A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3, the University of Oxford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1954.
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THE GRAMMAR-SCHOOLS OF THE MEDIEVAL UNIVERSITY
The study of Latin Grammar was of immense importance in the Middle Ages: he who aspired to enter the Church or any other learned profession must begin his education by mastering the language which would give him access not only to classical learning but also to the writings of medieval scholars. Grammar-schools and grammar-masters were normally under the control of the archdeacons of the diocese, and this was no doubt the case in Oxford until the early years of the 13th century. (fn. 1) But so great was the power of the community of clerks there that control passed from the bishop to the University. This complete cession of authority never took place at Cambridge, where the Magister Glomerie continued subject to the jurisdiction of the archdeacon, and was not made at Oxford until after 1306 at the earliest, when a statute concerning the teaching of grammar, the first known, was passed in the presence of archdeacon Gilbert de Segrave and Master Gilbert de Mideltona, official of the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 2)
A regular faculty for the study of grammar had evidently been long established by 1306. The statute of that year confirms the appointment of two regent masters to surpervise the grammar-schools and their yearly election in accordance with custom. It decrees that grammar-masters must dispute in grammar every Friday, (fn. 3) and asserts that from ancient time masters in accordance with their oath had been bound to devote themselves particularly to the formal instruction (positivae informationi) of their scholars, but that now certain of them prompted by greed for money gave cursory lectures to the great detriment of their pupils, especially of the junior ones, wherefore the Chancellor had forbidden this practice to any master of a school, on pain of deprivation of the right to teach and imprisonment at the will of the Chancellor. The profession at this time was so lucrative that regents in arts had to be forbidden to hold a grammar-school for more than three years. It was consequently one of the earliest sources the University was able to tap for its common fund.
Later statutes throw more light on the development and organization of the faculty. The history of the two supervisors and the arrangements made for paying their salaries is a little involved, but it seems clear that the imposition of a tax, amounting apparently to half the profits of each master, salva sede (i.e. office) propria vice-monitoris, (fn. 4) was a new plan in 1306. This exorbitant levy worked badly. It was ended by the benevolence of Master Nicholas de Thingewick, the much esteemed physician of Edward I. He is known to have had Tingewick Hall from 1302, (fn. 5) and in May 1321 he obtained the royal licence to give it and Beef Hall to the University to provide a salary of four marks for the two supervisors, (fn. 6) on condition that he was allowed to reside in Tingewick Hall until his death. The University agreed to this, and on 23 June, 1322, abolished the offending statute of 1306 which had imposed the tax. (fn. 7) In future the supervisors would receive 4 marks from Tingewick's house, and it was arranged that if the rent of Beff Hall proved insufficient, Nicholas de Tingewick should during his lifetime supplement it from his Cat Street house, that is, from Tingewick Hall. This decision was embodied in a statute (fn. 8) stating that the result of depriving the grammar-masters of the profits of their labour (by the 1306 tax) had been torpor and idleness in the instruction of their boys, and in order to procure more diligence in teaching, the regents and non-regents had decreed that the two supervisors should receive 2 marks from the grammar-masters, whether there should be one or more, and 4 marks from the rents of the University especially assigned for that purpose. Provision was made that if the rents and the masters' 2 marks were not sufficient to make up the supervisors' salary of £4 then an additional collection must be made from the grammar-masters. This method of raising the £4. or 6 marks is referred to in a later statute, (fn. 9) where it is further explained that in case the regent masters should be obliged to exact peremptorily their own fees, as a result of this sudden demand for money, (fn. 10) and the dignity of their status be thereby impaired, all the non-masters who teach grammar publicly must pay a certain sum of money, fixed by the Chancellor and proctors, to the regent master or masters each term for each of their scholars, whether a boarder or not. This money would be reserved by the regents to supplement the rents, and if there was any residue it was to be divided between them equally. This statute may have been promted by levies on the regents on account of the