Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Proper Education - Stuart Schools

By Deborah Swift

In the Stuart Era it was not unusual for a girl to be married at twelve or thirteen, and for a boy to finish school and go to university by the age of sixteen. Girls were seldom educated unless they were of wealthy families, and even then the subjects taught were usually French, dancing, music, needlework and household management. Only a few were taught mathematics or sciences as these skills were thought inessential in a wife.

Boys of course were educated. The leading schools were Eton, St Paul's, Winchester, Westminster and The Merchant Taylors Schools, which  were founded by men from the Guild. The Merchant Taylors used to be armourers. The Linen Armourers, an allied craft to the Tailors, originally made the padded tunics or gambesons worn under suits of armour, and by the 17th Century had grown to be one of the most influential guilds in London. The London School was founded in 1562, but burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666 and had to be rebuilt. 

The Merchant Taylors Company also founded schools such as this one in Hertfordshire. The school above in Mill Street, Ashwell, was built in 1681 by the Merchant Taylors Company as a result of a bequest for this purpose made by Henry Colbron, a London scrivener. 

For the unfortunate pupils school days began at 6am and went on until late afternoon when the light was best. Study would be undertaken by means of slates to write on, and horn books which the teacher used as text books.

Tuer - Miss Campion holding a horn book.
From the Museum of Derby

The boys would be severely disciplined for laziness or stupidity in a way we would find unacceptable today. The birch rod was a symbol of a master's authority, as servants were frequently beaten, and it was exactly the same in school. Whether you were an apprentice or at school, you were likely to be on the receiving end of  corporal punishment. Flogging was frequent and severe, as it was thought to drive 'devils' from the body. It was thus used for every moral lapse or failing, and the boy would typically have his bottom beaten until blood flowed. Another common punishment was to use a 'ferula' - a flat ruler with a rounded end into which a hole had been cut. This was used to strike the hand or mouth and the hole brought up a terrible blister.

Some noble boys were educated at home, but by the 17th Century the private tutor was much less popular, as numbers of schools increased. 'Grammar Schools' took day pupils and 'Colleges' were residential and took boarders. But occasionally boys were placed in the homes of a suitable tutor. They would go to Oxford or Cambridge Universities usually at 14 to 16 years old. Childhood was certainly short in those days.

Young gentry were often sent on a Grand Tour which was an rite of passage that introduced them to the cultural riches of Europe and gave them an insight into foreign affairs and diplomatic relations. A typical tour would include Paris, Geneva, Turin, Florence, Venice, Rome. In my book 'A Divided Inheritance,' Zachary Deane is sent on just such a tour by his uncle.

File:Ostade Village school.jpg
17th Century Village School - Issac ostade (school of)

All through his schooling life the boy would have leisure time with his friends which more often than not involved blood sports such as falconry, shooting, stag hunting and badger baiting. At University there was 'swearing, drinking,rioting and hatred of all piety' 
(Simonds d'Ewes Cambridge 1620).

There were one or two attempts to introduce the idea of French Academies, for example in 1635 the Museum Minervae was established under royal patronage by Sir Francis Kynaston in Bedford Square, and its course included the arts, antiquities and military studies as well as mathematics and languages. Charles I  himself donated books, antiques, and other apparatus. Unfortunately, the fortunes of the Museum Minervae Academy declined when its patron was executed! 

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Cambridge University (Picture : The Times)

Once schooling was over the boy would often be sent abroad - wherever there was a War - to gain military experience. To the left, men training with Matchlock Musquettes - popular during the first half on the 17th Century. During the Thirty Years War many young men from England went to fight on the continent. No doubt their experiences were useful when they returned and needed to fight during the English Civil Wars.

Sources: Caliver Books English Civil War Notes, Stuart England - Blair Worden,, ,

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