Arthur Francis Leach.

The schools of medieval England online

. (page 10 of 39)
Online LibraryArthur Francis LeachThe schools of medieval England → online text (page 10 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the word for boys (puert) is already translated cildra or chil-
dren, which remained the word in common use for boys at
school for many centuries, especially at Winchester. Some
women writers, and some male supporters with more gallantry
than historical accuracy, have tried to make out that the word

t irrciTttf ucccflfiin a . <


nufacm mnnt^c(ditwnoncfittt con ,
rttionctnttiotnttn qtamma. cft^ 1
faiocdttrudhgui fcquattcs.ftqtui) en
" :wcMeoniinttittitnttciii

tgi dcfmmiUf itoa^ dtcaonumuc
dutcm Aiccmuf tKwdinmtwtc canuu. aiic


BKIT. MUS. MS. BURNEY, 270 f. 94, C. 1350


children in use at Winchester College, and appearing in the
English Statutes of many schools, shows that girls as well as
boys were intended to be included in the grammar schools.
yElfric lends no colour to the suggestion, but when he speaks
of girls calls them puellae and translates it maeden cildum, or
maiden children. After asking what the boys want to learn to
talk about, to which the boys reply that they do not care, the
next question of the master is highly characteristic, "Are you
willing to be flogged (flagellari, beswungen or swinged] while
learning " ; at which the boys at once express their preference
for flogging to ignorance, though they craftily profess to think
that he will be kind and not " swinge " them unless obliged.
So inseparable was the connexion of education and corporal
chastisement ! It may be remembered that when Heloise's
uncle entrusted her to Abelard's tuition, he particularly en-
joined him to flog her well, if she did not pursue her studies

This necessary preliminary being satisfactorily settled, the
master proceeds to interrogate the boys as to what they do.
The first boy says he is a young monk and sings the seven
hours with his brethren and meanwhile wants to learn Latin.
The rest are described as ploughboy, shepherd, cowherd, hunter,
fisherman, hawker, merchant, seaman, shoemaker, salter, cook,
baker. Beginning with the ploughboy, they are then taken
each through his day so as to bring in all the variety of words
possible, and provide an extensive vocabulary, including beasts,
birds, and fishes and all the implements and technical terms
connected with the various crafts.

It may be noted that the school was not restricted to free-
men, as the master, after hearing the ploughboy's account, ex-
claims, " Hi, hi, great toil is it ", and the boy answers, " Great
indeed, because I am not free". The school seems to have
been a Sunday School. For the huntsman is asked, " Were you
hunting to-day ? " and answers, " No, for it's Sunday, but
yesterday I was ", and took two stags and a wild boar,
the former in nets, but the boar he followed up with hounds,
and standing straight in front of him stabbed him in the
throat ; on which the master says as our modern " pig-
stickers " well might, " Truly brave were you then ". The
fisher boy calls his salmon " lax ", as our Norwegian neigh-


hours do still. The merchant (mercator) in English " chap-
man " and "monger" describes how he fares over sea and
brings back purple and silk and gems and gold, wine and
oil, and ivory, brass and tin, and sulphur and glass ; no petty
tradesman he. After they have all told their tales, includ-
ing a cook, the "wise counsellor" of the monks' monastery
is called in and asked which craft is the first. He deter-
mines formally in favour of the monk, on the authority of the
dictum, "seek first the kingdom of God". But he decides
really in favour of the ploughman, who provides food, the sine
qua non of society. At this all the rest cry out that their
work is equally necessary and an interesting debate follows
in which they all give reasons. The debate is wound up in
scholastic style by the counsellor, who determines by a sort
of compromise that every one does good who does his own
work well. " Oh, all you good fellows and good workers, let
us end this dispute and have peace and harmony among us,
and let each help the other by his craft, and let us all meet
at the ploughman's, where we find food for ourselves and fodder
for our horses. And this is the advice I give all workmen,
that each of them should do his work as well as he can, as
the man who neglects his work is dismissed from his work.
Whether you are a priest or a monk, a layman or a soldier,
apply yourself to that, and be what you are, as it is a great
loss and shame for a man not to be what he is and what he
ought to be." What is probably one of ^Ifric Bata's addi-,
tions, which is in fact a criticism on his master, then follows.
The children are asked how they like the speech, and say,
"Very much, but what you say is too deep for us and beyond
our age". The youthful monk is then interrogated as to his
life. He relates how he gets up at night to sing nocturns,
sometimes of himself if he hears the bell, but often he is woken
up by the master with his " yard " : how he eats meat and has
good dinners, and drinks beer, or water, but not wine, because
he is too poor to buy it, and wine is " not for children but
their elders and 'wisers'". Asked if he was flogged to-day,
he says, " No, for I held me warily " ; asked whether his fellows
were flogged, says, "Why ask me that? I cannot open our
secrets. Each one knows whether he was flogged or not"
Finally, the master advises the young monks to behave dis-


