Jemmy yearns to escape from the palace and the constant floggings. However, when the prince decides that he will run away, he forces Jemmy to accompany him. Outside of the palace, they get into much mischief and eventually discover that it is believed Jemmy kidnapped Brat.

When the prince first suggested running away, Jemmy had no interest in being involved with the plot. After thinking about it, however, he realizes that it might provide him with an opportunity to escape the prince. When he is finally ready to run, he and Brat are captured by scoundrels who intends to rob them. Brat responds to the threat by demanding that they show respect for him as the royal heir. The men believe that he is the prince from the expensive saddle the boys have on their horse. The men then take the pair to their camp and decide to hold them hostage and demand a ransom from the king.

They tell the prince to write the ransom note. But the prince, who has neglected his schooling, is unable to write. But Jemmy, who has paid attention during the lessons Brat ignored, can. This leads the robbers to feel that the two might be pretending to be each other in order to cause confusion. Jemmy allows them to believe this, thinking that it might help get the prince back to the palace. Jemmy writes the note and feigns offence that the robbers have demanded such a low ransom for his return. He suggests they demand a wagon filled with gold. Next, Jemmy frightens them into sending the whipping boy, who they do not know is the true prince, to deliver their ransom note to the king. The plan appears to be working until Prince Brat declares he will not return to the palace. Jemmy tells them that they should send the horse back with the message.

Jemmy is able to come up with a plan for their escape and the boys go on the run. They reach a wooded area and hide inside of a dead tree. While they are hiding, a bear comes into view and starts to move toward the men who had captured Brat and Jemmy. As the men flee, Jemmy comes out of the tree and much to his chagrin, finds that he has not yet been able lose the prince. Jemmy decides to abandon Brat. Immediately, Jemmy notices that Brat is still following him. As they argue, they hear the voice of a woman who is apparently looking for the bear. The woman tells them how to get to a nearby river. They continue their journey but as they reach the water, they see soldiers of the king on the lookout for the missing prince.

After the soldiers pass them, the boys exit their hiding place. They help a driver whose coach’s wheels are stuck in the mud. Jemmy asks if the driver will take them to the fair. As luck would have it, the driver is a seller of hot potatoes and was on his way there. Jemmy plans to accept the ride only for himself, but then takes pity on the prince and asks the potato man to take him as well. In an event that combines bad luck and coincidence, the coach is held up by the same two men from whom Jemmy and Brat just escaped. They begin flogging the prince, as they still believe that he is the whipping boy. Meanwhile, Betsy, the woman who performs with the bear, comes upon the scene and tells them to stop the whipping. When they do not, she sends the bear, Petunia, after them.

The boys spend the day with Betsy at the fair and enjoy themselves. When the robbers appear, Jemmy takes Brat into the sewers as a hiding place. The men are sent astray by a rat catcher but are not taken in by this attempt to divert them and catch up to the boys. Jemmy leads them into a tunnel containing large rats. The men are bitten by the creatures and the boys escape once again. Jemmy finds out that there is a bounty on him and the prince orders Betsy to bring them back to the palace and collect a reward that had been offered for the return of the prince. The boys are finally back in the palace. When Prince Brat tells the king that Jemmy was responsible for his safe return home, the king gives Jemmy protection and declares he will no longer serve as the whipping boy. They boys become friends and the two robbers who had been chasing them find themselves on a ship headed for a penal colony.