Medieval Life

Medieval Education

Medieval education was often conducted under the auspices of the Church. During the 800s, French ruler Charlemagne realized his empire needed educated people if it was to survive, and he turned to the Catholic Church as the source of such education. His decree commanded that every cathedral and monastery was to establish a school to provide a free education to every boy who had the intelligence and the perseverance to follow a demanding course of study.

Grammar, rhetoric, logic, Latin, astronomy, philosophy and mathematics formed the core of most curriculums. During the Dark Ages, the only natural science learned came from popular encyclopedias based on ancient writings of Pliny and other Roman sources. The medieval student might learn that hyenas can change their sex at will and that an elephant's only fear is of dragons. Students learned more when they ventured out into the countryside to talk with trappers, hunters, furriers and poachers, who spent their time observing wildlife.

Medieval students often sat together on the floor, scrawling notes from lessons using a bone or ivory stylus on wooden tablets coated with green or black wax. Knights were also educated and looked down upon if they could not read and write. Girls were virtually ignored when it came to education. Only daughters of the very rich and powerful were allowed to attend select courses.

At 14 or 15, some scholars would continue education at a university. These were a creation of the Middle Ages and could be found in larger European cities. Wars and invasions often halted studies, but these universities would reemerge during the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The cap and gown that college graduates wear today have their roots in medieval academic garments.

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