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The Education of Boys in Regency England

There aren’t many details on the educations of Jane Austen’s male characters, but we do know that they are (generally) educated. Using what we know about a couple of character’s educations, Jane Austen’s family, and fleshing things out with some historical research I have come up with some conclusions regarding the educations of upper middle class and upper class boys in Jane Austen’s time.

As with girls, there was no compulsory education and the options would vary based on parental preferences, interests, and financial resources. However, with my research and some clues form Jane Austen, a few trends do emerge.

Boys would generally begin their education at home – whether that home was their parents’ or someone else’s.[1] While girls were frequently home schooled for basically all of their educations, boys were much more likely to attend school of some sort, but this didn’t necessarily mean they were attending the famous public schools of the era. Some families would chose to send their sons to men, like Jane Austen’s father, who would supervise their educations.[2] This is the route chosen for Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, while his younger brother was sent to Westminster. Other boys may attend a local school as a boarder or day student or enter in to an apprenticeship or other career training program. For instance, two of Jane Austen’s brothers entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth when they were each 12 years old and were both promoted to the rank of midshipman at age 15.[3]

Either way boys were frequently selecting, entering or being groomed for professions at rather young ages – even if you don’t take oldest sons of large landowners into account.

As far as what the boys were learning, after a basic grounding in reading and writing, classical scholarship was a key part of the education of many young men,[4] particularly if they would be attending Oxford or Cambridge as those institution’s curricula were based on the classics.[5] 

[1] Michael Brander. The Georgian Gentleman (Farnborough: Saxon House, 1973), 6-9.
[2] Deirdre Le Faye. Jane Austen: the World of Her Novels (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 2002), 81.
[3] “Charles Austen,” last modified August 27, 2015. Wikipedia, (accessed October 5, 2015).
Francis Austen,” last modified October 4, 2015. Wikipedia, (accessed October 5, 2015).
[4] Jane Austen and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Emma (New York: Anchor Books, 2012), 127.
[5] Deirdre Le Faye. Jane Austen: the World of Her Novels (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 2002), 82-3.

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