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Education in Early Tudor England: Magdalen College Oxford and Its School, 1480-1540.

Education in Early Tudor England: Magdalen College Oxford and Its School, 1480-1540. By Nicholas Orme. Magdalen College Occasional Paper 4. Oxford: Magdalen College, 1998. xii +84 pp. 8.00 [pound sterling].

A student's plaintive request, from nearly five hundred years ago, that his tutor "punish me not half so much" for his latest wrongdoing (44), is among the gems that Nicholas Orme presents in his history of Magdalen College's grammar school. Building on his previous work concerning medieval education, Orme mines the college's extensive archives for its school.

Magdalen College Oxford is unusual in having a grammar school. Schools were more likely to be founded as the adjuncts of chantries or parish churches. The most famous Tudor example was Dean John Colet's school at St. Paul's Cathedral. However, Bishop William Waynflete (d. 1486) had been provost of Eton before he founded the college in 1458, and he established its school on the same site by 1480. Other university colleges kept their schools separate, and Orme notes that Waynfletes foundation had "no obvious model and inspired few imitations" (3). With difficulty, Magdalen's unequal marriage survived.

Orme recounts the career of the first schoolmaster, John Anwykylle (or Alwinkle), who compiled a humanist grammar Compendium from Lorenzo Valla (among other authorities) at the dawn of English printing in Oxford in 1483. But before long most schoolbooks flowed from London presses, a sign that by 1500 Oxford's preeminence as a major center of grammar was already seeping away. Orme reproduces what must be one of the earliest mnemonic devices ever printed, a picture by which to remember the cases of Latin nouns, illustrated upon the rings of an engraved hand (58).

Orme is on less secure ground in his conclusion, when he tries to use Magdalen School as an example of English exceptionalism. This is a curious stance to take, given the influence of continental humanism in England, to say nothing of its position as a member of the Roman Catholic Church before the 1530s. Still, this brief study provides a glance into an otherwise discreet sphere of educational experience.

Susan Wabuda Fordham University
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Author:Wabuda, Susan
Publication:Church History
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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