Education in England

Preliminary pages
Introduction, Contents, Preface
Chapter 1 Up to 1500
Chapter 2 1500-1600
Renaissance and Reformation
Chapter 3 1600-1660
Chapter 4 1660-1750
Chapter 5 1750-1860
Towards mass education
Chapter 6 1860-1900
A state system of education
Chapter 7 1900-1923
Secondary education for some
Chapter 8 1923-1939
From Hadow to Spens
Chapter 9 1939-1945
Educational reconstruction
Chapter 10 1945-1951
Labour and the tripartite system
Chapter 11 1951-1964
The wind of change
Chapter 12 1964-1970
The golden age?
Chapter 13 1970-1974
Applying the brakes
Chapter 14 1974-1979
Progressivism under attack
Chapter 15 1979-1990
Thatcher and the New Right
Chapter 16 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 17 1997-2007
Tony Blair and New Labour
Chapter 18 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 19 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
Chapter 20 2015-2018

Organisation of this chapter


Henry VIII 1509-1547
The schools
   The dissolution of the monasteries
   The first Chantry Act (1545)
   The curriculum
   The education of girls
   The teachers
The universities
Other issues
   Literacy and the vernacular

Edward VI 1547-1553
The schools
   The second Chantry Act (1547)
The universities
The poor
Edward's legacy

Mary I 1553-1558

Elizabeth I 1558-1603
Religious background
The schools
   The teachers
   The grammar schools
   The petties
   An Elizabethan schoolroom
   The plight of the poor
   Contemporary views on education
Other forms of education
   The chivalric system and the courtly academies
   The Inns of Court
   Gresham College
The universities
   The universities and the crown
   The students
   The colleges
   University studies
Education in Scotland




This is the new version of Education in England: a history, which has been completely rewritten and updated. To find the period you wish to read about, please check the new chapters list in the left-hand column.

If you have any comments about this new version, or spot any errors,
please let me know. Contact details are here.

Derek Gillard
16 May 2018

Education in England: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

copyright Derek Gillard 2018
Education in England: a history is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and/or print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.

You are welcome to cite this work. If you do so, please acknowledge it thus:
Gillard D (2018) Education in England: a history

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Chapter 2 : 1500-1600

Renaissance and Reformation


Two forces reshaped Europe during this period.


The Renaissance (literally 'rebirth') was a cultural movement which began in Italy in the fourteenth century and spread across the continent during the following three hundred years. It is mainly thought of in relation to artistic endeavours - the development of linear perspective in painting, for example - but it also encompassed a resurgence of learning from classical sources and a more general 'humanist' educational reform based on reasoning and empirical evidence. Pico della Mirandola's (1463-1494) famous public discourse of 1486, De hominis dignitate (Oration on the Dignity of Man), has been seen as the 'Manifesto of the Renaissance'.

The Renaissance came relatively late to England. It is generally viewed as being a feature of the Elizabethan period in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, with writers such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Sir Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Sir Philip Sidney and John Milton, architects such as Inigo Jones, and composers Thomas Tallis, John Taverner and William Byrd.

In the grammar schools, Greek and sometimes Hebrew were added to the main Latin curriculum (to assist correct understanding of the scriptures), and there was more study of literature. But the education provided by the schools - and by the universities - remained 'rigid and narrow' (Williams 1961:132). Thus:

The major achievements of the Renaissance, in the vernacular literatures, in geographical discovery, in new painting and music, in the new spirit in philosophy and physical inquiry, in changing attitudes to the individual, had little effect on the standard forms of general education (Williams 1961:133).
Williams argues that the period was a complex one, but with three clear trends:
the increase in vernacular teaching, the failure of the traditional institutions to adapt either to a changing economy or to an expanding culture, and the passing of most of the leading schools from sponsorship by a national institution to private benefaction (Williams 1961:133).
The main educational theories of the Renaissance - especially the ideal of the scholar-courtier - had little effect on English schools. In fact, Williams argues that they had 'the paradoxical effect of reducing the status of schools' in favour of an alternative pattern, 'drawing in part on the chivalric tradition, of education at home through a private tutor' (Williams 1961:133), a preference which, for many families, would last well into the nineteenth century.

However, while the Renaissance appears to have had little effect on the curriculum of English schools, the Reformation certainly affected their organisation. Or, as Williams (1961:132) puts it, 'while the schools were reorganised by the Reformation their teaching was not redirected by the Renaissance'.


The Reformation, which established Protestantism as a branch of Christianity, was prompted by discontent at the perceived worldliness of the Papacy and the financial demands it made. Its roots can be traced back to the fourteenth century, when the Lollards, led by John Wycliffe, and the Hussites, followers of the Czech reformer Jan Hus, had attacked the hierarchical and legalistic structure of the church.

But the Reformation is usually reckoned as beginning in 1517, when Martin Luther famously protested at church corruption and the selling of indulgences. The movement against Rome spread to many European countries over the next two centuries, and here 'the re-organisation of schools became a key question, an indispensable aspect of establishing a protestant state' (Simon 1966:126).

In England, the Reformation was a more local affair which began as a result of King Henry VIII's disputes with Rome over the status of his various marriages. It resulted in changes to the structure of the school system and reduced the control of the monks:

... as long as the clergy was sterilized, and yet monopolized a large and ever-increasing proportion of the territory and wealth of the world, progress was checked. The quiet thinker was lured into the cloister, the progressive thinker was under a ban, originality was a crime, and repression prevailed especially in the region, in which it is most dangerous, of religion and philosophy. In Italy, Spain, Portugal, Flanders, the most populous and naturally the richest countries, the Renaissance was strangled almost in its cradle by monasticism in its most formidable development, the Inquisition: while its growth was stunted in France and Germany by the prolonged series of wars and massacres between the upholders of monasticism and the friends of free thought. Its full development was reserved for England and Scotland, where the monasteries, and with them clerical celibacy, were suddenly and wholly swept away (Leach 1915:331-2).

Henry VIII 1509-1547

Henry VIII (pictured - from the portrait by Hans Holbein) cannot be described as a Protestant. Indeed, at first he opposed the reforming movement and in 1521 dedicated his book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments) to Pope Leo X, who rewarded him with the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith).

But by 1527 Henry wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon ended so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. He was also anxious to extend the sovereignty of central government. So for both political and personal reasons he overthrew Papal power and dissolved the monasteries. It was left to his successors Edward VI and Elizabeth I to pursue the Reformation agenda and transform England into a Protestant nation.

Henry was born in 1491. Under the direction of John Skelton, Bernard Andre and others, he received the best grammar school, song school and university education of the day, studying Latin, literature, rhetoric, dialectic, music, French, Italian and Spanish. He became king at the age of 17 in 1509.

He was undoubtedly a remarkable man. Leach could hardly be more fulsome in his praise:

Henry VIII was, perhaps, the most highly educated person for his time who ever sat on the throne of England. ... Hence his zeal for learning and for education. No king ever showed more desire to promote learning and learned men, and none was more impressed and desirous of impressing on others the advantages, or did more for the advancement of education. Whether in the statutes of the realm or in the ordinances and statutes of the many foundations of his time, he was never tired of expatiating on the necessity of education and the benefit that educated men were to church and commonwealth (Leach 1915:277).

The schools

Leach estimates that at the start of Henry's reign England had about 400 schools for a population of 2.25 million, or one school for every 5,625 people (Leach 1915:331). He does, however, warn that 'It is difficult to arrive at a precise estimate of the proportion of schools to population, because, while it is hard to ascertain the exact number of schools, it is even harder, and perhaps impossible, to ascertain the population of England at any given date in the Middle Ages' (Leach 1915:329).

Orme argues that the changes in schooling during Henry's reign 'were of an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary kind' (Orme 2006:288). Wealthy benefactors continued to endow grammar schools, the new 'humanism' began to influence teaching, and schools began to acquire printed books.

Henry inherited a kingdom in which neither the Church nor the crown gave formal attention to schooling. Founding schools was a matter for individual patrons and schoolmasters. The teaching of humanist Latin was encouraged rather than enforced by those in authority, and the publication of schoolbooks was largely left to the printers (Orme 2006:288).
Indeed, the only law relating to children passed in the early years of Henry's reign was a statute of 1512 requiring that boys aged between seven and seventeen should be provided with a bow and two arrows 'to induce and learn them and bring them up in shooting' (quoted in Orme 2006:288).

However, there was increasing public interest in schools: 'From the king and the aristocracy downwards, parents were giving more attention to the literary education of their children' (Orme 1976:27). And both Catholics and Protestants became aware of the importance of education as 'a means of increasing religious fervour and enforcing orthodoxy' (Orme 1976:27). As a result, the status of teachers rose, and there were more benefactions. 'In the South West alone seven grammar schools were fully endowed between 1499 and 1524, a greater number than had been achieved during the whole of the fifteenth century' (Orme 1976:27).

Although many schools were still technically connected with the old religious communities or with chantries, 'education had long ceased to be the prerogative of the church' (Simon 1966:167). Increasing lay demand for schooling had been met in the fifteenth century, 'often directly at the expense of the church' (Simon 1966:167), and the trend continued under Henry, 'when humanist innovations brought a new adaptation of education itself to lay needs' (Simon 1966:168).

Under Henry's leadership, the English Reformation affected education in a number of ways. Some of the old foundation schools were closed and an equal number of new ones were opened. Many older schools were revived, expanded, or converted into free schools. The grammar school remained central to the system, but there was an important change in its sponsorship. Whereas the typical medieval grammar school had belonged to the church, the new grammar schools were mostly private foundations 'supervised in variable degree by Church and State' (Williams 1961:132).

The dissolution of the monasteries

Henry's dealings with the monasteries began in 1535 when the abbeys and priories were required to follow a more regulated life as part of the new Church of England. In the following year the smaller houses were closed, and by 1540 all the friaries and the remaining monasteries had been abolished. The education they had provided disappeared with them: 'the cloister schools of grammar, logic and theology for the brethren, together with the schools of song and grammar for the choristers and the almonry boys' (Orme 1976:28). Thus 'an important section of English education had been removed almost at a stroke' (Orme 1976:28). The cloister schools had 'contributed to English learning in general', and by maintaining choristers and almonry boys the religious houses had 'subsidised the education of many children who might otherwise have fared badly' (Orme 1976:28).

The collegiate churches were closed, one by one, during the 1540s, though the process had not been completed when Henry died in 1547 and it was left to Edward VI to finish the job. The colleges' internal schools were allowed to perish in the same way as the almonry foundations of the monasteries, but public schools, where they existed, were 'treated more favourably' (Orme 1976:29).

However, there were also positive developments. In the spring of 1539 the crown 'committed itself to doing something to assist religion, education, and charity' (Orme 2006:303). A bill passed by parliament in a single day authorised the king to establish a number of new cathedrals and collegiate churches which would be required to maintain grammar schools.

These 'new foundation' cathedrals were reconstituted between 1540 and 1542 as secular cathedrals with deans and chapters of canons. 'In all the new cathedrals established in 1541 ... a grammar school, with a master and usher paid on the highest scale of the day, was included' (Leach 1915:312).

Generous provision was to be made for education. Each cathedral was to have between six and ten boy choristers with a master to teach them, and a grammar school for the study of Latin, Greek, and in some cases Hebrew. Every school was to include a number of foundation scholars, varying from twenty to sixty, all of whom would receive free board, lodging, and clothing. Teaching was to be done by a master and usher, with generous salaries of 20 and 10 respectively, and it is probable that they were envisaged as teaching outsiders free of charge (Orme 2006:303-4).
In addition, six former monastic churches - Bristol, Chester, Gloucester, Oxford, Peterborough and Westminster - now became cathedrals and, with the exception of Oxford, they were required to establish grammar schools.

Provision was also made for higher education: 'Most of the new cathedrals were to have between four and twenty exhibitions for scholars to attend the universities, as well as a reader in divinity to give lectures locally' (Orme 2006:304).

Lawson and Silver argue that 'it is impossible to assess the loss which education suffered' (Lawson and Silver 1973:96) as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. 'Loss there must have been, but it cannot have been as calamitous as used to be imagined' and 'In one way or another most of the damage was probably made good within a few years' (Lawson and Silver 1973:96).

Sadly, 'nothing was done to make good the loss of the nunneries in the education of girls' (Lawson and Silver 1973:96).

The first Chantry Act (1545)

Attention then turned to the chantries and religious guilds. In 1545, the first Chantry Act empowered Henry (and only Henry) 'to appoint commissioners under the great seal to enter upon chantries, hospitals, guilds, and their possessions, and vest them in the king' (Orme 2006:314). The survey was conducted in the spring of 1546, with the commissioners collating the information contained in 'chantry certificates'. However, Henry died in January 1547 so it was left to Edward VI's second Chantry Act to complete the dissolution of the chantries and guilds.

Orme argues that 'the educational importance of chantries and guilds should not be exaggerated' (Orme 2006:312). While there were certainly many chantries - possibly around 4,000 - only a minority of them maintained schools. 'Leach's enthusiasm on this subject', says Orme, 'has led many people to assume that they provided most of the schooling of late medieval and early Tudor England, but this cannot be true' (Orme 2006:312).

Meanwhile, London merchants had been active in endowing new grammar schools as advocated by reformers, and around the country there were still grammar and chantry schools, some connected with the old unreformed secular cathedrals.

