Roger Ascham

Roger Ascham (/ˈæskəm/; c. 1515 – 30 December 1568)[1] was an English scholar and didactic writer, famous for his prose style, his promotion of the vernacular, and his theories of education. He acted as Princess Elizabeth's tutor in Greek and Latin between 1548 and 1550, and served in the administrations of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

The name Ascham could be more properly spelt Askham, being derived from Askham near York. He was born at Kirby Wiske, a village in the North Riding of Yorkshire, near Northallerton, the third son of John Ascham, steward to Baron Scrope of Bolton.[2] His mother, Margaret, is said to have come from the Conyers family, but this is speculation.[2] Thomas and John were Roger's two older brothers, while Anthony Ascham was the youngest son of the Ascham family.[2] The authority for this statement, as for most here concerning Ascham's early life, is his close friend Edward Grant (1540s–1601), headmaster of the venerable and still extant Royal College of St. Peter at Westminster—better known as Westminster School—who collected and edited his letters and delivered a panegyrical oration on his life in 1576.[3]

Roger Ascham
Roger Ascham - Project Gutenberg eText 12788
Sketch of Roger Ascham
Bornc. 1515
Died30 December 1568 (aged c. 53)
Alma materSt John’s College, Cambridge
OccupationScholar, didactic writer
Notable work
The Schoolmaster


Ascham was educated at the house of Sir Humphrey Wingfield, a barrister, Ascham tells us, in the Toxophilus under a tutor named R. Bond. His preferred sport was archery, and Sir Humphrey "would at term times bring down from London both bows and shafts and go with them himself to see them shoot". Hence Ascham's earliest English work, the Toxophilus, the importance which he attributed to archery in educational establishments, and probably the reason for archery in the statutes of St Albans, Harrow and other Elizabethan schools.[3]

Through Toxophilus, Ascham sought to teach the art of shooting and present a literary piece with proper English vocabulary. He criticized other English authors for sprinkling foreign terms into their works. Prior to Toxophilus' publication, the bow had been forgotten by the English people with firearms evolving as the prevailing weapons of choice. The book sparked renewed interest in the practice of archery and Ascham was able to present it as an "innocent, salutary, useful, and liberal division."[4] Many recognize the use of the bow as a disciplined skill, requiring more practice than any other instrument of offence.[5]

From this private tuition Ascham was sent "about 1530", at the age, it is said, of fifteen, to St John's College, Cambridge, then the largest and most learned college in either university,[3] where he devoted himself specially to the study of Greek, then newly revived. Equipped with a small knowledge of the Greek language, Ascham went on to read lectures and teach fellow St. John students the language. He believed that the best way to learn a language was by teaching it. Ascham was applauded for his encouragement of Greek learning in the University. In particular, Robert Pember, a fellow student, praised Ascham's lectures and his method of teaching a language in order to learn it. In a letter to Ascham, Pember stated that "he would gain more knowledge by explaining one of Aesop’s Fables to a boy, than by hearing one of Homer’s poems explained by another."[6][6] Ascham was then appointed by the University to read Greek at open schools and received payment through honorary stipends. This was monumental for Ascham because at the time, there was no established lecturer of Greek at the University.[7] Here he fell under the influence of Sir John Cheke, who was admitted a fellow in Ascham's first year, and Sir Thomas Smith. Cheke in turn was friendly with Anthony Denny, who was brother-in-law to Kat Ashley, governess to the Lady Elizabeth. His guide and friend was Robert Pember, "a man of the greatest learning and with an admirable ability in the Greek tongue".[3]

He became B.A. in 1533–34, and was nominated to a fellowship at St John's.[8] Dr Nicholas Metcalfe was then master of the college, "a papist, indeed, and if any young man given to the new learning as they termed or went beyond his fellows", he "lacked neither open praise, nor private exhibition." He procured Ascham's election to a fellowship, "though being a new bachelor of arts, I chanced among my companions to speak against the Pope ... after serious rebuke and some punishment, open warning was given to all the fellows, none to be so hardy, as to give me his voice at election." The day of election Ascham regarded as his birthday", and "the whole foundation of the poor learning I have and of all the furtherance that hitherto elsewhere I have been tamed." He took his M.A. degree on 3 July 1537. He stayed for some time at Cambridge taking pupils, among whom was William Grindal, who in 1544 became tutor to Princess Elizabeth.

