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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XIX. English Universities, Schools and Scholarship in the Sixteenth Century

§ 6. English schools under Elizabeth

The influence of Edwardian legislation on English schools is a subject for the general historian. It is, however, to be noted how large was the supply of small schools, elementary, “song,” or grammar schools in England, as revealed by the chantry commission of 1548, particularly in the eastern half of the kingdom. Some half dozen school foundations, such as Sedbergh and Birmingham, are in debt to Northumberland. Mary could do as little for schools as for universities. Elizabeth’s counsellors took up the task where Edward’s death had left it. The queen’s trained intelligence was on the side of knowledge. In church and in state, the men she trusted owed more to acquired gifts than to birth. Classical education was in favour at court; money from religious houses was—though sparingly, as always—accorded to school endowments on request. To restore the local grammar school became a fashion. Merchants, servants of the crown, country gentry, superior clergy, borough corporations, founded free grammar schools. Westminster was reconstructed; Eton and Winchester, which had the immunities of a college of the universities, widened studies and enlarged their numbers. The leaving age was advanced. A new type of scholar, sometimes, like Ashton of Shrewsbury, a man of versatile gifts and standing at court, or a travelled historian like Camden, became headmaster. Savile and Wotton dignified the office of provost of Eton. Purely local schools, such as Peterborough or Colchester, made stringent requirements of attainment in their headmasters. Fellows of the best colleges took service in schools, and, though often incompetent as teachers, were but rarely ill-educated men. The best houses began to send boys to school. The tutor remained for the younger brothers, or piloted the promising graduate through the perils of the foreign tour. The burgher class adopted the new education. Colet’s reformed school of St. Paul’s was copied in fifty towns. Borough councils were importunate to secure charters and grants. In order to keep a high level of efficiency, here and there a founder linked his school to one of the colleges of the university, after the fashion of Eton or Winchester. The lay spirit became dominant. Shrewsbury, indeed, was a civic school, but ecclesiastical foundations also, like Westminster and Winchester, now and again had lay heads. The licence to teach was granted by the bishop of the diocese, and, nominally at least, royal sanction gave its imprimatur to a Latin grammar or to a historical text-book like Ocland’s Anglorum Praelia. Yet, in reality, instruction was unfettered within the limits of school statutes.

There were, in effect, two main types of school. The first was the great public boarding school: Eton, Winchester and Westminster, drawing pupils from the country at large, though Westminster was, largely, a London school; with these ranked Shrewsbury, which, of local origin and a day school, yet served a province, and was filled with sons of the gentry of north Wales, and the northwest midlands. The second type was the town day school, of diverse origin, such as St. Paul’s, Merchant Taylors’, St. Saviour’s Southwark, Manchester, Guildford, Tonbridge, or Magdalen College school. Wolsey’s school of Ipswich apart, there is no reason to assume imitation of French or German models in organisation. The statutes of Wykeham or of Colet were the standing guide. Compared with the superior clergy, headmasters, like heads of houses in the universities, were poorly paid. Ashton had £40 per annum at Shrewsbury. The Westminster headship was worth £27. 11s. 8d., but “presents” were expected from parents. Camden said he earned enough. Guildford could pay £24 in 1596. Bucer’s stipend of £100, in Edward’s reign, was magnificent, but unique. The usual pay of the one master of a small grammar school, in 1548, was six or seven pounds. Rotherham and Southwell, collegiate schools, could afford £10 or a little more. Shrewsbury was, about 1570, far the best paid headship in England, and the school numbers exceeded those of Eton or Winchester. The custom of taking “private pupils,” however, grew rapidly towards the end of the century. As a Cambridge fellow rarely received so much as £6, including his allowance for commons, the new schools tended to attract promising material to their staff.