These new and refounded schools would provide 'the greater part of the education of England till the eighteenth century' (Leach 1915:316).

By the close of Henry's reign there had been a wholesale transference of rights over schools to the crown, bringing to a climax a long process of lay encroachment on ecclesiastical powers over education. But no concerted programme for refounding schools had been put into operation and those which were officially established were connected with an ecclesiastical foundation in the traditional way (Simon 1966:196).
'If education was to be an effective means of unifying the religious outlook and consolidating the social order,' Joan Simon concludes, 'further steps were clearly necessary' (Simon 1966:196).

The curriculum

Renaissance thinking about education began to influence teaching in England in the 1500s and many textbooks and dictionaries were published to aid both teachers and pupils.

Of particular importance were the views of the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540). He visited England regularly between 1523 and 1528, dividing his time between Corpus Christi and the Court of Henry VIII.

Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the Dutch humanist, was also influential: his texts were widely recommended and used. Perhaps the most significant was his De Duplici Copia Verborum ac Rerum. This was written in 1512 at the request of Colet, for use in his school at St. Paul's. It ran into over a hundred editions during the sixteenth century, 'was translated, epitomized, and pirated, and became the standard work in grammar schools all over Europe' (Charlton 1965:111).

The Statutes of the refounded school at Canterbury give some idea of the curriculum of the period. The last chapter concerned 'The Method of Teaching'. It provided for six classes, three under the usher and three under the head master:

The lower books were Cato, Æsop and Familiar Colloquies. In Form III, Terence and Mantuanus' Eclogues; in the Fourth Form, they began to practise writing Latin letters; not until the Fifth Form did they begin to write Latin verses, and polished themes and translated poets and historians. In the Sixth Form, they read Erasmus's Copia Verborum and made 'varyings', that is, turned sentences of Latin from the oratio obliqua to the oratio directa, and from one tense and mood to another, 'so as to acquire the faculty of speaking Latin as well as is possible for boys' (Leach 1915:316).
In the late 1530s a committee was set up to produce a 'Royal Grammar'. This was published in two parts: an advanced-level book in Latin in 1540 and an elementary grammar in English two years later. 'Both works carried the king's authority and expressly forbade the use of any other grammar in school, as a result of which the works of Stanbridge and Whittington virtually ceased to be printed' (Orme 2006:309).

From 1542 onwards the two parts of the Royal Grammar were published as a single volume under the title A Shorte Introduction of Grammar. It became known as Lily's Latin Grammar.

Its preface proclaimed:

Henry VIII ... to all schoolmasters and teachers of grammar within this realm, ... to the intent that hereafter they (English children) may the more readily and easily attain the rudiments of the Latin tongue, without the great hindrance which heretofore have been through the diversity of grammar within this our realm and all our dominions, as ye intend to avoid our displeasure and have our favour, to teach and learn your scholars this English introduction here ensuing and the Latin grammar annexed the same, and none other, which we have caused for your ease and your scholars speedy preferment briefly and plainly to be compiled and set forth. Fail not to apply your scholars to learning and godly education (quoted in Charlton 1965:108).
While all schools were required to use the Royal Grammar, the extent to which they did so is difficult to assess, given 'the prevailing confusion and uncertainty' (Simon 1966:196). It continued to be prescribed in the Royal Injunctions of both Edward VI (1547) and Elizabeth (1559), and by the Ecclesiastical Canons of 1571 and 1604. It remained the standard (though not the only) grammar until the introduction of the Eton Grammar in 1758 (Charlton 1965:108).

It has often been argued that in the grammar schools boys were forbidden to speak in any language other than Latin. Writing in 1950, for example, EP Goldschmitt suggested that

Boys were not taught Latin, they were taught in Latin, they were not allowed to utter a single vernacular word whilst at school. ... No teaching of any kind in the vernacular existed anywhere before 1550 or thereabouts ... If Shakespeare crept unwillingly to school he did so because there he would be confronted by a Master who spoke nothing but Latin and who would birch him if he spoke an English word to another boy (Goldschmitt 1950:8-9 quoted in Charlton 1965:119).
And there is certainly some evidence for this view. School statutes of the period often explicitly forbade the use of the vernacular. The statutes of Oundle School (1556) even insisted that the boys should speak Latin to each other 'as well in the school as coming and going to and from the same' (quoted in Charlton 1965:119).

But perhaps we should not take such rules too literally. As Charlton points out:

the difficulties of implementing these provisions must have been enormous ... even a summary glance at what went on in Tudor grammar schools will show that in the teaching of Latin grammar the use of English was not only a necessary expedient but also something recognized by masters to be of positive educational value (Charlton 1965:120).
English, however, was not taught as a separate subject, partly because it still lacked standardised spelling and pronunciation. It was only when Caxton started to print books in English and vernacular translations of the Bible were published that English began to be taken seriously. Richard Mulcaster (1531-1611), for example, saw the use of the vernacular as 'yet another way of indicating England's emancipation from Papal subservience' (Charlton 1965:121).

Charlton concludes that 'the prohibition of English speaking in Tudor school statutes must be put in context, and interpreted as referring to those hours of school life devoted to the speaking of Latin and not as an absolute prohibition' (Charlton 1965:123).

Discipline in schools was often enforced by harsh punishments. The brutality inflicted on the boys, especially in the smaller grammar schools, not only 'reflected the violence of personal life which remained part of the Tudor scene, but also found a new sanction in the Calvinistic insistence of the essential depravity of man' (Charlton 1965:124).

The education of girls

In the sixteenth-century, humanism 'changed medieval attitudes to women, or at least to women of the upper class' (Lawson and Silver 1973:121).

Some Tudor ladies of aristocratic family, brought up at court or in noble households, were highly educated, even learned, able not only to read Latin and Greek but also converse in French and Italian, as well as to sing and dance and play the lute and virginals (Lawson and Silver 1973:121).
Now, there were calls for the education of 'girls of less exalted rank' (Lawson and Silver 1973:121). The Protestant reformer Thomas Becon praised the former convent schools and bemoaned the loss of teaching by nuns. He argued for the establishment of girls' schools by public authority, with 'honest, sage, wise, discreet, sober, grave and learned matrons made rulers and mistresses of the same [with] honest and liberal stipends' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:121). Richard Mulcaster also argued that girls should have a school education. But 'neither of these writers had in mind girls of the labouring class' (Lawson and Silver 1973:121).

Girls certainly attended the petty schools (of which more later) and English schools alongside boys, but they were generally excluded from the grammar schools - in some cases explicitly by statute (as at Harrow in 1591). However, in a few country areas they were sometimes admitted for short periods, as at Bunbury grammar school, Cheshire, in 1594 (Lawson and Silver 1973:121).

Rosemary O'Day argues that it is 'misleading to see in the period 1520-60 halcyon days for women's academic education' (O'Day 1982:184). Even the more liberal educationists of the Renaissance were 'bound by the common conception of woman's family vocation' (O'Day 1982:184). Thus Vives, for example,

devoted a large part of his Instruction of a Christian Woman to the importance of the maintenance of chastity. For him it was clear that a woman's domestic vocation dictated the limits of her educational needs. He spent more time showing the way to cultivation of correct social behaviour than indicating the way to cultivate the mind (O'Day 1982:184).
There were a few girls' boarding schools, including Polesworth Convent in Warwickshire, which taught up to forty daughters of gentry families in 1537; Godstow, which took most of the daughters of Oxfordshire's gentry; and a small house at Swaffham Bulbeck, which taught the daughters of Cambridge burgesses and tradesmen. 'The education in these convents consisted of religion, morals, the making of riddles, the reading of French romances, French conversation and needlework' (O'Day 1982:186).


The typical school day in the early sixteenth century was long, from six or seven in the morning until five or six in the evening, though there were breaks for breakfast and dinner.

However, there were holidays:

Most masters probably stopped teaching during the summer vacation in August, but there may have been different ways of organising holidays during the rest of the year. Some schools appear to have been open on most weekdays, shutting only for festivals or when the master gave special holidays, or 'remedies' as they were called (Orme 1976:21).
Some schools - Wotton and Newland in the west country, for example - organised the teaching year much as we do today: 'The holidays at these two schools - two weeks at Christmas and Easter, one at Whitsun and six in the summer - bear a striking resemblance to modern ones' (Orme 1976:21).

The teachers

As to the teachers, the picture is, inevitably, a mixed one. There were certainly some 'Schoolmasters of high quality', including Richard Mulcaster, Alexander Gill and Richard Brinsley, who 'had a national reputation' (Charlton 1965:125).

But teachers in Tudor schools suffered from a range of pressures which their counterparts today would no doubt recognise: they were 'faced with a wealth - some would say welter - of precept and exhortation' (Charlton 1965:123); they taught large classes in which discipline was 'inevitably fierce'; and their pay was 'miserably small' (Charlton 1965:124).

The universities

An increase in educational philanthropy and endowment after around 1480 had already resulted in the opening of two new Cambridge colleges: St Catharine's (1473) and Jesus (1496).

During Henry's reign many more were added, often paid for by funds from the dissolution of the monasteries: Christ's (an enlargement of God's-house) (1508), St John's (1511), Magdalene (1542) and Trinity (1546) at Cambridge; and Brasenose (1509), Corpus Christi (1517) and Christ Church (Wolsey's Cardinal College refounded by Henry) (1546) at Oxford. Mostly founded by bishops, they were all intended to increase the supply of educated clergy. 'It was not long before all the former monastic buildings at the universities were restored to academic use' (Lawson and Silver 1973:97).

In addition to the new colleges, Henry sought advice about establishing a new form of training in civil law, knowledge of which was important for diplomats and those involved in matters of foreign trade. This project, however, came to nothing. But he did found five Regius professorships - in divinity, Greek, Hebrew, medicine and civil law - at Cambridge in 1540 and Oxford in 1546. These crown appointments represented a considerable increase in royal influence over university affairs.

Although one may deplore Henry VIII's failure to invest more of his monastic appropriations in schools and colleges and other good works, nevertheless what he did contribute was on a scale which makes him outstanding among royal benefactors of education, however questionable the way in which he acquired his resources (Lawson and Silver 1973:97).
There were other important changes in the universities, too.

First, whereas previously boys had usually transferred from grammar school to university at around the age of fourteen or fifteen - in some cases even earlier - the age of entry now began to rise.

Second, the role of the colleges began to change. Freshmen had traditionally lived in halls or hostels in the town, while the colleges were communities of graduate fellows studying for a Master's or Doctor's degree. These were mostly clerics, with some canon or civil lawyers. 'Only occasionally was provision made for a very few "poor scholars", i.e. undergraduates' (Charlton 1965:131-2). But now, the halls started to disappear and the modern college tutorial system began to develop.

The colleges also made greater provision for poor scholars and accepted undergraduate 'commoners' as fee-paying members. Some of these, the commensales (gentlemen-commoners or fellow-commoners) were sons of the nobility and the gentry. They 'paid extra fees and even shared the fellows' table' (Charlton 1965:132). This meant that the colleges were no longer the preserve of graduate fellows.

Another important change was that, having taken on the functions of the medieval halls, the colleges now became teaching institutions, with the fellows taking on responsibility for the teaching:

Whereas the medieval hall had no raison d'être without the university, the sixteenth century college now tended to become a very much self-contained unit, providing its own teachers and providing for its own students, often in conflict with and powerful enough to resist the parent body whenever the interests of the two did not coincide (Charlton 1965:132).
Of course, the university still provided teaching: as noted above, Regius professorships, for example, were introduced in 1540. But these failed to maintain attendance in 'the schools' (lecture halls): 'The tide was turning towards the colleges' (Charlton 1965:133).
The small exclusive communities of graduates were being transformed into large bodies of teachers and undergraduates who now 'lived in'. In the Cambridge of Erasmus most undergraduates lived in halls, the university Grace Books for the period 1488-1511 making frequent mention of these establishments and their students - though chiefly in connexion with inter-hall feuds and riots! (Charlton 1965:133).
Other changes in the universities resulted from the involvement of the crown, to which Oxford and Cambridge were now subject. In 1530 Archbishop Warham 'brought heavy pressure to bear when Oxford proved recalcitrant in supporting the king's cause'. The university took some time to respond, and when it did, Henry 'let it be known that he was cognisant of the cause of delay and that better compliance would ensure better patronage' (Simon 1966:198). Cambridge received similar treatment.

Five years later, in the autumn of 1535, Henry's Vicar-General and chief adviser Thomas Cromwell sent visitors to the universities 'armed with directives for re-orienting studies and powers to enforce the required changes' (Simon 1966:198). Among these were requirements that all members of the universities should swear to the king's succession, and that students should be permitted to read the scriptures privately. 'Further, since the whole realm had renounced papal rights and acknowledged the king as supreme head of the church, the universities must cease to teach canon law and confer degrees in it' (Simon 1966:199). Students should be taught the liberal arts - logic and rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry and music; in philosophy the early German humanists Agricola and Melanchthon should be studied alongside Aristotle.

The universities, therefore, had already received 'a considerable shaking up' (Simon 1966:202) before the dissolution of the friaries and monastic houses. This resulted in the closure of a dozen houses at Oxford, leading the university to complain to Cromwell in 1539 that the number of students had been halved.

