ESSAYS / ARTICLES
[Continued] To what extent were there important changes in the way children were brought up in this period?
Lawrence Stone argues that one of the reasons why parents and children were emotionally distant in the early part of this period, was because of the high infant mortality rate. He argues that parents were reluctant to invest love and care in their children, because of the pain losing them would cause. However, Linda Pollock identifies a flaw in his thesis. She argues that if this was the case, then one would expect the indifference towards children to have prevailed as long as the death rate. Stone puts forward that parents were becoming closer to their children in the late seventeenth century, where for some pars of the country such as Devon, more children were dying in this period than had done in the sixteenth century. Pollock argues that contrary to reducing parental emotional investment, the high death rate only served to heighten their anxiety in times of illness, and increase their level of care.
However, Lawrence Stone does not believe that all the consequences of a growing awareness of childhood as a distinct state from adulthood, had a positive effect on the relationship between parents and children. He suggests that with the awareness that behaviour depended on discipline, parents took their duty as disciplinarians more seriously. He claims that whipping and flogging now became common place in an attempt to instil morality in their children. He also attributes this development to the Protestant Reformation. He argues that Protestantism emphasised the notion of Original sin, and contrary to Catholicism, did not advocated that the salvation of children could be obtained by baptism. Protestants argued that faith alone determined salvation, and therefore, for a child to be saved, faith was essential. This led to a decline in the importance of baptism, and increasingly parents delayed the ceremony, for days, weeks, or even months. There was now added pressure on parents to ensure that their children fully comprehended the basics of Christianity, especially their own sinfulness, and need for repentance and salvation. This possibly increased the importance of the mother as teacher, and arguably created the potential for a greater intimacy between mother and child as they spent more quality time together. However, Sather argues that following the Reformation, the relationship between parents and children became characterised by harshness and cruelty, as physical punishment became the norm, especially amongst Puritans. "He who spareth the rod hateth his son" was universally repeated. Undoubtedly this theoretically sets the scene for a darkening of childhood experience.
However, although the Reformation may have encouraged a harsher disciplinary role of the parents, as always, it is necessary to bear in mind that theory does not always convert into practise successfully. It is certainly possible that puritans treated their children harshly in this period, tyring to get them to conform to their notions of godliness, but it must be remembered that for most of this period puritans were a minority, and a rather unpopular one at that. It was they who predominantly wrote the "conduct-books", advising parents on how to rear their children, and although some historians such as Stone have taken their contents as evidence of a harsh attitude towards children, it is necessary to remember that conduct books state how things ought to be, not how they are. Admittedly there were parents who did physically punish their children. John Aubrey, a contemporary of the seventeenth century, stated that harsh physical correction was rife, and that "the child perfectly hated the sight of his parents as the slave his torturer", but this is highly debatable. It is likely that if children were abused in this period, the abuse was more likely to be inflicted by the children's employers who abused their powerful positions. There are numerous accounts of young boys and girls having been physically abused by their masters. However, it is significant that many parents on discovering this abuse, issued a suit against the guilty person, suggesting that such treatment was far from socially acceptable. Parents wanted their children corrected, and arguably would not have opposed to a physical chastisement if essential, but did not want, or approve, of excessive correction. That physical punishment existed, cannot be taken as evidence of increased parental harshness towards children. It is clear from several journals that parents who did feel the need to physically punish their children, were often deeply troubled by the incident, and if possible, preferred not to inflict physical pain on their child. Also, there is little evidence for Stone's theory that parents saw their children as innately evil, and thus needed excessive disciplining. Indeed, considering that writers such as Thomas Gataker had to continuously press the point that it was "an idle concept" to suppose that "religion and godlinesse is not for children", suggests that most parents did not accept the belief, even if it was widespread amongst puritans. In all likelihood, most parents took the view of John Locke, that children were morally neutral, and that it was up to them by both love and appropriate correction, to bring out the good in their nature.
