Elizabeth I: The Education of the Future Queen of England

King Henry VIII once said, “without knowledge our life would not be worth our having.” In fact, he took pride in the intelligence of his wives and determined that his daughters would be equally smart. Since his first daughter Mary Tudor received an education that included not only “women’s work” but also the study of other languages and the classics, it made sense that his second daughter should be similarly educated.

Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, took her first lessons from her governess Katherine Champernowne. Katherine taught her student the fundamentals of languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish. She also introduced the young girl to history, math, and science. Since Elizabeth’s mother died when she was very young, she had a close bond with her kind, intelligent governess. Katherine took motherly pride in Elizabeth’s accomplishments, but she knew her bright student would need to continue her studies with a more accomplished teacher.

When her father married Katherine Parr, the new stepmother took an interest in Elizabeth’s education. She appointed a private tutor for the young girl. William Grindal was a Latin scholar who also excelled in teaching Greek. Under his instruction, Elizabeth mastered both languages, exceeding her sister Mary’s knowledge of them as well as her father’s.

After William Grindal died of the plague, Grindal’s teacher Roger Ascham became Elizabeth’s tutor. The schedule Ascham arranged for his pupil makes today’s school day seem easy by comparison. In the morning Elizabeth studied Greek, including the Greek New Testament and Greek literature. In the afternoon she worked on Latin authors, and in the evening she learned history and studied oratory. Unlike other teachers in the sixteenth century, however, Ascham thought that learning should be enjoyable. He believed in praising rather than punishing students. He wrote, “I have dealt with many learned ladies, but among them all the brightest star is my illustrious Lady Elizabeth.” He also thought his students should learn about a variety of things, so in addition to her schoolwork Elizabeth also played musical instruments, hunted, and rode horses.

Although her father never intended her education to aid her as a ruler, her tutors gave her a love of learning that aided her when she took the throne. Her knowledge of languages and speech-making skills helped her talk with foreign ambassadors. As Queen she “entered…first into the school of experience” and had to devote herself, as she stated, to “the study of that which was meet for Government.” Her desire to learn new things and her education helped her to become a successful ruler.

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