In 1546, when the universities realised that college lands were at risk under the Chantries Act, Cambridge wrote to the king's secretary, Paget (formerly of Trinity Hall), 'reminding him of the importance of universities to the state and asking his protection for the cause of learning' (Simon 1966:210-1). Within a year - as Henry's reign drew to its close - both universities were provided with royal foundations - Christ Church at Oxford and Trinity College at Cambridge.

Other issues

Literacy and the vernacular

In 1533 Thomas More estimated that more than half the population could read English. 'Even if he meant only the population of London', suggest Lawson and Silver, 'his estimate still seems improbably high' (Lawson and Silver 1973:84). However, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that more people were becoming literate.

The spread of literacy was further increased by another outcome of the Reformation - the translation of the Latin Bible into the vernacular. In 1535 Cromwell ordered that copies of William Tyndale's new English Bible were to be placed in every parish church.

Parliament was clearly unhappy with this decision since, in 1543 (three years after Cromwell had fallen from grace and been executed), it passed an Act which banned artisans, husbandmen, labourers, servants and almost all women from reading or discussing the Bible.

The prohibition proved impossible to enforce. Indeed, the brief availability of the English Bible had already encouraged many to learn to read and had made them think about the nature of society and the church. 'This was indeed a cultural revolution of unprecedented proportions, and one whose consequences stretched far beyond the period of the Reformation and the English Revolution' (Chitty 2007:14).


Humanist views prospered during Henry's reign, despite Cardinal Wolsey's attempts to subvert them in the cause of upholding the authority of the church:

Whatever the use Wolsey made of humanist text-books, his educational aims differed profoundly from those of Colet. He was not concerned to further learning among laymen so much as to counteract the effect of growing literacy (Simon 1966:144-5).
Cambridge became a centre of the new learning, which spread to Oxford - no doubt to Wolsey's dismay - when a group of Cambridge students was recruited to staff his new Cardinal College.

Towards the end of his reign, Henry began to feel that the reforms might have gone too far. So in 1539 he 'put the engines into reverse ... complaining of contention over points of doctrine which was bringing religion itself into disrepute' (Simon 1966:176). He now demanded uniformity in religion on traditional lines and parliament passed an 'act for abolishing diversity of opinions'. As a result, reformers were persecuted and some took refuge abroad.

Henry's health deteriorated in the last ten years of his life, following a jousting accident in 1536 which reopened a previous leg wound and may have caused brain damage. The leg became ulcerated and Henry became obese. He died in Whitehall on 28 January 1547.

Edward VI 1547-1553

Edward (pictured - from the portrait by William Scrots) was born to Henry and Jane Seymour in October 1537, so he was just nine years old when he became king in January 1547. Because of his age, his reign was administered by a Regency Council led first by his uncle, Edward Seymour, and later by John Dudley. He inherited a crown heavily in debt, severe economic problems, confusion over matters of religion, and social unrest.

Leading reformers, including Thomas Cranmer, John Cheke, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Lever, condemned outbreaks of rioting and rebellion. But they also criticised the nobility for bringing the Reformation into disrepute, complaining particularly that promises to endow education had remained unfulfilled. Lever bemoaned the despoiling of schools and Latimer warned: 'this much I say unto you, magistrates: if ye will not maintain schools and universities ye shall have a brutality' (quoted in Simon 1966:220).

Henry VIII had severed the link between the Church of England and Rome, but had never renounced Catholic doctrine or ceremony. It was during Edward's reign - and largely thanks to Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer - that England began to embrace Protestantism.

The prayer book written by Cranmer in the closing years of Henry's reign was now prescribed for universal use, replacing the Latin Mass with an English service; clerical celibacy was abolished; and parliament approved the second Edwardian prayer book in 1552. These moves were accompanied by 'concerted efforts to establish a protestant system of education' (Simon 1966:222).

In the summer of 1547, royal commissioners were sent to every diocese with a new set of injunctions, which included some educational clauses, though 'these largely repeated the policies of the 1530s' (Orme 2006:316-7). Clergy were to instruct parents to 'put their children and servants to learning or to some honest occupation, so that they grew up to be responsible adults, not criminals or beggars' (Orme 2006:317). Wealthier priests were to continue to support a scholar at grammar school or university for each 100 of their income. Teachers were reminded of their duty to use only Henry VIII's primer and grammar, and chantry priests were urged once more to teach children reading, writing, good manners, 'and other virtuous exercises' (Orme 2006:317).

In addition, every cathedral which did not have a free grammar school was ordered to provide one out of its common funds, 'staffed by a master with a salary of 13 6s. 8d. and a rent-free house, and an usher receiving 6 13s. 4d. and a rent-free chamber' (Orme 2006:317).

The schools

The reorganisation of schools and colleges into a more effective system of education was, for some, a means of reinforcing the existing social order.

Others believed, as the early humanists had done, that education should be promoted 'for the good of society and the welfare of the church, and, too, the salvation of individual souls' (Simon 1966:222).

Some were especially concerned about the plight of the poor. Robert Crowley's Petition against the Oppressors of the Poor Commons of this Realm, addressed to parliament in 1548, complained that 'honest men's children, of good hopes in the liberal sciences and other good qualities, of whom there was a great lack in the realm, were compelled to turn to handicrafts and day labour to sustain their parents and so prevented from completing their education' (Simon 1966:217).

Such desires, however, had to be balanced against 'the difficulties resulting from a disordered administration and a depleted exchequer' (Simon 1966:222).

The second Chantry Act (1547)

Henry had planned to reform the chantries and had appointed commissioners to make a survey of the foundations. This had been carried out in 1546 but, following Henry's death in January 1547, it was left to Edward's government to dissolve the chantries, the religious guilds and the remaining colleges.

Protestant reformers viewed the chantries as 'not only useless but pernicious, and ripe to be extinguished altogether' (Orme 2006:318), so in the second (Edwardian) Chantry Act of December 1547, parliament requested the king and his council 'to order, alter, convert, and dispose' of the chantries and convert them 'to good and godly uses, as in erecting of grammar schools to the education of youth in virtue and godliness, the further augmenting of the universities, and better provision for the poor and needy' (quoted in Simon 1966:224).

A new survey of the chantries was carried out in the spring of 1548 against a backdrop of increasing problems including war with Scotland, an imminent French invasion and the threat of rebellion in Ireland. The government desperately needed more money, so in April 1548 the privy council decided that chantry lands worth 5,000 a year should be sold. Sir Walter Mildmay (c1523-1589) and Robert Kellway (c1515-1581) were appointed to supervise the sales.

However, Edward had not forgotten his promises on education and charity. In June 1548 a second commission was issued to Mildmay and Kellway, restating the king's intention 'to erect diverse and sundry grammar schools in every county in England and Wales, for the education and bringing up of youth in virtue and learning and godliness, and to make provision for the relief of the poor' (quoted in Orme 2006:320-1). While this promise could not be fulfilled immediately, Mildmay and Kellway were authorised to dissolve the chantries and allocate pensions to their incumbents.

The second Chantry Act had promised that grammar schools attached to chantries would be spared, and 'this was conscientiously observed by Mildmay and Kellway' (Orme 1976:30). The crown assumed responsibility for financing the ex-chantry schools - 'the first time that an English government had financed school education on a national scale' (Orme 2006:322). However, the power to appoint masters for these schools often remained with local patrons, who were now free to appoint laymen or priests, because the posts no longer involved priestly duties.

Thus the chantry grammar schools survived the dissolution of the chantries. However, there was no provision in the act, or in the instructions to Mildmay and Kellway, for the continuance of the teaching of reading, writing and song, and 'those who had supplied it were pensioned like mere priests' (Orme 2006:322). Orme quotes the example of Archbishop Rotherham's college, which had been founded in 1483 to give 'free instruction in grammar, song and writing'. The chantry commissioners saved the grammar school, but 'the masters of writing and song got only pensions, reducing the value of a school originally intended to benefit the community in the widest possible sense' (Orme 2006:322).

Meanwhile, the hostels, halls and colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, and Winchester and Eton, and the chantries founded in them, were exempted. Where the foundation deed of a guild or perpetual chantry specified the keeping of a grammar school or a preacher, the king's commissioners were authorised to assign lands 'to remain and continue in succession to a schoolmaster or preacher for ever, for and toward the keeping of a grammar school or preaching' (quoted in Simon 1966:224) and also to make ordinances relating to the service of the schoolmaster.

Under Henry, the policy had been to establish collegiate bodies with schools attached; now Edward sought to 'strengthen the parish clergy and settle local grammar schools under boroughs or lay governing bodies' (Simon 1966:229).

Initially, progress was slow because the government was almost bankrupt and was forced to sell the lands it acquired. In many cases, all the crown could afford was a schoolmaster's stipend set at its pre-suppression level. Some chantry schools - including those at Hull and Rotherham, for example - managed to survive on this basis, though the fixed allowance diminished further in value due to inflation.

This lack of progress led to 'disappointment ... and not a little indignation' (Orme 2006:324). So in January 1549 the House of Commons passed a bill 'for making of schools and giving lands thereto' but it was lost in the Lords. A second bill later in the year also failed.

However, from around 1552 the government's finances began to improve and there were many more refoundations and new foundations. Some towns

successfully petitioned the Crown for a grant of some parcel of recently nationalized local church property with which to support a school, as at Birmingham and Shrewsbury. These were usually known as King Edward VI grammar schools, and owning land they tended to be much better off than the schools with depreciating fixed annual stipends (Lawson and Silver 1973:98).
Some of the towns which requested lands to endow a school had lost their schools at the dissolution of the monasteries; others had never had one. In some cases, rights over schools were granted when boroughs were incorporated, under the same letters patent. In other cases 'schools were handed over to already corporate boroughs or special governing bodies were set up composed of the more substantial inhabitants who were often named in the charter' (Simon 1966:231). Guildford, for example, was allotted lands in January 1553 for its Edward VI Grammar School following a petition from the borough and local citizens.

Other schools, including Marlborough, were established by the grant or purchase of former monastic and chantry property without any official refoundation. 'Individual benefactors also contributed new foundations' (Simon 1966:237).

In total, there were new foundations or refoundations in twenty-three English counties, while in six other counties schools were augmented or re-endowed by different means. Joan Simon argues that the schools refounded during Edward's reign 'mark a new departure in that, following on what had been virtually a national survey of school provision, they were conceived of as units in an educational system serving a protestant nation' (Simon 1966:240).

In the last two years of Edward's short reign a new draft code of church law was prepared by a committee under Archbishop Cranmer. The code included three provisions for education:

First, it required parish priests to teach the catechism to children and young adults 'so that they may be taught the main points of religion' (quoted in Orme 2006:328).

Second, parish clerks were to instruct children in the catechism and the alphabet, 'so that children may begin to understand both what to believe and how to pray and how to live well and blessedly' (quoted in Orme 2006:328). Orme argues that

This proposal was the nearest that the Edwardian regime came to adopting a policy in favour of universal primary education. Indeed the words it used for child and childhood, puer and pueritia, were gender inclusive, so that girls were not specifically excluded from the provision (Orme 2006:328-9).
And third, in a section headed Of schools and schoolmasters, various rules were laid down for cathedral schools, including the age of the boys, the content of the teaching and the use of suitable books. These provisions were not extended to other schools.

The code was presented to the House of Lords in March 1553 but Edward died before it could receive approval and it was never implemented.

At the end of Edward's reign, in 1553, there was still much to be done:

some administrative muddles had been cleared up but others remained, nor could constructive plans be brought to completion in a few short, and very disturbed, years. But there had been effective steps towards establishing a school system to serve the needs of a protestant nation before the king's death brought abrupt changes and the reforming party disappeared from the English scene (Simon 1966:244).
Confusion set in during Mary's reign, when the crown transferred the payment of ecclesiastical pensions to the church, and when Elizabeth succeeded in 1558 some of the schools still entitled to the payment of stipends sued for their rights in the Court of the Exchequer. They won, and the payments were 'carried out faithfully during Elizabeth's reign' (Orme 1976:31).

The universities

During Edward's reign, royal control over the universities was intensified and 'Protestantism was now forced on them' (Lawson and Silver 1973:98). As part of this process, a number of distinguished European Reformation scholars were appointed. The Italian Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) became Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1548, while the appointment of the German Martin Bucer as Regius Professor at Cambridge 'made that university the intellectual focus of English protestantism' (Lawson and Silver 1973:98).

Royal visitations took place at both Cambridge and Oxford in 1549:

Catholics were expelled, libraries despoiled of popish books, college chapels of superstitious ornaments. New statutes promulgated by the visitors further reshaped the curriculum on humanist lines. Greek was re-emphasized (Lawson and Silver 1973:98).
Catholic ceremonies and processions were forbidden, and there were the usual injunctions about student discipline and behaviour - 'no dicing, card playing (except at Christmas), fencing, nor idling about the town' (Simon 1966:254).

In addition, since grammar schools were being established throughout the country, grammar teaching was excluded from the universities and entrants were required to demonstrate proficiency in Latin. Degrees in grammar were no longer to be awarded.

In future, logic was not to be taught on traditional lines. Instead, the arts course for undergraduates now began with a year's study of mathematics, including cosmography, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. 'Study of mathematics was much stimulated at this time by the interest of court circles in overseas exploration' (Simon 1966:252-3).

