Saturday, July 16, 2022

Question from Jake - Colleges and universities in Tudor times

Hey Tudor bloggers, I'm a college student (going to be a sophomore after summer break is over). I've been researching the history of colleges, in centuries past. I came here to ask did students back in this era go to college after they graduated high school? What were colleges like, back then? Did anyone need to study for, and pass any big tests in order to enroll? I would appreciate some answers.


PhD Historian said...

Yet another question that assumes the past was the same or similar to the present! I am entirely baffled by this recent trend. (I will assume that the questioner is American based on the terminology used.)

There were no "high schools" in the Tudor era, and the concept of "graduating" was entirely unknown. As noted numerous times in response to previous related questions, less than 5% of the population of England could read and write at the beginning of the sixteenth century (1500s). Further, there were only two universities in England prior to the nineteenth century(1800s): the University of Oxford (founded 1096) and the University of Cambridge (1209). Both were comprised of "colleges," or self-governing independent groups of students and faculty sharing common interests. The word "college" originally referred to a group of clergymen living together and supported financially by a foundation that drew income from lands owned by that foundation. Degrees were awarded by the university's governing body, not by the individual colleges. Matriculating (enrolling) at a university in the Tudor era was less formal than it is today, largely because studying at a university in the Tudor period required sufficient financial funds to allow the student to study without having to earn a living to support himself day-to-day. Those funds usually came from family wealth or from a generous patron. That factor alone severely limited the number of men who could attend. And if one attempted to study at Oxford or Cambridge without having the necessary basic background and academic ability, that fact was quickly discovered and the student would either leave on his own or be sent away ("sent down," in modern British parlance).

Women were not allowed to attend English universities until the 1860s, and they could not earn a degree prior to 1878, when the University of London awarded the first degree to a woman. The first at Oxford was not until 1920, and the first at Cambridge was in 1948.

John said...

Yeah, colleges weren’t at all even a thing, until at least Victorian times, and even then, almost all of the women/girls couldn’t/didn’t start attending them until at least the early-mid 20th century, and even then, the slang term, “MRS degree” exists for a reason! Granted, however, even some men/boys didn’t/couldn’t pursue any higher degree, either, because of things like, simply feeling like they didn’t need to, fighting in wars, e.g., WW1 and WW2, (and yes, some teenage boys lied about their age in order to join the older men in fighting for their country/families). And also, just as some people do now, most men back then worked in careers that didn’t require college degrees, in the first place.