subtraction of part of the rent of Beef Hall. It had been repaired at great expense by the University in 1352, which in order to reimburse itself had arranged that it should take half the rent for as long as necessary. (fn. 11) By the mid-15th century, if not before, the system had again been altered. The grammar-masters are found paying the whole 6 marks instead of their original contribution of 2, though the salary of the supervisors had been reduced to 1 marks, (fn. 12) doubtless owing to a reduction of their work resulting from a decrease in the teaching of grammar. The money exacted was by statute (fn. 13) distributed annually among the poor regents in arts, an arrangement which seems to be later than 1427, since a statute (fn. 14) of that date refers to the money received from the grammarmasters as distinct from the fund for distribution to regents and feeding poor scholars. By 1464 a mark was being deducted for the supervisors, and after 1477 when the last payment was made by the grammarmasters the sum for distribution was still further diminished, the total being no more than £318s. 8d. instead of the earlier £7 18s. 8d. (fn. 15)
The two supervisors in return for their 2 marks a term had to visit the grammar-schools each week, presumably only those kept by regent masters and not those of non-graduate teachers. They had once been bound to give ordinary lectures on the De constructionibus of Priscian, (fn. 16) but they were absolved from this by the statute which superseded that of 1306. (fn. 17) They were still expected to give cursory lectures, at least for two terms in the year. Immediately subject to them were the regent masters. By statute (fn. 18) these had to be obedient to the two supervisors, and must instruct their scholars according to their advice. They also had to be licensed by the Chancellor before lecturing in grammar, after an examination in composing verse and prose and on their knowledge of Latin authors. (fn. 19) When licensed they took an oath that they would diligently instruct their scholars both in morals and grammar; that they would duly punish them and not permit anyone, even for a bribe, to go outside the schools at pleasure, or frolic inordinately in school. (fn. 20) Another regulation (fn. 21) adds that in punishment rigour must be tempered with a proper leniency. Masters were also bound to see that their scholars understood the statutes and observed them, punishing all breaches. Other regulations ordered the names of all grammar-scholars to be inscribed on the roll of a regent grammar-master, which was to be kept in his school and read publicly three times a term, so that those who were continuous and true scholars should be apparent, and false brethren excluded. (fn. 22) Anyone who was not enrolled could not enjoy any privilege of the University, and masters were especially warned not to protect persons who were not scholars of some licensed master.
The next grade in the hierarchy was the nongraduate teachers, for the faculty of grammar had only the one degree of Master instead of the normal two. (fn. 23) The non-magistri (as they were called) were doubtless responsible for the greater part of the elementary teaching given in grammar in Oxford. They were rigorously subjected to the supervision of the regent masters. We have seen already that by the statute of 1344 they were taxed to pay for the supervisors' salaries. (fn. 24) They could not teach publicly unless first found suitable and admitted before the Chancellor and proctors through the testimony of a regent master in grammar or of two honest men, if no such regent existed. After admission they must take an oath to instruct their pupils diligently and not to demand more than 8d. a term as fee unless some special arrangement was made beforehand. (fn. 25) They had to obey the supervisors and the regent masters in everything: (fn. 26) the names of their pupils had to be inscribed on the roll of a regent master. (fn. 27) According to the statute of 1306 they might give cursory lectures if they wished, provided they were considered suitable by the masters of schools and that they gave them at a distance from the schools. (fn. 28) All informatores of grammar ought three or four times a term to expound to their scholars the mandates of the Chancellor. (fn. 29) This control can hardly have been very popular among the lower ranks of teachers, and we have some evidence of friction between them and the authorities. The Chancellor's Register records the 15th-century case of John Martyn alias Clerke, the pedagogue of the parish of St. Michael Northgate, who seditiously assembled a crowd of scholars in St. Michael's church-yard at the time of high mass. His purpose was to seize the mandate of the ordinary suspending or excommunicating him, which was about to be promulgated by Master William Street, the vicar of the church, or his deputy. John Martyn was also accused of attempting to depose the reader of the document from the pulpit, and he