The study of civil law, rather than canon law, was encouraged because of its value to the crown in administration and diplomacy. Greek became an important subject in the MA course, along with philosophy and astronomy.

At Oxford, the visitation was conducted mainly by Richard Cox. Here instructions were 'evidently similar to those of the previous reign' (Simon 1966:258). All Souls was to become a college of civil law, New College to be confined to the arts and divinity.

The suggestion that choristers should be removed from colleges and grammar teaching from the university led to a campaign by Magdalen College, supported by the townsmen of Oxford, to protect Magdalen College School. The school, they said, was a 'singular treasure, help and commodity for the education of their sons' (quoted in Simon 1966:258). The school survived but, as at Cambridge, the new statutes laid down that grammar teaching was for the grammar schools, not the university.

The removal of the monks, the abandonment of canon law and the ban on Catholicism led to a significant change in the social function of the universities, which now became much less clerical and professional:

Although many of their members were still intended for ordination, they were not tonsured clerks but belonged as undergraduates to the secular lay world. Moreover, students were increasingly being drawn from the gentry, and their interests were more mundane than godly. None the less, even if the universities were losing their former ecclesiastical complexion, religion was still the predominant influence: most of the senior resident members were clergy, and theology and Hebrew were the statutory studies for masters of arts (Lawson and Silver 1973:99).
Edward's reign, with its religious tensions, political uncertainty and economic disorder, was a difficult time for the universities. Falling student numbers resulted in the closure of some of the halls and forced the poorer colleges to admit more fee-paying commoners 'in order to make ends meet' (Lawson and Silver 1973:99). On the positive side, however, the Chantries Act further secularised the universities and benefited the colleges, whose fellows, 'relieved of the duty of praying for the souls of founders and benefactors' (Simon 1966:250), could now spend more time on scholarly activities. As a result, the colleges effectively became lay educational institutions.

A further attempt to remove 'dissent of opinion' from the universities was made in 1553, when a Cambridge visitation ordered the Vice-Chancellor to require members to 'subscribe to the newly promulgated Forty-Two Articles when proceeding to an M.A. or degrees in divinity or before teaching in the schools' (Simon 1966:266).

A university education had long been seen as an important educational grounding by families who wished their sons to have careers in the law. Now, many more families wanted their sons to study - whether or not they were to take up a profession. 'No longer did education seem proper only to clerks, preparing to gain a livelihood by their learning; on the contrary it was beginning to be regarded as the prerogative of men of birth' (Simon 1966:246).

Poorer people's sons were less fortunate, partly because 'economic stress prevented many a yeoman's son from remaining at school, let alone looking to a university' (Simon 1966:246), and partly because the universities were full of the sons of the rich. Rosemary O'Day notes that 'the surviving literary evidence dates the upper-class invasion of the universities from the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI' (O'Day 1982:88).

Roger Ascham and Hugh Latimer 'bemoaned the usurpation of the places of the deserving poor at the universities by the wealthy and indolent' (O'Day 1982:88). In 1547 Ascham (of whom more later in this chapter) wrote to Archbishop Cranmer to complain about the deterioration in learning at St John's, Cambridge, where the students - many of them 'mere boys' - were

for the most part only the sons of rich men, and such as never intended to pursue their studies to that degree as to arrive at an eminent proficiency and perfection of learning, but only the better to qualify themselves for some places in the state, by a slighter and more superficial knowledge (quoted in Simon 1966:249).
Thomas Lever was also critical, complaining that the decline in the number of divinity students had been caused by the decay of the hostels, whose occupants 'be either gone away, or else fain to creep into colleges, and put poor men from bare livings' (quoted in O'Day 1982:88).

Winchester and Eton, specifically exempted from the Chantries Act, were also reformed by visitation during Edward's reign. In 1549, Winchester was ordered to 'regulate abuses in administration of the school and promote teaching according to reformed doctrine' (Simon 1966:265). At Eton, the new provost, Sir Thomas Smith, 'created a small revolution ... by introducing his wife into the college, an example promptly followed by several fellows' (Simon 1966:266).

The poor

The London suburbs housed many poor families and were notorious for the gangs of children who roamed their streets terrorising travellers.

Contemporaries 'made a connection between crime and juvenile poverty' (O'Day 1982:245) and, as a result, in 1550

there was an ordered census and classification of different categories of poor in each ward with plans to take in the vagabond and thriftless at Bridewell, the poor by casualty and sick at St Thomas's and St Bartholomew's, while for infant children a hospital was planned in the former Greyfriars 'where they should have meat, drink, and clothes, lodging and learning and officers to attend upon them' (Simon 1966:284).
This comprehensive plan for the treatment of the poor was adopted in 1552. The premises were granted by the crown and a committee of thirty met daily in the guildhall to administer the scheme.

The citizens of London told the Privy Council:

And first, we thought to begin with the poor child, that he might be harboured, clothed, fed, taught and virtuously trained up [so that] neither the child in his infancy shall want the virtuous education and bringing up, neither when the same shall grow into full age shall lack matter whereon the same may virtuously occupy himself in good occupation or science profitable to the common weal (quoted in O'Day 1982:245).
Following London's example, similar schemes were adopted in other towns including Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Norwich; and Bridewell training schools were attached to hospitals in Ipswich (1569), Reading (1578), Nottingham and York (O'Day 1982:246-7).

Edward's legacy

Edward's reign has often been underrated - partly, no doubt, because it lasted only six years. But its achievements were remarkable and laid the foundations for further developments under Elizabeth:

In education, not only were the university statutes, the catechism and other text-books taken over with little amendment - as was the Edwardian prayer book, but also the whole pattern of refounding and endowing grammar schools administered locally under the general supervision of the state (Simon 1966:268-9).
Forms of local government were established and there was genuine concern for the poor: the royal injunctions of 1547 replaced the doctrine of purgatory with a duty to provide for the poor, and Edward supported London's common council in its plans to deal with poverty.

There were developments in foreign travel, the arts and medicine (the first English textbook on anatomy, written by surgeon Thomas Vicary, was published in 1548); while the new church services, the English Bible and Edward's prayer book, written in 'English prose of a new quality' (Simon 1966:274), along with aids to studying the classics by translators such as Nicholas Grimald, and a range of vernacular textbooks covering everything from 'the alphabet to the liberal arts, even to theology' (Simon 1966:279), changed the educational landscape for ever.

Mary I 1553-1558

In February 1553, at the age of 15, Edward became terminally ill. In order to prevent a return to Catholicism, he and his Council drew up a Devise for the Succession, naming his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir and excluding his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth.

But Jane ruled for just thirteen days before being deposed by Mary (pictured - from the portrait by Antonis Mor), who attempted to reimpose Catholicism by burning to death almost three hundred Protestants - including leading reformers Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. Others fled into hiding or exile. Unsurprisingly, she quickly became known as 'Bloody Mary'.

Orme suggests that the widely held view of Mary as a reactionary 'does insufficient justice either to her reign or to its interest in education' (Orme 2006:330). On the contrary, he argues, 'the concern of Edward's government with certain schools was enlarged to include schools and their teachers in general' (Orme 2006:330). But it could equally be argued that her concern was less about the welfare of the young and more about the promotion of Catholicism - in the same way that Edward and Elizabeth saw education as a tool for promoting Protestantism. 'In Mary's reign schools and universities alike were made agents of the Catholic restoration' (Lawson and Silver 1973:99).

Whatever her motives, her attempts to return monastic and chantry lands failed: the Commons made it clear that 'no interference with property now settled in other hands would be tolerated' (Simon 1966:302). Many of these lands now supported cathedral or school foundations and 'to disturb these would cause great confusion' (Simon 1966:302). Any chantries and religious houses which Mary did manage to refound were quickly dissolved.

Advised by Archbishop of Canterbury Reginald Pole and supported by Bishop of London Edmund Bonner, Mary instructed the bishops to

examine all schoolmasters and teachers of children, and finding them suspect in any wise to remove them, and place Catholic men in their rooms, with a special commandment to instruct their children so as they may be able to answer the priest at the mass, and so help the priest to mass as hath been accustomed (quoted in Orme 2006:330-1).
This injunction was equally short-lived.

A month later parliament empowered the queen to make new statutes for the reorganised cathedrals and for the grammar schools which had been established under Henry and Edward, but little was done to resolve the problem of the former chantry schools: while a handful were re-endowed, the payment of schoolmasters' salaries was erratic and in some places ceased altogether.

One further attempt was made in December 1555 'to restore a Catholic ethos to cathedral education' (Orme 2006:332), when a national synod of clergy agreed twelve decrees including one which laid down new rules in respect of the cathedral schools. They were not widely followed.

The universities received more royal visitations. This time

protestant dons were expelled, heretical books destroyed, all graduands required to subscribe to Catholic doctrines, and the authority of college heads was increased to strengthen order and discipline (Lawson and Silver 1973:100).
The last colleges of the 'old religion' were founded: Trinity College and St John's College at Oxford; Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge.

Mary married Prince Philip of Spain in the hope that she could produce a Catholic heir and so prevent Elizabeth from becoming queen. But despite apparently becoming pregnant twice she did not give birth, and died during a flu epidemic in May 1558.

So Mary did not succeed in reinstating Catholicism in England, and Edward's Protestant reforms became the basis of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559.

Elizabeth I 1558-1603

Elizabeth (pictured - from the portrait by George Gower) was born to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, and became queen in November 1558 on the death of her half sister Mary. Her reign was a period of extraordinary expansion: Elizabethan England 'took the world by surprise' (Leach 1915:332) - in navigation, commerce, colonisation, poetry, drama, philosophy and science. Much of this was due to 'the immense extension of lay initiative and effort' in every area of national life - 'not least in the sphere of education and the schools' (Leach 1915:332).

In assessing the development of education in the Elizabethan age, Joan Simon identifies three key issues:

First, the extent to which control was exercised over the school system ... and the direction in which developments were influenced. Second, 'the institution of the gentleman', in the contemporary phrase, what this stood for in theory and practice. Third, the wider demand for education fostered by the protestant ethic and the development of vernacular culture; the ways in which this developed and was met (Simon 1966:298).

Religious background

Elizabeth inherited a country plagued by confusion and division over religion. Henry VIII had broken with Rome but had never been an enthusiast for Protestantism. Under his son, Edward VI, the process of creating a Protestant nation had begun, but Edward had died young and Mary had attempted - unsuccessfully - to reimpose Catholicism.

Advised largely by Sir William Cecil, her Secretary of State, and Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Elizabeth now set about bringing the confusion to an end. The Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559 consisted of two Acts of Parliament: the 1558 Act of Supremacy, which re-established the Church of England as independent of Rome; and the 1559 Act of Uniformity, which required attendance at the Sunday services of the Church of England and prescribed a new version of the Book of Common Prayer. Elizabeth and Cecil then drafted additions to the settlement, known as the Royal Injunctions. England was now officially a Protestant nation.

Religious issues were at the heart of both the Reformation and the Renaissance. As Joan Simon has argued:

it was not until the contradiction between faith and learning was 'resolved' by making a clear separation between reason and revelation - as Vives had been inclined to do and as Francis Bacon was to do for his generation - that scientific thinking in the modern sense of the term had room to develop; meanwhile scholarship in the sixteenth century was concerned rather with the clearing away of settled landmarks and the search for new viewpoints than with a clear advance on new lines (Simon 1966:358).

Puritanism was a key element in the religious conflicts of the Elizabethan period:

'puritanism' is a category as difficult to disentangle as 'humanism' at an earlier stage; it, too, extends to cover a whole set of attitudes, a way of thought and approach to learning, not merely advocacy of the Genevan form of church government. Though there were some who actively pursued this end, and in so doing raised important political issues, it is not helpful to conceive of puritans in general as a tiresome and noisy left wing of a settled Anglican church. Rather the theology of the Elizabethan church was predominantly Calvinist and in this sense puritanism was in the mainstream of development; those called puritans were the most thoroughgoing upholders of the Reformation (Simon 1966:292).
In the earlier years of Elizabeth's reign 'the nature and standard of education depended largely on the quality of the clergy' (Simon 1966:320). Here was a vicious circle: 'there was no real incentive to education so long as the church could not provide due rewards for the educated but there could be no real reform of the church until it incorporated more educated men' (Simon 1966:320). The suppression of Puritanism reduced the number of competent ministers. However, some of those banned from preaching often turned to teaching, 'thus adding anew to the number of puritan schoolmasters' (Simon 1966:320). In 1577 Bishop of Durham Richard Barnes urged all parsons, vicars and curates not licensed to preach, to
duly, painfully and freely teach the children of their several parishes and cures to read and write; and such as they shall by good and due trial find to be apt to learn, and of pregnant capacity, then they shall exhort their parents to set them to schools and learning of the good and liberal sciences (quoted in Simon 1966:321).
In 1576 Edmund Grindal, now Archbishop of Canterbury, began to promote 'prophesyings' (as he had done previously as Archbishop of York). These were monthly meetings of the clergy designed to raise the standard of education and preaching. Elizabeth, 'who saw no call for a learned clergy beyond one or two preachers for each county' (Simon 1966:322), did not approve.

