HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘Educating the Tudors’ by Amy McElroy

Education during the Tudor era was a privilege and took many forms including schools, colleges and apprenticeships. Those responsible for delivering education came from a variety of backgrounds from the humble parish priest to the most famed poet-laureates of the day. Curriculums varied according to wealth, gender and geography. The wealthy could afford the very best of tutors and could study as much or as little as they chose while the poorer members of society could only grasp at opportunities in the hopes of providing themselves with a better future.

The Tudors were educated during a time when the Renaissance was sweeping across Europe and Henry VIII became known as a Renaissance Prince but what did his education consist of? Who were his tutors? How did his education differ to that of his elder brother, Prince Arthur and how did Henry’s education change upon the death of his brother? There is no doubt Henry was provided with an excellent education, particularly in comparison to his sisters, Margaret and Mary. Henry’s own education would go on to influence his decisions of tutors for his own children. Who had the privilege of teaching Henry’s children and did they dare to use corporal punishment?

Educating the Tudors seeks to answer all of these questions, delving into the education of all classes, the subjects they studied, educational establishment and those who taught them.

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It can sometimes feel as if education has always been the way we see it now, with full classrooms of desks, 20-30 kids jammed in together to listen to a teacher sigh at the lack of interest in their students. While the Victorian system of schools designed to churn out good factory workers we are still stuck with today seems ever-lasting, the Tudors got to experience a whole different way of learning. So if you hear the title ‘Educating the Tudors’ and wonder if you have anything to learn, I can assure you that you do.

Education in the Tudor period very much depended on your social class (much like today I hear you saying). In Tudor times, the less money you had, didn’t always mean a smaller worldview. The difference here is that if you rose high even in social ranking, the less educated you needed to be, as you could ride that wave of being a member of the landed gentry and never have a job. By the time the first Tudors were taking their first steps, the printing press was well under way creating a world of new possibilites, along with the re-emergence of classic works, and with the explosion of the Reformation in 1517, the world likely felt bigger than ever for anyone able to get an education.

Theis book takes us though what is was like for a king to be educated, like the opportunities of Henry VIII, who could receive a humanist education with new ideas and secular studies alongside the traditional religious learning. Education was not settled in a clasroom either, as outdoor activities ranked just as highly as anything done in lessons. This is a pattern we see right through all Tudor monarchs.

The book doesn’t just dwell on the nobility, taking a reader through the social hierachy. The author can easily see through how class, gender and wealth changed educational needs and wants, how children were taught, and how practical subjects and apprenticeships  meant everything to a large portion of society. How someone grew up to be considered quaified in the Tudor period is vastly different to today, and the book takes us through both the steps taken by students, and how educated people were considered and recognised in their time.

Naturally with the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, this changed how people educated their children, what they learned, and what was available when King Henry took Cromwell’s reforming ideas and turned it into a chophouse of lost services. This book covers so much, from the basic first writing of a common-born child, through the trivium and quadrivium, to the books of  kings and queens, and everyone in between, showing readers a totally different world of education.

I wish I had read this book six months earlier than I did, I would have been able to use what I learned and credited the author in my next book, since this book certainly beats anything else on the topic. The book also covers great teachers of the period such as John Palsgrave, Giles Duwes, Roger Ascham, Bernard Andre, and Desiderius Erasmus. This book may be a first from the author, but I hope it is not the last. This book educates on the subject of education, without sounding like a dreaded school textbook. Fun, informative and genuinely interesting, thank you so much to Amy McElroy for such a  wonderful book.

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