Jason Taliadoros

title.none: Orme, Medieval Schools (Jason Taliadoros)

identifier.other: baj9928.0802.011 08.02.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jason Taliadoros, School of Historical Studies, Monash University

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Orme, Nicholas. Medieval Schools: From Roman Britain to Renaissance England. New Haven, Ct: Yale University Press, 2006. Pp. xvi, 420. $45.00 0-300-11102-9. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.02.11

Orme, Nicholas. Medieval Schools: From Roman Britain to Renaissance England. New Haven, Ct: Yale University Press, 2006. Pp. xvi, 420. $45.00 0-300-11102-9. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Jason Taliadoros
School of Historical Studies, Monash University

In this handsomely-produced volume, replete with over ninety illustrations, most of them in colour, Professor Orme returns to the site of his first scholarly work, English Schools in the Middle Ages (1973). Orme concedes the present book follows the plan of the earlier one, "but it is essentially a new work with additional information and more mature judgments" (xv). One would scarcely doubt this to be the case; in the three decades since 1973, Orme has authored or co-authored twenty-three books, more than a hundred articles, and almost thirty book chapters: a body of work covering high medieval to early modern English episcopal, ecclesiastical, religious, educational, and children's history. The author, additionally, observes that Medieval Schools is a "sequel" to his Medieval Children (2001) in the sense that it deals with children at school, while the earlier work dealt with their home lives (xv).

The aim of the work, as the introduction explains, is to tackle two pre-conceptions about medieval schools: first, that only trainee clergy attended; and, second, that they were "primitive places without adequate teachers, well-designed lessons, or helpful equipment" (3). Orme's responses to these two issues constitute the theses of this work: first, that the Middle Ages produced "genuine schools, operating in creative and effective ways, and attended by many young people"; and second, that "medieval education was not a precursor of modern education, but the same thing in different circumstances" (3). The first of these hints at one of the problems of this book, namely whether it is directed to a scholarly audience or, as he puts it, the "general public" (3). For who, apart from this general public, would seriously question the notion of there being genuine schools in the Middle Ages? On its face tautological, the second rather confusing thesis seems to argue against discontinuity between medieval and modern education.

The remainder of the introduction sets out the scholarship on medieval education. The few scholars who focus on medieval schools, the author notes, confine themselves to its monastic context. Arthur Francis Leach (d. 1915), the first to write a large-scale history of English public schools, de-emphasised the monastic monopoly but argued for a continuity between medieval and modern schooling. The book under review is the clear historical successor, and corrective, to Leach's corpus. Orme, therefore, is at pains to pick out the defects of his predecessor's work; he also notes, however, the contributions to this broad field by Jo Ann Moran (now Moran Cruz), as well as the more specialist contributions of Michael Lapidge and Vivien Law (education in Anglo-Saxon England), R. W. Hunt (medieval grammar), David Thomson and Tony Hunt (Latin school texts and glossaries), and Cynthia Bland and Hedwig Gwosdek (Tudor period school texts).

The introduction also sets out the scope and nature of the book. The agenda is to trace the history of education in England from Roman times (AD 43) to the accession of Elizabeth I during the Reformation (1558). Certainly, "medieval" is taken in its broadest sense here. Orme describes his book as a "survey" (11), a contrast to the monograph style he adopted in English Schools of the Middle Ages. Within these chronological parameters, Orme's work studies grammar, the identification of school sites and buildings, and a reconstruction of the careers of schoolmasters and their pupils. The book comprises three substantive parts: the first ("Origins") and third ("History") sections, comprising chapter 1 and chapters 6 to 10 respectively, provide a chronological study of schools in England from the Romans to the Reformation, while the second section ("Features") includes chapters 2 to 5 and deals thematically with particular features of these schools.

