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kindly saint had gifts of influence and teaching ; the youth of
Alfred was spent at Winchester under his eye ". The Dean
himself stated that he knew of no contemporary or early
authority for this at all, and was merely repeating other
authors. Another writer, Mr. W. B. Wildman, a master at
Sherborne School, in his History of Sherborne claims Alfred
for a pupil of that school. He argues that as Winchester was
all "to-broken" by the Danes in 856, and Hampshire was
abandoned to them, and as both Alfred's brothers, Ethelbald
and Ethelbert, were buried at Sherborne, that Sherborne, not
Winchester, was then the West Saxon capital, and there
Alfred received his education, " and was once a boy at Sher-
borne School". This may be conceded as probable, from
856, when Alfred was eight years old.

Now, the Saxon Chronicle was undoubtedly compiled at
Winchester in Alfred's time, not indeed, as Dean Kitchin
(followed even by Sir William Maunde Thompson, who in his
Palaeography prints a facsimile of a piece of it as "monastic"
writing), says, " with the help of the brethren of St. Swithun's
convent " which did not come into existence till half a century
afterwards, but by some of the cathedral clergy, the secular
clerks of the Old Minster, who preceded the monks. It may
therefore be taken as a first-hand authority for Alfred's life.

It tells us, under the year 853, that King Ethelwulf sent
his son Alfred to Rome. At Rome, " Sir Leo, Pope, hallowed
him to king", for so the Pope's action in taking him "as a
spiritual son and decorating him with the belt, office, and vest-
ments of a consul " (as related in what is said to be a genuine
letter from the Pope to Ethelwulf) was regarded. Asser's Life
of Alfred, a romance written a hundred years later than Alfred's
time, asserts that Alfred was again taken to Rome by his father
in 855, and then stayed a whole year. The Chronicle says
only that the father went to Rome in 855, and stayed there a
year, implying that, as Freeman inferred, Alfred remained at
Rome till his father came to fetch him. Besides the inherent



improbability of a small boy going to Rome and back twice
in three years, there is the improbability of the silence in
Alfred's own Chronicle as to such remarkable journeys if they
had occurred. The latest editor of what we may be pardoned
for calling " Asser " in inverted commas, to remind the reader
that it is not a real biography but a romance, Mr. W. H.
Stevenson, does indeed attempt to controvert Freeman's in-
ference on the strength of a Rochester charter purporting to
be witnessed by Alfred in 855. But as he admits in a note
that the date of the charter is wrong and may be 853, Free-
man's inference holds the field. If then Alfred was at Rome
from 853 to 856, we may presume that he began to learn his
Latin there, and at all events was not being educated by Bishop
Swithun at Winchester. On the way back Ethelwulf married
Judith, the daughter of Charles the Bald, King of the Franks,
a girl of thirteen, on I October, 856, and took her home with
him. Hereby hangs a tale of great importance in the history
of early English education. For if " Asser " is to be believed,
Alfred never had any education in his youthful days in the
ordinary sense, that is, he never learnt Latin, nor even to
be able to read. For that romancer interpolates into his ex-
tracts from the Chronicle, under the year 866, in which year
Alfred's second brother, Ethelred, became king, Alfred being
then eighteen, a long account of the infancy and boyhood of
Alfred. After asserting that he, being better-looking and
better-behaved than his brothers, was the favourite child of
his father (apparently a mere inference from the fact that he
alone went to Rome), "Asser " says that "through the care-
lessness of his parents and tutors (nutritorunf) " Alfred remained
illiterate until his twelfth year, "or later". But he diligently
learned " Saxon poems by day and night, often listening to
them when recited by others and, being easily teachable, re-
taining them in his memory". After a divagation about
Alfred's skill in hunting, comes the " Tale of the Pretty Picture
Book ", second only in fame to the " Tale of the Burnt Cakes ",
and of about the same historical authenticity. " It happened
then once upon a time that his mother showed him and his
brothers a book of Saxon poetry which she held in her hand,
and said, ' I will give this book to the one of you who can
learn it quickest '. At which, Alfred, inspired by God and at-



