Arthur Francis Leach.

The schools of medieval England online

. (page 9 of 39)
Online LibraryArthur Francis LeachThe schools of medieval England → online text (page 9 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the ancient collegiate church of St. Edith and an ancient
school. At Stafford there were two collegiate churches, one
in the castle, now a mile outside the town, and St. Mary's in
the town, to which the school was attached. In 913 followed
Stamford, also with its borough south of the river as well as
north, and its very ancient churches and early school. In 914
Edward built Bedford, where the collegiate church of St. Paul
with its school was converted under Henry I into a monastery,
while Ethelfled built Warwick. She took Derley, one of the
Danish Five Boroughs, by storm in 917, and there the collegiate
church of St. Mary had its school, handed over to the regular
canons afterwards, and moved out to Derley in Henry IFs time.
We need not go through the whole list. But at Leicester we
find the church of St. Mary de castro (in the castle) robbed of



THE SCHOOLS FROM EDWARD THE ELDER 79

its endowments, and transferred to the Augustinian Priory of
Leicester in the meadows outside the town, and the school ap-
pearing as a going concern in the early thirteenth century, and
re-founded in connexion with the later collegiate church of St.
Mary in the Newark, or new work of the castle, which became
the mausoleum of the Dukes of Lancaster in the fourteenth
century. So at Nottingham we find the school appearing
among the earliest town records in close connexion with the
church.

It is evident that a definite policy was pursued of establish-
ing the garrison system, the burh-ware, in these newly fortified
places where also markets were set up, and churches, for the
purpose of consolidating the conquest with all the spiritual as
well as the material advantages of civilization. Just as Alfred
ensured his treaty with the Danes by the baptism of Guthrum,
so did Edward and Ethelfled by providing means for the
Christianization of the newly founded or newly recovered
towns. They " aimed at consolidating by arts what they had
achieved by arms ; educating the heathen when they had sub-
dued them ". It is not perhaps insignificant in this regard to
find that the later coins of Edward "develop an interesting and
variegated series of new devices a church tower with elaborate
arcading, another quite different sort of church represented
from a side view a flying dove bearing an olive branch "
as if to give public notice of his policy of peaceful penetration.

This view of the origin of the schools in these places is
strengthened by the pursuance of this same policy by Edward's
son, Athelstan, who carried the arms and the arts of Wessex to
Northumbria, including, as it then did, the Lowlands of Scot-
land. While in the case of Tamworth, Stafford, and Warwick
the founding of the collegiate churches and schools by Ethel-
fled are, it must be admitted, only matters of inference, in the
case of Beverley, Ripon, and Chester-le-Street by Athelstan
there is some positive testimony.

The next great figure in English education is that of
Dunstan, born in 925. He has been credited as a pupil to
the monastic school of Glastonbury. But, as Bishop Stubbs
has pointed out, the original biographer of the saint, a certain
" Old Saxon " B., writing within twenty-five years of his death,
speaks of Glastonbury, not as a monastery, but as a church, so



8o THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

ancient that it was regarded "as not built by any human art".
Here his parents sent him as a student in the sacred leisure of
letters (sacris litterarum otiis), a characteristic translation of
grammar school, which shows that the writer knew that the
original meaning of school (a-^oXij) was leisure. " In which
God deigned to give him such grace that he excelled all his
contemporaries, and easily out-stripped them in the easy
course of his studies. Then seeing the excellence of their son
his parents imposed on him the tonsure ", not of the monks
but " of the clerkship or clerical order, and made him a fellow
in the famous college of Glastonbury Church (inque famoso
Glastoniensis ecclesiae sociaverunt coenobio) ". That he was not
then a monk, or an oblate with a view to becoming a monk,
is clear from the fact that some years afterwards he contem-
plated matrimony. In the interval he carried on his studies
at Glastonbury, extending them even to the " books of Irish
pilgrims, who visited it as the burial-place of Patrick, junior,
which books philosophizing on the path of the true faith he
diligently studied, as also those of other wise men ". It
seems to have been some years after that he yielded, and then
only after a severe illness, the description of which suggests
some indiscretion, to the persuasion of his kinsman ^Elfeah,
Bishop of Winchester, to become a monk. In 943 Dunstan
went to Glastonbury as its head. The Chronicle puts it
that King Edmund gave Dunstan Glastonbury, where he
was afterwards the first abbot, but B.'s life represents the
King as leading him to the priestly, not the monkish chair.
It is true that B. uses the word abbot, but Bishop Stubbs
points out that abbot seems to have been loosely used for the
head of a collegiate church as well as of a monastery, and as it
only means father, was as appropriate to the one as to the other.
In the same way, as we have already shown, the word minster,
now used indiscriminately for any great church, is a corruption
of monastery. Moreover, it is probable that the church remained
secular, and had not become monastic, as we hear of Dunstan's
pupils and clerks, and not of monks. Conspicuous among
them was Ethelwold, the future Bishop of Winchester, who,
after some years in the King's Court, was tonsured and went
to Glastonbury as a clerk, and there, according to ydfric's
life of him, learnt grammar and music and theology. " Most



