The Tudor Society

Roger Ascham

Scholar and royal tutor Roger Ascham is thought to have been born around 1515 and he was educated in the household of Sir Humphrey Wingfield, a lawyer and a man who served as Speaker of the House of Commons in the 1530s. When he was about 15, he was sent to St John's College, Cambridge, where he chose to devoted himself to the study of Greek. He graduated BA in 1533/4 and was nominated as a fellow before graduating MA in 1537. At Cambridge, he met Sir John Cheke and he taught William Grindal, who would go on to be a tutor to Princess Elizabeth from 1544 to 1548.

In 1548, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII, insisted that Ascham become her tutor after the death of William Grindal from the plague. According to his biographer Rosemary O’Day, Ascham “contrived a classical and Christian curriculum for the princess that was designed to equip her for a leading role in the state”, and used his pioneering language teaching method on her, double translation. He wrote about this method in “The Scholemaster”, his famous and influential treatise on education. He carried on tutoring Princess Elizabeth during Mary I’s reign, and was impressed by the Princess' intelligence, her language skills and her “political understanding”.

In 1550, Ascham served as secretary to Sir Richard Morison, ambassador to the Imperial court, and travelled to Germany. While travelling on the continent, he was appointed as Edward VI’s Latin secretary, a post which he was also given during Mary I’s reign after his return to England, and also in Elizabeth I's reign.

In “The Scholemaster”, he wrote of visiting Lady Jane Grey at her home, Bradgate. He found her in her room reading Plato while the rest of the family were hunting, and she allegedly told him of the ill treatment she suffered from her parents: “For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I spekee, kepe silence, sit, stand, or go, eate, drinke, be merie, or sad, be sowying, plaiying, dauncing, or doing anything els: I must do it, as it were, in soch weight, measure, and number, even as perfectlie as God made the world; or els I am so sharplie taunted, so cruellie threatened, yea presentlie some tymes with pinches, nippes and bobbes, and other waies I will not name for the honour I beare them, so without measure misordered, that I thinke myself in hell, till tyme cum that I must go to Mister Elmer, who teacheth me so jentlie, so pleasantlie, with soch faire allurements to lerning, that I think all the tyme nothing, whiles I am with him.” These words have been used by authors and historians to brand the Greys as abusive parents, and Lady Jane Grey as a misunderstood intellectual and victim.

Ascham is also known for his book Toxophilus, the first English book on archery, which he dedicated to Henry VIII, a keen archer.

Ascham was taken ill on 23rd December 1568. He had suffered from ill health throughout his life, and this was probably down to him contracting malaria. He died on 30th December 1568 and was buried on 4th January 1569 on the north side of St Sepulchre without Newgate, London, in the St Stephen’s chapel.

(Taken from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway)

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  1. R

    Thus the myth of Jane’s cruel parents.

    1. C - Post Author


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Roger Ascham