In seventeenth-century England, as at any time and in any place, education was the complex process by which society preserved and transmitted its culture from generation to generation. This process was effected by both formal and informal institutions, by schools and the two universities on the one hand, and the all- important patriarchal family, the church, and the community on the other. Furthermore, the whole educational process was the direct expression of society's awareness of an ideal of human nature, a controlling standard. Education was a mirror of the life and growth of the society, and was altered both by changes imposed on it from without and by transformations in its internal structure and intellectual development. When society's standards were stable, as they were in the Middle Ages, education was firmly based. When they were displaced, mixed, or destroyed, as they were in the seventeenth century, the educational process, and most apparently in its formal aspects, was weakened until it become inadequate for society's needs and was replaced in large measure by new methods and institutions.
Sir John Clapham once wrote that economic history should be the foundation of our study of all other history. But, he added, 'foundations exist to support better things'. The history of education, too, is a foundation. A seventeenth-century Englishman's whole approach to life--his actions and his ideas-- depended upon his standards and presuppositions. In turn, these standards depended upon his education, the assimilation or rejection of those standards which his society attempted to pass on to him. So that ultimately, if we wish to understand his approach to life--the way he lived and acted and thought, we must begin with an appreciation of his educational background. And, perhaps most of all, the history of education is fundamental to our understanding of the way he thought, of his intellectual life. Therefore, by contributing to our understanding of the dynamics of intellectual development and change in Stuart England, the educational historian complements the historian of ideas. In return, the intellectual historian considers it part of his task to describe those standards, presuppositions and ideals held by society which inform and affect its particular process of education.