Childhood in early modern Scotland

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Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, age 17, and his brother Lord Charles Stuart (later 5th Earl of Lennox), age 6, in a painting attributed to Hans Eworth (1563)

Childhood in early modern Scotland includes all aspects of the lives of children, from birth to adulthood, between the early sixteenth century and the mid-eighteenth century. This period corresponds to the early modern period in Europe, beginning with the Renaissance and Reformation and ending with the beginning of industrialisation and the Enlightenment in the mid-eighteenth century.

Birth was a predominately female event, although fathers were often present or nearby to assert their paternity. Before the Reformation, baptism was a means of creating wider spiritual kinship with godparents, but in the reformed Kirk it was used to strengthening relationships between the child and the parents, particularly the father. Among the elite of Highland society, there was a system of fosterage that created similar links to those of godparenthood. It was common, particularly among richer families, to employ a wet-nurse to care for the child. The primary responsibility for bringing up young children fell on the mother.

For many the early teens were marked by moving away from home to undertake life-cycle service. Boys might be apprenticed to a trade, or become agricultural servants. Girls might go into domestic or agricultural service. For those higher up in society and increasingly for those lower down, this might be after a period of schooling. For the wealthy and sometimes for the very talented, they might move move on to one of Scotland's universities. The Humanist concern with widening education that had become significant in the Renaissance was shared by Protestant reformers. Boys might attend the grammar schools or ordinary parish schools. There were also large number of unregulated "adventure schools". By the late seventeenth century there was a largely complete network of parish schools in the Lowlands, but in the Highlands basic education was still lacking in many areas. The widespread belief in the limited intellectual and moral capacity of women, vied with a desire, intensified after the Reformation, for women to take personal moral responsibility, particularly as wives and mothers. They were frequently taught reading, sewing and knitting, but not writing and much lower literacy rates.

Birth[edit]

Sir George Bruce monument, Culross Abbey, showing his children praying below the tomb

Although sources are limited, Scotland may have had a higher infant mortality rate than England,[1] where rates were higher than in many modern Third-World countries, with 160 children in 1,000 dying in their first year.[2] There was considerable concern over the safety of mother and child in birth.[3] Although childbirth was a predominantly female event, with neighbours and midwives in support, the father was often present in or near the birthing chamber to assert or admit his paternity.[4] Before the Reformation, baptism was a means of creating wider spiritual kinship with godparents,[5] but in the reformed Kirk godparents were abolished and it was used as a means of strengthening the "natural" relationships with the parents, particularly the father, who would have the primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual education of the child.[6] Among the elite of Highland society, there existed a system of fosterage that created similar links to godparenthood, with children being sent to the households of other major families to facilitate the creation of mutual bonds, and which continued into the seventeenth century.[5]

Young children[edit]

James (1741-65) and Alexander Macdonald (1744-1810) in a painting attributed to William Mosman

Following birth it was common, particularly among richer families, to employ a wet-nurse to care for the child, sometimes living in with the family.[5] In late seventeenth century Edinburgh 6.8 per cent of families employed such a nurse and they were most common among wealthier middle-class households.[7] Few sources give an insight into the experiences of young children in this period. Some parents played with their children and parents demonstrated grief at their loss.[3] The primary responsibility for bringing up young children fell on the mother. For older children the major duty of parents was, according to the Kirk, to ensure the spiritual development of the child, with fathers leading daily family prayers, but it is not clear how widely these practices were adopted.[5] After the Reformation, first communion probably served as a rite of puberty, marking the transition to sit beside adults at the kirk boards for the first time.[8]

Youth[edit]

Historians debate whether early modern individuals experienced a period of youth in the modern sense. For many the early teens were marked by moving away from home to undertake life-cycle service, which was necessary so that they could build up skills and capital that would enable them to marry and create a separate household.[9] Lowland Scotland was part of the pattern of late marriage for both men and women (between the mid and late 20s), with a relatively large proportion of the population remaining unmarried. In the Highland and Islands marriage ages may have been lower.[1] Lower down in society boys might be apprenticed to a trade, or become agricultural servants. Girls might go into domestic[9] or agricultural service.[10] For those higher up in society and increasingly for those lower down, this might be after a period of schooling. For the wealthy and sometimes for the very talented, they might move move on to one of Scotland's universities.[9]