Tutor to Elizabeth I

In January 1548, Grindal, the tutor of princess Elizabeth, died.[3] Ascham, one of the ablest Greek scholars in England, as well as public orator of the university, had already been in correspondence with the princess. In one of Ascham's letters to Katherine Ashley, he enclosed a new pen, as well a pen which he himself mended specifically for princess Elizabeth.[9] Through Cecil, and at the fourteen-year-old princess's own wish, he was selected as her tutor against another candidate, also named Grindal, who was pressed by Admiral Seymour and Queen Catherine.[10] In 1548, Ascham began teaching Elizabeth, future queen of England, in Greek and Latin chiefly at Cheshunt, a job he held until 1550.

On the subject of his experience with Elizabeth's education, Ascham later wrote: "Yea, I believe, that beside her perfect readiness in Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish, she readeth here now at Windsor more Greek every day than some prebendary of this church doth read Latin in a whole week."[11] Ascham's influence on Elizabeth is suggested by the fact that, for the remainder of her life, she remained an occasional writer of poems, such as "On Monsieur's Departure".

In a letter to Johannes Sturm, the Strassburg schoolmaster, Ascham praised Elizabeth's growth as a student: "She talks French and Italian as well as English: she has often talked to me readily and well in Latin and moderately so in Greek. When she writes Greek and Latin nothing is more beautiful than her handwriting . . . she read with me almost all Cicero and great part of Titus Livius: for she drew all her knowledge of Latin from those two authors. She used to give the morning to the Greek Testament and afterwards read select orations of Isocrates and the tragedies of Sophocles. To these I added St. Cyprian and Melanchthon's Commonplaces."[3]

Secretary to Richard Morrison

In 1550, Ascham had an unspecified quarrel with the court, which he ambiguously described as "a storm of recent violence and injury."[12] As a result, Ascham returned to Cambridge. Whilst there, Cheke informed Ascham that he had been appointed secretary to Sir Richard Morrison (Moryson), appointed ambassador to Charles V.[13] It was on his way to join Morrison that he paid visit to Lady Jane Grey at Bradgate, where he found her reading Plato's Phaedo while every one else was out hunting.[3] This final meeting between the two has been a cause of inspiration among many painters and writers as a grandiose romantic moment.[14]

Ascham served in this position for several years, traveling widely on the European continent. The embassy went to Louvain, where he found the university very inferior to Cambridge, then to Innsbruck and Venice. Ascham read Greek with the ambassador Morrison four or five days a week. His letters during the embassy in 1553, which was recalled on Mary's accession, were later published as the Report and Discourse on Germany.[3] The work, which was possibly a history of political turmoil in Germany in the 1550s, is incomplete. Common theories are that the work was either lost, damaged, or left unfinished.[15]

Latin Secretary to Mary I

Ascham's next job was an appointment as Latin Secretary to Mary I. Throughout the first few months he held the position, Ascham was bombarded with a torrent of work, which included countless letters. Through the efforts of Bishop Gardiner on his return to England, this office he likewise discharged to Queen Mary with a pension of £20 a year, and then to Elizabeth—a testimony to his tact and caution in those changeful times.

On 1 June 1554, he married Margaret Harleston, of South Ockendon, Essex,[3] the daughter of Sir Clement Harleston. By her he had at least four sons and three daughters. Ascham was not a rich man, and when marrying Margaret, Ascham had to resign both his College Greek Readership and his University Public Oratorship. Margaret herself brought very little dowry, leaving Ascham to seek help from the connections he had made throughout the years. His relationship with Reginald Cardinal Pole led to Ascham securing from the queen the reversion of a lease of the manor of Salisbury Hall in Walthamstow, Essex, a manor once owned by Pole's family.[2]


Roger Ascham became fatally ill on 23 December 1568, having just finished a poem of thanks for the blessings Queen Elizabeth I had bestowed on England through her reign. Ascham made his last confession to the parish priest of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, William Gravet, simply saying “I want to die and be with Christ”, according to Edward Grant. He died on 30 December 1568, most likely from malaria. Ascham was then buried on 4 January 1569 in St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, in London.[2]

Ascham School is located in Sydney, Australia, and was named after Roger Ascham.[16]


Ascham obtained from Edward Lee, then Archbishop of York, a pension of £2 a year, in return for which he translated Oecumenius' Commentaries on the Pauline Epistles. But the archbishop, scenting heresy in some passage relating to the marriage of the clergy, sent it back to him.


