Education, Science and Research in Medieval England

Presentation (Elaboration), 2014

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Schools and Education
1.1 Types of schools
1.2 The Curriculum
1.3 Distinguishing schools
1.4 A usual school day
1.5 Schools and Education – a conclusion

2. Science and Research
2.1 Scientific Sources and Topics
2.2 Scientific Writing
2.3 Science versus Religion
2.4 Science and Medicine, Science and Nature
2.5 Science and Research – a conclusion


1. Schools and Education

About 120 schools are known to have existed in England during the period between the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the Reformation in 1517 (Orme 1976: XI). However, such numbers must remain vague and can only offer limited insight into medieval English learning. This is partly due to the relatively low amount of source material, but also the wide range of highly differing institutions which were all referred to with the term “school” (c.f. ibid.: 2f). Still, some distinctions can be made and similarities can be found in almost all medieval English schools, mostly involving the curricula, manners of education and the people teaching at and attending schools. Additionally, academic institutions had a high social impact on their respective surroundings (c.f. ibid.: 32f).

1.1 Types of schools

As mentioned above, the detection of distinct school-forms is rather difficult. Orme categorized these various institutions in three major types: secular schools, private secular schools and schools of religious orders (c.f. ibid.: 1f).

Secular schools were open to the public and there were almost no restrictions that limited the admission to one of those schools, except for sex (only males were allowed to attend school), fees and dispensability from any other work (c.f. ibid.: 1). The restriction of fees lessened during the course of the 14th century, when some wealthy benefactors (usually bishops, merchants, members of the nobility etc.) endowed schools with money and/or property, thereby allowing the respective masters to teach for free (c.f. ibid.). The masters of such schools were secular priests, clerks and laymen, but (unlike monks and friars) usually not members of a religious order – and so were their scholars (c.f. ibid.).

Private secular schools were insofar more restricted, as they were located in large monasteries that only few sons of wealthy magnates were able to attend (c.f. ibid.). As Orme states, such schools did not necessarily provide a higher quality of education, but involved much fewer pupils (c.f. ibid.). The masters of private schools were mostly secular teachers, but also members of the clergy, though apparently never monks (c.f. ibid.).

Schools of religious orders had the defined aim of educating future members of their respective orders and therefore, unlike any other school-form, provided a more or less clear-cut future for their scholars. Such schools were rather enclosed, small and private and only intended for religious purposes; monks and friars worked as masters and instructed their pupils with the specific knowledge needed in order to lead a monastic life and to work and behave accordingly (c.f. ibid.: 1f).

1.2 The Curriculum

According to Orme, the typical curriculum of a medieval English school was made up of three major parts: reading and singing, grammar and literary studies and optional higher studies (c.f. ibid.: 2f). When comparing the curricula of medieval and modern times, similarities as well as differences can be recognized: while both function comparable to steps that each student has to climb in order to access further and more defined knowledge, medieval education put a higher emphasis on religion and learning by heart as a manner of pedagogy.

Reading and singing covered learning the Alphabet, pronunciation and chanting, thereby helping students remember the correct pronunciation of words and biblical verses and also preparing them for a rather likely clerical career (c.f. ibid.). This first stage formed the basis of any further education and was mainly intended for children (c.f. ibid.). Grammar and literary studies were the next stage of learning and involved reading prose and poems, but also studying literary texts and achieving experience with literary criticism (c.f. ibid.). This manner of reading and examining texts might be slightly comparable to its modern equivalent. Higher education was only accessible for those students who had a thorough understanding of Latin and the money required to be educated even further (c.f. ibid.). The offered courses were concerned with arts, medicine, law and theology which Orme regards as the “third and highest grade of medieval education” (ibid.: 2).

As schools were mainly led by only one master (and, in some cases, an assistant), it was impossible to cover each and every aspect of a curriculum as broad as that of medieval England in one school (c.f. ibid. 2f). Thus, different schools were concerned with different aspects of the curriculum and therefore had different main focuses which complicates the detection of distinct schools even further (c.f. ibid.). Another problem already mentioned beforehand is the source material itself which does not clearly distinguish between schools of any kind – be they schools of song or grammar, public, clerical or private (c.f. ibid.).

1.3 Distinguishing schools

Still, some distinctions can be made, for example those between elementary schools and universities, the first emerging only at the end of the Middle Ages when some schools explicitly excluded their teachings from basic subjects and focused on advanced students only (c.f. ibid.: 3f). This development propelled the emergence of universities, even though such institutions did not exist until the 13th century and even then, the boundaries between the education offered at schools and the studies taught at universities remained blurred (c.f. ibid.).

Some examples might illustrate this: scholars could attend grammar schools and further develop their knowledge at universities, but they could also learn basic grammar at some universities; there were art schools, even though the universities had the self-conception of being the centers of art-studies; when learning basic grammar at schools, students also encountered theories of logic which was actually a subject taught at universities only (c.f. ibid.). Once again, any finer distinction is difficult and confusing, as the obscured boundaries between the various school-forms “had [their] verbal equivalent since the universities were generally known as ‘the schools’ [...] and their undergraduates as ‘scholars’. You ‘went to school’ at Oxford and attended ‘the schools’ or lecture rooms of the masters there” (ibid.). Still, only a rather small amount of students ever finished their academic career, the majority of them leaving without a degree (c.f. Grant 1996: 38).


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Education, Science and Research in Medieval England
University of Cologne
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education, science, research, medieval, england
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Lena Meyer (Author), 2014, Education, Science and Research in Medieval England, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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