Monday, April 25, 2011

Medieval Universities

Education in medieval times is a fascinating subject and today we take a look at medieval universities. According to research we've done, some of the key issues, questions and answers are as follows ...

The medieval university

There are over 150 Universities in the UK today but 800 years ago there were only 2 - Oxford and Cambridge. The following brief list of questions and answers will help to explain a little about education in the medieval period.

How did universities come about?
The earliest universities were not in England but in Bologna (1088) and Paris (1160). Oxford University came about in 1167. Universitas, in Latin, is a term for the totality of something. So for instance it could be a university of carpenters; the term was apparently not exclusive to learning institutions.

By binding the teachers together the standards could be uniform. If you then recall that Latin was virtually a universal language for academics then you can see how mobility between universities became possible and this in turn encouraged their rapid growth.

What was there before universities?
There were four main routes to learning ...

1. The Courts - writing reading and poetry.
2. Cathedrals - very important, you needed people to run them.
3. Monasteries - children joined at an early age and in such numbers that education was almost by default.
4. A form of apprenticeship - lawyers, doctors etc; similar to a pupilage.

All these shared a commitment to a curriculum dating back to Greek and Roman times which was known as the system of liberal arts. This system could be broken down into seven sections:

1. Trivium - the three subjects were grammar, rhetoric and logic.
2. Quadrivium - the four ways or the four roads consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

However, just in case you think that the influence of the Romano Greek world was total it is also important to record the growth in learning within the muslim world. This applies especially to areas such as the translation of new works and algebra.

Why did universities come into being?
There appears to be no definite answer but here are some ideas:

1. Conflict between secular and religious authorities.

2. Increased availability of minted money permitted freedom of movement and the pupils could now go where they wanted.

3. Increased debate between scholars about what education should be.

What were the differences between a medieval university and a modern day one?
In the early 12th century if you wanted an academic career then this could be to the detriment of your teacher - you might try and steal his students. However, this changed so that going forward you were in competition with your fellow students. The power to bestow a degree was used to control the students.

Which is the oldest university?
Bologna is cited as the oldest university in the world. One should remember that Italy, at this time, was made up of City States as opposed to an Italian nation. In the 11th century the growth in civil law created a real pressure to teach large numbers of pupils. By the early 12th century both canon and civil law were placed on an equal footing and this created more demand for university places.

Lasting the course
There was a great demand for skilled people as secretaries, copiers, lawyers and so on and this meant that often students would leave part way through and as soon as they had acquired the necessary skills for the workplace.

Were the medieval universities truly international?
We think most definitely. With the freedom to chose and change came true international education. This was particularly strong in Paris where there was more than one place where you could learn. However, please note that in 1167 King Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.

Development of colleges
Endowments and a desire to support the students outside their academic studies gave rise to colleges.

At what age did people go to university in medieval times?
It is believed to have been at about 14 or 15 years of age. There was no specific entrance requirement or test. You had to be interviewed and a student would need the funds to pay for his tuition. It was only ever men, there were no women admitted to medieval universities. It was not until 1869 that Girton College in Cambridge was founded to cater specifically for women students.

Were the terms the same?
Yes, three terms and long vacations.

Who paid for the students?
Mostly it was family money. However the Church also contributed. For instance a Priest was allowed to pay for a substitute whilst he went to university. There were also scholarships from an early day.

How were the students controlled?
The Chancellor of the university ran a virtually autonomous church court. So for instance if there was a dispute with a local trader then the case would be heard within the university law. The punishments were generally lax and this was a tremendous priviledge for students.

What role did the towns play?
From the mid 13th century Italian towns ran their universities.

How quickly did the idea of universities spread?
Very quickly. The universality of the curriculum made it easy to scale.
Padua was founded in 1222 and Cambridge in 1209.

Interested in the arts from the medieval period? Read more about medieval poetry, medieval music and medieval literature.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Constantinople - The Last Great Medieval Siege

Some historians say that the medieval era came to an end in 1453. This particular year was witness to two major historical events:

1. On 19 October 1453 the French captured Bordeaux bringing the 100 Years War to an end.

2. On 29 May 1453 Constantinople fell to Mehmed II bringing an end to the Byzantium empire and creating the foundations for modern Turkey.

Roger Crowley's book on the fall of Constantinople provides a good description of the events before during and after the seige. There is also a lot of good detail about this within Wikipedia. Many of the events around the seige will be covered by later medieval castle blog posts but for the moment it is worth considering a number of lessons which come from this extraordinary event.

The Winning Strategy
Although the seige was relatively brief, lasting from 6 April to 29 May, there were a large number of strategies tried by Mehmed II:

1. The introduction of seige guns with probably the first artillery bombardment in history

2. The failure of seige towers 3. The attempt to undermine the walls 4. The naval manoeuvres, including the transportation of the muslim fleet across land to avoid the steel chain which had been laid across the Bosphorus

5. The struggle to fill in the ditch or fosse to provide easier access to the Walls

Just one of the attacks needed to succeed. Whilst the defenders fought back against each new initiative they only had to lose one battle and the city would fall.

Importance Of Seiges
Modern artillery has consigned true seiges to the history books but looking back it is impossible to underestimate the importance of seiges in deciding the outcome of wars. For instance, look at the 100 Years War which ended in the same year. The English won at Crecy and at Agincourt but it was the French ability to withstand seiges and to stretch the English resources which ultimately won the day.

Use Of Gunpowder
The use of seige guns at Constantinople as well as at the battle of Castillon two months later in July ushered in the military use of gunpowder and effectively signalled the end of the use of heavy cavalry horses.

The Holy Roman Empire
Constantinople was looked upon as the second Rome and the last bastion of the Holy Roman Empire. The fall of the city was a traumatic event for the west and brought the muslim armies into Europe from Asia.

It had been 181 years since the ninth medieval Crusade (the last) and despite papal pleas to start a crusade to liberate the city there was no action. Effectively, the years of the medieval crusades were ended.

Trade With The East & The Development Of Sea Routes
The loss of the city persuaded many traders to look for alternative routes for the spice trade. This led to the development of new sea routes and one spin off was Columbus's voyage to America in 1492.


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Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Medieval King, Tally Sticks & The Houses Of Parliament

One of the pleasures in studying medieval history is to learn how events can sometimes connect quite unexpectedly across the centuries.

When medieval king Richard 1st was captured, the money needed to pay his ransom, 150,000 silver marks, was so large that a special ransom office was created to administer the raising and collection of the silver. These transactions were recorded on wooden tally sticks. There must have been a great many of these and over the centuries they lay unused and forgotten around the Palace of Westminster with many of them in the room which had been the Court of the Star Chamber under King James II.

In 1824 it was decided to restore the room for other uses and the tally sticks had to be destroyed. It was decided that they should be burnt and on 16 October they were put into the stove at the House of Lords which then overheated and set fire to the panelling and from there to the building itself.

The landscape painter J M W Turner was a witness to the fire and painted it (see below). The replacement building was designed by Augustus Pugin

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