Palace schools is a name applied to education given in the courts of kings and emperors at the end of the Merovingian and all through the Carolingian periods.
Historical development. When Charlemagne reorganized education, which had been sorely neglected during the long period of military campaigns, churches and monasteries were in almost exclusive control of schools. Palace schools (schola palatii ), however, which Charlemagne, taking advantage of an ancient tradition of royal patronage, had established for members of the court, boy lectors at the royal chapel, children of the nobility, and laymen, were an exception.
In fact, although there were no schools properly socalled in the Merovingian palaces, many young nobles and future bishops spent some years in the contubernium (residence) of the prince, often after having previously attended some school, as we see in the 7th century in the case of St. Ermenland, if we can believe his biographers, who was "withdrawn from school to be placed in a royal palace." Even at the time of the early Carolingians, where, as among the Merovingians, the term schola palatii is found, this schola does not seem to be a school, as the word is generally understood, but rather a group of clergy and laymen who surrounded the king in his palace; for example, Benoît d'Arlane, who, though ranked inter scholares, was appointed cup-bearer, a duty that seems incompatible with the pursuit of serious literary studies. Nevertheless, constant association with palace officials did not fail to afford the young people some insight into state affairs, which explains the passage from Vita Adalardi: "Adalard, Charlemagne's cousin, was instructed at the palace in the prudentia (wisdom) of the world by the same teachers as the prince of the land." This prince of the land was Charlemagne, whose early education was incidental and who, only in later years when he came into power, received any formal intellectual training.
Organization. Whatever doubt may exist about the Merovingian school, it is certain that Charlemagne's palace was an active center of serious study. Charlemagne took a personal interest in the restoration of arts and letters. In 774, on his return from the campaign in Italy that established the papal state, he brought back with him the grammarian Pierre de Pise and Paul Warnefield, also called Paul the Deacon; and in 776 he called in Pauline d'Aquilée. Charlemagne's truly great teacher, however, the head of the palace school, was the renowned alcuin, former pupil at the episcopal school at York, who after several short visits to the court, established his residence there in 793. Even though Alcuin later withdrew to Tours, he never lost interest in his first mission, where he continued to wield a strong influence. The Irish monk Dungal and Theodulf d'Orléans were among other famous teachers at the court for short periods. The school continued its activity under Charlemagne's successors, when from 845 to his death in 875, John the Scot (Joannes Scotus) was one of its most representative masters.
At the end of the 9th century, the most renowned palace school was that established by Alfred the Great, considered in English literature as the first translator. Having heard of the great learning and virtue of grimbald, abbot of Saint-Bertin in France, Alfred invited him to Great Britain to restore the teaching of letters. Like the Carolingians, he gathered at his court the children of high birth to teach them to read both Latin and their native Anglo–Saxon tongue.
Objectives. Education in the palace school was intended first of all for the emperor and his court who formed, it seems, an academy, since Alcuin in a letter to Charlemagne referred to his academicians. The women of the Carolingian family also took part—reading poetry, solving problems, discussing theological and grammatical questions, and the like. The academicians took assumed names: Charlemagne called himself David; Angilbert, Homer; Eginhard, an artist, Beseleel; and the Abbess Gisela, Charlemagne's sister, Lucy. Mingled with these scholars were children who followed more elementary and no doubt more formative courses. The monk St. Gall, in his Gestis Caroli Magni, tells us that the children were entrusted to the special care of the Irishman Clement.
Curriculum. It would be a mistake to place the academicians of either Charlemagne's or Alfred the Great's palace school and the children of the schola on the same plane as that of the students in the later medieval universities. The subject matter taught was, in comparison, very elementary, based on German common sense and subtlety and adapted to minds barely familiar with the most rudimentary notions of early science.
The education given at the Carolingian palace school has come down to us through the works left by Alcuin. Like Cassiodorus, 6th-century Roman monk, author, and educator, he divided the courses among the seven liberal arts: the trivium —grammar, rhetoric, and logic, which constituted the first step—and the quadrivium — arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, which made up the second step. On each of the subjects Alcuin wrote a small tract summarizing his teaching methods in which the oral exchange (dialogue) between teacher and student played an important part. Although Alcuin compared the seven liberal arts to the seven pillars of the house of wisdom, his teaching seems to have been elementary and not devoid of mistakes; for example, in his pamphlet on spelling he gives hippocrita (hypocrita ), synonym for simulator, as a derivative of hippo-falsum, and chrisisjudicium.
Educational influence. It is evident that the educational influence of the scholae palatii was not so extensive as the vast program drawn up by Alcuin and theoretically adopted by his successors. This rather tenuous influence was felt principally on the grammatical plane since all the schools, from the end of the 11th century, devoted more time to grammar, considered the most necessary of all the arts. The palace school also contributed to the development of oratory. Charlemagne in Alcuin's Rhetorica remarks that since this art was of major importance in civil affairs, it would be absurd "to ignore the precepts of the art in which they are constantly involved." A prominent place was also given to logic, which, wrote Rabanus Maurus, "is the discipline of disciplines that teaches how to teach, and to learn how to learn; and in which reason discovers and shows what it is, what it wishes, what it sees." The four other liberal arts, on the contrary, seem to have been somewhat neglected and wielded little educational influence.
Finally, while other schools founded by Charlemagne and Alfred were devoted to the education of priests only, the palace schools contributed considerably to the literary and administrative formation of great laymen. At a time when culture was at its lowest ebb, the palace schools restored ancient disciplines—the liberal arts—and kept alive the legacy of classical antiquity, particularly by the interpretation of Sacred Scripture and the use of commentaries made by the Fathers of the Church. This dependence on ancient learning, both pagan and Christian, deeply influenced curricular orientation until the end of the 12th century.
Bibliography: j. b. weiss, Geschichte Alfreds des Grossen (Schaffhausen 1852). j. e. sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 3 v. (Cambridge, Eng.), v. 1 (3d ed. 1921), v. 2, 3 (2d ed. 1906–08); repr. (New York 1958). c. plummer, The Life and Time of Alfred the Great (Oxford 1902). l. maÎtre, Les Écoles épiscopales et monastiques en Occident avant les universités (2d ed. Paris 1924). m. l. w. laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900 (2d ed. New York 1957). p. richÉ, Éducation et culture dans l'Occident barbare, VI e–VIII e siècles (Paris 1962). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 4.2:1805–13, 1872–76.