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Dates for the Middle Ages are given variously as starting with dates ranging from 395 AD and 510 AD, and ending with dates ranging from 1400 AD to 1517 AD. In the UK, the dates given are often given as 1000 AD or 1066 AD to 1500 AD or thereabouts; this usage makes the dates of 400 AD to 1000 AD in the Dark Ages. I am using the broader definition. because it answers the narrower as well.

What education medieval people received depended greatly on their social status and where they lived.

In Eastern Europe, the East Roman Empire ran a system of primary schools with a view to seeing all soldiers be literate. The implication is that education was generally available to anyone who might become a soldier, and this included nearly all peasants. Primary schools operated at the village level and were available for people of both sexes. The system founded in 425 AD and continued to operate until the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453. (see link below for the history and development of schools)

The East Roman Empire also founded a university at Constantinople in 425, along with universities in other cities. These also remained open while they were under Byzantine control. They do not normally appear in lists of medieval universities because they did not grant the same degrees as western universities. (see the link below on the University of Constantinople)

I cannot speak to education in Eastern Europe outside the Byzantine Empire.

In Western Europe, there were also schools open throughout the Middle Ages. There is little history of this because they did not usually survive the thousand year period and the five hundred years since that time. Nevertheless, we know that a school in Llantwit Major, in Wales, called Cor Tewdws, or Theodosius' College, was opened by Roman Emperor Theodosius, before the Middle Ages started, and closed by the English King Henry VIII, after the Middle Ages ended. So there was at least one school that existed throughout the entire period (though there was a period from 446 to 508 when Cor Tewdws might or might not have been temporarily closed). (see link below for Cor Tewdws)

There were schools throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, and there are over seventy primary and secondary schools still running today that were opened during the time. The oldest still extant is King's School in Canterbury, which has been operating since 597. Beverley Grammar School was opened as a state run school in Northumbria in 700, and remains open today, and it clearly remained open during the decades when the government of the area was controlled by Vikings, who therefore must have continued to support it, or at least condone is existence. Other schools I personally find interesting are Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík, which opened in Iceland in 1056, at the end of the Viking Age, and Riga State Gymnasium No. 1, which originally opened in Riga, Latvia, in 1211, when Riga was a twelve year old village, and whose opening points out the value placed on education among people of a small town. We have no way of knowing how many primary and secondary schools there were in Europe, but with more than seventy remaining from over 500 years ago, there were clearly hundreds open at the time, and more probably thousands. (see link below for the list of the oldest schools in the world)

Western universities began to open with the University of Bologna in 1088, Some universities were opened by the Church, an example being the University of Paris; some by governments, and Oxford and Cambridge were of this type; and some by other types of organizations, such as the University of Bologna, which was organized by the students themselves, who therefore had a position of some authority over the teachers. The education depended on the nature of the founding organizations, and while universities under Church control may have stressed theology, the others included such things as music and language as important parts of the education from the beginnings. The universities were founded from earlier institutions that were only less formally constituted, and these earlier schools go back to the sixth centuries. By the end of the Middle Ages, there were over seventy universities in Europe. (see the link below for medieval universities)

Other institutions of higher learning also operated in Western Europe. The Medical School of Salerno is descended from earlier schools at Velia that moved to Salerno during the early part of the Age of Migrations. The school in Velia had been open under the Roman Empire. The school at Salerno was considered among the best medical schools in the West during the Middle Ages. It survived as a medical school, and was chartered as a university in the 20th century. (see the link on the University of Salerno)

In the High Middle Ages, the introduction of Arabic numerals meant that business people had to be educated in the new systems of mathematics. The schools opened for this purpose, called abacus schools, taught literacy in the vernacular along with arithmetic and geometry. Some of them were open to both boys and girls. (see the link on abacus schools)

Educational opportunities varied by class.

Serfs of Western Europe did not generally get education beyond learning farming or other work from their parents.

Freemen were peasants also, and also farmed. They were also not generally educated in most times and places of Western Europe. Nevertheless, we do know that some of these people were educated. King Alfred the Great advocated for education for everyone of the status of freeman and above who was able to learn. This education, interestingly, was to be done in English, not Latin, and King Alfred also sponsored translations of great literature into English to make the books available for his subjects in general. (see link below for King Alfred's position on religion and culture)

Clergy were mostly educated in monasteries. The education became improved with time. Early in the Middle Ages, there were concerns recorded in history that some priests did not have any ability to read, and were operating on the basis of memorization of the Mass and sections of the Bible. By the 13th century, however, nearly half of all of the men in the highest church offices, at the level of abbot or archbishop and above, had masters degrees, as did a third of those at the next lower levels. (see the link for universities)