Ascham's first published work, Toxophilus ("Lover of the Bow") in 1545, was dedicated to Henry VIII. The objects of the book were twofold, to commend the practice of shooting with the long bow, and to set the example of a higher style of composition than had yet been attempted in English. Ascham presented the book to Henry VIII at Greenwich soon after his return from the capture of Boulogne, and received a grant of a pension of £10 a year. Toxophilus was the first book on archery in English. The work is a Platonic dialogue between Toxophilus and Philologus. Editions were published in 1571, 1589 and 1788, and by Edward Arber in 1868 and 1902.[3]

The Scholemaster

In 1563 Ascham began the work The Scholemaster, published posthumously in 1570, which ensured his later reputation. Richard Sackville, he states in the book's preface, told him that "a fond schoolmaster" had, by his brutality, made him hate learning, much to his loss, and as he had now a young son, whom he wished to be learned, he offered, if Ascham would name a tutor, to pay for the education of their respective sons under Ascham's orders, and invited Ascham to write a treatise on "the right order of teaching". The Scholemaster was the result.

Not a general treatise on educational method, the book concentrates on the teaching of Latin; and it was not intended for schools, but "specially prepared for the private brynging up of youth in gentlemen and noblemens houses.” It advocated "the double translation of a model book", the book recommended being Sturmius's Select Letters of Cicero; the method itself was not new. The book's plea for gentleness and persuasion instead of coercion in schools, was contemporary: it was being practised and preached at that time by Christopher Jonson (ca. 1536–1597) at Winchester College; and had been repeatedly urged by Erasmus and others. Along with its suggestions for educational practice, Ascham's book includes a famous warning against the dangers of Italy, which he calls "inchantme[n]tes of Circes."

The Scholemaster was reprinted in 1571 and 1589. It was edited by James Upton in 1711 and in 1743, by John Eyton Bickersteth Mayor 1863, and by Edward Arber in 1870.


Ascham's letters were collected and published in 1576, and went through several editions, the last at Nuremberg in 1611. They were re-titled by William Elstob in 1703.

Other works

Report and Discourse of the Affairs and State of Germany 1553 was published by John Daye (1570). Ascham's English works were edited by James Bennett, with a life by Samuel Johnson in 1771, reprinted in 1815. John Allen Giles in 1864–1865 published in 4 vols. select letters from the Toxophilus and Scholemaster and the life by Edward Grant.


  1. ^ "Ascham, Roger" in The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 1, p. 617.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Ascham, Roger" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 1st edn. 2004. Print.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Leach 1911.
  4. ^ Carlisle, James H., Samuel Johnson, and Arthur P. Stanley. Two Great Teachers: Johnson's Memoir of Roger Ascham ; and Selections from Stanley's Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, of Rugby. Syracuse, N.Y: C. W. Bardeen, 1893. 18. Print.
  5. ^ Carlisle, James H., Samuel Johnson, and Arthur P. Stanley. Two Great Teachers: Johnson's Memoir of Roger Ascham; and Selections from Stanley's Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, of Rugby. Syracuse, N.Y: C. W. Bardeen, 1893. 18–19. Print.
  6. ^ a b Carlisle, James H., Samuel Johnson, and Arthur P. Stanley. Two Great Teachers: Johnson's Memoir of Roger Ascham; and Selections from Stanley's Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, of Rugby. Syracuse, N.Y: C. W. Bardeen, 1893. 16. Print.
  7. ^ Carlisle, James H., Samuel Johnson, and Arthur P. Stanley. Two Great Teachers: Johnson's Memoir of Roger Ascham ; and Selections from Stanley's Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, of Rugby. Syracuse, N.Y: C. W. Bardeen, 1893. 16–17. Print.
  8. ^ "Ascham, Roger (ASCN533R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  9. ^ Ryan, Lawrence V. Roger Ascham. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963. 104. Print.
  10. ^ Ryan, Lawrence V. Roger Ascham. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963. 102. Print
  11. ^ Schoolmaster
  12. ^ Ryan, Lawrence V. Roger Ascham. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963. 112. Print.
  13. ^ Ryan, Lawrence V. Roger Ascham. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963. 119. Print.
  14. ^ Ryan, Lawrence V. Roger Ascham. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963. 120. Print.
  15. ^ Ryan, Lawrence V. Roger Ascham. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963. 157. Print.
  16. ^