erectly, to sing in tune " and go out without disorder to cloister
or school (gimnasium) which is translated ' leorninge ' ".

The importance of this work for the light that it throws on
old English schools can hardly be over-estimated, if it is really
a picture of an actual school of the time. Prima facie as all
jElfric's other writings are translations, this is one also. But
as no Latin dialogue from which it is translated has yet been
produced, it must be accepted as original. It may be noted
that, though the principal boy is made to be an "oblate ", or
young monk, the master himself is obviously a secular, and
from his eagerness to interrogate the boy-monk, not acquainted
with the secrets of monastic life, while the school is clearly not
in the monastery, and the boys are lay folk drawn from all
ranks and occupations. It is an important school which is
depicted, with its merchants' and seamen's sons, and evidently
was written for, or in reproduction of, not the school of a
monastery, with its scanty band of oblates, not the school of a
village like Eynsham, but of a great city like Winchester, which
though surrounded with wheat fields and forests was also,
with its St. Giles' Fair, one of the chief resorts of merchants
and, as a great port, of seamen also.

It was at the very time when the Colloquy was being
written that the Vikings' raids were being renewed which
ended twenty years later on the death of Edmund Ironsides
in the supersession of the house of Egbert and Alfred the
Great by that of the Danish Canute, in 1016. Canute had
previously become a Christian, and married his predecessor
Ethelred the Unready's widow, and ruled as an English king
under the laws of Edgar. So it is not so surprising as it might
have been to learn from Herman, the historian of Bury St.
Edmunds, writing towards the end of the eleventh century,
that Canute founded exhibitions for poor boys. Relating
Canute's expulsion of the hereditary priests, the secular
canons of Bury, and conversion of their collegiate church into
a monastery, about 1020 (1032 according to Florence of Wor-
cester), he says, " Nor must we pass over in silence what this
good king did by way of charity, namely, whenever he went
to any famous monastery or borough he sent there at his
own expense boys to be taught for the clerical or monastic
order, not only those whom he found among freemen but
also the cleverer of the poor, and with his own hand in


kingly munificence he also in his progress made some free."
The local historian of a century later, Abbot Sampson, with
the usual "heightening" characteristic of legends of heroes
as they recede into the past, goes further and depicts Canute as
"establishing public schools throughout the cities and boroughs
and appointing masters to them, and sending to them to be
taught grammar not only noble boys of good promise, but also
the freed sons of slaves, charging the cost on the royal purse ".

The curious document called "the Ranks" (Be gething-
thum), the work of some unknown hand between 1020 and
1060, shows that the Danish dynasty had at all events made
no difference in the regard paid to learning. "If a scholar
became so proficient in learning that he had been ordained
and served Christ, he was then thought worthy of such honour
and peace as belonged and appertained to his order, if he be-
haved as he should."

We hear nothing of the half-Norman-born and wholly
Norman-bred Edward the Confessor in connexion with
schools, except in the tale told in the fifteenth-century his-
torical romance of the mythical Ingulf of Croyland in con-
nexion with Westminster. Ingulf is made to say of Queen
Edith : " I often saw her when as a boy I visited my father
who lived in the King's Court, and when I met her as I was
coming from school she often used to pose me in grammar
and verses, and passing readily from the solidities of grammar
to the etherealities of logic in which she excelled, used to shut
me up in the subtle threads of her arguments, and then she
made her maid count me out three or four coins, and send me
to the royal larder to refresh myself, and so dismissed me ".
Alas ! there is even less foundation for this tale of Ingulf and
Queen Edith than for that of Alfred and the pretty picture
book. Another tale Ingulf tells of himself is quite enough to
condemn his work as a forgery. " I," he says, " the humble
servant of St. Guthlac, was sent in my tender age first to learn
grammar at Westminster and afterwards to Oxford University
(studio}". A pre-Conquest monkling studying at Oxford
University would indeed be a prodigy. Ingulfs chronicle has,
however, been definitely shown to be a product of the last
quarter of the fifteenth century, its earliest MS. being not
earlier than 1486. There is no trace of any school at West-
minster before 1354, when, as will be seen, we first hear of boys


