Roger Ascham

D.E. Moss introduces a Cambridge scholar who was tutor to Princess Elizabeth, an observant traveller in Germany and the author of books on archery and education.

In December 1568 Roger Ascham prepared a New Year gift for Queen Elizabeth the First. As the Queen’s Latin secretary and former tutor, he was highly qualified, though on his own admission, no great poet, to acclaim the first ten years of her reign.

Unhappily, Ascham, already in poor health, succumbed to the strain of composition, and never completed the work. He died on December 30th. Upon hearing of his death, the Queen is reported to have said, ‘I would rather have cast ten thousand pounds into the sea than lost my Ascham.’

Roger Ascham was probably born in 1515 at Kirby Wiske, near Northallerton in Yorkshire. Samuel Johnson, his first reliable biographer describes the family as ‘above the vulgar’. Edward Grant, writing the initial brief account of the scholar’s life declares that Ascham was the son of one John Ascham, steward to the seventh Baron Scrope, of Bolton. His mother’s maiden name is unknown but she certainly bore the bailiff three sons and probably several daughters.

It is likely that the family in which the young Ascham was reared encouraged the gentlemanly arts and graces in its sons but lacked the money to support them. Roger certainly respected his parents but, by his own admission, his legacy on their deaths was a very small one.

John Ascham, unable to afford a private tutor for his sons, sent young Roger to a local grammar school, where the traditional Latin teaching was practised. Years later, in his major work, The Scholemaster, Ascham was to complain that pupils went to such grammar schools with little profit.

Ascham’s stay at the local school must have been brief for he was soon sent to the home of a distant relation of the Scropes, Sir Humphrey Wingfield. With typical Tudor respect for education, Sir Humphrey maintained several children in addition to his own sons, to be tutored by an excellent teacher, Robert Bond.

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