Chapter 1, "From the Romans to 1100", sets out concisely the little that is known of English education in this period, and in this sense is a true "survey" of the relevant scholarship. England adopted the traditional Roman curriculum of elementary learning (comprised of reading, writing, and arithmetic) and the higher studies of grammar and rhetoric under private tutors and fee- earning teachers; with the advent of the Roman policy of toleration of Christianity in 313 AD, learning took place in monasteries and cathedrals. The disruptions of the Viking raids of the eighth century and a dip in monasticism at the end of the tenth century saw the rise of "minsters," the English equivalents of monasteries, which also included religious communities "less tied to monastic practices" (32); in between, the ninth century saw reforms in monasticism and education in the royal household under Alfred of Wessex and a further revival of monasticism in the tenth century. The Norman Conquest and the ensuing twelfth century signalled a major shift, with education moving from the inner life of the monastery to "public" spaces, a further point for discussion in debates over continuity and conquest (49).

Chapter 2, "The Tower of Learning", begins the second section of the book on the "Features" of medieval education. The image comes from a sixteenth-century woodcut in which the figure of Lady Grammar stands beside a tower holding out an alphabet to a schoolboy who, if he learns it, she will admit to climb the tower; inside are rooms at every level teaching different subjects (54). This chapter outlines these levels, beginning with the alphabet, then reading, song (i.e. plainsong), and grammar. Once a student had mastered these basic studies, they could progress to higher education, in the liberal arts and philosophy, or "business studies," including letter writing, accountancy and law. Following higher studies were "postgraduate studies' in medicine, Roman civil law, canon law, or theology. Orme considers these various levels of education in turn, although, disappointingly, he glosses over the demarcation point between these free-standing schools and the nascent universities of the late twelfth century. At what point, one might ask, did organised and systematic teaching begin in the higher studies in what we might recognise as English "universities?" Orme instead focuses on the now-established universities of the thirteenth century such as Oxford and Cambridge.

Chapter 3 on "The Teaching of Grammar" is a study of the texts used to teach grammar from the Norman Conquest to the advent of humanism in the fifteenth century. While the basic texts of Donatus and Priscian took centre stage, Orme notes the use of "grammars', dictionaries, and vulgaria as pedagogic tools. Chapter 4, "The Schoolroom", outlines for the same period the gender and age of school students and how long they stayed at school--this last issue, Orme reveals, was not fixed at all, but dependent on "resources and ambition" (130). He considers their social and geographic make-up, and then turns to more practical issues, such as school buildings, schoolmasters, schoolwork, books, holidays, and the fortunes of alumni. Chapter 5, "The Schoolmaster", concludes the section on "Features' and surveys the transition of this profession from being one largely made up of clergy to a "definite" class of specialised teachers emerging by 1200 (165). He also covers the qualifications of these masters, their career progression, their earnings and their (lowly) status.

Chapter 6, "Schools from 1100 to 1350", returns to the chronological narrative begun in chapter 1. It deals with the geographical distribution of schools across England, building from what is known to what is not known. Orme explains that, from the twelfth century, cities containing a cathedral were likely to have a school (sometimes two: a "song" and a "grammar" school, in the case of "secular" cathedrals), but even non-cathedral cities, such as Northampton and Oxford, had grammar schools. He concludes that most "lesser towns" would have had such a school by the end of the thirteenth century (193). As to the financing of these institutions, Orme considers their patronage and endowment, as well as endowments for scholars. Whilst the Church played a significant role in all this, Orme pertinently observes that this was no "national" Church policy, but merely a consequence of local relationships and networks (201-2). Continuing the historical survey, chapter 7 treats "Schools from 1350 to 1530". Orme begins with the impact of the Black Death (1348-49) and the rise to cultural prominence of the English vernacular on schools. He dismisses Leach's argument that the Plague afforded English peasants greater opportunities to attend schools. Indeed, Orme is most comfortable in this later medieval era, the area in which he has greatest expertise. The endowed school, that is a school established within a college, furnished the model for this period; although Winchester College was paradigmatic in its scale, the more modest plan of Wotton provided the template that was to be followed by most schools. Orme's analysis and evidence is so comprehensive that he is able to provide a schematised plan of endowed schools in England in the later Middle Ages (230-31).