Education[edit]

A carving of a seventeenth-century classroom with a dominie and his ten scholars, from George Heriot's School, Edinburgh

The Humanist concern with widening education that had become significant in the Renaissance was shared by Protestant reformers.[11] For boys, in the burghs the old schools were maintained, with the song schools and a number of new foundations becoming reformed grammar schools or ordinary parish schools. There were also large number of unregulated "adventure schools", which sometimes fulfilled a local needs and sometimes took pupils away from the official schools.[12] At their best, the curriculum included catechism, Latin, French, Classical literature and sports.[13] A series of acts attempted to establish schools in every parish from 1616.[14] By the late seventeenth century there was a largely complete network of parish schools in the Lowlands, but in the Highlands basic education was still lacking in many areas.[15]

The widespread belief in the limited intellectual and moral capacity of women, vied with a desire, intensified after the Reformation, for women to take personal moral responsibility, particularly as wives and mothers. In Protestantism this necessitated an ability to learn and understand the catechism and even to be able to independently read the Bible, but most commentators, even those that tended to encourage the education of girls, thought they should not receive the same academic education as boys. In the lower ranks of society, they benefited from the expansion of the parish schools system that took place after the Reformation, but were usually outnumbered by boys, often taught separately, for a shorter time and to a lower level. They were frequently taught reading, sewing and knitting, but not writing. Female illiteracy rates based on signatures among female servants were around 90 per cent, from the late seventeenth to the early eighteenth centuries and perhaps 85 per cent for women of all ranks by 1750, compared with 35 per cent for men.[16] Among the nobility there were many educated and cultured women, of which Mary, Queen of Scots is the most obvious example.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b A. Lawrence, "Women in the British Isles in the sixteenth century", in R. Tittler and N. Jones, A Companion to Tudor Britain (Oxford: Blackwell John Wiley & Sons, 2008), ISBN 1405137401, p. 384.
  2. ^ A. Wear, Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550–1680 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 0521558271, p. 12.
  3. ^ a b E. Ewen, "The early modern family" in T. M. Devine and J. Wormald, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), ISBN 0199563691, p. 277.
  4. ^ M. Hollander, "The name of the Father": baptism and the social construction of fatherhood in early modern Edinburgh", in E. Ewan and J. Nugent, Finding the Family in Medieval and Early Modern Scotland (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), ISBN 0754660494, p. 66.
  5. ^ a b c d E. Ewen, "The early modern family" in T. M. Devine and J. Wormald, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), ISBN 0199563691, p. 278.
  6. ^ M. Hollander, "The name of the Father": baptism and the social construction of fatherhood in early modern Edinburgh", in E. Ewan and J. Nugent, Finding the Family in Medieval and Early Modern Scotland (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), ISBN 0754660494, p. 68.
  7. ^ R. O'Day, Women's Agency in Early Modern Britain and the American Colonies: Patriarchy, Partnership and Patronage (London: Pearson Education, 2007), ISBN 0582294630, p. 245.
  8. ^ M. Todd. The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (Yale University Press, 2002), ISBN 0300092342, p. 90.
  9. ^ a b c E. Ewen, "The early modern family" in T. M. Devine and J. Wormald, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), ISBN 0199563691, p. 279.
  10. ^ R. Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, Scotland 1603–1745 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983), ISBN 074860233X, pp. 86-8.
  11. ^ R. A. Houston, Scottish Literacy and the Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ISBN 0-521-89088-8, p. 5.
  12. ^ M. Todd, The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (Yale University Press, 2002), ISBN 0-300-09234-2, pp. 59-62.
  13. ^ J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0-7486-0276-3, pp. 183-3.
  14. ^ "School education prior to 1873", Scottish Archive Network, 2010, archived from the original on 3 July 2011 .
  15. ^ R. Anderson, "The history of Scottish Education pre-1980", in T. G. K. Bryce and W. M. Humes, eds, Scottish Education: Post-Devolution (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd edn., 2003), ISBN 0-7486-1625-X, pp. 219-28.
  16. ^ R. A. Houston, Scottish Literacy and the Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ISBN 0521890888, pp. 63-8.
  17. ^ K. Brown, Noble Society in Scotland: Wealth, Family and Culture from Reformation to Revolution (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), ISBN 0748612998, p. 187.