Education of Young Men
and Women in the Regency
By Cheryl Bolen
While it’s a well-known fact that genteel young boys in the
Regency went to schools like Eton at an early age — usually around
eight — and young ladies generally learned at home with a governess,
this was not always the case.
Schools for young ladies were available, many of them in and
around Bath. The famed diarist Fanny Burney (1752-1840), for example,
went to a girls’ school for a year after her mother died.
And many intellectuals undertook and supervised the education of
their own children. None of these is more notable than James Mill’s
tutelage of his son John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), who went on to become
one of the great thinkers of the nineteenth century. The father, son of
a shoemaker, was a noted philosopher, historian and economist, yet still
found time to educate his son. Little John learned Greek at three, Latin
and arithmetic at eight, logic at 12, and political economy at 13. As he
grew older, he helped instruct his younger siblings, whose brilliance
never matched that of their elder brother. John Stuart Mill never
attended university but read for the bar and held down a position with
the East India Company while he — like his father — wrote
Another intellectual who supervised the education of his children
was English poet laureate Robert Southey (1774-1843), who set up a
school in his Lake District house for his own brood and his wife’s
nieces and nephews. One of Southey’s sisters-in-law taught English and
Latin there while his other sister-in-law (wife of poet Samuel Taylor
Coleridge) taught French, Italian, writing, arithmetic, and needlework.
A neighbor taught drawing and music. Southey himself, the Oxford
educated son of a linen draper, taught Greek and Spanish.
Oftentimes during the Regency young men would study privately with
tutors while preparing for university. Jane Austen’s vicar father
supplemented his income by instructing young gentlemen in the classics.
A misconception modern Americans have about Regency-era Englishmen
is that only the aristocracy learned French. This is not so. All
educated people of the Georgian and Regency period were fluent in
French, which was the language used in diplomacy during the era.
Another misconception about English education at the time is that
universities were for the wealthy. Not so. There was always room at
Oxford and Cambridge for young men of intellect, many of whom received
Reading letters penned during the Regency makes it abundantly
obvious that nineteenth-century education surpassed today’s norm. Even
the letters of Regency-era females who married at seventeen are full of
references to the classics, poetry, and the effortless interspersion of
This article first appeared in the February, 2006, The