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What was the concept of childhood before Victorian times?(r/AskHistorians)
Actually, recent scholarship has pointed away from the “little adult” ideology of childhood in the Middle Ages.
Gregory of Tours wrote of children in the age of the Black Death – “And so we lost our little ones, who were so dear to us and sweet, whom we had cherished in our bosoms and dandled in our arms, who we had fed and nourished with such loving care. As I write I wipe away my tears.”
Clearly this shows an attitude of cherishing and coddling of children.
With the advent of the High Middle Ages, the recognition of the importance of an educated society to handle expanded commerce, ecclesiastical and secular government, and specialised trade led to massive expansion of schools in many areas, many of which were not monastic. In Florence for example, its estimated about half of all boys and girls in the 14th Century were receiving at least a grammar school education! Of course not every city did as well, and widespread illiteracy existed until fairly recently in rural areas, but parents clearly were investing in their children’s futures.
Because of things like the high rate of child mortality, concerns over the rearing of children grew. Vincent of Beauvais wrote, “children’s minds break down under excessive severity of correction: they dispair, they worry, and finally they hate. And this is most injourious, for where everything this feared, nothing is attempted.” This shows not only concern over existing practices, but also that such practices continued in the extend they had to be addressed. Raymond Lull, a Spanish writer wrote, “Every person must hold his child dear,” in his book on children that included breast-feeding, weaning, early education, and care.
Even in religious terms, the idea of baptisim being necessary for salvation was relaxed for infants who died before they could be such, with the creation of the idea of “Limbo”. Instead of being cast into hell as per standard doctrine, children could spend eternity in bliss even without the direct apprehension of God. This is also the era when the idealizing of the image of the infant Jesus began, which was reflected in the attitudes towards childhood, “O sweet and sacred childhood, which brought back humanity’s true innocence,” wrote one Cistercian monk.
While child abuse, infanticide, child abandonment, and other failures in living up to ideals continued, they did show that the appreciation of childhood did grow and expand in the Middle Ages.
-This has been a paraphrase with some direct quotes from The Making of England to 1399. pp 234-236.