Book Series Studies in European Urban History (1100-1800), vol. 15

Back to the Schoolyard

The Daily Practice of Medieval and Renaissance Education

Annemarieke Willemsen

  • Pages: 324 p.
  • Size:180 x 250 mm
  • Illustrations:265 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2008

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52599-0
  • Paperback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55943-8
  • E-book
  • Available


After about 1300, most schools in the Netherlands came under secular rule. It managed to create good and accessible schools, causing a hey-day for education in the 14th, 15th and 16th century. As a result, more than half of the children participated in basic instruction and literacy rate went relatively high. A contemporary Italian visitor noted with awe that ‘in the Low Countries everybody could read and write, even the peasants’. In the 16th century, the curriculum changed because of the Reformation and the availability of printed texts. In this book, the favourable situation in the Netherlands is compared with the rest of Western Europe.

Medieval and Renaissance schools have been studied before, but never from the perspective of those who experienced it on a daily basis. Recent excavations on the sites of late-medieval schools and boarding houses revealed the objects used by pupils and teachers for reading, writing, mathematics, and school life in general. Combining those finds with texts and hundreds of depictions of school scenes in manuscripts, frescoes, sculpture, stained glass and early prints, the practice of education could be reconstructed. The book gives a detailed overview of the material school culture, allowing a rare glimpse into a late-medieval classroom.


Dr. Annemarieke Willemsen (1969) is art historian and archaeologist and works as curator of the medieval department of the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden. Earlier she published books on Roman and medieval children’s toys.