70 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

tracted by the beauty of the initial letter of the book, answering
before his brothers, who were older in years but not in grace,
said to his mother, ' Will you really give this book to the one
who can understand and read it to you first ? ' and she, smiling
with pleasure, repeating her promise said, ' Yes, I will '. Then
he at once took the book from her hand, went to a master and
read it. Then he went back and read it aloud to his mother.
After this he learnt the daily course, that is the hours and
psalms and prayers, which he collected in a book and carried
about in his bosom day and night. But, alas ! his great desire,
the liberal art [i.e. Latin] he could not satisfy, as at that time,
it was said, there were no good teachers in the whole of
the West Saxon kingdom." This last remark of course is
merely taken from Alfred's own preface to his translation of
Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care, and exaggerated in the taking.
For the preface does not say this at all, but something quite
different, namely, that there were very few (swithe feawd]
priests south of Humber who could understand their service
books in English or translate a Latin writing into English.
Alfred was speaking of the ordinary Mass priests and can hardly
have meant to include bishops, judges, canons, and other learned
persons, who would act as teachers. " Asser," however, goes on
to say that Alfred " used frequently to complain with deep sighs
that it was the greatest of the trials of this mortal life of his,
that, while he was of an age and of leisure and opportunity to
learn, he had no masters, and when he was older and had
something in the way of masters and writers, he was so assailed
by diseases unknown to all the doctors in the island and by
the home and foreign anxieties ... of a king, and by pagan
attacks by land and sea, that he could not learn (legere). But
yet, among the hindrances of this present life from infancy to
the present day, and, as I believe, to the day of his death, as
he never ceased, so he still never ceases from his insatiable
longing for learning."

This story of itself convicts the writer of not being a
contemporary, or having any first-hand knowledge of the
life of his subject. For if he had, he could not have re-
presented Alfred and his elder brothers as children gathered
round their mother's knee, pleased with a pretty picture book,
but unable to read it in 860, in which year, according to him,




MOTHER TEACHING SON WITH PRETTY PICTURE-HOOK

BRIT. MUS. MS. HARI-. 4431, f. 261. THIRTEENTH CENTURY



ALFRED THE GREAT AND WINCHESTER 71

Alfred was twelve years old. The expressions used in the
story, particularly mater sua, make it clear that " Asser " never
realized that by the time Alfred had come to his twelfth year,
and indeed by the time he had come to his sixth year, there
was no mother, but only a young stepmother, a mere girl, a
foreigner to boot, to show the young princes pictures in the
Saxon tongue. Nor was there even a stepmother available.
For in 858 Alfred's eldest brother, Ethelbald, had succeeded
not only to his father's throne but, according to " Asser ", to
his father's wife also " against all Christian and pagan custom ".
So that Alfred's brother, instead of being of an age to hang
round a young stepmother's knee with Alfred, was old enough
to be, and was, her husband. In this very year, 860, " Asser "
says Ethelbald in his turn died, and Judith, a second time a
widow at the age of seventeen, returned home ; and by the
time Alfred was thirteen, " his twelfth year and more ", had
gone off with yet a third admirer, Baldwin, Earl of Flanders.

In a romance written a century after the hero's death, this
slip is pardonable enough : in a contemporary so intimate as
"Asser" was alleged to have been with Alfred, it would have
been impossible. All therefore that the passage shows is, that
to a writer in England at the beginning of the eleventh century,
there was nothing strange in boys learning to read at their
mother's knee any more than in the twentieth century, and
that he thought that the same thing was probable in the
middle of the ninth century. This in itself is sufficiently
startling to those who regard the English before the Conquest
as unlettered barbarians.

" Asser's " account of Alfred's learning is in other respects
absolutely self-contradictory and unintelligible. After describ-
ing the education of Alfred's children (of which anon), he says
that Alfred was always complaining to his intimates that " God
Almighty had made him ignorant of divine wisdom and the
liberal arts", i.e. of theology and Latin. But at length "God
. . . unable to bear this longer . . . sent Werfrith, Bishop of
Worcester ", and Plegmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, and
others, all Mercians, and the king made the former translate
Gregory's " Dialogues " into Saxon, and made them read aloud
(recitare) to him night and day, so that he had knowledge of
nearly every book, but could not understand a (Latin) word.



