Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Question from Lisa - Early Tudor education

I am interested in education in Tudor England, particularly during the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Education does appear to have been very limited but at least some members of the aristocracy were educated. Why were some members of the aristocracy educated while some were not? Wealth seems to have been a factor but was social standing (i.e. titles such as Baron, Earl, Duke, etc.) a factor as well? Also, what subjects did their education consist of? Were a majority educated in schools or tutored privately at home?

Both Oxford and Cambridge existed during that time period but who went there to be educated?

While women were not typically educated, there were exceptions such as Anne Boleyn. Were most aristocratic women educated? If not, does anyone know the reasons why some women (such as Anne Boleyn) were and others weren't?

Lastly, does anyone know if education was more, less, or just as common in other areas of western Europe, particularly France, Spain, and Italy during this time period? Were there some places where women were more likely to be educated?

1 comment:

PhD Historian said...

Oi vey! Such a HUGELY far-ranging question! Literally volumes have been written to address the set of questions that you ask. And it happens to be my area of specific academic expertise! I cannot answer your questions with any degree of thoroughness in this short blog space, so I will instead offer a few brief and very general responses and suggest some books that will answer them more thoroughly.
First, "Why were some members of the aristocracy educated and some not?" It was a matter of personal preference, essentially. Some actively sought education while others actively steered clear of it. No compulsory system of education yet existed in England. At the turn of the sixteenth century, education was still considered useful only to priests and lawyers, not to the wealthy nobility ... though this began to change somewhat under Henry VIII, who was himself unusually well-educated. Wealth was not necessarily a factor in whether one was educated. Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, and Thomas Cromwell all came from relatively humble backgrounds, for example. Many colleges offered places (we would call them "scholarships") for the talented non-wealthy. The truly impoverished were unlikely to have any degree of access to education, however. The majority of those among the wealthy who were educated were tutored at home, while those of lesser means might be educated in some local parish grammar school, if one existed (there were not many in this period). Those educated at Oxford and Cambridge were mostly non-aristocratic and hoping to gain advancement via an education. Most aristocratic women were not "educated" in the sense of having academic training beyond basic reading and perhaps writing. Retha Warnicke has identified only about 60 English aristocratic women of the entire sixteenth century who could be considered "educated" even by sixteenth century standards. Those women who were educated, both aristocratic and non-aristocratic, tended to come from a small group of families with ties to the royal court - the daughters of Thomas More, those of Sir Anthony Cooke, and the Grey girls spring to mind. Education was proportionately more common in the Northern Italian city-states in this period, especially for women. Many of those city-states had government-supported schools, something not then available in England. I am not familiar enough with Spain and France to say much about them. For education in England in the early Tudor period, see
Michael Alexander, "The Growth of English Education, 1348-1648 (1990);
Kenneth Charlton, "Women, Religion, and Education in Early Modern England" (London, 1999);
David Cressy, "Education in Tudor and Stuart England" (London, 1975);
Helen Jewell, "Education in Early Modern England" (New York, 1998);
Nicholas Orme, "Education and Society in Medieval and Renaissance England (London, 1989);
Craig Thompson, "Schools in Tudor England" (Washington, 1973).
Sorry I cannot offer a more thorough response, but perhaps Lara can share my email address with you so you can contact me directly.