Historical Notes: The ideal education for kings and queens
Monday 14 June 1999
Following this set of principles Queen Elizabeth I was taught to speak Latin, Greek, Italian and French and was familiar with the literature of each of those languages. This literature provided not only intellectual enrichment but also moral principles. Elizabeth I had the best tutors available, including Roger Ascham, who was not only a university teacher and scholar but also wrote books about education which became known throughout Europe.
By contrast Elizabeth II had been in the hands of completely unqualified nannies until Marion Crawford was taken on when she was six. Crawfie then became almost entirely responsible for Elizabeth's education and training. She was a two-year trained teacher who might have been just adequate for Elizabeth's "primary" education but as a non-specialist, non-graduate should not have been entrusted with her secondary curriculum. There was some specialist instruction in languages and constitutional history, but Crawfie largely had a free hand. There is a distinct impression that her parents did not take her education seriously.
Crawfie herself, in an account she wrote - much to the disgust of the royal family - soon after her retirement, was surprised that the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth "interfered so little". The result was that the future Queen Elizabeth II grew up to be more interested in dogs and horses than in books and ideas. Her know-ledge, according to Crawfie, was "wide rather than deep", and it has been suggested that she is still uneasy in the company of "intellectuals."
Why should there be such a contrast? By the 20th century there was no theory of education used to guide royal practice: her parents were more concerned their children should be happy rather than well educated. Concern for happiness was commendable but there was really no need for one to exclude the other.
It might be suggested that education is now less important for future kings and queens because constitutional monarchs have no real power. But one of the problems for modern kings and queens is precisely to understand the limits of their prerogative. Queen Victoria frequently exceeded her powers; her great-grandson, Edward VIII, misunderstood his position to such an extent that he was encouraged to abdicate. The present Queen has not abused her prerogative but has shown herself to lack an understanding of the delicacy of her position so that she sometimes appears over-concerned about her personal finances. The heir to the throne does not seem to know where to draw the line between controversial issues he can pronounce on and political issues such as education where he would be well advised to keep his views out of the public arena.
One of the dangers we identified in the upbringing of future monarchs over the centuries was the result of their formative years being spent in an atmosphere of exaggerated respect, deference, even reverence. The risk is that they are encouraged to believe they really are superior and above the rules of normal behaviour, often above the law.
If the monarchy is to survive it must become part of a truly democratic, open society. For the royal family to identify with an aristocratic and monied minority rather than with the majority of the population may be unwise. This applies not only to being educated at the most exclusive school in the country, but also participating in upper- class pastimes such as shooting and hunting which are regarded as undesirable by many "ordinary" people.
Peter Gordon and Denis Lawton are the authors of `Royal Education: past, present and future' (Frank Cass & Co, pounds 25)
- 1 Sean Abbott: Messages of support flood in for bowler following death of batsman Phil Hughes
- 2 Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 3 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 4 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 5 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, GAME, PC World and Argos
Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado's stylist Luis Alfredo Garcia is found stabbed to death
Sean Abbott: Messages of support flood in for bowler following death of batsman Phil Hughes
Dr Lam Hoe Yeoh: Voyeur doctor jailed for eight years after using network of hidden cameras to film patients, colleagues and friends on the toilet
'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...
£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...
VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...