Although it is Orme's proposition that the role of the clergy in English schooling has been exaggerated, chapter 8 summarises "The Religious Orders and Education". From the twelfth century, when they no longer held a monopoly on the provision of education and the system of "oblation" diminished due to the appearance of free- standing schools, monastic orders nevertheless continued their educational work. In this, the Dominican friars took a leading role, particularly in the thirteenth-century university curriculum. The Benedictine and Cistercian monastic orders also contributed, as did the "secular" orders of Augustinians, Premonstratensians and Gilbertines. Orme also looks at the role of nuns, the semi-secular phenomenon of the "almonry boys", and the non-monastic outsiders whom the clergy taught.

Chapters 9 ("The Reign of Henry VIII") and 10 ("From Edward VI to Elizabeth I") respectively outline the impact of the Reformation on schools in England. Orme estimates that Henry's dissolution of the monasteries in the period 1536-40 had a devastating impact on some 5,000 educational places (300). But Henry's plans were not without positive results; the drive to uniformity hastened the development of the English language from a vernacular to a national language, alongside the appearance of "uniform" or "authorised" grammar text books (308). The attempt to dissolve charities and guilds, begun under Henry, continued under Edward in the 1540s. Orme concludes that Leach was wrong, both in his underestimation of the destruction visited on schools by Henry's dissolution of the monasteries and in his overestimation of the adverse impact of the diminution of the chantries. As such, Orme observes that attempts to label developments in schools as "pre-" or "post-" Reformation were misleading, as were similar efforts between "medieval" and "Renaissance" (335). It is at this point that Orme amplifies the thesis he suggested in the introduction, namely that there was "no definite stopping point" for a history of medieval schooling: medieval education was not a precursor to modern education, but the same thing in "different circumstances" (335). It is worth noting that he drew a similar conclusion of medieval childhood: "And as the reader will by now have realized, I believe them [the children of the Middle Ages] to have been ourselves, five hundred or a thousand years ago" (Medieval Childhood, 10).

The final chapter and conclusion, "Reflections", attempts to extrapolate this "continuity" argument. On the one hand, Orme states that "None of those [schools] that exist today can be truthfully traced back before 1000, and not many before 1400" (339), but, on the other, "there is hardly a concept, institution, or practice of modern education that cannot be traced, somewhere or other, in medieval England" (345). These achievements of medieval schools, he observes, included the establishment of free-standing educational institutions, sophisticated and creative pedagogic techniques and tools, a profession of teachers, textbooks, school structures, and "modern English" (345). But the notion of medieval education "progressing" over time, in the sense of moving away from clericisation towards laicisation (adopted by Leach), is inaccurate and misleading, the author notes. Medieval schools were a unique phenomenon in time and place. This argument calls for conjecture of the most hypothetical kind: if today's society were put in a "medieval" time and place, would medieval schools still have been as they were? Orme would say yes; this reviewer would find such a question impossible to answer.

In methodological terms, the author's use of sources is frustrating: while he weaves them masterfully into his narrative, this is often at the expense of any meaningful analysis. Too often the reader is left with a mass of interesting details, but no explicit sense of how these fit into the author's grander scheme. To return to the issue I raised earlier as to readership, this panoply of meticulously researched data will service undergraduate students and lecturers looking for examples of medieval social life, as will the splendid illustrations (and the appendiced list of schools in England and Wales for the period 1066-1530) delight non-specialists as a coffee-table book. But graduate students and senior researchers will be ultimately unsatisfied. For while this book deserves its place alongside the classic studies of medieval universities by Rashdall, Cobban, Embden, and Powicke, Orme's work leaves unexplored some key issues in medieval intellectual life, namely the particular moment when schools developed into "proto- universities" in the twelfth century and, more broadly, how English developments varied from Continental and northern European practices. In this sense, then, Orme's "survey" of medieval schools is both an outline and an invitation to enter into a scholarly domain that has been his for so long.