In the 1580s some church congregations set up a system of presbyterian classes whose members were determined to put into practice their belief that education should be available to all. Thus the elders of the Dedham 'classis' set up a school so that every child would be taught to read, provided a house for the master, and used some of the church collections to pay the fees of poor children. The classis movement prompted the new Archbishop, John Whitgift, to take further measures against the Puritans.

The Puritans, once again linking the expansion of education with reform of the church, submitted proposals to the parliament of 1584 in support of a better educated ministry and a reduction in the power of the bishops. They wanted an end to plurality and non-residence in favour of providing adequate livings for parish clergy. Instead of maintaining singing men, cathedral endowments should be used to support preaching ministers, grammar schools and poor scholars at the universities - 'the kind of programme William Turner had advanced from Basle thirty years before' (Simon 1966:327). The proposals were not accepted.

Also in 1584, Sir Walter Mildmay founded Emmanuel College at Cambridge. Its purpose was to

'render as many as possible fit for the administration of the Divine Word and Sacrament ... that from this seed ground the English Church might have those that she can summon to instruct the people and undertake the office of pastors, which is a thing necessary above all others' (quoted in Simon 1966:328).
Emmanuel served as a model for Sidney Sussex College, founded by Frances, countess of Sussex, the aunt of Philip Sidney. Thus 'the two colleges established during Elizabeth's reign were ... founded at Cambridge under puritan auspices' (Simon 1966:329).

Towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, the Privy Council put pressure on Whitgift - who was a strong supporter of the queen - to modify his campaign against the Puritans. As a result, many suspended ministers were restored to their posts, and Whitgift focused his efforts on destroying the classis movement. He also drew up ambitious plans - similar to those of Edward's reign - for educating the clergy:

This policy, applied at a time when more scholars were coming up through school and university, bore fruit. By 1598 about half the clergy held a preacher's licence, many of these being graduates, while some of the rest had attended university for a time (Simon 1966:331).
But attempts to create a presbyterian system of church government failed and the Anglican church - 'now nearly half a century old, practically strengthened and gaining doctrinal support at last from Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1597) - began to appear almost established' (Simon 1966:331).

However, Calvinism had 'struck deep roots' (Simon 1966:331) at both Oxford and Cambridge:

At Cambridge the regular sermons given by William Perkins ... were one of the chief features of university life; and the treatises of this spokesman of the new puritanism, which would prevail in the coming years, made up nearly a quarter of the 200 works published by the university press between 1590 and 1618 (Simon 1966:331-2).
Despite the attempts to suppress it, Puritanism continued to flourish, leading ultimately to the English revolution and the abolition of the monarchy in 1649.


Despite the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559, Catholicism continued to cause problems and further attempts were made to suppress it. An enlarged edition of the Book of Martyrs by John Foxe (c1516-1587), published in 1570, was soon found in parish churches and many households, and Alexander Nowell's new catechism was prescribed for general use: an English version, by Thomas Norton, a leading Puritan in parliament, was also published.

In the 1580s Jesuit missionaries, 'carefully educated abroad and single-mindedly devoted to their task of retrieving the English gentry for the catholic faith' (Simon 1966:324) began arriving in England. Many were kept in gentlemen's households under the guise of tutors. The Privy Council expressed concerns about the failure to protect schools from Jesuit influence.

The schools

While Edward VI's reign had been a period of educational advance, Elizabeth's was predominantly conservative: the aim now was to 'ensure unity in religion and consolidation of the social order' (Simon 1966:291).

The Reformation had diminished ecclesiastical control and 'a variety of schools had come into being in a haphazard way' (Simon 1966:291). Under Elizabeth, there were few grants in aid and fewer refoundations than in Edward's day, but immediate efforts were made 'to place schools on a sound footing after the disastrous interlude of Mary's reign' (Simon 1966:304). The schools were reorganised and adapted: many chapels became schoolhouses, and benefactions which would once have served to maintain Masses now went to extend the system of schools. At the same time, 'humanist theories merged with reforming ideas in the formulation of educational programmes' (Simon 1966:291).

Wealthy merchants continued to found schools and endow scholarships and fellowships at colleges. While the aim of these was often to improve the education of the clergy, they also proved beneficial for townsmen and rural yeomen - indeed all except the poor, whose numbers were growing. Elizabeth's reign also saw the rise of substantial yeoman farmers, especially in the midlands, and some of these founded schools in market towns and even in larger villages.

Across the country, many schools were established - petty schools for the children of the poor as well as grammar schools 'for the sons of the better off' (Lawson and Silver 1973:104). Where there was an endowment, trustees were given responsibility for 'appointing the master, administering the property and generally watching over the school's interests' (Lawson and Silver 1973:104). Some founders also issued statutes setting out the curriculum and rules for the conduct of the school.

Local schools were sometimes paid for by residents. At Willingham in Cambridgeshire, for example, 102 villagers gave a total of 102 7s 8d in 1593 to endow a school for their own children and for some poor children who were admitted free. 'Whatever the impulse, private philanthropy enormously enlarged the country's educational resources between about 1560 and 1640' (Lawson and Silver 1973:107).

In London, Westminster School was refounded by Elizabeth (1560), and a new Merchant Taylors' Company school was founded (1561) with Richard Mulcaster as its first master. Elsewhere, statesmen such as Sir Gilbert Gerrard and Sir Nicholas Bacon supported the establishment of schools in counties where they had influence, and other schools were set up with no particular sponsor named - such as those at Mansfield and Godmanchester in 1561 and Kingston-on-Thames in 1562. More schools were handed over to the boroughs: Reading, for example, gained control of its former monastic school in 1560.

Many towns were proud of their new schoolhouses, often provided mainly by public subscription. At Leicester, for example, the members of the town's governing body paid for a new school and recorded its completion in the hall book:

In this year, viz. the sixteenth year of the reign of our most dread sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth was the School house builded and finished. Item the same year was a new house erected and builded ... appointed for the head school master to dwell in (quoted in Simon 1966:315).
Girls were often taught alongside boys in the elementary schools, but Richard Mulcaster (in 1581) argued against coeducation in the grammar schools. In 1589 the statutes of Harrow specifically excluded girls from the school, which Rosemary O'Day suggests may indicate that there had been 'some debate about their possible admission' (O'Day 1982:185). The statutes of Banbury School allowed girls to receive vernacular education in the petty classes up to the age of nine.

As an organised system of education began to take shape, schools provided the first step towards a variety of careers. However, Elizabethan policies aimed to

restrict men to the callings of their fathers, to consolidate the social order by maintaining due differences between estates; accordingly there were moves to reserve certain forms of education to gentlemen at one end of the scale while at the other the children of the poor were trained to habits of useful work (Simon 1966:294).

The teachers

In 1559 Elizabeth's first parliament empowered her to issue new statutes for the cathedrals and schools which had been established under Henry, Edward and Mary. A new set of royal injunctions to the clergy largely endorsed previous policies, including the licensing of teachers:

No man shall take upon him to teach but such as shall be allowed by the ordinary [i.e. the bishop], and found meet as well for his learning and dexterity in teaching, as for sober and honest conversation, and also for right understanding of God's true religion (quoted in Orme 2006:333).
This rule was incorporated into the canon law of the Church of England in 1571 and endorsed in 1604, when those applying for a licence to teach - whether in a public school or a gentleman's household - were required to subscribe to the royal supremacy, the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. Unlicensed teaching could result in fines or imprisonment.

The licensing of schoolmasters by the diocesan bishops, says Orme, 'was now an important part of state control of society. It was widely implemented down to the eighteenth century and did not finally disappear until 1869' (Orme 2006:333-4). Bishops were given this responsibility partly because there was no other convenient authority to undertake the task, and partly 'because education was still regarded as essentially a religious activity' (Lawson and Silver 1973:101).

Women teachers were also required to have ecclesiastical approval, though 'they do not seem to have been formally licensed and rarely appeared at visitations' (Lawson and Silver 1973:102).

The system of visitations 'was not always effective in enforcing the law' (Lawson and Silver 1973:102):

Examination of schoolmasters was unsystematic. Unlicensed masters certainly operated, some of them religious dissentients, either puritans or secret papists. But the rapid acceptance of the new Anglican settlement by the nation as a whole must be attributed at least partly to the cumulative teaching of orthodox schoolmasters approved and supervised by the bishops (Lawson and Silver 1973:102).
Schoolmasters were now subject to examination - along with the clergy - at visitations, and there were special inquiries into the running of schools, especially where there was a crown stipend, which could be withheld 'if the master's outlook was in question' (Simon 1966:312).

Rosemary O'Day argues that teaching was beginning to be seen as an important function, partly because more laymen were now attending the schools and universities, and partly because the teacher 'was responsible for the success of the humanist and Protestant programmes' (O'Day 1982:166).

Humanists were anxious to control the curriculum and teaching methods. Thus Roger Ascham's The Scholemaster, published posthumously in 1570, was a 'teach yourself' manual which did away with the need for a teacher altogether. It aimed to provide a 'plain and perfect way of teaching children to understand, write and speak, the Latin tongue'. Ascham's commitment to teacher training was 'less certain than his commitment to humanist content and methods' (O'Day 1982:166).

The emphasis was upon a standardised curriculum, method and purpose. When good teachers were few on the ground the printed book could come to the rescue. Even in Richard Mulcaster, writing much later than Ascham and often regarded as the archetypal professionaliser of early modern education, we see this fear of the individual and of experimentation in teaching. Early writers on education advocated the most rigid kind of control over the content of the curriculum (O'Day 1982:166-167).
In any discussion of the professionalisation of teaching in this period, Richard Mulcaster's ideas 'must assume pride of place' (O'Day 1982:167). Mulcaster was headmaster of Merchant Taylors' School, London from 1561 to 1586 and of St Paul's School from 1596 to 1608. He also held an ecclesiastical living. 'He advocated uniformity in both curriculum and method and laid down an acceptable curriculum for both petty and grammar schools' (O'Day 1982:167).

He proposed the establishment of a teacher-training college in which students would be divided into groups of potential elementary, grammar and university teachers. They would receive instruction in the classics and in appropriate teaching methods.

Mulcaster believed that elementary education was important for the success of the humanist programme and therefore argued that elementary teachers should be paid more than teachers in the upper forms of the grammar schools.

However, the professionalisation of teaching was hindered by the view that it was a suitable sideline for the clergy. Unlike the church, teaching was

institutionally weak and organisationally stunted. There was no built-in network for the dissemination of the theories or practical advice of Mulcaster, Clement, Coote, Brinsley and Hoole. There was no mechanism for controlling the recruitment of teachers over the nation as a whole or even within one area (O'Day 1982:170).
The grammar schools

Elizabeth's reign saw a large increase in the number and size of grammar schools. They mostly educated the sons of the middle classes - yeomen, substantial husbandmen, merchants, successful tradesmen and artisans, clergy, apothecaries, scriveners and lawyers. 'Probably very few boys came from that half of the population made up of the labouring poor' (Lawson and Silver 1973:116).

The majority of Elizabethan grammar schools provided a basic grounding in English, the scriptures and the classics. 'The grammar schools must have contributed much towards developing the uniform speech of an educated class' (Simon 1966:364-5).

Religion continued to be important: school founders and governors, concerned about the encroachment of the Jesuits, 'bent their efforts to arming scholars with sound protestant precepts' (Simon 1966:366).

The larger schools began to expand the curriculum, adding arithmetic or cosmography, history and music. A few even taught modern languages. They employed more professional teachers and used the new printed books.

A new official grammar was printed in London, but otherwise most of the books available to schools during Elizabeth's reign came from the European centres of reform. Prominent among these were the 'colloquies' (dialogues) of Castellion and Cordier, from Geneva, which replaced those of Erasmus and Vives in many schools. Greek - and later Hebrew - began to be taught, first in leading schools and then more widely; and the introduction of annual examinations, 'presided over by scholars of note, contributed considerably to raising standards' (Simon 1966:305).

However, most grammar schools were untouched by humanist ideals and offered little more than 'a narrow, arid, linguistic grind' (Lawson and Silver 1973:118). Grammar masters regarded the teaching of writing as beneath their dignity, and the teaching of number was 'even more neglected' (Lawson and Silver 1973:118). Indeed, in his guide for young schoolmasters, John Brinsley warned that

you shall have scholars, almost ready to go to the university, who yet can hardly tell you the number of pages, sections, chapters, or other divisions in their books, to find what they should (quoted Lawson and Silver 1973:118).
The statutes of some schools prescribed half-days for physical exercises and games, though football, 'whose contemporary horrors Elyot had so eloquently described' (Simon 1966:365), was not favoured. Newer schools often had their own playing fields, and military training was sometimes included in the curriculum.

Boys usually attended the grammar schools from around the age of seven or eight. Some left to go on to university at fourteen or fifteen, but most probably left earlier either to start work or to be apprenticed.

As to the organisation in the classroom:

All were taught together in the one schoolroom, but divided into forms sitting on benches ranged along the two long walls. The master sat enthroned on a dais at the top end teaching the older forms (the upper school), whilst the usher taught the younger forms (the lower school) at the end near the door, where he could observe their goings out and comings in (Lawson and Silver 1973:118).
The school day was long and corporal punishment was common - 'Teaching and beating were interchangeable terms' (Lawson and Silver 1973:118). There were frequent complaints about the brutality of schoolmasters.

