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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XV. English and Scottish Education. Universities and Public Schools to the Time of Colet

§ 15. Medieval Studies; The Grammer School

What, we next ask, were the subjects and the courses of medieval academic study?

The early education of the generality of English youths in the Middle Ages was found in a school attached to some cathedral or convent. In the old grammar schools, reading, writing and elementary Latin constituted, with singing, the subjects of instruction. The “litel clergeon, seven yeer of age” of The Prioress’s Tale learned in school “to singen and to rede, as smale children doon in hir childhede.” He had his primer. A school-fellow translated and expounded for the enquiring child the Alma redemptoris from the antiphoner of an older class. The prioress, doubtless, here indicates the teaching of the conventual schools of her day. Through Ave Maria and Psalms, learned by rote, the boy passed to the rudiments of grammar, with Donatus and Alexander de Villa Dei as guides, and Terence and Ovid as providers of classic texts. Latin was the living language of all abodes of learning, and to its acquisition, as such, were mainly directed the efforts of all the old grammar schools. The same course was pursued at Winchester and Eton. In the days of Elizabeth, boys at the public schools were “well entered in the knowledge of the Latin and Greek tongues and rules of versifying.” But, for William of Wykeham and Henry VI, Greek was not as yet. William Paston, in 1467, desiring to quit Eton, “lacked nothing but versifying,” and endeavoured to convince his brother of his acquirements by some lame Latin lines. A little more skill in such versifying, some knowledge of Terence, of Ovid and of Cicero’s letters, with the confidence derived from constant exercise in Latin conversation, were the equipment with which his best furnished contemporaries went up to the discussions of the university. The nature of the studies which the young aspirants would, thenceforward, pursue may be gathered from the oldest extant university statutes.