University of Leicester
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A study of educational development in the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry in the seventeenth century.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:17 authored by Alan Smith
The large diocese of Lichfield and Coventry covered most of the north Midland region and educational development within it has been examined in the context of social, economic and religious changes during the seventeenth century. The study falls into four main sections, corresponding to developments before 1600, from 1600 to 1640, from 1640 to 1660 and from 1660 to 1700. A substantial part of the research in each of the sections 1600 to 1640 and 1660 to 1700 is based on the diocesan records kept at Lichfield. Before 1600, most of the large centres of population in the diocese were provided with an endowed school. This had been achieved partly by the philanthropy of merchants and gentry but also to a large extent by local initiative, particularly that of town corporations. There was widespread use of confiscated church revenues for school endowments, and a substantial measure of lay control. Between 1600 and 1640, the established schools in the diocese flourished. For the most part, they educated the sons of the 'middle classes', many of whom entered the church. New school endowments were made but not on the scale of the pre- 1600 period. Also, most were smaller in scope and were made by men of lower social status than the sixteenth century benefactors. A new feature, however, was the endowment made specifically for reading and writing, and this type of education was also provided by a large number of 'unendowed' schoolmasters, most of whom taught in small villages. During the period 1640 - 1660, when puritan ideas were in the ascendancy, the provision of endowments for reading and writing continued and some were intended for girls' education. The majority of the earlier endowed schools surmounted the difficulties of the time with apparently little disturbance. After 1660, the effects of religious, social and economic influences could be seen in the large increase in endowments for reading and writing, made mostly by men (and women) of the 'middling sort'---the lesser gentry, emergent yeoman families and well-to-do town merchants. The number of 'unendowed' schoolmasters in the diocese also increased and, overall, contributed to a significant advance in the spread of literacy in town and country. The larger endowed schools continued to educate boys from a wide social background for entry to the professions. By 1700, the diocese was provided with a widespread and varied number of schools in the towns and in the countryside. In their different ways, they provided opportunities for social advancement; contributed to social mobility and the spread of literacy, and as yet appeared untouched by the exclusiveness and social divisions of the following century.


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Author affiliation

Physics and Astronomy

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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