Well it’s finally here!
I thought I had another two weeks but it published a little early! I couldn’t let the day pass without sharing an early review, I’m absolutely thrilled with this review from Steven Veerapen, author of The Elizabethan Spy Thriller series and the Christopher Marlowe Spy Thriller series amongst others! I love Steven’s book so you can imagine how much this review meant to me.
Review of Amy McElroy’s Educating the Tudors
When people think of education and the Tudors, they tend to think of the great scholars – Sir Thomas More, Thomas Linacre, Roger Ascham – and of the celebrated educational attainments of the monarchs. We know, for example, that in the more charmed social circles, the ‘New Learning’ (the Humanist and Renaissance revival of the classics and foregrounding of the liberal arts) was very much in vogue. Yet, as Amy McElroy demonstrates in her Educating the Tudors, the chance to learn (and the love of learning) was not confined to the privileged.
That is not to say that the Tudor monarchs are here neglected; on the contrary, McElroy delves into the processes – and they were demanding processes – by which Henry VIII, his siblings, and his children were put through their paces. The result is a captivating examination of the elite schoolroom, where instruction in the Greek and Roman authorities kept company with lessons in languages and diplomacy, and even social customs (for example, McElroy points out how infants were taught to doff caps and bob in the presence of their superiors). Further, we are treated to not simply a recitation of a key moment in history – the Renaissance and all its educational prizes – but a history of gender; elite young males were instructed in the ‘manly’ arts of jousting and the history of war, whereas females were taught such supposedly feminine skills as needlework alongside their studies. Gone is the idea, however, the princesses were kept ignorant – this was a period in which the education of women (of a certain rank) was fashionable and debates about its rectitude lively. Not ignored, either, are the sometimes amusing, always interesting relationships between pupils and tutors – and between tutors and tutors (the chapter ‘Tutors of the Tudors’ being invaluable reading).
Yet, the always-enjoyable discussion of the royals aside, McElroy shines in casting light on the opportunities available to those across the social spectrum. Here is a potential labyrinth, as the Reformation impacted an already-complex hierarchy of apprenticeships, privately-funded grammar schools, schools attached to religious houses, Universities, Inns of Court, and freelance tutors operating in private households. Each of these, and more, operated in different ways, with variation present even within the same forms of institution according to the decade and the locality. Yet Educating the Tudors, by dint of a clear structure and fluid, lively prose, manages to make sense of the period’s school systems (a boon to writers of historical fiction!). One is struck in reading not by how ignorant and illiterate Tudor society was but by just how much it valued education across the board, and how that value matured over the sixteenth century – even if some of what was being taught, in the fields of medicine and astronomy, might seem amusing to modern readers.
Combining readability with comprehensive research, and written with passion and style, Educating the Tudors will undoubtedly be required reading for anyone with an interest in the period. Veterans of the dynasty and those interested in the social development of learning will be enchanted.
Thank you so much Steven!
Educating the Tudors is out now at all the usual places!