Education (Tudor and Stuart)

Not many children went to school in the Tudor and Stuart periods. Most children had to work, helping their family out in the fields or working for money in the towns. Girls would hardky ever go to school but would be taught by their mothers at home.  

Remains of St John's Hospital, High Wycombe


Before Henry VIII shut down the monasteries, many of them were schools for local boys. However, it appears that none of the monasteries in Buckinghamshire were in very good condition in the early Tudor period and were not fulfilling this service.


After the monasteries were shut down, there were calls on the king to use the money to open schools to replace some of what people had lost. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal to find all the schools set up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 



Chantry Chapel, BuckinghamThere were three schools for boys in Buckinghamshire in the sixteenth century. The old chantry chapel in Buckingham had been converted to a school in the 1540s with help from Edward VI; St John’s Hospital in High Wycombe was converted by Elizabeth I to a Royal Grammar School in 1562 and there was Eton College, a purpose-built school established in 1440 by Henry VI, though this is no longer in Buckinghamshire.


Do some research on the Internet and in books and find out the answers to these questions about Eton: 

  1. How many boys were welcomed when the college was first set up?
  2. Did the parents have to pay a fee?
  3. At what age did the boys start school?
  4. At what age did they leave?
  5. Did boys live at the school or just go there for the day?
  6. When did the school day start?
  7. When did it finish?
  8. What was the main language the boys had to know?


The schools in Buckingham and High Wycombe were similar but smaller. So, there were only three schools in the county to attend by the late sixteenth century, each taking less than 100 boys at a time. Not many would have the opportunity to go to school. At least the education was mainly free, however, and poor boys were taken in as long as they were clever enough. They would do reading, writing, arithmetic and Latin. They worked very long hours and six days a week!


Site of Aylesbury Grammar SchoolAll the early schools had to have support from the monarch. In the seventeenth century, other rich individuals were able to establish schools. Aylesbury Grammar School was set up with money from Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley before 1687; Chaloners in Steeple Claydon was founded by Sir Thomas Chaloner in 1656; Dr Challoners Grammar School in Amersham was founded in 1624; the Old Latin School in Beachampton was established with money from the will of William Elmer in 1648; Tippings School in Stokenchurch was founded by Bartholomew Tipping in 1675 and Sir William Borlase’s School in Marlow was founded in 1624.


Sir William Borlase gave his school £12 a year for a schoolmaster to teach 24 poor boys in writing, reading and doing accounts and after two years at school 40s to set them up in an apprenticeship. 24 girls were to be taught sewing, spinning and lace-making, the first school for girls in the county!


What kind of men do you think the founders of these schools were? Why would they want to found schools? 



Many boys went straight into an apprenticeship rather than going to school. Girls could take up apprenticeships too. Apprenticeships tended to start between 9 and 18 and lasted for seven years. Parents often had to buy apprenticeships from tradesmen because keeping an apprentice was expensive and troublesome. Each child would learn the trade from a master or mistress, stay in their house and be fed. They wouldn’t generally earn their own money. When they had finished their apprenticeship they became a journeyman. After more years working for other people, by now being able to earn money, they may get up to the rank of master in their trade and be able to set up business by themselves. Some apprenticeships cost more than others because some trades earned more than others.


Here are some of the trades people could be apprenticed to:







Making clothes


Making underwear and mending clothes






Buying and selling wool


Making lace


Making chairs and tables


Dressing, serving food, taking messages for your mistress


Buying and selling cloth




Making barrels




Which trade would you prefer to go into?


It probably didn’t take seven years to learn all the skills of the trade. Apprenticeships were also ways of controlling who was practising in a trade so that those who were already in it wouldn’t have much competition. Oliver Cromwell tried to ban apprenticeships in High Wycombe in 1657 but the townspeople were still very keen to keep business to themselves. 

Claydon House: The Verney family who lived there probably had tutors


Sons, and sometimes daughters, of rich landowners would be taught at home. Tutors from Oxford or Cambridge universities or from the church would be employed to teach maths, reading, writing, Latin, Greek, French, rhetoric, dancing and other subjects considered proper for gentlemen. The gentry and nobility got a much more extensive education than anyone going to school.



More people were able to read in the Tudor and Stuart periods, partly because of the free schools and also the availability of printed books. There were lots of books giving advice on good behaviour or for learning maths or foreign languages. Here is some advice from Booke of Nurture by Hugh Rhodes, published in 1577. Read it and write it out in modern language.


At dinner, press not thyself too high; sit in the place appointed thee.

Sup not loud of thy pottage.

Dip not thy meat in the saltcellar, but take it with a knife.

Belch near no man's face with a corrupt fumosity.

Eat small morsels of meat; eat softly, and drink mannerly.

Corrupt not thy lips with eating, as a pig doth.

Scratch not thy head with thy fingers, nor spit you over the table.

If your teeth be putrefied, it is not right to touch meat that others eat.

Wipe thy mouth on thy napkin only, not on the table cloth.

Blow not your nose in the napkin where ye wipe your hand.


Try to solve this sixteenth century maths problem: 

            “There is a cat at the foot of a tree the length of 300 feet. This cat goeth upwards each day 17 feet and descendeth each night 12 feet.” How long until it reaches the top? 


Go back to the Rich and poor worksheets.