“The knowledge of past events has further virtues, especially in that it distinguishes rational creatures from brutes, for brutes whether men or beast, do not know… about their origins, their race, and the events and happenings in their native land”.1
The conquering Normans rapidly displaced the original nobility and replaced English bishops by Frenchmen. All this William recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086. French became the language of the cultivated elite. Mighty castles were quickly built to emulate the white tower erected to overawe Londoners in 1070. Saxon churches and cathedrals were pulled down to be replaced by massive Norman cathedrals such as Durham or Winchester, and the sound of choirs of monks singing plainsong was heard through the land. In these boom conditions at least two hundred people had incomes equivalent to more than a million pounds a year in today’s value.2
Whether in those far-off days Norman knights were always ‘bold’, and whether there was a superfluity of blond-haired distressed damsels awaiting rescue, we just don’t know, but England was to become a more flamboyant, sophisticated society in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It was the Normans who made it so. A cross-channel aristocracy developed with families not certain as to which side of La Manche they belonged. Children born to Normans in England were sent back to France to be educated, as were the sons of the ambitious English3. French noblemen began worrying about the paternity of their children left behind with their wives in France. In a racy book on etiquette written by Daniel of Beecles in about the year 1100 he urged such men to be realistic for, he said, women were as sexually voracious as men and a wise man would accept his wife’s lascivious thoughts as a strength to his marriage.
William and his French successors ruled through the delegated authority of the barons, and their higher clergy. Such men needed able assistants, and it was in the households of such men that young boys of promise received an education that would fit them eventually for high office4. In the awe-struck words of the young boy Henry (who later as Henry of Huntingdon is quoted above) commenting on his arrival in the household of the bishop of Lincoln in about 1095, wrote “When I saw the glory of our Bishop Robert, the handsome knights, noble youths, valuable horses, golden vessels… and satin garments, nothing could be more blessed”5. It was in the schools set up by these cathedrals and monasteries that boys as young as five first learnt Latin. In 1170 a Durham monk, Reginald, noted that the drone of boys learning Latin and the thwack of corporal punishment were everyday sounds around the precincts of the cathedral, while one boy “driven by the fear of the blows of the fierce schoolmaster” resorted to throwing the keys of the school room into the river.
At the age of ten the more well-to-do child was likely to move to the household of a nobleman to receive a chivalric education in the French mode, while those of lesser rank would start the formal disciplines of a grammar school (a term first used in 1387, to describe a school that went beyond simply transactional reading and writing to the grammatically correct use of the language) where they worked for between eight and ten hours a day. Learning was largely by rote and rhyme, by question and answer, and enforced with a frequent use of the strap or cane; it was a harsh world that the child entered after the comforts of home. Some schools started to provide boarding facilities but this was expensive; the weekly boarding fee was the same as the termly fee for tuition ─ eight pence. In 1382 Winchester College was endowed to provide free boarding education for promising students.6
Academically inclined teenagers were gravitating towards the spontaneous collection of scholars in the two market towns of Oxford and Cambridge who, by 1450, had between them some three thousand students. To provide such teenagers with moral guidance and physical security came residential colleges, and the academic validation of a university. Other bright teenagers made for London where the prestigious Inns of Court trained future lawyers. In these more secular communities lawyers developed the theory of mixed monarchy ─ of regal power limited by laws enacted in Parliament.7 The stage was being set for a drama that would play out over hundreds of years ─ including the execution of a king, and the creation of the nation state.
Thesis 25: 24th August 2006