Lawyers and clerks of the Middle Ages had always been educated in those areas where Roman law was retained, as it was written rather than memorized. As kingdoms one after another codified laws in written form, during the fifth through eighth centuries, it became more and more important for commoners working in the courts to be educated. These people, like the clergy, were from the middle class or were younger sons of the nobility, and they were given the benefit of clergy, even when they were not ordained and living entirely secular lives. They were educated primarily in monasteries or schools. (see link on Universities)

Members of the nobility were sometimes uneducated in the Early Middle Ages, but remained so at their peril, because stewards and mayors of the palaces had a tendency to marginalize and replace those over whom they could get control. More than one king fostered literacy among his vassals. Of these, Charlemagne is perhaps the best known. It is recorded of Charlemagne that he could speak Latin, understood Greek better than he could speak it, and had a little Arabic, all in addition to his native tongue. He was clearly an educated man, though an inability to write well is recorded. He made certain that his children were all educated, and promoted education among the nobility. He had schools founded, and founded at least one himself, the Gymnasium Carolinum in Osnabrück, Germany, which remains open to this day. (see links on Charlemagne and the list of the oldest schools in the world, below)

For women of the nobility, as well as the noblemen themselves, education was important in some places. King Alfred insisted that his daughters be educated, a policy that paid off as his daughter, Ethelfleda, ruled Mercia on behalf of a husband who was unable to do the job himself. Indeed, when her husband died, she continued to rule, and was considered a formidable military leader. Other medieval women also, while attractive to marry for political reasons, received educations so they could rule in their husbands' steads when they were away or sick, or as regents, as required. Empress Matilda is an example of such a woman, as her education is recorded. These women benefited from special educations, beyond what was available in schools, and were usually tutored. Nevertheless, we know that Matilda of Scotland (also called Edith), who was the queen of the English King Henry I, was educated in a convent. (see links below on Alfred the Great, Ethelfleda, Empress Matilda, and Matilda of Scotland)

Some ethnic groups had their own educational systems.Among these were Jews who lived in many places, and Muslims, who were in Spain in large numbers through most of the Middle Ages, and in a number of other places, such as Sicily, southern Italy, and the Balkans. For both of these groups, education was a matter of religious policy. Formal education for Jews was established in the 1st century and continued since. (see link for Jewish education below)

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βˆ™ 12y ago
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βˆ™ 13y ago
AnswerWomen in the middle ages grew up knowing that they were preparing for a life of marriage and motherhood. They were trained for their domestic responsibilities. Boys in the middle ages usually were trained in an apprenticeship. It was therefore considered more important to send a boy away from the home to be educated than it was to send a girl to school. Girls were educated by their mothers and fathers in the home. They usually only received a basic education for it was thought useless to waste time teaching future mothers complex subjects that they would never use practically in life. In addition women were not considered by most to have the mental capacity to grasp complex subjects. Upper-class girls were sometimes sent to the home of a rich family friend in order to be taught "accomplishments" such as music, and art. Still other Upper-Class girls were sent to convent boarding schools to learn "morals." Answer

Certain kinds of schools were open to girls. In the East Roman Empire, a system of primary schools was opened in the year 425, and this was maintained by the Byzantine Empire until it fell in 1453. The schools in this system were run at the village level, and though they were intended to provide education for soldiers, girls were allowed to attend.

In the West, we know that certain convents had educational facilities where girls could learn, but we know very little about the specifics.

In the 13th century, a new kind of school was beginning to be opened, especially in Italy, and these were called abacus schools. The demand for them resulted from the introduction of Arabic numerals, and merchants wanted to be able to take advantage of the new arithmetic. These schools also taught reading and writing in the vernacular languages, and since women in merchant families often took over control of the business operations, girls were taught in abacus schools as well as boys.

We do not have a lot of information about the educations of many people of the Middle ages, regardless of sex, even including those we know were educated. We do have information on some, however, including some women. Matilda of Scotland was educated in a convent school in order to prepare her to be a queen.

Empress Matilda was educated privately at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor to whom she was betrothed.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was educated at home, largely tutors provided by her father. She was educated far beyond what was needed for a queen, however, and this was probably because of the general level of culture of her family. She was the granddaughter of William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, also called William the Troubadour.

More typically, the early education of Heloise, the wife of Peter Abelard, is completely unknown, despite the fact that before she went to Paris and met him, she was well known as a scholar.

Similarly, in the case of Marie of France, who was one of the great poets of the Middle Ages, we can guess that at least part of her education was secular, because she wrote primarily in Anglo-French. If we did not have any of her works, however, we would consider her illiterate, because she was a medieval woman, and that is how we think of medieval women.

Margery Kempe was the author of the first autobiography written in English, The Book of Margery Kempe. She was the daughter of a struggling merchant, and the wife of a man with whose only distinction was that he was married to her. We have no information on her education, and she refers to herself as unlettered, which is clearly a comparison to scholars and not to ordinary people, because she was clearly literate. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that she was not the only woman of her class and place who could read and write.