THE SCHOOLS FROM EDWARD THE ELDER 81

of them were sought for as pastors of churches, as provosts,
deans, abbots, bishops, and archbishops, and were most illus-
trious in each order." It was only after Dunstan's exile in
955, when he fled to Flanders, that he imported on his return
the Benedictine rule and built monastic buildings at Glaston-
bury.

Dunstan's reputation as a teacher must have been one
of comparative mildness in those harsh days, for it procured
him among his miracles the honour of protecting the boy
monks at Canterbury from excessive chastisement. Osbern,
who, when Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral monastery,
wrote a life of Dunstan towards the end of the eleventh
century, in the interval between Lanfranc's and Anselm's arch-
bishoprics, relates an incident which happened when he was
himself a boy there. A girl, blind from her birth, attended
the service on the Eve of St. Bartholomew, when all the relics
of Christ's Church were exhibited, and was allowed to stay
all night in the church by Dunstan's tomb. While " we ", says
Osbern, " were singing at Lauds the words ' Let your loins
be girded ', her eyes began to itch, and by the time we had
finished the Gloria she could see ; which the boys, winking at
each other, put down to Dunstan himself. When it was
fully light, we went in to our masters, to be beaten for the
faults we had committed. But behold the good Godric rushed
up in a rage saying, ' Do ye stupid men behave cruelly to
these innocents when our kindly father Dunstan has just shown
his sweet mercy for us sinners? Go. You see the miracle
performed by Christ on the blind son performed again and yet
dare to be guilty of cruelty. Go.' And so we escaped their
impious hands and went to church." The bells were rung and
the whole city flocked in to rejoice at the miracle.

This very simple tale has been worked up by succeeding
writers into an absurdly exaggerated story ; which is worth
quoting as it shows the extraordinarily rapid growth of legend
in the monasteries of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and
how little credit is to be given to stories about saints, which
are not absolutely contemporary. This later version has even
been inserted in some of the MSS. of Osbern himself, as though
it were his own composition. " One day ", runs this version,
" when the fury of the masters raged more than usual against
6



82 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

the boys, and there was no hope of intercession, they believed
that one remedy only remained, to fly to the memory of the
oldest father Dunstan, and to show him not so much an inter-
ceder as a defender against ministers of iniquity. So they be-
take themselves at dawn to him asking his clemency with
many tears, while the masters were sitting in divers places
where the boys would have to pass and with manifold diligence
waiting for them to come out of church. And behold while
they were crying, the pitiful father Dunstan appeared, and
touching with a rod he carried in his hand one of them who
saw with his eyes open but was incapable of moving, thus ad-
dressed him : ' Stop crying, boys, as I allow no molestation
of you to-day. For I came called by your tears. Now I will
go and throw the masters who are waiting for your coming
out into deep sleep. But you, my boy, who see and hear me
speaking, when you know that you are free through my bounty,
do me the favour to tell theiProvost of the Church in my name
to turn out of doors the infant son of Earl Harold who was
recently buried near me. For it is indecent that the bodies
of pagans should be buried where the divine mysteries are daily
celebrated. ' Dunstan went on to threaten that the Church
would never prosper if this was not done. " So saying he was
taken back into his tomb. The boy who had seen this, now
a reverend senior, earnestly asked me to write this without
mentioning his name [this is a commonplace in saints' legends,
borrowed from Christ in the Transfiguration] immediately
winked at his companions saying : ' Did you see father
Dunstan ? Did you hear what he said ? ' and told them all
saying, Thus he said and thus. The boys therefore got up to
enter the house of martyrdom. They passed before the first
masters. They were asleep. ' They passed before the second.
They were asleep. They passed before the third and fourth.
They were asleep. But when they woke up a little while
afterwards, they were in a state of fury at the derision they
had incurred and determined to take revenge on the boys at
Tierce, as they could not touch them in the morning through
Dunstan's protection. For there was a custom in the church
then that those whom Prime preserved from punishment,
Tierce should punish more severely. But Dunstan, always
and everywhere faithful, so separated the masters from them



