The Latin school was the grammar school of 14th- to 19th-century Europe, though the latter term was much more common in England. Emphasis was placed, as the name indicates, on learning to use Latin. The education given at Latin schools gave great emphasis to the complicated grammar of the Latin language, initially in its Medieval Latin form. Grammar was the most basic part of the trivium and the Liberal arts — in artistic personifications Grammar’s attribute was the birch rod. Latin school prepared students for university, as well as enabling those of middle class status to rise above their station. It was therefore not unusual for children of commoners to attend Latin schools, especially if they were expected to pursue a career within the church. Although Latin schools existed in many parts of Europe in the 14th century and were more open to the laity, prior to that the Church allowed for Latin schools for the sole purpose of training those who would one day become clergymen. Latin schools began to develop to reflect Renaissance humanism around the 1450s. In some countries, but not England, they later lost their popularity as universities and some Catholic orders began to prefer the vernacular.
The Medieval world thought of grammar as a foundation from which all forms of scholarship should originate. Grammar schools otherwise known as Latin schools taught Latin by using Latin. Latin was the language used in nearly all academic and most legal and administrative matters, as well as the language of the liturgy. Some of the laity, though not instructed formally, spoke and wrote some Latin. Courts, especially church courts, used Latin in their proceedings, although this was even less accessible than the vernacular to the lower classes, who often could not read at all, let alone Latin.
Students often studied in Latin school for about five years, but by their third year, students would be deemed as “knowledgeable enough” in Latin grammar to assist the master teacher in teaching the younger or less skilled pupils. Seven seemed an appropriate age for boys to start school which was also seen as a development from early childhood to boyhood. However, older men who wanted to study were not discouraged as long as they could pay the fees. Students usually finished their schooling during their late teens, but those who desired to join the priesthood had to wait until they were twenty-four in order to get accepted. There was normally a limit to how long a student could stay in school, although if a relative was one of the school’s founders then an extended stay was possible.
Schools were managed by appointing a committee who then employed a teacher and paid their salary. These schools usually had limited supervision from the town authorities. Freelance Latin masters opened up their own schools quite frequently and would provide Latin education to anyone willing to pay. These freelance schools usually taught students in the master’s home. Others taught as a tutor in a student’s household by either living there or making daily visits to teach. Students ranged from those who were members of the peasantry to those of the elite. If a serf‘s child wanted to go to school, payment given to the lord was required (to replace the value of his labour) as well as his consent.