Another change which it has been argued came about partly because of the Reformation, was the "educational revolution" of the sixteenth century. Certainly as Protestantism was the religion of the "word" both printed and preached, a higher degree of literacy was needed to read the Scriptures, and intellectual training in order for the people to comprehend doctrinal issues. Also, following the Dissolution of the monasteries and chantries, the educational provision made by these institutions ceased. Thus, if children were to be educated, schools had to be refounded, which is largely what happened in the reign of Edward the Sixth. This movement was also due to the Renaissance, which increased the value of education, especially amongst the gentry. With the Renaissance came ideals of gentility, advocated by Castiglione and Thomas Elyot. Education was seen as a prime requisite of gentility, for not only did it cultivate the mind, but it distinguished gentle persons above the poor, and justified their privileged positions. Not surprisingly then, with such a high regard being attached to education, rich parents, who perhaps were not entirely literate themselves at the beginning of this period, increasingly ensured that their sons had a decent education. Therefore, towards the end of the sixteenth, and especially into the seventeenth century, it became common for the wealthy to send their sons to the new grammar schools. If they were particularly wealthy, they would employ a tutor steeped in classical knowledge to educate their sons. That parents sent there children away from home at early ages has been taken as evidence of their indifference, but in all likelihood, when parents sent their children away, they believed it was in the best interests of the child. Ilana Ben-Amos argues that parents would only part with their children when it was absolutely essential. In the early seventeenth century for example, it was only after James Fretwell, who was then only four years old, came home weeping because he could not manage the distance between Sandal and Yorkshire every day, that his father out of concern for his welfare put him to lodge with a widow in Sandal. Even then, the child came home on Saturdays.
It can also be seen that attitudes towards female education amongst the wealthy also changed in this period. In the Renaissance years, it is arguable that the education of women was encouraged. Thomas More himself said that "I do not see why learning may not equally agree with both sexes", and the period produced a number of learned women; Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, Lady Jane Grey, and even Mary Stuart. Antonia Fraser argues that during Elizabeth's reign, there was a silent pressure on wealthy men to have their daughters educated. If they were to attend court without having some knowledge of Latin and the Classics, they would compare unfavourably with the intellect and knowledge of the Queen, and would thus not create a favourable impression on the men they were expected to "secure". Also, with there being a female monarch who was renowned as a scholar, it would be rather unmet to press the point that such a sphere was a man's preserve. However, with the Queen's death in 1603, and the accession of a man, such opinions were able to surface, and there was an increasing desire to exclude females from learning Latin and the classics. This was given impetus by the attitude of the sovereign himself. When King James was presented with a learned woman, he rather sarcastically remarked, "but can shee spin ?". This gave no incentive for the great families of England to subject their daughters to an expensive classical education, which many believed they had not the intellectual capacity to understand, and anyway would serve them no useful purpose in life. As the seventeenth century wore on, the difference in the educational expectations of the sexes became more marked. Girls were virtually excluded from grammar schools, and the notion of the "accomplished woman", which was to play such a prominent part in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, gained a whole new lease of life. Parents were now encouraged to have their daughters educated in those subjects deemed suitable for girls - sewing, knitting, music, and French. Over the course of the seventeenth century, schools for girls flourished, and were dedicated to educating girls in these increasingly regarded female traits. Stone argues that the end of the seventeenth century saw a more humane treatment of children being adopted, but arguably this was not the case for aristocratic girls. Physical deportment was becoming increasingly important. The corset, which had long been in existence, now became regarded as essential, and the eighteenth century saw the development of other techniques to help create the perfect figure, such as stocks and backboards. Stone argues that one of the signs of a growing affection between parents and children, was the decline of parental control of their children's marriages, but if this was the case with boys, the marriage of girls was still often tightly controlled.
In concluding then, it can be seen that trying to determine to what extent there were important changes in the way that children were reared in this period, is fraught with difficulty. The conclusion drawn, depends to a large degree on the approach adopted. Those historians such as Linda Pollock who advocate "continuity", would argue that there were no fundamental changes in the way that parents treated and reared their children in this who advocate "change", would argue that there were important changes in these years. They would argue that there was a growing intimacy and affection between parents and children, a growing concern for the latter's welfare, and although the Reformation initially introduced a period of increased severity, the general trend was the improvement of the treatment of children. Certainly there were changes. There was an increased importance placed on education; the increasing segregation of male and female spheres within education; children were maintained at school longer; apprenticeships were lasting longer; there was an increase in the importance of early religious instruction; child baptism lost it's immediate significance; swaddling becoming less widely used, and into the eighteenth century there was a decline in the practice of wet nursing. However, these changes are largely external changes. They tell us little about the way the "experience" of child rearing changed, if it did, during this period. Arguably, the more fundamental aspects of child-rearing, such as whether or not there was an emergence of a "concept of childhood" in this period, whether there was a growing intimacy between parents and children, and whether or not parental discipline became more severe, can only be speculated upon.