In addition to the holidays at Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide (amounting to around six weeks a year), there were sometimes day or half-day holidays, when the boys amused themselves with 'balls, tops, battledores, archery, cock fighting, fighting one another or climbing on the roof of the church, to which the schoolhouse was usually adjacent' (Lawson and Silver 1973:119).

The gentry continued to exert considerable influence in the schools 'from positions on governing bodies or through powers to appoint masters' (Simon 1966:361). Wakefield's school, for example, had 'not only the arms of the Savilles over the door but those of other gentlemen in the windows ... Here instructions to the master insist on methods of teaching at length, deprecating too academic an approach' (Simon 1966:361).

Nonetheless, the grammar schools did not suffer, as the colleges had, from being 'recast in the gentleman's image':

Within their walls, as Mulcaster had desired, 'the cream of the common' did come to associate with the rest so that in this sense too schools made their contribution towards moulding a common outlook (Simon 1966:368).
Founders of grammar schools often linked their schools with particular colleges, as Wykeham (Winchester and New College, Oxford) and Henry VI (Eton and King's College, Cambridge) had in the previous century. Thus Westminster's new charter of 1560 associated the school with Christ Church, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge; and Alexander Nowell linked his school at Middleton in Lancashire (1572) with Brasenose, Oxford. Similarly, St. John's College, Oxford, founded by Sir Thomas White, reserved thirty-seven places for pupils of the Merchant Taylors' School in London (Charlton 1965:131).

The petties

The great mass of the population, especially in rural areas, lived in grinding poverty as servants, labourers, cottagers and paupers. It would have been impossible for them to pay school fees, and equally difficult for them to do without their children's earnings or labour.

In any case they had little incentive, for schooling offered few returns: the daily round of physical drudgery left no time or energy for reading, there was no occasion for writing, and small chance of self-advancement in a stratified and apparently changeless social order (Lawson and Silver 1973:111).

Nonetheless, the demand for schooling for the poor - and for younger children - was beginning to grow. As a result, the number of schools increased and there was 'a bewildering variety of forms, ranging from instruction by priests to private adventure schools, often as a sideline to shopkeeping and trade' (Williams 1961:133).

Many of the 'petties' or 'ABCs' were proper schools, attended by both girls and boys. In other cases, grammar schools began to provide for classes of 'petties' to be taught by an usher or an older pupil. An example of this can be seen in the school established by Archbishop Parker in 1569 in connection with Eastbridge Hospital, Canterbury. Here, a master was appointed 'to teach twenty poor children to read, write and sing' (Simon 1966:313); books, pens, ink and paper were supplied free of charge; and boys were not allowed to stay at the school for more than four years, so as to make room for others.

During Elizabeth's reign the petties increased in number and there was some improvement in quality, especially when ushers began to be appointed, 'though as might be expected such instruction came low in the order of priorities' (Charlton 1965:99). There was greater focus on the 3Rs, although arithmetic - 'cyphering and casting of accounts' - was 'not yet generally considered essential in this context' (Charlton 1965:100). Neither was much attention paid to drawing and music. The reason for this, Charlton argues, is that the purpose of this pre-grammar school education was basically religious in aim:

The immediate and perhaps most important purpose of learning the arts of reading and writing was to enable the child to master the elements of his religious life, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Seven Sacraments (Charlton 1965:101).
Some now began to call for improvements in the teaching of young children. In his Elementarie (1582) Richard Mulcaster called for 'a perfit English dictionarie' which would contain 'all the words which we use in our English tongue whether material or incorporate, out of all professions, as well learned as not, and besides the right writing, which is incident to the alphabet, would open into as therein both their natural force and proper use' (quoted in Charlton 1965:102).

In 1587 Francis Clement produced a practical manual for those who taught reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic in the petties. It gave instructions for making ink and explained how to choose a quill and cut it. It had what must be one of the longest titles in history:

Petie Schole with an English Orthography, wherein by rules lately prescribed as taught a method to enable both a childe to read perjectly within one moneth and also the imperfect to write English aright. Hereto newly added 1. verie necessorie precepts and patterns of writing the secretary and Romane hands. 2. to number by letters and figures. 3. to cast accompts (quoted in Charlton 1965:104).
In 1588 William Kempe published his Education of Children in Learning, and in 1596 Edmund Coote addressed his book The English Schoolmaster to 'such men and women of trades (as tailors, weavers, shopkeepers, seamsters and such other) as have undertaken the charge of teaching others' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:113). There was clearly a considerable demand for it: a twenty-fifth edition appeared in 1635 and a fifty-fourth in 1737 (Charlton 1965:104).

John Brinsley developed a method of teaching reading, and assured the would-be petty teacher: 'thus may any poor man or woman enter the little ones in a town together and make an honest poor living of it, or get somewhat towards helping the same' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:113).

Charles Hoole deplored the poor level of basic skills of grammar school entrants and wrote with the object of improving the teaching in the petties. Such teaching, he argued, was too important to be 'left as a work for poor women, or others, whose necessities compel them to undertake it, as a meer shelter from beggary' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:113).

Interestingly, all these writers - Mulcaster, Kempe, Coote, Brinsley and Hoole - were grammar school masters, so their books demonstrate the growing recognition of the importance of the elementary stage of education in the vernacular, half a century or more before the followers of the Czech Moravian pastor John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) began work in this country.

In addition to the petties, two other types of school began to develop, catering for both children and adults. In the writing schools, scriveners taught their skills, sometimes peripatetically around villages and hamlets; while in the cyphering schools pupils learned arithmetic and related skills such as mensuration, surveying and the casting of accounts. The aim of these schools was to meet the secular needs of a society in which trade was now expanding rapidly and whose administration was becoming more complex. The two sometimes merged to become 'English schools', where the age range of the pupils was closer to that of the grammar schools.

An Elizabethan schoolroom

from a woodcut, 1592

Rosemary O'Day provides the following description of this schoolroom:

One schoolroom shows five groups of boys rehearsing their lessons. One of these groups is reading from individual books and being heard by the master. A boy (perhaps a senior pupil or an usher) is reading to a small group of children with hornbooks in their hands. An usher appears to be teaching number of some kind to boys at the back of the room, while another group may be seen reciting or engaging in a spelling-bee while their teacher writes at a desk. In the left-hand foreground a couple of boys are being whipped on their bare buttocks. The range of visual aids which the room contains suggests that these played a real role in the teaching of the young. In the left-hand corner of the back of the room a large sheet of paper is hung on the wall, which bears writing of some kind. On the wall in the right-hand back corner are a clock face, an hour glass and a music score. The usher is standing before a tall and narrow board and writing upon it for the benefit of the boys behind him (perhaps demonstrating the casting of accounts) (O'Day 1982:59).
We cannot be sure, says O'Day, that the typical Elizabethan schoolroom was always as cramped and crowded as this picture suggests, but the pupil-teacher ratio was often high and the noise level must have been stressful. Group teaching appears to have been common, often using a board or a variety of visual aids - 'the picture alphabet, flash cards, illustrated books, religious pictures, diagrammatic explanations of difficult concepts ... and the tactile counting frame' (O'Day 1982:59).

The plight of the poor

In 1570 the city of Norwich found that a tenth of its population was destitute and made arrangements for children 'whose parents are not able to pay for their learning' to be taught spinning and other skills so that 'labour and learning shall be easier than idleness' (Simon 1966:370). Referring to the scheme, which lasted for a decade or more, Thomas Wilson observed that English citizens were not allowed to be idle like those in other parts of Christendom 'but every child of 6 or 7 years old is forced to some art whereby he gaineth his own living and something besides to help to enrich his parents or master' (quoted in Simon 1966:370).

Labourers earning threepence (about 1p) a day and husbandmen who needed their children's help to support the family could not afford the grammar school. While the actual teaching was often free, there were many incidental charges: 'books, writing materials, wax candles, added up to a considerable sum' (Simon 1966:370).

In 1572 the government ordered censuses of the poor in all cities and introduced a compulsory poor rate. Late Tudor poor relief legislation, says O'Day, built on existing ideas. 'Little that was new was introduced and the legislation itself floundered upon the inability of Tudor or Stuart officials to operate it efficiently' (O'Day 1982:248).

While the Elizabethan gentry 'offered little in the form of endowments for schools by comparison with the benefits they received' (Simon 1966:372), merchants, whose wealth was growing, endowed schools generously, though Mulcaster maintained that their benefactions were meagre compared with the money they made from the poor. And if the poor were effectively paying for the grammar schools - via the merchants - they gained little benefit from them, since most of the pupils were the sons of the wealthier yeomen farmers, burgesses, country gentry and professional men, including ministers of the church. There was scarcely any funding to enable poor boys to attend the grammar schools.

However, new educational opportunities were being created in the schools being set up by boroughs and townships, and by the increasing number of books being published in English.

The stream of books in English, which had reached respectable proportions in Edward's reign, had by the close of the century become a flood, giving the ordinary citizen an established share in the spread of knowledge (Simon 1966:383).
The demand for education continued to grow. Where there was no foundation or parish school, 'local farmers clubbed together and made arrangements to invite a master as towns had earlier done, taking him in to board in turn' (Simon 1966:383). Ecclesiastical visitors were sometimes 'scandalised to find communion tables, which had been pressed into the service of education, stained with ink' (Simon 1966:383).

Contemporary views on education

Despite all these developments, Roger Ascham (1515-1568), who had been Elizabeth's teacher and was one of the most notable educationists of the period, still believed that education was not being accorded the status it deserved. In his book The Scholemaster, published posthumously in 1570, he wrote:

it is pitie, that commonlie, more care is had, yea and that emonges verie wise men, to finde out rather a cunnynge man for their horse, than a cunnyng man for their children. They say nay in worde, but they do so in deede. For, to the one, they will gladlie giue a stipend of 200. Crounes by yeare, and loth to offer to the other, 200. shillinges. God, that sitteth in heauen laugheth their choice to skorne, and rewardeth their liberalitie as it should: for he suffereth them, to haue, tame, and well ordered horse, but wilde and vnfortunate Children: and therfore in the ende they finde more pleasure in their horse, than comforte in their children (Ascham 1570:193).
Ascham stressed the importance of play in education. 'The Scholehouse should be in deede, as it is called by name, the house of playe and pleasure, and not of feare and bondage.' (Ascham 1570:176) He set up his own school, funded by Richard Sackville, who had been prominent in educational matters in Edward's day.

Another writer who expressed some surprisingly progressive views (for the time) was Richard Mulcaster. In 1581, with twenty years' experience at the Merchant Taylors' School behind him, he published his book Positions, wherein those Primitive Circumstances be Examined, which are necessary for the training up of children, either for skill in their booke, or health in their bodie. In it he mocked humanist plans for a classical education from the nursery onwards, and said education should be regarded as a developing science.

He argued that it was possible to create a balanced educational course which should be taught in all schools. All children should be taught to read in the vernacular, to write, draw and sing, before starting on academic studies. There should also be physical exercise and training. Gentlemen's children, he said, were no different from others - 'their wits be as the common, their bodies of times worse' (quoted in Simon 1966:353) - so they should follow the same course, not in a humanist academy but in the grammar school, where gentlemen could mix with each other and with 'the common'.

Mulcaster noted that more schools had been opened during Elizabeth's reign than had existed before it, but that poor parents could still not afford an education for their children, who were sent to work from an early age. This, he argued, was probably just as well because if the poorest were sent to school 'they will not be content with the state which is for them, but because they have some petty smack of their book they will think any state, be it never so high to be low enough for them' (quoted in Simon 1966:369).

Joan Simon argues that the growing criticism of schools at the end of the sixteenth century demonstrates the coming of age of the bourgeoisie. She quotes John Brinsley, a teacher, who told of a dissatisfied parent complaining that 'my son comes on never a whit in his writing. Besides his hand is such, that it can hardly be read; he also writes so false English, that he is neither fit for trade, nor any employment wherein to use his pen' (Simon 1966:397).

The schools may have had their faults but 'there is a clear line of development to be traced' (Simon 1966:400): Vives had urged schoolmasters to become 'custodians of the treasury of their language'; Mulcaster had written a book on the writing of English; and others had 'followed suit in a variety of ways - compiling vocabularies, dictionaries, grammars - for there had been a ceaseless and exuberant development of the language and the overriding task was to reduce it to order' (Simon 1966:400).

Other forms of education


Craft apprenticeship had already become an important element in the provision of technical and commercial training. In London and the larger towns, boys from around the age of fourteen were accepted as apprentices by the various guilds, provided they were literate and could afford the fees.

Apprentices came from the middle social groups - substantial burgesses, yeomen, craftsmen and the younger sons of the gentry - and in London they were drawn from all parts of the country. They were fed, clothed, housed and taught by their master in his own house and workshop, and often they formed a noisy, boisterous and even turbulent element in urban society (Lawson and Silver 1973:123).

With the increasing criticism of the limited curriculum of the grammar schools - based as it was on the requirements of the universities and the learned professions - apprenticeships in crafts and trades now became more popular, and were standardised in the Statute of Artificers of 1562.