and certain scholars were convicted before the Chancellor's commissary, and Martyn was imprisoned. Passions had been roused to such an extent that the scholars tried to break the prison at night. As Martyn is described as informator parvulorum, it is more probable that these were University students to whom he had appealed for support rather than his own scholars. Three years later John Martyn was still rebellious. He was then convicted with two priests of breaking into the house of William Hawdene, beating him and otherwise breaking the peace of the King and the University. In 1465/6 he and his wife were again involved in a quarrel with the higher ranks of the University. This time it was the Prior of St. Mary's College who was the object of attack. Whatever their differences they coule not have been very serious as they were settled by the arbitration of Thomas Chandeler, who decreed that both parties should share a refection at St. Mary's College at their own expense. (fn. 30)
There is some information about the instruction given to the grammarians. A late 14th-century statute (fn. 31) tells us that the master had to give his pupils verses to compose and letters to write, taking care about choice of words, length of clauses, and so on. These exercises they had to write out on parchment on a holiday, and repeat them by heart on the following day. Precaution was to be taken that nothing should be read which might corrupt the morals of the young. Portions of Ovid, Pamphilus, (fn. 33) and other works which were of an immoral nature were forbidden. (fn. 34) Particular attention in the case of the junior boys was to be paid to parsing in Latin. At one period it was decreed that the boys should be taught to construe in French, as well as in English, lest the French language should be forgotten. (fn. 35)
In the 15th century the faculty of grammar declined with the rest of the University. The impoverishment of the nation by war and scarcity—the reason given by the University for the emptiness of halls and inns (fn. 36)—was no doubt the root cause, but in the case of the study of grammar there were contributory causes. Contemporary complaints about the decay are emphatic. The Bishop of Lincoln, we learn from a letter of 1466, was greatly grieved at it, and had long exercised himself about a remedy. (fn. 37) More concrete evidence that the profession was no longer so flourishing as in times past comes from the effort made by the grammar-masters to avoid the payment of the 6 marks to the masters of arts. About 1442 it appears that they had appealed to the king, endeavouring, as their opponents put it, 'to prejudice your mind against the faculty of arts', with the result that the payment was temporarily stopped by the king's order. The artists wrote in 1442 protesting that the grammar-masters were bound by oath to pay, and sent Master William Say to give full information. (fn. 38) Their right to extract payment seems to have been vindicated, for in 1447 we find three grammar-masters being threatened with excommunication if they did not pay immediately the customary 6 marks. (fn. 39) The shortsightedness of this policy can be seen in the rapid decline which took place in the latter-half of the century. According to Rous's (fn. 40) list there were five grammar halls in about 1440, Ing Hall, White Hall, Cuthbert Hall, Lyon Hall, and Tackley's Inn, but by 1462 only two survived, and in 1466 the University complained to the Bishop of Lincoln that 'grammar, the base of all education, had gone into exile and deserted this realm'. (fn. 41) It was still insisting in 1478 on the payment of the 6 marks, though any master teaching in a free grammar-school, should such be founded, was now to be exempt. (fn. 42) This legislation, of course, was prompted by the contemplated foundation of Magdalen free grammar-school in 1480, (fn. 43) an event which proved disastrous to the surviving grammar halls which depended on fee-paying pupils. St. Hugh Hall, for instance, which had been flourishing in 1478 under Principal Broke, was in ruins in 1487. (fn. 44) But the position of the Oxford halls had been already made precarious by the movement for the foundation of free grammar-schools, particularly in connexion with chantries, which was sweeping England at this time and rendering the teaching of grammar less necessary at the University. Their final disappearance is strikingly testified to by the decree of 1492 (fn. 45) that the salaries hitherto paid by the University to the supervisors of the grammar-schools should in future be paid to the magistri scolarum at the Augustines, since the supervisors had no work to do while the latter worked hard and received no pay. (fn. 46) In future the Augustine officers were to act as grammar-masters as well. The Proctors' accounts of 1494–5, 1496–7, record the change. The salary once paid to the masters supervising the grammar-schools is now entered as going to the masters supervising the schools at the Augustines.
