The Schools of Medieval England

By A. F. Leach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE SCHOOLS FROM LANFRANC TO BECKET

ONE of the worst effects of the Conquest was the foisting of the Italian adventurer Lanfranc into the See of Canterbury. Prima facie, as an ex-schoolmaster himself, he might have been supposed to be the best person possible for the schools. But it is a strange thing that, as in these later days so in those days, some of the occupants of episcopal sees, particularly reactionary in their attitude to the schools of the nation, have been ex-schoolmasters. Lanfranc's scholastic career has been misrepresented as that of a monk keeping a school in a monastery, as if it was a normal thing for a school to be kept in a monastery. A little care in reading the historians shows, however, that in keeping a school as a monk he was doing a most exceptional and unheard-of thing, and that he did not keep it in a monastery. Lanfranc had the good fortune to have his biography written by one of his own pupils, Gilbert, who became Abbot of Westminster in 1082. He tells us that Lanfranc was born at Pavia, where his father held municipal office, but being early left an orphan, he left that city and went to a grammar school (ad studia litterarum perrexit); where we are not told, but presumably at Rome. A later biographer, a monk of Bec, heightens of course the original story. Lanfranc's parents, instead of being middle-class citizens, were now turned into nobles. In his boyhood he is represented as having been brought up not only in the school of the liberal arts, but also in the secular laws of the country: while when he was a young man (adolescens) as a speaker he overcame veteran opponents in actions at law through the torrent of his eloquence; and his wisdom was such that he gave legal opinions which were gratefully accepted by counsel and judges or mayors of the city. But when he was philo-

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