72 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

But all this was changed after the arrival of " Asser ". For in
the year 887, when Alfred was thirty-nine years old, " the often-
mentioned Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, by Divine in-
spiration first began to read and translate (interpretari) on one
and the same day". For one day when "Asser" read a
passage from a book to prove some point, Alfred suddenly pro-
duced a book which he carried about with him, in which he had
written "in his youth" the daily services, psalms, and prayers,
and asked " Asser " to write the passage down. Finding no
vacant place in the book, " Asser " wrote it on a loose " quartern "
(as the Westminster boys still call them), and so from this
and two other scraps of Latin, Alfred "at once began to read
and construe into English, and so, like the thief who learnt
the rudiments of Christianity on the Cross" a somewhat un-
flattering comparison perhaps "on St. Martin's Day", n
November, 887, " Alfred learnt in one day to read Latin and
holy writ for himself". So that, having at the age of three
learnt to read Saxon in a few minutes, at the age of thirty-nine
he learnt Latin in one day.

Such childish miracle-mongering is explicable enough in a
hagiography put forth a hundred years after the event. It is in-
credible that it should be written, even by a British-born bishop,
as " Asser " is represented to have been, of the ninth century, of
his own contemporary. The miracles merely cover the fact that
Alfred was, unlike Charlemagne, able to write as well as read
and talk Latin. This is strikingly evinced by his translation
of Pope Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care from Latin into
English. It is the preface to this book, written about 893,
a copy of which he sent to every cathedral in his kingdom,
that contains the famous lament over the decadence of learn-
ing in England. He recalled how in the "good old days"
" for some men throw the golden ages back" "what wise
men there were throughout the English race both of the sacred
and secular orders" of the clergy and laity, "and how zealous
the former were in learning and teaching, and how foreigners
came to England in search of wisdom and learning, and how
now we should have to get them from abroad. So general was
the decay of learning among the English that there were
very few on this side of the Humber who ! could understand
their services in English or translate a letter from Latin into



ALFRED THE GREAT AND WINCHESTER 73

English ; and I believe there were not many beyond Humber.
There were so few of them that I cannot remember a single one
south of the Thames when I came to the throne," i.e. in 871,
not, be it observed, when he was young. This he puts down
to the Danish invasion in which the churches " filled with
treasures and books" had been "all ravaged and burnt".
Alfred rather stultifies himself, however, as a laudator temporis
acti by going on to say that even when the churches were full
of books, most of " God's servants had very little knowledge of
them because they were not written in their own language ".
But as they could read English, to prevent such a catastrophe
again, he began to translate the Pastoral or Shepherd's Book,
" sometimes word for word and sometimes meaning for mean-
ing ". He further expresses the hope that " if we have peace "
all the free-born youth of England who are rich enough shall
be set to learning, but with the na'fve qualification, "as long
as they are not fit for any other occupation, until they are well
able to read English, and further let those afterwards who will
continue in learning, learn Latin and go to a higher rank ".
It was this passage no doubt which inspired " Asser" to de-
pict the King as establishing, like Charlemagne, a kind of
Palace School, and assigning to it an eighth of his total income,
" a school which he had with great zeal collected from many
noble boys and also boys who were not noble, of his own
nation ". In another passage " Asser ", after giving a very in-
accurate account of Alfred's family, depicts him as bringing
up his two eldest children, a boy and a girl, at Court and on
English literature, while the youngest was sent to school to
learn Latin. " Ethelward the youngest of all ... was sent to
the grammar school (ludis literariae disciplinae] with nearly all
the children of noble birth and many also not noble, under the
diligent care of masters. In that school (scola) books in both
languages, Latin and Saxon, were read continually. They also
had leisure for writing, so that before they had strength for
manly arts, namely, hunting and other pursuits proper to gentle-
men, they were seen to be studious and clever in the liberal
arts. Edward and Elfthryth were brought up in the King's
Court with great care on the part of their male and female
tutors and governesses. But even they were not allowed to
pass their time in the worldly pursuits proper to those of noble