Information about the personal history of the grammar-masters is fragmentary. The earliest names to be recorded are those of John of London, and John of Garland who had attended his lectures by 1213. (fn. 47) Later in the century come the names of Richard de Hambury and Adam de Schidyard. The former taught grammar in the time of Edward I at Hambury Hall, which was once on the site of Exeter chapel. He was alive in 1293, but probably died in that year or the next. (fn. 48) His hall was still called a grammar-school in 1339, (fn. 49) but by 1380 the site is described as void ground, and it was given to the rector of Stapeldon Hall. (fn. 50) About Adam de Schidyard we have a few personal details. He was married to Lucy, and he owned Vine Hall, half of which he granted to John de Ketering in 1307; (fn. 51) he was entitled to call himself grammaticus, and we know that Merton boys were lodged with him between 1289 and 1291; (fn. 52) he may be equated with Adam de Nydthard, the author of Neutrale; (fn. 53) by 1323 he was dead. The most famous 14th-century masters were John of Cornwall and Richard Pencrich. Higden, the translator of the Polychronicon, says they were 'reputed to have brought about the change by which in alle the gramere scoles of Engelond children leveth Frensche and construeth and lerneth on Englishe'. (fn. 54) So successful were their efforts to substitute the use of English for French in construing Latin that the University had to enforce the teaching of French by statute lest the Gallic tongue should be entirely forgotten. John of Cornwall's school was Cat Hall on the east side of Cat Street. (fn. 55) Like Schidyard he was a married man, (fn. 56) but there is tantalizingly little else recorded of him. His name suggests a Cornish origin, and it should be remembered that Master I. de Cornubia, the Principal of St. Edmund Hall in 1317, was from the Cornish Egloshale. (fn. 57) Our Cornwall, in any case, witnessed a deed in 1341, (fn. 58) received a Merton boy at his school in 1347, (fn. 59) and made an instrument disposing of his property in 1349. (fn. 60) He was almost certainly the author of a speculum gramaticale, written by a Mr. Johannes Brian dictus de Cornubia, and dated 1346. (fn. 61) Still less is known of Pencrich. Pencrich Hall, which was most probably his school, was on the north side of Merton Street between Logic Lane and East Gate Street and was destroyed according to Rous before his time. It was in existence in 1380, for its manciple contributed to the poll tax of that year, and in 1367 it was inhabited by a man called Pencrich, who may have been Pencrich the grammar-master. (fn. 62) He had various other properties in the city between 1360 and 1380. (fn. 63) Higden tells us that he had learnt Cornwall's method from him and carried it on, and taught others to do so too. A third name that has survived is John of Aylesbury's. He should not be confused with his namesake and contemporary who was fellow of Merton, Principal of Little Lion Hall in 1317, (fn. 64) and of Aristotle Hall in 1330. (fn. 65) A fourth master, Walter of Cat Street, is little more than a name. He took Merton boys in 1353–4, and we hear of him again in 1358–9 when the Long Rolls of Queen's College record that Magister W. Katstrette was paid 10d. pro disciplina Tristran, one of its Poor Boys. A more outstanding figure, belonging to the end of the century and to the early 15th century, was John Leland, senior, who taught in the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI at what was later to be called Peckwater Inn, and won a lasting reputation as a grammarian. William of Worcester describes him as flos grammaticorum et poetarum. He wrote Distinctiones Rhetoricae and other works, (fn. 66) and kept a school large enough to employ assistants. Master Robert Lane, later master at Bristol grammar-school, was once his principalis grammaticus. (fn. 67) Two of his pupils, the young Eglesfields from Queen's, are known. (fn. 68) Finally we hear of his wife Margaret in 1421, (fn. 69) and their famous son John needs no introduction. It has been suggested with some probability that they also had a daughter who married Master John Cobbow, another grammarian, for the latter about 1460 held land at Cowley, given him by Leland. (fn. 70) Both men are buried in St. Frideswide's in the Lady chapel, Leland dying in 1428, (fn. 71) Cobbow in 1472. (fn. 72) Hearne, moreover, has noted the close connexion between the two men, and observes that Cobbow followed the method of John Leland. (fn. 73)