in the Almonry. No doubt there, as elsewhere, the boy
novices in training for monks were taught in the cloister, but
there was no school to which an outside boy visiting his father
would go, or in coming from which he would meet the learned
and argumentative queen, perhaps evolved from the Lady
Margaret Tudor.

We have, however, an authentic account of the foundation
on 3 May, 1060, by Queen Edith's brother, the last English, and
he was half Danish, king, Harold, when he was Earl, of a
school at Waltham, Essex, attached to and forming part of
the collegiate Church of the Holy Cross. The church had
been founded by Tovi the Proud, at whose wedding-breakfast
King Harthacnut drank and died, with endowments for two
clerks or secular priests. To them Earl Harold added eleven
others, " wise, learned, selected from the commons or carefully
chosen from the highest in the land. Among them was a
certain Dutchman (Teutonicum), Master Athelard, born at
Li6ge, brought up in the school of Utrecht, who came to him by
a divine and unexpected gift, that he might establish in Waltham
church the laws, statutes, and customs, both in ecclesiastical
and in secular matters, of the churches in which he had been
educated, since he [Harold] had heard from many people that
the Dutch churches were governed by most carefully devised
rules. So if anything needing punishment or rebuke arose
among the clerks it was punished by the Dean or Master
Athelard himself, mere excess by a sharp word, breaches of
order by the birch, and serious offences even by deprivation of
the prebend." The school is depicted by one of the canons,
who was driven out of his canonry in 1177, when Henry II
converted the house into a Priory of Augustinian canons by
a cheap and vicarious atonement, fulfilling his vow to found
monasteries in expiation of the murder of Thomas a Becket.
The historian relates how Harold, on his way back from his
victory over the Norsemen at Stamford Bridge, to meet the
Normans at Hastings, stopped at Waltham and prayed before
the Rood and met with the dismal portent of the Christ bow-
ing His head. Two of the senior brethren of the Church,
Osgood Cnoppe and Ailric the schoolmaster (childemaister),
were sent with Harold to Hastings, and brought back his body
after the battle. The expelled canon had been nominated a
canon at the age of five by Queen Adaliza, in whose gift the


prebends were, and was fostered in the Church for fifty-three
years, till the expulsion in 1177. So that he knew it from
1123. He says he had no doubt that what had been customary
in the times of his predecessors had lasted down to his own day.
" For the first rudiments of learning he was sent to Master
Peter, the son of Master Athelard, the organizer of the Church ".
The fact that Master Peter was the son of Master Athelard is
one of the many instances which show that, as in many other
of the great churches, marriage, which the monks chose to call
luxuria or lechery, was the real crime for which the secular
canons were superseded in the twelfth century by regular
canons, as under Dunstan they had been superseded in the
tenth century by monks. The canon gives a striking picture
of the school under Master Peter. "A most copious spring
of learning and instruction flowed from that Peter, after the
Dutch fashion, for besides reading and the composition of
letters and verses, singing was no less learnt and practised in
the church ; and a well-devised difference from the usual habit
of boys was, that they walked, stood, read, and chanted, like
brethren in religion [i.e. monks], and whatever had to be sung
at the steps of the choir or in the choir itself they sang and
chanted by heart, one or two or more together, without the
help of a book. One boy never looked at another, when they
were in their places in choir, except sideways, and that very
seldom, and they never spoke a word to one another ; they
never walked about the choir to carry copes or books or for
any other reason, always remaining in the choir unless sent
on an errand by the master. As if walking in procession,
from school they go to choir, and on leaving the choir go to
school, like canons getting up in the night [for service]."
Such good little boys were surely never seen before or since.