THE SCHOOLS FROM EDWARD THE ELDER 83

at that hour, that he gave them cause not so much to think
about hurting the boys as to discuss their own confusion. So
the boys that day avoided the danger and next day joyfully
saw the Eve of Christmas. The one who acted as the father's
messenger faithfully gave his message to the Provost, but he
disbelieving it paid no attention ", with the result that the
saint in disgust left the church, and it was burnt " not long
afterwards", in 1067, with the whole of the monastery, except
the refectory and dormitory and so much of the cloister as en-
abled the monks to go from one to the other without being
rained upon.

Eadmer, also a Precentor of Canterbury, who wrote a more
superstitious life of St. Dunstan in the second decade of the
twelfth century, instead of ascribing the final escape of the
boys from their flogging to the advent of the Christmas
holidays, represents it as a custom in the evil Saxon days
for the boys to be "tortured with stripes on the fifth day
before Christmas, not for anything they had done but merely
for custom (pro usu)". He converts the appeal at Dunstan's
tomb into a vision of the night before, and adds horror to the
flogging by describing the instruments as "whips of bull hide
with knotted thongs ", making consciously, no doubt, the dis-
cipline in the Saxon school resemble that of the old legend of
the flogging of the Spartan boys at the altar of Artemis of
Ortygia. Eadmer also adds to the miracle an appearance of
Dunstan to the Churchwardens, instead of a message to the
Provost, with a definite prophecy of the burning of the church
if the stinking carcase of the pagan boy, pagan merely because
unbaptized, is not removed.

The whole tale, and especially crediting the burning of
the church to the fact of poor Harold's son being buried in
it, is a curious instance of the way the Normans slandered the
conquered Saxons, and could not even abstain from libelling
the schoolmasters. In a recent history of the King's School,
Canterbury, the Rev. C. E. Woodruff has taken the latest and
absurdest version of the story and told it as if it applied to the
Grammar School. But it is evident from the reference to the
number of masters that the story is told not of the public
grammar school, but of the few boys in the monastery in
training for monks. For while a master and usher and some-



84 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

times a vice-monitor formed the whole staff of the ordinary
public grammar school, the monastic discipline assigned one
older monk as a master to every two boys, who was between
them wherever they went during the day, slept between them
at night, and in general spied out all their ways. Only in
choir did they escape the masters' surveillance and fall under
the milder rule of the Precentor. The fact that these boys
sang in choir is itself conclusive proof that they were young
monks, not ordinary schoolboys, as the outside choir-boy was
unknown in monastic churches before the fourteenth century.
By the fact that four masters are spoken of, we may infer that
the boy monks of the time numbered either eight or sixteen,
according as the use of the term second or third masters
in the plural is taken to be rhetorical embellishment, as is
probable, or sober fact.

Bishop Stubbs attributes to Dunstan certain educational
institutes included among the so-called "Canons of King
Edgar", of uncertain date. They are attributed in Johnston's
translation of them, published in 1720, to the year 960, but
may be later. They imply a general practice for parish
priests to keep schools and engage in education, including
technical education. Thus canon 10 is: "We enjoin that
no priest receive another's scholar without the leave of him
whom he formerly followed " ; canon 1 1 : " and that every
priest in addition to lore (or learning, i.e. Latin) do dili-
gently learn a handicraft"; canon 51: "and that priests
diligently teach youth and educate them in craft that they
may have ecclesiastical support ". But the value of these
canons, as evidence of the state of English education at the
time, is questionable. They read like scraps of ancient canon
law. Thus the requirement as to learning a handicraft, which
was noted as to St. Paul, was required of Jewish rabbis, and
savours of Eastern and settled city life. However, Dunstan
himself is depicted as being a skilful goldsmith, and therefore
adopted as the patron saint of the Goldsmiths' Company of
London, and the opportunity of taking the devil by the nose
by his red-hot pincers was given by his being engaged in the
practice of that craft. So we may perhaps believe that he
furbished up these old canons in the hope of reviving that
wholesome discipline. There is no evidence that the law ever
accorded with fact.



