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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XIV. English Grammar Schools.

§ 6. The Edwardian grammar schools.


It was not, indeed, until after Lupton and Sir Anthony had both been dead, the former eleven years, the latter about two, that, in February, 1551, the royal grant was issued for the establishment of a free grammar school, to which St. John’s college was to nominate the master on condition that it appropriated two fellowships and eight scholarships for “scollers of Sedberg”  6 —an item of evidence which serves to show that, side by side with the process of confiscation which went on during the reign of Edward, there were other forces in operation, some of which, at least, served not only to stay the hand of the despoiler, but, also, to call into existence a succession of new foundations. That the main impulse in connection with this latter movement proceeded from the young king himself hardly admits of reasonable doubt. In the language of Freeman, “it was the one act” in Edward’s reign “in which the public good was at all thought of,” and the king, “of his own act, applied a part of the revenues of the suppressed colleges and chantries to the foundation of that great system of grammar schools which bear his name.” The preamble of the royal charter given to the school at Louth (the town where the Lincolnshire rising in 1534 first broke out), in the fifth year of his reign, may be cited as an illustration of the convictions by which Edward, throughout, was actuated:
“We have,” says this document, “always coveted, with a most exceeding, vehement, and ardent desire, that good literature and discipline might be diffused and propagated throughout all parts of our Kingdom, as wherein the best government and administration of affairs consists; and therefore, with no small earnestness, have we been intent on the liberal institution of Youth, that it may be brought up to science, in places of our Kingdom most proper and suitable for such functions, it being, as it were, the foundation and growth of our Commonwealth. 7 
In some cases, indeed, as, for example, at Bedford and at Morpeth (both 1552) and at St. Albans (1553), the initiative proceeded from the mayor and burgesses of the community. In others, a like design was carried into effect only through private benevolence, as at Whitchurch (1550) and at Leeds (1552); while, in not a few cases, the endowment was altogether inadequate and eventually died out, and the school with it. But, after due allowance for such deductions, it remains undeniable that, in this, the twentieth century, the foundations at Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bury St. Edmund’s, Chelmsford, Crediton, Grantham, Lichfield, Ludlow (in Shropshire), Norwich, Sherborne, Skipton, Tonbridge, Wisbech, are to be seen as not merely existing, but, for the most part, flourishing, institutions, standing in direct connection with the universities, and dignified by the names of a long succession of distinguished men whom, in the course of the three centuries and a half that have elapsed since their creation or re-endowment by the youthful Edward, they have educated within their walls. The endeavour that has been made to represent Edward himself as a mere tool in the hands of his ministers, and the numerous endowments that still bear his name as having been so largely absorbed by the cupidity of his courtiers as altogether to nullify their legitimate application, is, indeed, substantially rebutted by the above enumeration.
  7
  During the reign of Mary, there followed a marked diminution in the number of new foundations; but the grammar schools at Oundle (1556), Repton (1557) and Brentwood (1557) received their charters, these being the most noteworthy examples, and the two latter having been endowed by private benefactors. Soon after the accession of Elizabeth, however, the movement acquired fresh force under the influence of Burghley and archbishop Parker, and upwards of one hundred and thirty free grammar schools trace back their beginning to her reign. With the accession of James, his able minister Salisbury might plausibly have urged, amid the financial disorder with which he had to contend, that, so much having recently been done, the further endowment of new centres might be left to a more convenient season. This course, however, the evidence shows, neither he nor his successor was inclined to pursue; and, although the monarch himself had no more notion of economy than Edward, and his reign lasted only half as long as that of his immediate predecessor, the number of schools founded during the period was, proportionably, greater. But, inasmuch as, in the southern and eastern counties, the want had already, to a great extent, been supplied, it was chiefly in the west, the midlands and the north, that the new foundations rose, and these, again, for the most part, where neither monastery nor chantry had previously existed—although at Repton it had been the design of the founder, Sir John Port, to found a chantry school.   8
  In the meantime, in the capital itself there had risen up those great schools which, alike in their conception and administration, presented a singular contrast to the exclusiveness and immobility of Eton and Winchester. Erasmus had given it as his opinion that there was no better guardian of such institutions than the married citizen, the cives conjugati, a point with respect to which his varied experience of seats of learning, both abroad and in England, certainly entitled him to be heard, and a view to which subsequent history lends considerable support. The civic founder assumed, indeed, in relation to education, an attitude in singular contrast to that of the courtly despoiler. “Like as a father pitieth his children,” so the wealthy merchants of London, roused, it may be, in the first instance, to a sense of their duty by appeals from divines and philanthropists, proved equal to a great occasion, and gave liberally of their substance to the institution and maintenance of those historic foundations which have entitled the memories of John Colet, Sir Thomas White and Thomas Sutton, to take rank with those of the noblest benefactors of their country. The school founded (1509) by dean Colet, with William Lily for its master, still used the Aeditio, or accidence, compiled by the former and the Latin Syntax of the latter  8  (both in 1509 and in English), as well as the less elementary Syntax written by Lily in Latin (1513), compilations which may, indeed, be regarded as the original of all the sixteenth and seventeenth century Latin grammars in use in the schools of England; while Nowell’s Catechism, either in its longer or its abbreviated form—the choice between the Latin and the English version being left to the discretion of the master—may be said to have been the corresponding manual of religious instruction for nearly the same period, its use, in one form or the other, being made imperative on all schoolmasters by the canons issued under Bancroft’s auspices in 1604.   9

Note 6. Baker’s Hist. of St. John’s College (ed. Mayor), I, 374. [ back ]
Note 7. Carlisle, N., Endowed Grammar Schools, I, 822. [ back ]
Note 8. For an account of these two manuals, see Foster Watson’s English Grammar Schools to 1660, chap. XV. See, also, ante, Vol. III, pp. 485–489, as to the curriculum in English schools. [ back ]

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