24 October, 2018

Two Fourteenth-Century Schools in London

A tragic incident which took place in London on Tuesday 19 July 1301 reveals the existence of a school in the city at that time. The extant Coroners' Rolls show that an eight-year-old boy called Richard, son of John the mason, "was walking, immediately after dinner, across London Bridge to school." Richard "hung by his hands in play from a certain beam on the side of the bridge," but sadly his hands gave way, and he plunged in the Thames below and was drowned. A large crowd of horrified onlookers told the jurors who investigated Richard's death what had happened. This sad situation does at least tell us that there was a school somewhere near London Bridge in 1301, attended by eight-year-olds.

The household accounts of Edward II's widow Isabella of France mostly do not survive during the fifty years she lived in England, but they fortuitously do for the last few months of her life in 1357/58. These extant accounts demonstrate that in 1358, Isabella paid thirteen shillings and four pence (one mark) to send her vielle*-player Walter Hert to a 'school of minstrelsy' (scole minstralsie) in London, and thus reveal the fascinating fact that there was some kind of school of music and the performing arts in London in the middle of the fourteenth century.

* A bowed, stringed instrument not dissimilar to a modern violin.


sami parkkonen said...

This is absolutely brilliant stuff!

The way the bridge incident is being reported suggests that for the londoners at least it was quite common to find out that a child is going to school. Either there were many of them or there had been some for so long that the school part was not that exceptional. Which is exceptional in it self for we have all heard how only church people and some very few others could read and write or ever went to any school in medieval times. Wonderful find indeed!

Amanda said...

Kathryn, off topic I admit, but I watched a ch5 'documentary 'Inside the Tower' being the Tower of London and it said Edward III was furious that he could, and did, walk into this fortress without being asked who he was; too lacking in security, hence the 'changing of the keys' ceremony til this day.

Are you, please, going to write a book about Edward I and Edward III?

I have said before, I am bored to tears about the Tudors: I really would like a good series of documentaries or dramas about the 3 Edwards shown on tv: Edwards 1st, 2nd & 3rd. There is so much rich material in their stories; that would be good viewing.

Thank you for your brilliant posts.

churchaholic said...

No it doesn't "reveal the fascinating fact that there was some kind of school of music and the performing arts in London in the middle of the fourteenth century" - it shows she sent her player to a school but not what that school was.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Sami! It does seem that the boy going to school was an everyday and unexceptional matter.

Amanda, thanks for the info! I'm writing about Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault but am not intending to write about Edward III or his grandfather, no. I have a book out next year about Edward II's three de Clare nieces and am working on books about his sisters and about the medieval Despenser family as well.

Churchaholic: 'scole minstralsie', school of minstrelsy, i.e. a school for entertainers and performers.

sami parkkonen said...

I think it is great to think that the West End theaters have their roots in medieval times when there was a school for the performing arts in London. This is wonderful information and one I think should be told to the London theater world too. :-D