The Children's Petition of 1669
and its Sequel
C. B. Freeman
The prevalence of brutal flogging in seventeenth-century English schools is amply attested by the protests against it that have survived. John Brinsley of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Milton's friend Samuel Hartlib and Charles Hoole of Rotherham are among a considerable band of writers on education who deplore the use of flogging except as a last resort and with severe restraint.1 Still another Puritan, Hezekiah Woodward, tells how he learnt from his own bitter experience that "harshness loseth the heart and alienates the affections," and also retards scholastic progress; for he says of his own days at the grammar school, "I know not which lost me most time, feare or play. I know I played away much of the time (for all the sorrow) but, I know also, fear hindred me most, and cast me farthest back."2
To protest against the abuse was one thing. To promote an agitation for legislative action against it was quite another. Special interest attaches to the Children's Petition of 1669 and its sequel of 1698-9 because they represent two determined attempts to bring the matter into the arena of Parliament. The evidence of the first attempt is to be found in a very scarce little duodecimo of seventy pages, of which a copy may be seen in the British Museum: The Children's Petition: or, A modest remonstrance of that intolerable grievance our youth lie under, in the accustomed severities of the school-discipline of this nation. Humbly presented to the consideration of the Parliament . . . Printed for Richard Chiswell . . . 1669.
The petitioners describe themselves as "we the children of the land," and they deplore the fact that it is the custom to entrust to men who have no qualifications but a knowledge of Latin and Greek "the liberty to use such a kind of discipline over us, as that the spring-time of humane life, which in all other creatures is left at the greatest freedom to be sweet and
This essay first appeared in The British Journal of Educational Studies, 14( May 1966), 216-223.