Unfortunately, one of the key features of this period was the concern to protect the status of gentlemen. A list of 'Considerations' drawn up for submission to parliament at the start of Elizabeth's reign demonstrates this thinking. With the dispersal of monastic lands now well under way, one clause of the Considerations proposed that yeomen should be prohibited from buying lands worth more than 5, butchers and tanners 10, and merchants 50. Similarly, the interests of gentlemen should be protected by reserving suitable educational facilities for them:

'A third of the free scholarships at universities' should be set aside for 'the poorer sort of gentlemen's son' and yeomen should be prevented from entering sons at the inns of court - only those 'immediately descended from a nobleman or gentleman' should be permitted to study either common or civil law (Simon 1966:335).
Some of the proposals in the Considerations were not enacted, but the 1562 Statute severely restricted the opportunities of different sections of the population. Clothiers, for example, were forbidden to take apprentices. And while the Statute did establish a national system of apprenticeship, it was also designed to cope with the growing problem of poverty and vagrancy. As a result, apprenticeship 'came to be extended to semi-skilled occupations that really required little or no technical training, and where the apprentice might be no more than an unpaid juvenile labourer' (Lawson and Silver 1973:123). It was this kind of apprenticeship to which pauper children were bound, especially after the Elizabethan Poor Law (Acts passed between 1597 and 1601) ensured that the children of the poor were set to work or 'drifted into the poorest trades as cheap unskilled labour' (Simon 1966:336).

The chivalric system and the courtly academies

Meanwhile, the upper classes, who wanted their sons trained for posts at Court, for diplomacy and for higher appointments in the army, turned again to the chivalric system of education, which enabled noble families to send their young sons to be pages at great houses and undergo a course of training for knighthood.

The most influential of the great households was that of Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's Secretary of State and Chancellor of Cambridge University. From 1561 he was responsible, as master of the court of wards, for the upbringing of orphaned young noblemen who were the royal wards; he also took in other gentlemen's sons. The studies which Burghley prescribed

set a new standard in aristocratic education: the 12-year-old earl of Oxford in 1562 learnt dancing, French, Latin, writing, drawing and cosmography, with riding, shooting and more dancing on holidays (Lawson and Silver 1973:133).
An English version of The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), originally published in Venice in 1528, appeared in 1561 and became 'almost a second bible for English gentlemen' (Simon 1966:340). But, as Roger Ascham pointed out, Castiglione was soon cast aside in favour of 'superficial courtly guides and the aping of foreign fashions' (quoted in Simon 1966:340). At the request of Sir Richard Sackville, Ascham again set out the case for combining learning with sound religion in The Scholemaster.

Meanwhile, in France and in the German and Scandinavian states, knightly or courtly academies were being founded to give instruction to young nobles, not only in horsemanship and the use of arms, but also in modern languages, history and geography, and in the application of mathematics to military and civil engineering.

A proposal for the establishment of an academy on these lines in England was made by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1570. Gilbert argued that gentlemen's sons were deprived of 'a sound and godly education' by the system of wardship. Most wards, he said, were brought up 'in idleness and lascivious pastimes, estranged from all serviceable virtues to their prince and country' (quoted in Simon 1966:341). Their education was meagre. He proposed the setting up of an academy in London for wards aged twelve to twenty, where they would be taught - in English - 'arithmetic and natural philosophy, cosmography and navigation, military sciences as well as arts, modern as well as ancient languages', plus history, politics and civil law (Simon 1966:343). But Gilbert's scheme was too expensive and did not come to fruition.

So courtly academies were never established in England as they had been elsewhere in Europe. Young children were still sent away to be brought up in the households of others, though concern was growing about the wardship system. 'Those of influence and means provided heirs with a prolonged training of the best they could devise. But younger sons must make their way in a trade or profession' (Simon 1966:367).

Foreign travel became important for gentlemen. Philip Sidney, for example, son of the Lord President of the Council in Wales, had been educated at Shrewsbury school and then spent a year at Christ Church. In 1572, at the age of nineteen, he was 'dispatched on his travels with a sound protestant tutor and three servants' (Simon 1966:347). His tour lasted almost three years and 'shaped a young man ... who became, despite all the embroidery on the theme of Gloriana, a symbol of the age, and his influence was immense' (Simon 1966:348).

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, writers had complained about 'the cultural backwardness of young men of birth, their lack of education, addiction to hunting, hawking, idle pleasures, and the irresponsibility of their parents' (Simon 1966:366). They were still complaining a hundred years later. However, Joan Simon argues that profound changes had taken place during the century:

Country houses had attained a new level of civilisation, usually housed a tutor and sometimes sponsored a variety. University-trained men were much less rare than formerly in vicarages, while there were other well-qualified masters in charge of established local grammar schools. Young gentlemen were now to be found not only under tuition at home and in residence at colleges but also at their desks in the new school buildings up and down the country (Simon 1966:366).
By the time Elizabeth died, in March 1603, teaching was beginning to attain a higher status and 'there were dedicated teachers who took a pride in their profession' (Simon 1966:403). Education was now seen as a way of preparing men for particular functions - 'a concept corresponding to the growing specialisation of knowledge and the development of professions' (Simon 1966:402). Non-specialised 'liberal' education had become 'the hallmark of gentility, preserving the forms of a humanist education emptied of the essential content' (Simon 1966:402).

Williams points out that the existence of these three distinct types of education - apprenticeships, the chivalric system, and the academic system -

reminds us of the determining effect on education of the actual social structure. The labouring poor were largely left out of account, although there are notable cases of individual boys getting a complete education, through school and university, by outstanding promise and merit. For the rest, education was organised in general relation to a firm structure of inherited and destined status and condition: the craft apprentices, the future knights, the future clerisy (Williams 1961:131).
The Inns of Court

The common pattern of education for gentlemen of wealth and influence, especially for those planning to enter parliament, was a year or so at Oxford or Cambridge followed by a period of training at the Inns of Court. The results can be seen in the parliament of 1584: 300 of its 460 members were newcomers, most of them gentlemen. Education was now seen as 'a worthwhile investment' and 'there was a growing tendency to regard the House of Commons - filled as it was with gentlemen's heirs - as another kind of finishing school' (Simon 1966:357).

The Inns of Court had had their origins in the early thirteenth century when groups of lawyers had begun to rent accommodation near the royal courts of law. These gradually developed into the four 'greater' Inns: Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. Lawyers began to think of themselves as a profession, and felt a sense of responsibility for the training and behaviour of their younger members, the addiscentes apprenticii (Charlton 1965:170).

The Inns provided a long and comprehensive training - up to twelve years for a barrister. Students took part in conferences, disputations and pleadings and heard leading barristers and judges at Westminster Hall.

However, the sixteenth century saw a decline in standards for three main reasons.

First, because it was a litigious age, the profession of the law flourished and many members of the Inns were too busy to arrange exercises for their students. 'The result was a high degree of absenteeism' (Charlton 1965:184).

Second, as the number of students increased, their behaviour deteriorated:

There can be no doubt that the attitude of a large number of students at the Inns of Court to their work and their behaviour in and out of the Inns left much to be desired. Taking into account the natural joie de vivre of young men, the records nevertheless show that this was rarely offset by a parallel devotion to study at the appropriate times. Again, the members were generally older than their university counterparts, many having come to the Inns from university, and their behaviour was often dangerous and sometimes vicious. Fighting, theft and licentiousness often appear in the records (Charlton 1965:177).
And third, there was a 'mass invasion' of the Inns of Court by the gentry, as there had been at the universities, so that the Inns were full of young gentlemen who had no intention of practising the law. From the 1560s onwards, attendance became a matter of course, 'especially for elder sons who would eventually inherit estates and responsibilities as justices and members of Parliament' (Lawson and Silver 1973:134). As a result, the Inns became more socially exclusive than the universities.

By the end of the century the decline had been arrested, so that Sir Edward Coke, a senior lawyer who rose to become Attorney General, could declare London 'the third university of England', and the Inns of Court 'the most famous university for profession of the law only, or any one humane science, that is in the world' (quoted in Simon 1966:355). And Ben Jonson dedicated his satirical comedy Every Man out of his Humour (1599) to the Inns as 'the noblest nurseries of humanity and liberty'.

However, it is perhaps worth noting Charlton's warning that these descriptions give the Inns 'an exaggerated place in the history of what we call a liberal education' (Charlton 1965:195).

Gresham College

Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), a member of the Mercers' Company, had risen to become 'the wealthiest English merchant' (Watson 1921:756). In his will, he left his mansion house in Bishopsgate to the Mercers' Company and the City Council of London, to be used as a college. A further bequest was made to provide salaries of 50 a year for seven professors: the City of London Corporation were to appoint professors of Divinity, Astronomy, Music and Geometry; the Mercers' Company professors of Law, Physic and Rhetoric.

The college was founded after Lady Gresham's death in 1596.

Gresham's will required that the lectures in Divinity should endorse the 'truth of doctrine of the Church of England' and condemn the 'false opinions of the Papists' (quoted in Watson 1921:756). The Professor of Astronomy was to lecture on the 'principles of the sphere, the theoriques of the planets, and the use of the astrolabe and the staff, and other common instruments for the capacity of mariners, which, being read and opened, he shall apply them to use by reading geography and the art of navigation' (quoted in Watson 1921:756).

The professors were urged to bear in mind that those attending their lectures would be 'merchants and other citizens'.

Fifty years later, during the period of the Commonwealth (1649-1660), Gresham College would become the meeting place of the group of scientists who formed the Royal Society.

The universities

The universities and the crown

During Elizabeth's reign

the universities were gradually converted into strongholds of the new state religion, notwithstanding the fact that they both harboured minorities of religious extremists, both Catholic and puritan (Lawson and Silver 1973:102).
The last royal visitation of the universities, in 1559, was aimed at reversing the changes of Mary's reign. After that, it was their Chancellors - Leicester at Oxford, Cecil at Cambridge - who exercised political control.

In order to ensure religious discipline and uniformity, from 1563 all graduates had to take the Oath of Supremacy. Oxford went further: it imposed additional tests and required every student to reside in a college or hall and to be officially matriculated by the university. The effect was that 'the university was closed to all but Anglicans' (Lawson and Silver 1973:102). Cambridge - 'much more puritanical and critical of the new church than Oxford' (Lawson and Silver 1973:102) - required only the Oath of Supremacy on graduation until 1616.

The universities were incorporated in the 1571 Oxford and Cambridge Act, which began by declaring 'the great zeal and care that the lords and commons of the present parliament have for the maintenance of good and godly literature and the virtuous education of youth' (quoted in Simon 1966:318). The universities now became public corporations. Their charters confirmed 'privileges, liberties and franchises' which 'were seen to derive from the Crown (in Parliament) alone' (O'Day 1982:79).

Attempts were made to reduce puritan influence, including a new code of statutes for Cambridge in 1571, but in the following years French and German scholarship - particularly the logic of Petrus Ramus, the French humanist - began to have an effect on the schools. Lawrence Chaderton, fellow of Christ's, the chief centre of Puritanism, was the leading protagonist of Ramus at Cambridge. The university was soon supplying Ramist teachers to grammar schools. In 1588 William Kempe, master of Plymouth School, published The Education of Children in Learning, which set out a method of teaching logic and rhetoric based entirely on Ramus. Other Ramist books followed.

This created an 'uneasy relationship between the universities and the Church during the sixteenth and, particularly, the seventeenth centuries' (O'Day 1982:78). While the church continued to use the universities for the training of its ministers, its hierarchy was now 'unable to assert direct institutional control over the teaching institutions themselves' (O'Day 1982:78). As a result, the universities were free to criticise the established church and to introduce 'elements of both curriculum and life which seemed iniquitous to the hierarchy' (O'Day 1982:78).

There was greater interest in the universities among the aristocracy and the gentry during this period. Young gentlemen who were not seeking degrees or intending to enter a profession were still sent to Oxford and Cambridge, and there were increasing concerns about patronage, much of which originated with the crown.

In 1579 the Cambridge Vice-Chancellor and others complained to the Chancellor about the crown's interference whereby 'the rewards of merit and studiousness are withheld, scholars being induced to look for preferment to the favour of courtiers rather than to their true deserts at the hands of the university' (quoted in Simon 1966:359).

Various attempts were made to curb corruption, including Sir Thomas Smith's 'Act for the Maintenance of Colleges' in 1576.

The students

The population of the universities increased and changed during Elizabeth's reign. Lawson and Silver argue that

In no field of education was change so marked as in the universities. Most important so far as English society was concerned was the spectacular growth of the university population and its changing social composition (Lawson and Silver 1973:126).
With residence now compulsory, the colleges filled to overflowing and fee-paying commoners or pensioners outnumbered the foundation members - the fellows and scholars. The student population was socially mixed and represented all levels of society, other than the great mass of the poor, though rich and well-born students 'formed a much larger proportion from the 1560s' (Lawson and Silver 1973:127).

Overall numbers peaked around 1580 when Oxford and Cambridge together had some 3,000 students. Cambridge appears to have been the more popular; it was also the more influential, both politically and ecclesiastically. To meet the rising demand for places, colleges expanded by annexing neighbouring houses or by adding attic storeys or additional quadrangles; some of the older colleges - like Oriel - replaced their medieval buildings with new ones on a grander scale; and new colleges were founded.

Matriculands fell into three main categories and it has been estimated (Lawson and Silver 1973:127) that between 1575 and 1639 about half were from the gentry (peers, knights, esquires, gentlemen, and those who aspired to gentility, such as city merchants, lawyers and physicians), about 40 per cent were plebeians (sons of urban shopkeepers, small farmers and lesser professional men such as apothecaries and attorneys), and the remaining ten per cent were the clergy (the largest single professional group).

