By Rebecca J. Jacobs-Pollez
Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Missouri–Columbia, 2012
Abstract: The educational treatise by Vincent of Beauvais (1184/1194-1264), De eruditione filiorum nobilium (On the Education of Noble Girls), was the first medieval educational text to both systematically present a comprehensive method of instruction for lay children and to included a section devoted to girls. Vincent also included many details supporting his theories of education within his most famous work, the massive encyclopedia the Speculum maius (The Great Mirror). The first three books of the third volume, the Speculum doctrinale (The Mirror of Doctrine), deal directly with pedagogical issues. Subsequent books within this volume address subjects pertinent to discussions in De eruditione. Vincent planned for De eruditione to be part of a greater work, an Opus universale de statu principis (Universal Work on the Royal Condition), a guideline for the governance of the French realm that would provide instructions for the behaviors and duties of the prince, his family, and his court. Even before beginning his educational treatise Vincent had begun to determine the various roles that the king, his family, and his courtiers would play both at court and in governing the kingdom. Vincent planned to write three volumes of political manuals that would record his theories of governance. Together with De eruditione, they would form the four volume Opus; however, he only completed the first of the political manuals, De morali principis institutione (On the Foundations of Royal Morals), a guideline for the king to use as the head of the royal domain.
De morali reflects ideas about kingship current at the time that Vincent wrote. For several generations French kings had slowly been establishing a type of administrative kingship, a governmental structure that was less feudal, more centralized, with a stronger monarchy supported by an incipient bureaucracy. Vincent’s patron, King Louis IX of France (1214-1270), actively continued this process during his reign. A close reading of the Speculum shows that Vincent included material that reinforced the transition to administrative kingship. Although De morali concentrates on the king’s responsibilities and the role he would play in the new government structure, within it are clues to the behaviors that Vincent expected from others at court. Specifically, he virtually eliminated the duties of the powerful Capetian queens.
Since De eruditione was the last volume of the Opus, Vincent almost certainly wrote it in part to train royal children to fit their new roles. Applying the principles of De eruditione to the education of boys would create the ideal king defined in De morali. Vincent’s proposals for girls’ education went against traditional Capetian practice, especially the strong roles that queens and noble women played in government and in training their children. Instead, matching the reduced role for royal women in De morali, girls educated according to the instructions provided in De eruditione would no longer be fit to participate in the governmental functions they had previously so adequately filled, or provide the education their children needed.
Thus, examining the details of Vincent’s proposals for female education through placing De eruditione within the scope of his overall work shows that Vincent was not simply providing advice about women’s edification and spiritual improvement, but that he wanted to form women fit to participate in his larger concept for the governance of the kingdom, a concept that matched Louis IX’s own goals. Fully implementing Vincent’s educational goals would have advanced administrative kingship, but at the expense of French queens and with the loss of the skills these women had often brought to support their husbands and sons in administering the French realm. However, by including women in the discussion of education, in even a limited way, he set the stage for later pedagogues to advance women’s educational opportunities and within a few centuries the number of learned women increased significantly.