THE SCHOOLS FROM EDWARD THE ELDER 85

In the same way, we must discount as being too good
to be true the Ecclesiastical Laws, imputed by the editors to
c. 994, which follow the Edgar canons in the great Anglo-
Saxon MS. at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which con-
tains also the earliest copy of the Chronicle. The nine-
teenth of these laws runs : " Of schools in churches. If any
priest wishes to send his nephew or other kinsman to be
taught at the churches which are entrusted to us to govern,
we willingly grant him this". The next heading is : "That
priests shall keep schools in the villages and teach small boys
freely (gratis]. Priests ought always to keep schools of
schoolmasters [as opposed perhaps to schools of religious
merely] in their houses, and if any of the faithful is willing to
give his little ones to be educated he ought to receive them
willingly and teach them kindly. For it has been written
'The learned shall shine as the brightness of the firma-
ment ' and ' those who have educated and taught many
righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever'. But they
ought not to expect anything for their instruction except what
they wish to do of their own accord." These laws, however,
are nothing more than a slightly varied version of the canons
of Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans, promulgated at a diocesan
synod, c. 797, which are themselves merely repetitions of the
fourth and fifth canons of the Sixth Council of Constantinople,
held about a century earlier, in 682, and propounded in a
place and among people not yet subject to barbarian con-
quest. Applied either to France in the days of Charlemagne
or England in the days of Ethelred, they can have been little
more than a pious aspiration.

We come to firmer ground in the school books of ^Elfric,
who was a pupil both of Dunstan and Ethelwold. There can
be no more convincing proof of the widespread extent of
schools in the post-Alfredian age than the three educational
works of ^Elfric, the Anglo-Latin Grammar, Glossary and
Colloquy. Our ^Elfric, who was at one time identified first
with an Archbishop of Canterbury and then with an Archbishop
of York of the same name, has now been definitely shown to
have risen no higher than to the abbacy of Eynsham, a mon-
astery newly founded, which he accepted about the year 1005,
very much as Alcuin before him did that of Tours, and



86 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

Alexander Neckham, after him, that of Cirencester, by way of
a retiring pension. ^Elfric was, as the introduction to his
Grammar tells us, brought up under Bishop Ethelwold, "in
whose school he spent many years ", and whose method of
translation "following the simplest meaning" he was content
" to practice as he learnt it in the school of Adelwold, the
venerable prelate who taught many to good purpose ", and
was Bishop of Winchester. The writer of ^Elfric's life in the
Dictionary of National Biography places this school of Ethel-
wold at Abingdon. But this writer (the Rev. W. Hunt) is
also responsible for St. Swithun's imaginary tutorship of
Alfred the Great, and for inventing an imaginary college at
Winchester to which to send Archbishop Chicheley, through
making a mistake as to the date of the foundation of
Winchester College. The translation of Ethelwold's school
from Winchester to Abingdon is quite unwarrantable in face of
^Elfric's own description of himself as a scholar of Winchester
( Wintoniensis alumnus] in the dedication of his life of Ethel-
wold to the then Bishop of Winchester, Kenulf. There is
not the smallest reason to suppose that ^Elfric ever had any-
thing to do with Abingdon. He never suggests any such
connexion himself, nor has anyone before Mr. Hunt ever
suggested it. Abingdon was only founded with clerks from
Glastonbury, who became monks there about 955- .^Elfric,
who, as he tells us, wrote Ethelwold's life twenty years after
his death, which took place in 984, and outlived King
Ethelred who died in 1016, could hardly have been more than
a boy in 964 when Ethelwold turned out the clerks from the
old minster at Winchester and put in monks. ^Elfric was no
doubt one of the " youths and young men " whom he de-
scribes Ethelwold as being " fond of teaching and translating
books into English (libros Anglice eis solvere) and exhorting
to better things, so that a great many of them became abbots
and bishops of England". yElfric shared his master's taste
for translation, and, following Alfred the Great's example,
spent nearly his whole literary life, which began when he
was a monk at Cerne in Dorset, in giving Latin works an
English dress. The first of these works, the Homilies or
Sermons, is fixed to the year 994. For he tells us that his
English-Latin grammar was composed shortly afterwards,



