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Education and Learning


In early medieval times the Church was the centre for learning. This was because those entering the church had to learn to read the Latin text of the scriptures and translate their meanings. Choir boys had to read so that they could learn the prayers and chants that were required in the services. It was not only religious education that was taught. Arts, grammer, sciences, languages, geometry, astronomy and music would also have been taught. Latin was the universal language of learning and so students could travel around Europe and be taught in different countries.

The monks spent part of their day in the cloisters studying, writing, copying and translating books. The monks worked on illuminated manuscripts full of ornate drawings and, as printing presses were not invented until about 1450, every book was written out by hand usually in Latin. Books were so expensive that only the very rich could afford to own them. They were hand crafted from animal skins called vellum.


In Saxon times the centres of learning were the great monasteries dotted around the country and these places became the target for the Danes and Vikings who raided them frequently, stealing the treasures and burning the buildings. Learning during the era of Vikings raids was in decline.

Alfred the Great

It wasn't until the reign of King Alfred the Great that learning started to florish. King Aflred managed to attain relative peace with the Vikings and after this he was able start rebuilding the centres of learning. King Alfred organised the translation of many works of literature from Latin. He was involved with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles ordering copies to be made and their distribution to major abbeys.

Medieval schools were founded not only by monasteries and churches but also by hospitals and guilds. Guilds were the organisations that looked after the interests of the merchants and tradesmen in the towns and they became very wealthy.

Education of Children

You had to be a member of the royal family, be born into a wealthy family or very lucky to be given an education in medieval times. It was common for the royal children to sent to the castle of a trusted lord where they would get the necessary education. The teachers were usually monks who would teach a range of subjects including reading, writing, languages, music and the arts. For the English kings Latin and French were important languages to be learnt. Sports were also important and the children would learn to swim and shoot arrows. For those boys who were to become knights, training in sword fighting and horse riding was essential.


The great universities that we know today such as Oxford and Cambridge existed in medieval times. A University at Oxford was in existence in a simple form as early as 1100. Oxford university was given a boost in popularity in 1167 when Henry II banned English scholars from attending the University of Paris due to a dispute with France. Cambridge University was founded in 1209 when some scholars from Oxford left their university after a woman may have been killed by a student and violent disputes erupted with the local townspeople. In the early days of the universities the students lived in the local towns and villages. In 1263 the first Oxford college was built by a wealthy benefactor where the students could live cheaply under one roof. cambridge followed in 1284 with its first college called Peterhouse.

All the lectures were spoken in Latin.

The reputation of English universities grew and attracted foreign students as well.