chapter  XVI
10 Pages


Throughout the middle ages the connexion between the church and literary education remained very close. Such education was not regarded as a general preparation for life, but as equipment for a career: and that career in its broadest sense the service of the church. This was a legacy of the dark ages, when for hundreds of years the only class taught to read and write, and to take possession of the human heritage of learning by a knowledge of Latin, was the clerical militia. A clerk, by definition, was one whose lot it was to serve the Lord. Gradually, certain other classes had been taught reading, writing and Latin, for practical ends. Kings, dukes and such like must be able to sign their names. By the fourteenth century an Italian writer recommended that even women, down to the daughters of marquises, should be educated, so that they might sign charters: for those beneath them in the social scale there was no need. Bailiffs and reeves, even of a humble description, had usually, in the fourteenth century, picked up enough reading, writing and figures to be able to keep accounts. Notaries public, at the end of the fourteenth century, were beginning to be described in records as “literate laymen,” as were some other witnesses to documents. Nobles and knights were laymen, but at the end of the fourteenth century they could read and write: so could “solemn merchants” in the towns. But it was still true at the end of the fourteenth century that ability to read and write was confined mainly to those in orders, those with the clerical tonsure,

and those who by attendance at a grammar school or university were “scholares,” and entitled to benefit of clergy. The records of the Châtelet at Paris, about 1400, with its jurisdiction and prisons, show that many arrested persons claimed benefit of clergy “falsely,” and that in proof of their clerkship they were asked to produce the letters given them when they were shorn, or bring witnesses to that event. One clerk escaped by recitation of the psalm, “The Lord is the lot of my inheritance,” which he would have recited with the bishop who was shearing him; and in England this proof was accepted in the late fifteenth century, and the verse became known as the “neck-verse.”