74 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

birth without a liberal education. For they diligently learnt
the psalms and Saxon books, and especially Saxon poems,
and very often use books [now]." Mr. Stevenson comments
on the school to which Ethelward was sent. " It is evident that
this was not a school in the modern sense, but that it resulted
from Alfred's causing the young nobles who were brought up,
according to custom, in the Court, to be educated with his own
children, and that he had added a sprinkling of promising youths
of lowly origin." But this is a mere parti pris assertion. The
words used are the appropriate words used long before and
long after this time for sending a boy to a grammar school.
The very words traditus litteris, or scolae, are the stock phrase,
used of Augustine of Hippo, of Ordericus Vitalis, of William
of Wykeham, and of scores of medieval saints and bishops.
The words ludi litterariae disciplinae can only be construed as
grammar school. The very point of the passage is the con-
trast between the elder children who were brought up at Court
and only learnt English and studied English literature, and the
youngest son who was sent to school to learn Latin. The
passage cannot of course be claimed as evidence that there was
a grammar school at Winchester in Alfred's time, nor that
Alfred did in fact send his youngest son to it, to mix with
young nobles and ordinary freemen's sons there. " Asser "
probably supposed that the Ethelward, who became Bishop of
Sherborne in succession to the real "Asser" somewhere about
the year 910, was Alfred's son ; and, as bishop, he was presumed
to know Latin and to have got his Latin in the ordinary way
in a grammar school. The passage is, however, evidence
that there was such a grammar school at Winchester in
the year 1001 the alleged date of the only MS. of "Asser"
to which young noblemen and others resorted to learn
Latin, and in which English literature was not, as in after
days, neglected.

The evidence as to the character of the school and the
scholars so exactly coincides with that given by Alcuin of
those at York, which it is not likely that " Asser " saw or con-
sciously copied, that we may safely infer that it was the
common character of the English pre-Conquest schools. We
have ample evidence that it was the same in France and
Germany. We hear of King Chilperic, in Gregory of Tours'



ALFRED THE GREAT AND WINCHESTER 75

history of the Franks, who flourished about the time of Augus-
tine, c. 584, that he wrote books of verse in imitation of Sedulius,
though the verses mostly would not scan. In the life of St. Paul
of Verdun we are told that he was sent to a grammar school,
(literally, " to the studies of liberal letters "), " as was formerly
the custom among nobles ". A similar phrase is used of St.
Waleric about the year 622, "he heard in the neighbourhood
that it is the custom for teachers to instruct schools of little
boys of noble birth" ; and in 696 of St. Chlodulf, " a boy of
ability was sent to school as is usual for the sons of nobles ".

" Asser", in his curiously involved and very unconvincing
style, goes on to assert that Alfred also reviewed all the judg-
ments of his judges, given when he was away, and if they
were wrong and the judges said they decided as they had
because they knew no better, he told them either to give up
their places or learn better. " So that in a marvellous manner
nearly all the earls, provosts, and thanes who had been illiterate
from infancy began to learn grammar, preferring to undergo
an unaccustomed discipline, however laboriously, than to give
up their offices and power. If through age or through their
intellects being rusty from disuse, they could not get on, he
ordered his son if he had one, or other near relation, or failing
him, his (Alfred's) own man, free or slave, whom he had long
before promoted to learning, to read English books to them,
day and night, whenever they had any leave." A learned
Court indeed ! Under such rigorous rules these poor old
gentlemen " used to sigh and lament in the recesses of their
minds that they had not stuck to their studies when young,
while they thought the young men of the day happy in being
educated in the liberal arts". "But", adds "Asser", "this
eagerness of old and young for learning Latin we have already
unfolded to the King's knowledge ".



CHAPTER VI

THE SCHOOLS FROM EDWARD THE ELDER TO
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR

THE influence and the example of Alfred in his insist-
ence on the importance of education continued to
be felt and followed in the reigns of his son and
grandson, Edward the Elder and Athelstan.