Most students joined the colleges as commoners, though the wealthiest and most powerful entered as fellow or gentlemen commoners, paying extra fees for special privileges. 'Class distinctions and social deference thus became marked features of college life' (Lawson and Silver 1973:127).

A German visitor to Oxford in 1598 observed that in college halls 'earls, barons, gentlemen, doctors and masters of arts, but very few of the latter' were admitted to the top table, 'masters of arts, bachelors, some gentlemen and eminent citizens' occupied a second table, whilst a third was for 'people of low condition' (Lawson and Silver 1973:127).
Few of the upper-class students had serious academic interests - many stayed for only a year or so and then moved on to one of the Inns of Court. There were many complaints about their invasion of colleges originally intended for poor scholars. The topographer William Harrison, for example, wrote in 1577:
poor men's children are commonly shut out, and the richer sort received (who in time past thought it dishonour to live as it were upon alms), and yet, being placed, most of them study little other than histories, tables, dice, and trifles, as men that make not living by their study the end of their purposes ...

Besides this, being for the most part either gentlemen or rich men's sons, they oft bring the universities into much slander. For, standing upon their reputation and liberty, they ruffle and roister it out, exceeding in apparel and haunting riotous company ... and for excuse, when they are charged with breach of all good order, think it sufficient to say that they be gentlemen (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:127-8).

However, opportunities for poor scholars began to increase, partly as a result of new scholarships at schools and colleges, and partly because wealthy members needed servants:

Many poor students were thus admitted as servitors (sizars at Cambridge) and as such earned their board and tuition by working as college porters, waiters in hall, Bible clerks in chapel, and servants of fellows and gentlemen commoners (Lawson and Silver 1973:128).
The colleges

The colleges were transformed from exclusive societies of graduate fellows into educational establishments for large groups of adolescent boys. Furthermore, the system of public lectures by regent masters was gradually replaced by private tuition from college fellows.

Thus, in time the colleges almost entirely superseded the university as the source of instruction. They also became responsible for admitting students to the university, which simply matriculated those whom each college presented. And as the importance of the colleges grew, so did the importance of their heads, who collectively became a new force in university government (Lawson and Silver 1973:129).

These changes were recognised by revised statutes at Cambridge in 1570 and at Oxford in 1636. 'Each university was in process of being subordinated to its component parts, the colleges' (Lawson and Silver 1973:129).

University studies

The undergraduate course consisted of Latin and Greek classical studies, which was the sort of training lay gentlemen required for public service.

From the 1590s, however, 'scholasticism revived and Aristotelian logic and philosophy shared the curriculum with classical humanism' (Lawson and Silver 1973:129). This probably held little appeal for some of the young gentlemen, who preferred to spend their time vaulting or fencing, playing the viol or flageolet, or simply behaving badly. However, most students still trained for the church: they obtained their BAs and went off to become rural parish priests.

Theology was by far the most important of the higher faculties, though medicine was now attracting more students than before, particularly at Cambridge.

Despite the crown's desire that the universities should enforce Anglican uniformity, they 'nurtured religious dissentients of many kinds' (Lawson and Silver 1973:131). Catholicism had practically disappeared from Oxford by 1580, but in both universities various puritan groups worked for 'a godly reformation within the Church of England' (Lawson and Silver 1973:131).

Although philanthropists generally favoured founding colleges, fellowships and scholarships, they also benefited the universities themselves. Thus at Oxford

In 1602 Sir Thomas Bodley restored the university library, defunct since the 1550s, and subsequent gifts, including the right to receive a copy of every book newly printed in the country, soon made it the greatest library in the kingdom (Lawson and Silver 1973:130).
The university appointed its own printer in 1585, built a new schools (lecture rooms) quadrangle and established a botanic garden.

Some puritan critics of the 'clerical, scholastic and ruling-class connections' (Lawson and Silver 1973:132) of Oxford and Cambridge called for the establishment of a third university. The Inns of Court were considered, but 'they too were a gentlemen's monopoly' (Lawson and Silver 1973:132). Schemes for a northern university - in Ripon - were proposed several times, but came to nothing.

Education in Scotland

By the mid 1500s, most Scottish towns were well provided with grammar schools, controlled by the burgh councils:

Edinburgh, for example, had three, all with early sixteenth-century origins. Edinburgh High School is first mentioned in 1503, Canongate in 1529 and South Leith in 1521. Such schools varied in size. In 1587 Perth Grammar School had 300 pupils. The Royal High School, Edinburgh, was also large. Both Canongate and South Leith were considerably smaller (O'Day 1982:230).
The universities, however, were 'almost totally emasculated, with very few students, buildings in ruins and severely plundered funds' (O'Day 1982:220).

The New Kirk and the civil government set out to provide 'universal general instruction in the rudiments of learning and the elements of the Protestant faith as a bulwark against the re-emergence of Catholicism in their midst' (O'Day 1982:220).

In May 1560 the First Book of Discipline set out the reformers' plans for both schools and universities. Based on the work of John Knox (c1513-1572), it proposed that education should be provided at three stages - primary, secondary and university. It called for the establishment of a school in every parish, and for every important town to have a schoolmaster able to teach grammar and Latin. In country districts, a reader or minister was to 'instruct the children and youth of the parish in their rudiments, and especially in the Catechism or elements of religion' (Dickson 1921:1496); while in every notable town there was to be established 'a college in which at least logic and rhetoric, together with the tongues, were to be taught' (Dickson 1921:1496).

The motivation behind the scheme was religious, as John Knox had indicated in 1556:

For the preservation of religion it is most expedient that schools be universally erected in all cities and chief towns, the oversight whereof to be committed to the magistrates and godly learned men of the said cities and towns (quoted in O'Day 1982:223).
And the proposed curriculum was utilitarian:
A certain time must be appointed to reading and learning of the catechism; a certain time to the grammar and to the Latin tongue; a certain time to the arts, philosophy and to the tongues, and a certain time to that study in which they intend chiefly to travel for the profit of the commonwealth (quoted in O'Day 1982:223-4).
'There is nothing here of the right of every child to an elementary education', argues O'Day. 'Everything is related to the needs of the Church or, to a more limited extent, of the State' (O'Day 1982:223).

Dickson argues that 'The whole history of Scottish education is to be found in the endeavour to make this system as complete as possible' (Dickson 1921:1496); but O'Day suggests that the most remarkable feature of the proposal

was not that it contained a movement towards the principle of a universal right to education (which it certainly did not aver) but that it realised that, in order to harness the potential of the nation most efficiently to the Protestant cause, the system would have to be highly organised and controlled (O'Day 1982:224).
Besides setting out the content of the teaching at the three levels - primary, secondary and university - the scheme also provided for a system of ten superintendents to oversee the schools and colleges, and a system of examinations - commonly in the form of a certificate of suitability from a boy's minister or high-school master - to control progress from one level to another.

As to the implementation of the scheme, O'Day notes that 'During the remainder of the sixteenth century relatively little attention was paid to the foundation of schools', while the Kirk was 'too preoccupied with the need to establish reformed churches and ministers to make the planning of schools a priority' (O'Day 1982:226).

The General Assembly set up commissions to found new schools in Moray, Banff, Inverness and Ross in 1563 and 1571, and in Caithness and Sunderland in 1574. In 1565 John Row was commissioned to visit all the kirks and schools in Kyle, Carrick and Cunningham and to suspend inadequate teachers and ministers. A few parish schools were endowed by individuals.

But attempts to persuade the government to spend the proceeds of the dissolution of religious houses on education were unsuccessful, and in general, 'formal educational provision was neglected in late sixteenth-century Scotland' (O'Day 1982:226).

However, after the Reformation the burgh councils were able to provide education appropriate for an individual town's needs. Whereas in England the provision of schooling depended largely on individual endowments, in Scotland it was based on the efforts of the burgh councils and the New Kirk working together. But there were some similarities between the two countries, including much criticism of the traditional classical curriculum. 'Education was regarded in secular utilitarian terms' (O'Day 1982:237).


Whether the Reformation had a positive or negative effect on education in England has been a matter of debate for more than a century.

In his 1976 book Education in the West of England 1066-1548, Nicholas Orme argued that the favourable view of the Reformation which was widely held up to the end of the nineteenth century was 'based on the assumption that since there were few English schools in the middle ages, the foundations of Henry VIII and Edward VI must be considered a positive improvement' (Orme 1976:31).

But this assumption had been challenged in 1896 when, in his book English Schools at the Reformation, AF Leach had 'demonstrated the existence of a considerable number of medieval English schools' and emphasised 'the disorganisation of education under Edward VI, with the closure of elementary schools and the conversion of grammar school lands into fixed stipends which failed to keep their value' (Orme 1976:31).

The truth, Orme argued, probably lay halfway between these two judgements and 'it is difficult to ascribe either a significant expansion or recession of schooling to the Reformation alone' (Orme 1976:32).

In his later book Medieval Schools from Roman Britain to Renaissance England (2006), Orme suggested that

Leach underrated the injury caused to schools under Henry VIII, because of his poor regard for the education provided by monasteries. In turn he overestimated the adverse effects of the dissolution of chantries and guilds under Edward VI (Orme 2006:334).
Orme concluded that 'although some schools and localities suffered from royal policies, it is unlikely that there was any great recession of school education in mid sixteenth-century England' (Orme 2006:334).

The Tudor monarchs' involvement in schooling, he argued, 'arose not so much from a concern with education but because schools got caught up in [their] religious and financial policies' (Orme 2006:334). However, they were 'not altogether lacking in proactive educational policies, at least from about 1540' (Orme 2006:335). Henry imposed his authorised grammar; Edward provided for visitations of cathedral schools, required the bishops to supervise school statutes, and sought to involve parish clerks in teaching children. Under Mary teachers were licensed.

These initiatives

marked a departure from the later middle ages, when neither the Church nor the crown had involved itself with schools on a national scale. At the same time the development of policies for schools was slow and often limited, and teaching received far less attention from the authorities than other social issues of the day. If we add up all the Tudor statutes and proclamations relating to schools, the total is small compared with those about poverty, law and order, wages and prices, and even recreations (Orme 2006:335).
In his 1965 book Education in Renaissance England, Kenneth Charlton also argued that the effects of the Reformation on English education were mixed, describing the picture as 'curiously two-faced' (Charlton 1965:89):
On the one hand the Reformation enacted by Henry VIII and his son Edward VI has been described as being responsible for the crippling of school education in England by the dissolution of educational institutions based on monastic and other religious houses as well as on chantries and gilds. Yet on the other, the large number of grammar schools bearing the names of these sovereigns is cited to show that they were personally active in providing essential patronage for the spread of grammar school education (Charlton 1965:89).
Leach's analysis, Charlton argued, could be criticised on two counts: that 'many schools which came within the purview of the commissioners were in fact "continued" and improved, and that even then there was a parallel stream of lay foundations untouched by the chantry legislation'. And he 'grossly overstrained the evidence for the existence of particular grammar schools in the Middle Ages'. Leach also 'ignored the fact that the reformers themselves were passionately interested in education and well-recognized the value of schools in the propagating of their ideas' (Charlton 1965:93).

Far from 'crippling' schools, the Reformation 'put many of them on a more solid foundation by placing them in the hands of a middle class which provided the chief demand and had an interest in their survival' (Charlton 1965:94). It also produced a lay teaching profession, in which the teacher was no longer responsible for the religious observances of the chantry priest. However, while control over education was now secular, its aim was 'undoubtedly and increasingly more precisely religious' (Charlton 1965:94):

The accepted connexion in the minds of both Romans and Reformers between religion and education was made explicit in a variety of ways: by the statutory enactments of the Tudor sovereigns, the diocesan injunctions to parish vicars and curates, the episcopal licensing of teachers, and the detailed injunctions and prescriptions with which individual grammar schools were surrounded by their statutes and ordinances (Charlton 1965:94).
Religion, then, continued to be a powerful force in the provision of education in England after the Reformation. The difference was that that religion was now Protestant rather than Catholic.


Ascham R (1570) The Scholemaster ed. Judy Boss London: John Daye

Charlton K (1965) Education in Renaissance England London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Chitty C (2007) Eugenics, race and intelligence in education London: Continuum

Dickson R (1921) 'Elementary education in Scotland' in Watson F (ed) (1921) The Encyclopaedia and Dictionary of Education 1496-1497 London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd

Goldschmitt EP (1950) The Printed Book of the Renaissance Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Lawson J and Silver H (1973) A Social History of Education in England London: Methuen & Co Ltd

Leach AF (1915) The Schools of Medieval England London: Methuen & Co. Ltd

O'Day R (1982) Education and Society 1500-1800 London: Longman

Orme N (1976) Education in the West of England 1066-1548 Exeter: University of Exeter

Orme N (2006) Medieval Schools from Roman Britain to Renaissance England New Haven: Yale University Press

Simon J (1966) Education and Society in Tudor England Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Watson F (1921) 'Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579)' in Watson F (ed) (1921) The Encyclopaedia and Dictionary of Education 756-757 London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd

Williams R (1961) The Long Revolution London: Chatto and Windus

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