Education and Leisure

Education and Leisure

Education in Elizabethan England was provided for the children of the wealthy. Literacy rates increased during the Elizabethan era. Schooling began in the home and was continued through Petty Schools, Grammar Schools and Universities. Education in Elizabethan England was rather different for boys and Girls.

The main form of school was the Petty School. This provided education from the age of 5. Education in Petty and Grammar Schools was very formal. Lessons tended to concentrate on learning the reading and writing of Latin, the Bible and Histories. At 14 children could progress to University. Here they could specialise in a wider range of subjects.

The Curriculum in Petty Schools

Also called Dame Schools these offered education to children aged 5-7. These schools were often run by a local housewife who was well educated. From this derives the name ‘Dame School’. In these schools the curriculum usually covered the basics of the English language. They also taught the principles of the church, something called Catechism. This is similar to Bible studies. Petty / Dame schools also taught children about standards of expected behaviour. This was important because of the changes made by the Religious Settlement. Petty Schools were not free to attend but the fees were usually quite small. In towns these schools could be funded by guilds. This was in part because emerging trades wanted to make sure that the next generation of apprentices would be educated. This led to an increase in literacy levels over the course of the Elizabethan period.

Artists impression of Shakespeare's first Grammar School. Illustrative of Formal school settings in Elizabethan England

Grammar Schools

Grammar Schools were for boys aged 7 to 14. Education here was quite formal. A textbook, ‘Lily’s Latin Grammar’ had been authorised for use in Grammar Schools during the reign of Henry VIII. As this was the only authorised text, we know that lessons would have been broken down into:

  • 1st Year. Parts of Speech, Nouns and Verbs.
  • 2nd Year. Sentence Construction.
  • 3rd Year. Translating Latin to English, or English to Latin.

Those sections of the curriculum were taught by older pupils to the younger pupils. These older pupils were given the title ‘Ushers’.

Following this teaching moved to ‘Masters’ who were what we would call teachers. Lessons continued to look at different elements of the Latin and English curriculum. Religious Education was also important, especially so considering the Religious Settlement and changes to church practises that followed. Mathematics was taught, mainly arithmetic. Schooling continued to teach the need to respect ones superiors and the church.

Learning was extremely strict in these grammar schools. Schools are known to have started at 6am and closed at 5pm. It is also known that in many grammar schools pupils were expected to speak in Latin rather than English. Punishments for lateness, speaking English or not concentrating were common. These punishments included use of the cane.

Girls did not attend Grammar Schools and were not allowed to go to University. Only the daughters of the rich continued to have a formal education. This was conducted by tutors at home. Girls, in general, were taught lessons of obedience and about how to run a household.

At 14 University was available to those boys who could fund such study.

Leisure Activities in Elizabethan England

Leisure time activities varied depending on how wealthy somebody was.

The wealthy continued to enjoy jousting. Jousts often took part alongside major celebrations and festivals. Many noblemen participated in Jousts and they were a popular spectator sport.

In towns and cities people of all classes could watch plays. These tended to be performed by travelling groups and in most towns were held outside taverns or in open spaces such as the town square or village green. Blood sports remained popular. These, now banned, included dog fights or cockerel fights. People entered their own animals in these, watched, or wagered money on the outcome.

Sports such as football did exist in Elizabethan times. Very different to todays game football had no few rules and was a lot more violent! It was similar to a blend football and rugby with teams attempting to score between posts but able to manhandle the opposition and drag each other around.

There are lots of examples of games played in Elizabethan times continuing to be played today. Cards were common. Children played with dolls, played hop scotch or blind mans buff and sports such as bowls were popular. Landowners and nobles also enjoyed hunting, falconry and horse riding.

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