Did you know that Prince Charles was the first heir to the British throne to attend a real (albeit private) school?
For over 1,000 years, Royal children were educated far away from their ‘common’ peers. They spent their formative years in the company of nannies, governesses and an assortment of tutors while they learned latin, studied history and immersed themselves in theology.
Things changed drastically during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, however, and the life of a Royal child in the 21st century is now very different to what it once was.
Why didn’t Royal children attend school for so many centuries? Was it because people believed that members of the Royal family were superior to everyone else and thus shouldn’t mix with ‘commoners’? Or because children who might become monarchs one day need a very specific education that can’t be attained in a regular school?
Both of these things are true, but it’s also important to remember that the school system we have in the UK today hasn’t been around for that long. While independent schools have existed for over 1,000 years, poor children didn’t usually attend as they would often need to work from a young age to help support their families.
There weren’t many established schools prior to the 19th century and many of the ones that did exist were set up to help poor children attend university. For example, Eton College was founded by King Henry VI in 1440 to help 70 boys from poor backgrounds get into King’s College, Cambridge.
While schools did exist, many children did not attend until the end of the 19th century. Education only became compulsory in the late 1800s. It is therefore not surprising that Royal children would have been taught at home with private tutors, because there weren’t many other places they were able to attend.
Royal children did not have a set curriculum and thus their education depended on what their parents wanted them to learn and how important it was for that particular child to have a good knowledge of a given subject.
Henry VII was the younger son of Henry VI and was not initially intended to be king. Instead, the young Prince was educated in sports, theology, music and poetry and was steered towards an active role in the church while his brother Arthur was prepped for the throne. When his brother died unexpectedly, Henry was thrust into a role he was not prepared for.
Princesses were unlikely to become Queens and thus their education was often limited to music, dancing and other skills which would make them an agreeable wife later on, but Elizabeth I benefited from the 17th Century Age of Enlightenment and the increased emphasis put on learning.
Elizabeth I was fluent in over five languages, could write in Latin and Italian as well as English (bearing in mind that being able to literacy was, at the time, fairly rare) and became one of the most well-educated women of her day. She did not attend university, but she did have private lessons from Cambridge academic Roger Ascham.
Princess Victoria had a ‘rather melancholy’ education. She became a talented horse rider, an accomplished musician and even received private dance lessons from a ballerina, but she had a sheltered, strict upbringing without many opportunities to make friends.
When Victoria grew up and became Queen, she had nine children with husband Albert. While Victoria admitted that as her family grew she would sometimes only check on her children ‘every three months’, her husband took a proactive role in their lives and decided that all his children would spend seven hours ‘vigorously’ studying a day.
It might sound like a harsh regime, but their eldest daughter ‘Vicky’ was fluent in English, German and French by the age of three.
Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria’s great great granddaughter, was home educated with her sister by governess Marion Crawford and a variety of tutors. Her early education consisted of reading, writing, music and French, but when she became heir presumptive upon her uncle’s abdication, Elizabeth began studying constitutional law and history with Henry Marten, the vice provost of Eton College. The young Princess also studied religion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The future Queen and Princess Margaret were the last generation of Royals to be taught at home in the traditional way. While Charles spent his nursery education in Buckingham Palace, he later went to Hill House School in West London and Cheam School in Surrey before boarding at Gordonstoun in Scotland when he was thirteen – the same school his father Philip also attended.
Charles would later describe his boarding school experience as ‘absolute hell’. In a letter, the Prince of Wales described being ‘hit on the head’ by his peers because he snored. Nevertheless, Charles went on to become the first heir to the throne to complete a university degree when he studied history, archaeology and anthropology at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Princess Anne was taught at home until the age of thirteen when she went to board at Benenden School. Her younger brothers ended up at Gordonstoun school.
Prince William was the first future heir to the throne to be educated entirely in the school system. He and his brother Harry attended nursery school from the age of three, before moving onto pre-preparatory Wetherby School and Ludgrove Prep School in Berkshire.
Unlike their father and grandfather, the Princes became the first Royals for many generations to attend Eton College. While William was fairly academic and left Eton with good A Levels and a place at university, Harry was more of a class clown and went straight into the military instead of further education.
Prince George started his schooling at Westacre Montessori School before transitioning into Thomas’s Battersea independent school. While you might assume the young Prince would have attended an exclusive nursery for the children of celebrities and aristocrats, Westacre actually costs £33 per day and most children who attend the school receive financial help.
George’s new school is a little more exclusive – with fees of $25,000 a year – but the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are keen to make sure their son doesn’t get any special treatment and remains as grounded as possible. While members of the Royal family don’t need to use last names, the little Prince is known as ‘George Cambridge’ at school.
George participates in all the same lessons as the other children and has to do his homework on time. The curriculum consists of English, history, religious studies, maths and science, but later on the young Royal will also learn French, computing, art/design, technology, music, drama, and ballet.
Princess Charlotte currently attends Willcocks Nursery School in Kensington, but in September she will join her older brother at Thomas’s Battersea school.
We don’t know where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will send their child, but there has been speculation that Meghan may want her child to attend an American school to give the young Royal a more international experience.
Find out more about the life of royal children at True Royalty TV.
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