Thursday, April 30, 2009

Question from Julian - Elizabethan school curriculum

I am writing a historical novel set 1582 - 1599. What sort of curriculum would a boy, educated in a great house on his own by a private tutor from the ages of 7 to 14, between 1582 and 1589, follow? What literature would he study? What sort of religious instruction would he receive? Would he receive any more from elsewhere, e.g. the local priest? Thank you.

1 comment:

PhD Historian said...

You say the boy is educated in a "great house," so I assume your character is the child of nobility? That is, he is not the child of some person who is employed in the great house, correct?

A proper education for young men in that period would include reading and writing English, of course, as well as Latin and probably at least one continental language, perhaps French or Italian. Exceptional students might also study some Greek.

He probably would not have studied "literature" in the sense that we do today ... short stories, novels, famous plays, etc. Instead, he would have studied the Latin and Greek classics, especially the works of Cicero (usually called "Tully" by those in the Tudor period), Demosthenes, and probably some Plato and/or Aristotle. He would probably have read some histories, including Tacitus, Caesar's Commentary on the Gallic Wars and the Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius. He would probably also have read some of the English chronicles, including those of Hall and Holinshed.

He would have learned some basic mathematics, probably a little astronomy, and music.

If he was a member of a noble family, his religious instruction would have been provided by the family chaplain, not the priest in the local parish church. That chaplain may also have doubled as his tutor for some of his studies, especially Latin or Greek language.

Many male children of noble families "went up" to university (Oxford or Cambridge) at about age 14-16.

There are lots of good books available that will tell you much, much more about education of males of noble birth in the Elizabethan era, and in far greater detail. You can find them by searching the RHS's Bibliography of British and Irish History Online using the keyword "education" and limiting the date to 1550-1600.

Hope this is helpful.