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Mainly the clergy of the Catholic church was educated and did do some tutoring for noble boys. The Monks copied and wrote books which kept learning alive. About 90% of the population couldn't read or write.


THere was a scholarly class. Upper class primarily who were able to be privately tutored (not by monks but by scholars, Masters, teachers) and attended university.


Different classes of people were educated in different times and places.

In the Byzantine Empire, most free people were educated in a state run primary school system that operated at the village level. It was founded by the East Roman Empire in 425 and continued to function until the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453.

In the West, for most of the Middle Ages, much of the education was done by the Church, but not all. State run schools existed as well. The oldest extant state run school is the Beverley Grammar School in Yorkshire, which was founded in the year 700 AD, but there were quite possibly others founded earlier.

Schools that were more or less commercially run also existed, and some of these were for secular professional people. The medical schools that existed at Velia under the Roman Empire moved to Salerno, where they continued to exist and were important in the founding of the Medical School of Salerno, which continues today as the University of Salerno. These schools taught professional physicians, including at least one famous woman, Trotula of Salerno, who later taught at the school herself.

There were schools in which children of merchant families were educated. Though they may not have been the earliest of these, abacus schools were of this type. They arose after the introduction of the Arabic numeral system. They were coeducational.

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Conditions differed in Eastern Europe and Western Europe.

The East Roman Empire started a primary school system in the year 425 AD, with the purpose of seeing the soldiers were able to read and write. This system operated at the village level and was open to girls and women. It continued to operate until 1453 AD, when the Medieval Roman (Byzantine) Empire fell. Educated women were not unusual in the Byzantine Empire during the Middle Ages.

In Western Europe, most women were not formally educated because most women were agricultural and were not thought to need educations. Their educations were simple and consisted of training in how to tend work and home.

Nevertheless, a lot of the daughters of wealthy people were educated because it was important that a woman be able to take over for her husband when he was away, sick, or died.

Some of the educated women were tutored at home, and this could come from parents, servants, or hired tutors. Some girls were educated in convents by nuns. There were schools, even in the Early Middle Ages, and it is even possible that some girls went to school, though that would have been very unusual for most of the Middle Ages. Albigensians regarded women and men as equal, but I am not sure whether they had schools.

Education would have been most commonly done in Latin because of the connection between the Church and the schools. We do know that education was sometimes done in the vernacular. In fact King Alfred the Great wanted all freemen to be given at least reading and writing in English and he inaugurated schooling for this purpose. King Alfred's daughters were educated according to his wishes.

In the 13th century, new schools called abacus schools began to open. These were developed for the purpose of training children of the mercantile class to be able to do arithmetic using Arabic numerals, and to read and write in vernacular languages. They were often open to both boys and girls, because women often worked at a family business with their husbands.

There were a number of women who were very highly regarded for their education, and not all were members of the nobility. The following provide a few examples:

  • Heliose, famous for her affair and marriage with Peter Abelard, is said to have been renowned for her scholarship all over western Europe before she became his student. It is believed she came from a middle class family. Though her advanced education was provided by professors in Paris, we know nothing of her earlier education.
  • Anna Comnena, who was a Byzantine princess, is regarded as the most important historian of her time and place. She was educated by tutors.
  • Hildegard of Bingen, who was a daughter of a family of the minor nobility, was brought up to be an nun, and wrote a number of important books and letters. One play she wrote was set to her music, which she wrote in a notation we can read, and so it could be performed today. She was almost certainly educated in the convent, though I am unaware of any specific records.
  • Marie de France is regarded as a great poet, but her family is unknown, as is her education.
  • Christine de Pizan was the daughter of an important physician at the court of King Charles V of France. She became a professional writer, supporting her family with her poetry. She also wrote commentaries on the failures of the code of chivalry, the misogyny of her era, and the inequities of the status of women. She is said to have been self educated, though her education was certainly very good.
  • Margery Kempe was the author of what is believed to be the earliest autobiography written in English. She was the daughter of a struggling merchant, the wife of a man who is remembered in history only because he was her husband, and the mother of a number of children. She became very religious and spent her later life going on a long series of pilgrimages, making her one of the best travelled woman of her age. Though she was clearly literate, she referred to herself as "unlettered." I can only imagine this is because she never went to school.
  • Edith of Scotland, wife of King Henry I of England, was educated in a convent. This fact was recorded only because it was the source of a challenge to the marriage that claimed she had taken vows as a nun. She was a highly educated woman and a patron of the arts.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine was famous for her literacy and patronage of poets. She was educated at the court of the Duke of Aquitaine by tutors.

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Q: How were women educated in the Middle Ages?
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