The Dutch practice of combining the grammar and the
song school was in fact old-fashioned and retrograde compared
to the English or Prankish method, which, as we saw, separ-
ated the grammar from the song school ; and fortunately for
learning, the Dutch method did not prevail.

The selection of a Teutonic model by Harold was, however,
probably due, not to any reactionary tendencies in his edu-
cational views, but by way of deliberate counterbalance to the
Frenchification and monasticism which Edward the Confessor
favoured and endeavoured to force on the English people.


An interesting piece of evidence of what was actually
taught in the English schools, may be seen in the list of
school books entered on a fly-leaf of one of them, Isidore's
De natura rerum, which in the fifteenth century belonged to
St. Augustine's, Canterbury, and is now in the British Museum.
" These are the books that were Athestane's : Of the nature of
things : Persius : On the art of metre : The small Donatus :
Extracts on the art of metre : The Apocalypse : The large
Donatus : Alcuin : A Gloss on Cato [the pseudo-Cato's
Moralia] : a little book on the art of grammar, which begins
' The earth which part ' : Sedulius : And one arithmetic [or,
computation book, gerim] [which] was Alfwold the priest's.
A Gloss on Donatus. Dialogues."

. lilrtlu i>^iamanccuiptc.rjui ^ue

Tenth Century Schoolmaster's Books. Cott. Dom., I. f., 55 b.

The Provost of King's, Mr. M. R. James, in his catalogue of
the libraries of Canterbury and Dover, attributed these books
to a gift of King Athelstan's. Even assuming that Athestan
is equivalent, as is probable, to Athelstan, the attribution is
not very likely. Several of that king's gifts to Canterbury
are extant, all large tomes with grandiloquent inscriptions as
to the royal donor. This humble little octavo book is by no
means royal in appearance. If it had been the king's school
book, the writer of the list would surely have given the king
his title. It is far more probable that the books, all school
books, belonged to a schoolmaster of the name of Athestan,
who when he retired or died left them to the monastery.
Alfwold the priest, who by the epithet was probably not a
monk, was probably just another master. The casual sort of
way the list is entered affords a convincing proof of the com-
monness of school books, and therefore of schools, among the
English at the time it was made, which Mr. Gilson, the
Keeper of the Manuscripts, places about the middle of the
tenth century.


ONE of the worst effects of the Conquest was the foisting
of the Italian adventurer Lanfranc into the See of
Canterbury. Prima facie, as an ex-schoolmaster
himself, he might have been supposed to be the best person
possible for the schools. But it is a strange thing that, as in
these later days so in those days, some of the occupants of
episcopal sees, particularly reactionary in their attitude to the
schools of the nation, have been ex-schoolmasters. Lanfranc's
scholastic career has been misrepresented as that of a monk
keeping a school in a monastery, as if it was a normal thing
for a school to be kept in a monastery. A little care in reading
the historians shows, however, that in keeping a school as a
monk he was doing a most exceptional and unheard-of thing,
and that he did not keep it in a monastery. Lanfranc had
the good fortune to have his biography written by one of his
own pupils, Gilbert, who became Abbot of Westminster in 1082.
He tells us that Lanfranc was born at Pavia, where his father
held municipal office, but being early left an orphan, he left
that city and went to a grammar school (ad studia litterarum
perrexif) ; where we are not told, but presumably at Rome.
A later biographer, a monk of Bee, heightens of course the
original story. Lanfranc's parents, instead of being middle-class
citizens, were now turned into nobles. In his boyhood he is
represented as having been brought up not only in the school
of the liberal arts, but also in the secular laws of the country :
while when he was a young man (adolescens) as a speaker he
overcame veteran opponents in actions at law through the
torrent of his eloquence ; and his wisdom was such that he
gave legal opinions which were gratefully accepted by counsel
and judges or mayors of the city. But when he was philo-



sophizing in exile where or why is not vouchsafed then the
love of true learning illuminated his heart and he became a
monk at Bee. Pavia, he says, remembers all this. But it is
on the face of it a ridiculous exaggeration, with about as much
historical truth in it as there is in Dr. Portia's triumphal ap-
pearance in the Supreme Court of Venice.

