Geen categorie · Philology

Medieval England: Language, society and The Canterbury Tales #5

Philo ME

Hello and welcome to another part of the series about Medieval England.
This time  I would like to spend some time on the following subjects:

  • Medieval schools
    • Mendicant schools
    • Monastic schools
    • Cathedral schools
    • Pecia system
  • The 7 liberal arts
    • trivium and quadrivium

As usual I have my tutors to thank for providing a lot of information and a book: The medieval world complete, edited by Robert Barlett. Other sources will be mentioned in the text and if I find a useful website I’ll give you the link.

Medieval schools

During the Middle Ages schools were often clergical institutions. It was only when the demand of education rose within the aristocracy and the middle class that there came private institutions and later government supported universities.
Charlemagne can be seen as the man who created the basis of contemporary education. Education thrived during his reign together with other cultural aspects, leading to what became the Carolingian Renaissance. (For more information on Charlemagne click here)
Most of the schools were unable to provide books for the children, since books were valuable and expensive, so the lessons were oral and the children learned it all by heart.
Next there will be three different schools mentioned, I will not get into the detail, if you are interested in this specific subject you should really read the book written by Nicholas Orme: Medieval Schools: Roman Britain to Renaissance England.

Mendicant schools

In the book Medieval Schools: Roman Britain to Renaissance England written by Nicholas Orme, there’s a lot of information about the medieval school ‘system’ as it were. When the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Augustinians came, among other, to England in the thirteenth century they established special houses and some of these houses had schools within them where the children would be taught grammar, logic, philosophy and theology. Of course there are differences between the orders but if you are more  interested in the details about Medieval schools you should read the book.

Monastic schools

These schools were the centre of learning and scholarship in the early Middle Ages. Those schools provided the basic education, Latin, history and theology among other courses but the monastic culture was often only available for a certain community of monks or novices or at best for monks or novices in general. After they finished the monastic school there would be an opportunity for them to either go to the cathedral school or other non-monastic schools, or to take their orders.

Cathedral schools

At first these schools provided education for the secular clergy and these schools eventually became universities in the 12th and 13th century.
By the time these schools became universities the aristocracy and the middle class became more literate and students started to look for an education given by the scholar they chose. It was no longer a matter of practicality but learning became a reason for happiness and scholar began to make a name for themselves.  Since the students were now able to chose their tutors, they became a new power in society and gathered in guilds themselves. The cathedral schools no longer were exclusive for the secular clergy but now the layman could be educated as well.

There were three different kind of universities: Cathedral universities which had the support of the church, universities where the students paid tuition and the universities supported by the government (Cambridge and Oxford). With the founding of the universities, the institutions started to specialize and use more texts, which lead to a need for the production of books on a massive scale.

Pecia system

The demand for books was increasing since the number of students only multiplied. In short: The pecia system is a way to mass produce a book. Everyone had his own job in this system. One would copy chapter 1 a dozen times for example and the other chapter 2 and so on and so forth. These copied texts would then be compiled into several books. Eventually, in 1476, the printing press came into existence, making the production even easier. (For more detail on the pecia system click here)

The 7 liberal arts

Trivium and Quadrivium

The medieval curriculum was divided into the seven liberal arts. The Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, logic) were the art of language and the quadrivium (music, arithmetic/mathematics, geometry and astronomy) led to knowledge.
As you can see in the picture above there are 7 women who represent these liberal arts, at their feet are the men who have invented the arts to begin with, most of them are Greek or Roman. When a student mastered these arts, they could move on to philosophy (knowledge by reason) and then to theology (knowledge acquired by faith).


Of course there is much more to know on this subject but for the time being I’ll stop at this point. I hope I’ve clarified these subjects for you and if you are interested in more about the seven liberal arts then click here.
After this there will be one last post about the Middle Ages between 1066-1500 and then this part of my course is over, for now. If you have any feedback or something nice to say, please leave a comment!


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