Cobbow appears to have been a successful man. Lion Hall was leased to him by Oseney in 1435 at a rent of 50s. a year for life, provided that he instructed a scholar nominated by the abbot gratis, unless he should be a boarder, in which case he might take 12d. each quarter. (fn. 74) In 1462/3 he disputed for his convenite, (fn. 75) and we know that he remained master of his hall until 1464 at least. The Proctors' accounts for 1464–5 show that for that year he was the only magister and was accordingly mulcted of the large sum of £2, but half the due payment. In 1466 the hall was vacant so he had presumably retired. (fn. 76) Cobbow Hall, as it was then called, was occupied by William Perkyn in 1467/8, (fn. 77) who may be another grammar-master as there was a tendency for halls to be used continuously by the same faculty. We only know of one other reference to Cobbow. It was presented at a View of Frankpledge that 'there is tymberwode of John Cobbow scolemayster lygginge in the Newemarket abrode this two yere passyd', and that it was a nuisance. (fn. 78) Another master in this century was John Russel, (fn. 79) who was teaching grammar in 1447 when he was summoned before the commissary for not paying the grammarmasters' tax of 6 marks. (fn. 80) He was then principal of Ing Hall, to which he seems to have succeeded in about 1446. His predecessor there from at least 1442 to 1446 was Master Richard or John Sparkeford, also a grammar-master. (fn. 81) He became rector of Rotherfield Peppard in 1444; later as rector of St. Matthew's, Friday Street, London, and grammar-master, he obtained a papal dispensation on 23 November 1456. He died in 1472. (fn. 82)
Another was Master Hugh Fotte, principal in 1457 and 1458 of St. Hugh Hall in St. Peter's in the East. (fn. 83) Master Richard Bulkley taught grammar at Tackley's Inn in the middle of the century. (fn. 84) In 1458 and 1461 it is grouped in the caution list with Plumer Hall and St. Lawrence Hall in one case, and with Bekes Inn and St. Lawrence Hall in the other. (fn. 85) Both Bekes Inn and Tackley's Inn were occupied by tenants, and it has been suggested that Tackley's Inn was a grammar-school annexed to a hall for undergraduates as St. Hugh and White Hall were annexed to St. Edmund Hall. Of Bulkley himself we only know that with Russel and Cobbow he attempted to evade the payment of 6 marks to the University in 1447, and that in 1451 he supplicated that he might be dispensed from convenite as long as he remained in the University. He paid the large sum of £40 for acquiring this privilege. (fn. 86)
Most famous of all the 15th-century masters was Master John Anwykyll, who was made the first head of Magdalen free grammar-school, (fn. 87) and introduced a system of teaching grammar which revolutionized the study of Latin in England. The college arranged to pay him £10 a year and provide a house rent-free for him and his family, for Anwykyll like most of these grammar-masters was a married man. He was chosen for the excellence of his learning and other merits, particularly for the new method of grammatical instruction evolved by him, and he undertook to teach poems, elegancies and other humane arts. He also agreed to try and qualify some apt pupils to become eventually teachers of his method. He died in 1487 and was succeeded by his equally famous pupil John Stanbridge, usher of the school since 1488 or earlier, and a scholar and writer of distinction. But both these men were children of the Renaissance and belong to the modern rather than to the medieval period. To them grammar was but a step to the appreciation of classical literature, and the rod and the birch, the symbol of the medieval grammar-master's profession, if not banished from their school, were at least used sparingly.