An Aristocratic Education and The Ideal Squire

Source: Taken verbatim from a complete scanned text of Coulton’s book at: [accessed 27 August 2009]

Note: The footnotes have been converted here to endnotes.

An aristocratic education, from John Harding’s Chronicle (c. 1457); and the ideal squire, from Philippe de Remi, sire de Beaumanoir‘s Blonde of Oxford (Jehan et Blonde, c. 1250-65)

Printed in G. G. Coulton, Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1918), pp. 282-3, 286-7.

I. An aristocratic education, from John Harding’s Chronicle (c. 1457):


John Hardyng was born in 1378, was admitted at the age of 12 to the family of Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur) and fought at Homildon Hill and Shrewsbury. In 1403 he received the royal pardon and enlisted under Sir Robert Umfraville, Warden of the Northern Marches, who in 1405 made Hardyng warden of his castle of Warkworth. His rhymed Chronicle is poor poetry, but sometimes gives us original matter of real value. He brought it doown to 1464, and must, therefore, have lived at least to 86. But he had finished an earlier version in 1457 for Henry VI.; and it is from this unprinted version that Ellis published the following three stanzas in his edition of the Chronicle (1812, indrod. p. i).

[p. 283] And as lordes sonnes bene sette, at foure yere age,
To scole [to] lerne the doctryne of lettrure,
And after at sex to have thaym in language,
And sette [n. 1] at mete semely in alle nurture ;
At ten and twelve to revelle is thair cure,
To daunse and synge, and speke of gentelnesse ;
At fourtene yere they shalle to felde I sure [n. 2],
[To] hunte the dere, and catch an hardynesse.

For dere to hunte and slea, and se them blede,
Ane hardyment gyffith to his corage,
And also in his wytte he takyth hede
Ymagynynge to take thaym at avauntage.
A[t] sextene yere, to werray [n. 3] and to wage,
To juste [n. 4] and ryde, and castels to assayle,
To scarmyse [n. 5] als, and make sykyr [n. 6] scurage [n. 7],
And sette his wache for perile nocturnayle ;

And every day his armure to assay
In fete of armes with some of his meyne [n. 8],
His might to preve [n. 9], and what that he do may
Iff that he were in suche a juperte [n. 10]
Of werre [n. 11], by falle, that by necessite
He might algates [n. 12] with wapyns [n. 13] hym defende
Thus shuld he lerne in his priorite [n.14]
His wapyns alle in an armes [n. 15] to dispende [n.16].


1. sit.
2. assure.
3. make war.
4. joust.
5. skirmish
6. sure.
7. scouting.
8. meinie [i.e., entourage].
9. prove.
10. jeopardy.
11. war.
12. altogether.
13. weapons.
14. early days.
15. in full armour.
16. employ.

II. The ideal squire, from Philippe de Remi, sire de Beaumanoirs Blonde of Oxford (Jehan et Blonde, c. 1250-65):


“Curteis he was, lowely and servysable And carf biforn his fader at the table.”

Perhaps, the best commentary on this Chaucerian description of a squire’s social duties is the following, from the thirteenth century romance, Blonde of Oxford (Camden Soc. 1858). The hero, Jehan de Dammartin, is squire to the Earl of Oxford, (p. 14, 1. 371.)

Fair, and fairer still than I can say, was Blonde the Earl’s daughter. She sat at dinner, and was served by Jehan, fair and free of body, who pained himself much to earn all men’s grace by his courteous service. He waited not on his lady alone, but up and down throughout the hall; knight and lady, squire and page, groom and messenger, all he served according to their desire, and thus from all he earned good-will. He knew well to seize the moment for serving and honouring each guest, so that Blonde, the fair and shapely, found her needs none the worse supplied.

After the dinner they washed their hands, and went to play, each as he would, up in the forest or down by the river or in some other sort of pastime. Jehan went with whom he would; and, on his return, oftentimes would he go to play in the countess’s bower, wherein the ladies, as it were by main force [n. 1], kept him to teach them French. He, as a courteous youth, did and said ever according to their prayer, as one who well knew how to comport himself. Well he knew all chamber-games— chess and tables [n. 2] and dice, wherewith he diverted the lady Blonde ; often said he check and mate to her. Many other games he taught her ; and taught her a better French than she had known before his coming; wherefore she held him full dear….

One day, as Blonde sat at table, it was for Jehan to carve before her…. By chance he cast his eyes on her; yet he had seen her daily these eighteen weeks past…. From this look such thoughts came into his head, that on his carving he thought no more. Blonde, who marked his thoughts astray, [p. 287] took upon her to rebuke him therefore, and bade him think on his carving without delay. Seeing then that Jehan heard her not for the moment, then spake she again, “Carve, Jehan! are you sleeping or dreaming here? I pray you, give me now to eat; of your courtesy, dream now no more.” At this word Jehan heard her voice; therewith he started as one who is shaken suddenly from his sleep. He marvelled at this adventure; he seized the knife as a man in a dream, and thought to carve well and fair, but so distraught was he that he cut deep into two fingers: forth sprang the blood as he rose from table, and sad was Blonde at that sight. Jehan prayed another squire to carve before his lady, and went forthwith to his own chamber.


1. This seems the meaning of the phrase qui en destrèce.
2. A sort of backgammon, which, like chess, led to much gambling in the
Middle Ages and therefore was forbidden to clerics and university students.