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Some English Academies: an Experiment in the Education of Renaissance Gentlemen

  • Patricia-Ann Lee (a1)


The Rush of the Gentry into English schools and universities during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries has been well documented. An Elizabethan writer, William Harrison, was merely reiterating a familiar complaint when he wrote of the universities that although they had originally been founded for poor men's sons “the rich do so incroch vpon them, and so farre hath this inconueience spread it selfe that it is in my time an hard matter for a poore mans child to come by a felowship (though he be neuer so good a scholer & woorthie of that roome.)”



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1. Harrison, William, Harrison's Description of England in Shakespere's Youth ed. Furnivall, Frederick J., 4 vols., New Shakespere Society, ser. 6, no. 8 (London: N. Trübner, 1877–1908), I, 77.

2. Cleland, James, The Scottish Academie or, Institution of a Young Noble-man (Printed at London: for Edward White, 1611), p. 138.

3. Gentility in sixteenth-century England had come to be a matter of education and function as well as of birth. See, for example, Francis Markham, The Booke of Honour: or Five Decads of Epistles of Honour (London: A. Matthewes and Norton, John, 1625), p. 38. In discussing precedence, Markham places the well-born first but puts, directly below them, those who had attained gentility through education and elective office. See also Riche, Barnabe, Roome for a Gentleman (London: I. W[indet] for Jeffrey Chorleton, 1609), p. 8.

4. Hexter, J. H., “The Education of the Aristocracy in the Renaissance,Reappraisals in History: New Views on History and Society in Early Modern Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), is a graceful and indispensable discussion not only of this subject but of the whole question of gentlemanly education.

5. The Parliaments of 1563 and 1593 are discussed by Neale, J. E. in The Elizabethan House of Commons (London: Penguin Books in association with Jonathan Cape, 1963), p. 291. For the Long Parliament see Brunton, D. and Pennington, D. H., Members of the Long Parliament (London: G. Allen and Unwin, , 1954), p. 7. It might be argued that such a group would naturally be drawn from the better-educated segments of the gentle class, particularly given the large proportion of lawyers among the M.P.s. But the popularity of education among the gentility can also be seen in a very different group, the Baronets. Of the 467 members created between the inception of the order and the creations of 1647, more than 35 percent had received some kind of advanced schooling. This is based on information about individual baronets given in Cokayne, G. E., Complete Baronetage, 5 vols. (Exeter, England: Pollard, 1900–1909), vol. 1.

6. Curtis, Mark H., Oxford and Cambridge in Transition, 1558–1642 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), pp. 64–65. See also Caspari, Fritz, Humanism and the Social Order in Tudor England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), p. 136.

7. de Pluvinel, Antoine (1555–1620) was a gentleman who had been under-governor and riding instructor to the Dauphin, later Louis XIII. His book, Manège Royal (1623) was the authoritative text on this particular aspect of horsemanship (along with the work of the Italian master, Federico Grisone).

8. Original Letters Illustrative of English History, ed. Ellis, Henry, 4 vols., ser. 2 (London: Harding and Lepard, 1827), III, 221–22.

9. Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Baldick, Robert (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), p. 207.

10. Hurstfield, Joel, The Queen's Wards: Wardship and Marriage under Elizabeth I (London: Longmans, Green, 1958), p. 25.

11. The memorandum was found among Cecil's papers, and some historians have attributed it to him. Bindoff, S. T., however, is among those who disagree. He suggests that it probably originated in a committee of administrators and lawyers which included Sir Smith, Thomas and Goodrich., Richard Bindoff, S. T., “The Making of the Statute of Artificers,Elizabethan Government and Society: Essays Presented to Sir John Neale, ed. Bindoff, S. T., Hurstfield, J., and Williams, C. B. (London: University of London, The Athlone Press, 1961), pp. 8081.

12. Rowse, A. L., The England of Elizabeth: The Structure of Society (New York: Macmillan, 1951), pp. 259–60.

13. Hurstfield, pp. 255–56.

14. Gilbert, Humphrey, Queene Elizabethes Achademy: with Introductory Essays on Early Italian and German Books of Courtesy by Rosetti, W. M. and Oswald, E., ed. Frederick, J. Furnivall, , Early English Text Society, extra series, no. 8 (London: N. Trübner, 1869), p. 10.

15. Ibid., p. 9.

16. Ibid.

17. Birch, Thomas, The Life of Henry Prince of Wales (London: Printed for A. Millar, 1760), p. 97.

18. Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers: Journal of the House of Lords, vol. 3 (March 3, 1620), p. 36.

19. Ibid.

20. Portal, Ethel M., “The Academ Roial of King James I,Proceedings of the British Academy, 1915–1916 (London: Humphrey Milford, 1916), p. 192.

21. Francis Kynaston, Sir, The Constitutions of the Musaeum Minervae ([London]: T. P. for T. Spencer, 1636), n.p.n.

22. Ibid.

23. Williamson, H. R., Four Stuart Portraits (London: Evans Brothers, 1949), pp. 26145 passim.

24. Milton, John, Of Education, To Master Samuel Hartlib (1644) (Meriston, England: The Scolar Press, 1968). Milton's relations with Hartlib are discussed in Turnbull, G. H., Hartlib, Dury and Comenius: Gleanings from Hartlib's Papers (London: University Press of Liverpool, Hodder and Stoughton, 1947), pp. 57–59. Hartlib was a London merchant who was deeply interested in education and was a friend and translator of Comenius. He apparently solicited Milton's ideas and this “letter” was the result. Ainsworth, O. M., ed. Milton on Education (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928), introduction pp. 6–7.

25. Milton, p. 2.

26. Ibid., p. 3.

27. Ibid., p. 5.

28. Ibid., p. 4. Milton was, of course, implacably opposed to the French academies and would not have recognized any similarities to his own proposed institution, although many existed. He hoped his academy would end the need for the “Mounsieurs of Paris to take our hopefull youth into their slight and prodigall custodies and send them over back again, transformed into mimics, apes & kicshoes.” Ibid., p. 8.

This study was partially supported by a Skidmore College Faculty Research Grant.

Some English Academies: an Experiment in the Education of Renaissance Gentlemen

  • Patricia-Ann Lee (a1)


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