In the History of Warwick School and College, it has been
shown that the existence of the school attached to the colleg-
iate church of All Saints at Warwick in pre-Conquest days
was vouched for by a royal writ of Henry I in 1 123, confirming
to the church "all its customs and the ordeals of iron and
water as it enjoyed them in the time of King Edward and my
father and brother, and the school in like manner". In all
probability the church and school dated from the year 914,
when ^Ethelflaed, the lady of the Mercians " with all the
Mercians built the burh . . . towards the end of harvest at
Warwick ". The building of the borough, the arx (citadel,
castle, or walls) of Warwick, was only one of a series of like
buildings by Edward the Elder, Alfred's son, in concert with
his sister, Ethelfled, the lady of the Mercians. Whether
the building of a " burg ", as the Winchester Chronicle, a
"burh", as the Mercian Chronicle calls them, was the erec-
tion of citadels on a hill, or the planting of new towns, or
merely the walling, sometimes, as at Towcester, expressly
stated to be of stone, of old towns, is a matter of controversy
foreign to this book. It is certain that these boroughs formed
a series of fortresses, which held the Danes in check, and ended
in the complete re-conquest of all that part of England, which
Alfred's treaty with Guthrum had handed over to them, or
rather left in their possession. Almost every place where this
burg-building took place is afterwards found as a royal borough

76



THE SCHOOLS FROM EDWARD THE ELDER 77

with a collegiate church, generally reckoned as a " royal free
chapel " of secular clerks or canons with, wherever there are
early documents forthcoming, its grammar school attached.
Some of the boroughs were afterwards places of no importance.
But the bulk of them remained among the chief towns of Eng-
land up to the Reformation, and, with their schools, many of
them so remain to this day. Professor Oman has shown cause
for attributing the invention of these boroughs to Alfred and not,
as has hitherto been done, to his son and daughter. He points
out that when Winchester and Southampton, London, Oxford,
and Chichester had been recovered from the Danes by Alfred,
they were put into such a state of defence and with such an
arrangement for their garrisoning, not only by the people of
the town, but by the neighbouring landowners, the burh-ware,
that thencefore there is no record of the burning and devasta-
tion of the towns by Viking raids.

In the case of Winchester, London, and Chichester, it was
only a matter of re-peopling the city and restoring their Roman
walls. What amount of rebuilding and restoration of cathedral
and school was required, we do not know. We do know
that it was restoration and not creation. In the case of Oxford,
however, given by Alfred in charge to his son-in-law the Ealdor-
man of Mercia, which then first appears in English history, it is
most probable that there was a new foundation. For it can
hardly be mere coincidence that Oxford, like Warwick, was a
royal borough and had its castle on a mound and its two col-
legiate churches, St. George's in the castle and St. Frides-
wide's, which afterwards became a Priory, in the town, and its
school which appears as a flourishing concern as early as 1 1 1 8 ;
and that similar mounds, castles, collegiate churches, and early
schools are found in Bridgenorth, Tam worth, Stafford, Bedford,
Leicester, and other boroughs which Ethelfled is recorded as
establishing in Northern and Western Mercia, while Edward
did the same in Southern Mercia and Essex.

This borough-building movement is somewhat doubtful
in detail, because the chronology of the Wessex Chronicle,
which records Edward's achievements in that line and takes
no notice of Ethelfled's, does not coincide with that of the
Mercian Chronicle, which records Ethelfled's boroughs and
takes no notice of Edward's. But that it was a concerted



78 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

movement between the two and was carried on continuously
for some ten or twenty years, there is no doubt. Apparently
it began with the year 907, when the Mercian Chronicle says
"Here was Ligceaster (Chester, not Leicester) renewed".
This entry points to restoration not creation, the Roman walls
still standing. Here, too, we find the collegiate church of St.
John the Baptist, a building far older than the present ca-
thedral, which is a much later monastery converted, standing
on its fortified mound by the river with its ancient school in
connexion with it After a great battle at Tettenhall in 910,
in which Edward, with a mixed force of Mercians and West
Saxons, defeated the Danes ; and the death soon after of Ethel-
fled's husband, her new borough-building movement started.
The first works of the lady of the Mercians, as she was called after
her husband's death, were the boroughs of Bridgenorth and
Scargeat, which is with some probability guessed to be Shrews-
bury. At Shrewsbury was the school in which Ordericus
Vitalis learnt grammar, while his father was still a secular
priest, before he exported his son to Normandy to become
a monk. The abbey swallowed up the church of St. Peter,
but another collegiate church, that of St. Mary, survived to the
Reformation, and Shrewsbury Grammar School appears inci-
dentally in the thirteenth century.

Next year, 912, the lady built the burh at Tarn worth in
the beginning of summer, and that at Stafford before Lammas,
loaf mass or harvest mass, on I August. At Tamworth was



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