The Education of Princes

Ludlow Castle (copyright Ian Capper CC-BY-SA-2.0)

When the future Edward IV was about eight he and his brother Edmund were sent to live at one of their father’s castles  at Ludlow and were brought up by a governor their father employed. Some boys from local gentry families were educated with them. Usually only kings’ sons were brought up in separate households like this. Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower, grew up from the age of two in Ludlow on the edge of Wales under the supervision of his uncle, earl Rivers, the Queen’s brother.

Pas d’armes de l’Arbre d’Or – Bruges 1468 Joust by Graham Turner

Richard III and his brother George spent some time being educated in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s household and later Richard moved to the household of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. He spent some of this time at Warwick and probably lived at Middleham too. A medieval noble had to master horse riding, several weapons, the use of armour, a knowledge of military tactics as well as the management skills for his future vast estates with large numbers of servants and peasant labourers.

Social and Economic Mobility

Many families other than the nobility sent their children, especially boys, from about the age of seven, to live in the households of wealthier families. They would act as servants but would also learn from the head of the household. Sometimes this would be a formal, seven-year long apprenticeship in which the child would learn a particular trade or skill from the age of fourteen. This was very rare for girls although they could be apprenticed to silkwomen or embroiderers.

Geoffrey Chaucer from a 15th century manuscript: BL MS Harley 4866 f. 88

Usually there was only a small difference in social class between the hosts and the family but there were exceptions: a London wine merchant called John Chaucer persuaded Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster to let his son Geoffrey become a page in her household. Her husband was Lionel, duke of Clarence (Edward III’s son).

Geoffrey became the greatest poet of the age but he was also a royal administrator. His life illustrates how education could help with social advancement: he married the daughter of a knight, and his granddaughter Alice married William de la Pole, 1st duke of Suffolk. Their son John de la Pole, 2nd duke of Suffolk, married Richard III’s sister Elizabeth and in due course their son, Geoffrey Chaucer’s great-great-grandson, John de la Pole, 1st earl of Lincoln, became a potential heir to the throne after Richard III’s own son died.