THE SCHOOLS FROM EDWARD THE ELDER 87

and we know it was before the Lives of the Saints, which can
be fixed to 996. The Grammar may therefore be safely
assigned to the year 995. The fact of the Grammar, and
glossary which accompanied it, and the Colloquy or Dialogue,
on which the boys were to practise as a First Latin Book,
being written with an English translation, is a very remarkable
testimony to the good sense as well as the learning of our Old
English forefathers.

The grammar is a translation of Priscian. " I ^Elfric ", as
the author informs us, " as not very learned, have been zealous
to translate these excerpts from the smaller and larger Priscian
into your tongue, my little boys, so that when you have read
through the eight parts of Donatus, by this book you can im-
plant both tongues, Latin and English, in your tender years till
you come to more advanced studies. I know many will blame
me for having occupied my mind with such studies, as turning
the art of grammar into English, but I intend them for lessons
(lectionem) for ignorant small boys, not for their elders." Many,
he proceeds, will blame his simple translation, as there are many
ways of construing the same passage, " but let anyone say what
he likes about it, I am content to do it as I learnt it in the
school of Ethelwold, the venerable prelate, who taught many
for their good". He then expresses his wonder that some
pronounce words like pater and malus short in prose, be-
cause they are counted short in verse. "To me it seems
better to invoke God the father honourably with a long
syllable than to make it short like the Britons, as God is not
subject to the art of grammar." This is a very ancient jest,
first told by Suetonius, in the opposite way, of a grammar
schoolmaster who, when the Emperor Tiberius made a mis-
take in grammar and a courtier said, if it was not Latin it soon
would be, replied, " Not so, for, Caesar, you can give laws to
men, not to words ". Gregory the Great in the preface to his
Moralia apologizes in advance for any bad grammar by say-
ing that he considers it below the dignity of the subject " to
keep the language of the divine oracles in subjection to the
rules of Donatus ".

JEUrics story is a curious testimony to the antiquity of the
English mode of pronouncing Latin, which prevailed in our
schools at least from the days of Edward VI till in the days of



88 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

George V boys are being taught to patter their pater, even in
prose, in some foreign fashion. Indeed the existence of this
English grammar shows how much under Alfred's example
the Winchester School of those days, and English schools in
general, were in advance of later ones, in which no English-
Latin grammar was used till the eighteenth century. It
was reserved for the days of the Commonwealth and its
apologist, Milton, to make the first attempt at an English
grammar. Yet even in 1863 the boys at Winchester learnt
their Greek grammar in Wordsworth's Latin.

Except philologically, the Grammar has, however, little
interest. The Colloquy, on the other hand, gives us a vivid
picture of the Saxon School at work. A Latin heading calls
the book "Dialogue to exercise boys in talking the Latin
tongue, first compiled by yElfric and afterwards added to by
;Elfric Bata, his pupil, in Latin and English ". Who Bata, or
the Bat, was, is unknown, except that in the life of Dunstan
by Osbern, he is casually mentioned as having " tried to dis-
possess the Church of Christ ", but in what way does not appear.
It is supposed, however, that it was by the Protestant view he
took of the Sacrament, in editing JElfric's Homilies in strong
opposition to the Real Presence doctrine, which Lanfranc and
Anselm afterwards combined to make the orthodox view of
the Roman Church. The Colloquy begins by the pupil D., for
discipulm, saying, " We boys ask you, master, to teach us to
speak Latin correctly, as we are unlearned (idiote ; ungelaerede}
and speak corruptly ". The object is characteristic of the whole
of medieval grammar school education. It was not as nowadays
only to read or write Latin but to speak it, to use it as a living
language. If we could call up some of those medieval school
boys, of whom our historians of education in their ignorance
have spoken so disrespectfully, we should find that if it came
to a Latin conversation, they would put our best scholars to
shame with the readiness of their discourse and the copiousness
of their vocabulary. It may be observed, by the way, that



Online LibraryArthur Francis LeachThe schools of medieval England → online text (page 9 of 39)