To return to the more authentic writer. According to Gilbert,
Lanfranc, having stayed at his unspecified grammar school
some time, returned home " perfectly imbued with all secular
learning ". Then he went to France in the time of King Henry,
and afterwards taking with him many scholars of great fame,
went to Normandy, and settled at Avranches, where he taught
for some time. A tale is then told of his falling among thieves
on his way to Rouen, who, after taking everything he had, tied
him to a tree with his hood over his head. At night, to keep
up his courage, he tried to say Lauds and could not, as he did
not know them by heart. Whereupon he vowed, if set free, to
give up the classics for the Church services. In the morning
some passing wayfarers heard his cries' and set him free, and he
at once asked for the worst and vilest monastery they knew.
He was shown the way to Bee, just being founded by Herluin,
a Norman lord and warrior, who at the age of thirty-seven,
desiring to become a monk, learnt grammar and became an
excellent exponent of the Scriptures. Here Lanfranc found
Herluin building an oven with his own hands, and became a
monk. Such was his humility in his new life that when he
was reading in the refectory and was corrected by an illiterate
prior in what the prior thought was a false quantity, he quietly
repeated the word with the false quantity, " for to make a
syllable long instead of short, or short instead of long was, he
knew, not a deadly sin, but not to obey his superior was no
small fault ". After some years the monastic buildings, having
been erected on a swampy subsoil, fell down, and to provide
funds for their re-erection on a larger scale and another site,
" Lanfranc by the licence of the abbot again kept a school,
and gave his receipts from the scholars to the abbot, who gave
them to the workmen". This is a striking, because a casual
and incidental indication, first, that keeping a public school
was not a monk's business, and required special leave from the
abbot because it was a breach of the rule ; secondly, that keep-



ing school was even then " a gainful profession " and was not
done gratuitously ; lastly, that the monks did not, as is often
absurdly represented, act as architects themselves any more
than they acted as schoolmasters themselves, but employed,
as they could hardly help doing, professional architects and

The school thus set up outside the monastery grew, we
are told, to a total of a hundred, sons of noblemen, clerks, and
laity flocking there from all round. Chief among them was
Ariselm, who eventually followed his leader in becoming first
a monk at Bee, then prior, and afterwards Archbishop of Can-
terbury. Others were Henry, Dean of Canterbury, Hernost,
Bishop of Rochester, and his successor Gundulf; William,
Abbot of Cormeilles, William, Archbishop of Rouen, and
Gilbert Crispin, the writer, Abbot of Westminster. William
of Malmesbury, himself a monk, writing in 1125, shows very
clearly what sort of school he thought Lanfranc kept. " After
he had been made a monk at Bee, this man, not knowing how
to earn a living by agricultural work, kept a public school of
logic, in order to temper the poverty of the monastery by the
liberality of scholars. His fame went out into the remotest
parts of the Latin world, and Bee became a great and famous
school of literature." He, like Crispin, makes it clear that the
school was set up as a public school outside the monastery
as an exceptional measure to raise funds for its support.

It was a misfortune for the school at Canterbury and else-
where that this late converted monk became archbishop. For
a determined effort to expel the monks from Canterbury and
the other monastic cathedrals in England and to reinstate the
seculars was frustrated by the now monkish Lanfranc. So
the school, instead of being restored to its position as a part
of the cathedral foundation, as at York and St. Paul's, where
it was taught and governed by a resident member of the
Chapter, was left to the care, necessarily intermittent, of the
generally non-resident and roving archbishop, who was more
often than not a busy statesman.

William of Malmesbury indeed imputes to Lanfranc a
continued interest in scholars. " He was not ashamed when
archbishop to gird up his clothes and set food before the
poor, and to make scholars of slender means engage in the


battle of disputation. The wordy warfare over, both parties
went away pleased, the victor receiving a prize for his
learning, and the vanquished a consolation for his disgrace."
The first part of the sentence refers to the Maundy, a custom
still observed in Austria, where on Maundy Thursday the
Emperor washes the feet of twelve poor men, as the Johan-
nine Christ did those of the disciples, and gave them the
mandatum novum, " Love one another ". In the Middle

Online LibraryArthur Francis LeachThe schools of medieval England → online text (page 10 of 39)