Life in Elizabethan England Next

What Every Schoolboy Knows

In general, only boys go to school. A girl's education is accomplished at home, although it usually includes reading and arithmetic.

Of course, noble children get their education at home, from private tutors.

It is understood that students must have their education beaten into them, like their manners and deportment. Parents tend to support this theory.

Public education refers to going out to school, as opposed to being tutored at home. It does not mean they are paid for out of public funds. Hence, the great "public schools" like Eton.

The school day begins at 7:00am in winter or 6:00am in summer. After prayers, they work till about 9:00 when they are permitted breakfast, then they work till 11:00. Dinner is from 11:00 to 1:00. The school day ends at 5:00 or 5:30pm.

In School

The most elementary level of schooling is called petty school. You learn to read and write in English and do sums, but the main idea is to get you into grammar school.

The petty school is often run by a young wife who teaches the local children in her home for a small fee, like the "dame schools" of Colonial days.

The primary study of a grammar school is Latin grammar, using Lily's Grammar as the basic text, with Plautus, Terence, and Seneca as classical sources. Any history, literature, or drama is mainly a vehicle for illustrating the grammar.

The function of the grammar school is to prepare you for university, where courses are conducted in Latin, even after the Reformation. Music, modern languages, and science are irrelevant.

Latin is also the language of international affairs, and men of affairs are expected to be able to communicate in it. Or employ someone who does. Anyone who wants to make his way in the world must have at least a working knowledge of Latin.

A private education takes a slightly broader view. The young earl of Essex followed this daily programme while a ward in Burghley's house:

7:00-7:30 Dancing 1:00-2:00 Cosmography
7:30-8:00 Breakfast 2:00-3:00 Latin
8:00-9:00 French 3:00-4:00 French
9:00-10:00 Latin 4:00-4:30 Writing
10:00-10:30 Writing and Drawing 4:30-5:30 Prayers, Recreation, Supper
10:30-1:00 Prayers, Recreation, Dinner

Notice that there is time for writing but not for spelling. After all, what good is a man who can only spell his name one way?

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27 March 2008 mps