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Elizabethan Era Education​

The Elizabethan time period took place during the Renaissance, which was from 1550-1650, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Life was very different for people at that time. Unlike our world today, where education plays a key role in all of our lives, education was only important to certain people of special statuses. This time period is when education began to bloom into what it is today. Women and poor children were diminutively educated, and wealthy children got to experience a lot more education by moving on to the higher schooling and learning all that was offered in this time period.

Education during the Elizabethan time was voluntary (Andrews 108); therefore most children did not finish their education to the fullest. The poor and wealthy statuses had very opposite educational backgrounds (Andrews 107). Most children began their education at a Petty School, but they were noisy, dirty and had teachers with limited education (108). It was not uncommon for children who came from poor families and backgrounds to be taken out of school to work for their parents after a short amount of time in a Petty School (108). Working class children left their homes between the ages of ten and seventeen to be servants, laborers, or apprentices in shops, farms, and wealthy homes (Ashby 60). Only boys who were wealthy or considered more gifted then others were accepted to move on from a Petty School to a Grammar School around the age of seven (108).


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This is a Petty or "Dame" School.

Women received even less of an education then any boy, no matter their status. There were very few Grammar schools that would accept girls between the ages of seven to nine (109). Many of the girls left Grammar Schools at the age of six, if they ever made it there, to be taught at home by their mothers or if they were wealthy, a private tutor, or a servant (Chrisp 8). It was very rare for families to hire a private tutor for their daughter to be educated by, though, because most parents believed that the best track for a girl was to become a wife and a mother (Andrews 109). Girls who were noble would be sent away to become ladies-in-waiting (109). This would prepare them for their future as a homemaker, and to tend to their husbands and children. Being a wife and a mother was a respectable position in the Elizabethan times for a woman, so education of them was put aside and left for the boys (109). Girls, who came from families that were poor, normally became servants or worked in shops (109). There is an estimate saying that three out of four girls lived away from their parents' home in their adolescences, most likely because they were working for other wealthy families, or because they were training to become a good wife and mother. (Ashby 60). Female literacy was much lower then the male's literacy rate, because of the fact that most women never attended school past the age of six (Marvel 182). There were very few women who received a great amount of education during this time period, but this was not uncommon.

Schooling began at the age of five or six in the Elizabethan era. Children began by going to a Petty School, which was run privately or as part of a parish (Andrews 108). Attendance to schools was voluntary during this time (107). There were no desks in Petty schools, so children sat on stools and balanced their books on their laps (Chrisp 9). The primary function of a Petty school was to teach basic things like reading and writing, but children also learned to perform simple arithmetic such as counting (Andrews 108). After children attended a Petty School, they moved on to the Grammar School (108). Grammar schools were demanding for young boys, and held high expectations (108). Boys attended Grammar Schools for five to ten years (108), and the sole purpose for a Grammar School was to teach children Latin (Chrisp 8) and Greek (Ashby 61). Schoolboys sat on long benches called forms in Grammar Schools (9). A Grammar School such as Wolver Hampton Grammar School contained around sixty-nine pupils, and they were only meant for wealthy or highly intelligent boys (Marvel 180). Classes lasted from six A.M. to Five-thirty P.M. with only a short dinner break between academic time (Andrews 108). Most children who attended a grammar school never made it to a university (Olsen 217). The Elizabethan era only offered two universities out of London, which were Oxford and Cambridge (Andrews 108). Only men were allowed to attend and classical studies were most important in these universities (108). Wealthy boys were the only people who ever received a decent education in the Elizabethan times.

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This is a picture of one of the two Universities in London, Oxford.


Students learned different curriculum at each school they attended. The first thing taught in a Petty School was the alphabet (Andrews 108). Students were given a Hornbook which was a single piece of paper covered by a thin slice of transparent horn, and the paper was mounted on a piece of wood with a handle (108). Children also had to make themselves a quill pen before they could learn to write (Chrisp 9). The alphabet was printed on the paper and usually also contained a passage from the Bible along with some syllables (Andrews 108). Once students mastered the Hornbook, they would move on to a Primer (108). A Primer contained a set of English prayers and questions and answers about religious concept (108). Reading, writing, and arithmetic were taught at Petty Schools, although arithmetic was not considered important (Olsen 217). The ability to read and religious faithfulness were the only requirements to enter Grammar Schools (Olsen 217). Educators in the Petty Schools usually did not have very high education themselves, but as children moved to higher schools, so did the education of their teachers.
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This is a Hornbook, which children used in Petty Schools.


The ability to read and religious faithfulness were the only requirements to enter Grammar Schools (Olsen 217).The teachers at Grammar schools were normally highly educated men who knew Greek and Latin (Andrews 108). Latin was an essential part of an educated person's background knowledge during this time and by the time boys reached advanced study; they were required to speak Latin in everyday conversations (108). The Latin language exhibited students to Roman writers such as Cicero, Cato, Ovid, Seneca, and Virgil, whose works strongly influenced Shakespeare (108). Pupils needed to know Latin if they wanted to go to a university to pursue a career in politics, law, medicine, teaching, or the Clergy (Chrisp 8). Every pupil was expected to know the Lord's Prayer in Latin by heart (8). Grammar Schools were dependent on memorization and rote learning (Ashby 61). After a Grammar School, only a handful of men entered the doors of one of the two universities, where they would par-take in classical studies. Children learned a lot about religion (Elizabethan Education Website), reading, writing, Greek, and Latin in the schools midst the Renaissance.
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Education was quite a bit different throughout the Elizabethan era. There were very few children who would ever make it to a university, or even a Grammar school. Many kids would start out their school career in a Petty School, but would not make it past that in the Renaissance. Wealthy boys were the only people to ever receive a full education, over poor boys and girls. Women were not expected to be educated, but to be a wife and a mother, and to work in the home. Pupils spent grueling hours in schools and worked hard to receive their education, which normally contained reading, writing, Latin, and Greek all along the Elizabethan times.