Further reading

  • Ascham, Roger. The Whole Works of Roger Ascham, ed. J. A. Giles. John Russel Smith, 1865.
  • Ascham, Roger. English Works of Roger Ascham, ed. W. A. Wright, Cambridge, 1904.
  • Hatch, M. A. "The Ascham letters". PhD dissertation. Cornell University, 1948.
  • O'Day, Rosemary. "Ascham, Roger (1514/15–1568)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/732. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Ryan, L. V. Roger Ascham. Stanford University Press, 1963.
  • Stark, Ryan. "Protestant Theology and Apocalyptic Rhetoric in Roger Ascham's 'The Schoolmaster,'" Journal of the History of Ideas 69 (2008): 517–32.
  • Nicholas, Lucy R. Roger Ascham’s ‘A Defence of the Lord’s Supper’: Latin Text and English Translation (Leiden: Brill, 2017)
  • Nicholas, Lucy R. ‘Roger Ascham’s Defence of the Lord’s Supper’, Reformation, vol. 20 (2015), pp. 26–61

External links

1515 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1515.

1545 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1545.

1548 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1548.

1570 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1570.

Anthony Ascham (astrologer)

Anthony Ascham (fl. 1553), was an English astrologer.

He was born at Kirby Wiske, near Northallerton, Yorkshire, the third son of John Ascham (d. 1544) of Kirby Wiske, who was a yeoman farmer and steward to Lord Scrope of Bolton, and his wife, Margaret. Ascham studied at Cambridge, became M.B. in 1540, and in 1553 was presented by Edward VI to the vicarage of Burneston, Yorkshire. He is probably to be identified with Anthony, the brother of Roger Ascham (cf. Grant's Vita Axchami in Ascham's Works, ed. Giles, iv. 307).


Ascham may refer to:

Ascham School

Edward Grant (headmaster)

Edward Grant (or Graunt; 1540s–1601) was an English classical scholar, Latin poet, and headmaster of Westminster School. He was also the first biographer of Roger Ascham.

Everard Digby (scholar)

Everard Digby (born c. 1550) was an English academic theologian, expelled as a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge for reasons that were largely religious. He is known as the author of a 1587 book, written in Latin, that was the first work published in England on swimming; and also as a philosophical teacher, writer and controversialist. The swimming book, De Arte Natandi, was a practical treatise following a trend begun by the archery book Toxophilus of Roger Ascham, of Digby's own college.According to Eugene D. Hill, in Digby's Theoria Analytica of 1579,

John Astley (courtier)

John Astley (or Ashley) (ca. 1507 – Maidstone, 1595) was an English courtier, Marian exile, and Master of the Jewel House. He was a Member of Parliament on many occasions.

John Cheke

Sir John Cheke (Cheek) (16 June 1514 – 13 September 1557) was an English classical scholar and statesman. One of the foremost teachers of his age, and the first Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge, he played a great part in the revival of Greek learning in England. He was tutor to Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI, and also sometimes to Princess Elizabeth. Of strongly Reformist sympathy in religious affairs, his public career as Provost of King's College, Cambridge, Member of Parliament and briefly as Secretary of State during King Edward's reign was brought to a close by the accession of Queen Mary in 1553. He went into voluntary exile abroad, at first under royal licence (which he overstayed). He was captured and imprisoned in 1556, and under threat or apprehension of execution by the fire made a forced public recantation and affiliated himself to the Church of Rome. He died not long afterwards, filled with remorse for having forsworn his true belief from the infirmity of fear. His character, teaching and reputation were, however, admiringly and honourably upheld.

John Seton (priest)

John Seton D.D. (c. 1498 - July 20, 1567) was an English Roman Catholic priest, known as the author of a standard logic text.

Margaret Ascham

Margaret Ascham (nee Harleston; c. 1528 – c. 1592), was a sixteenth century English writer. Margaret was the daughter of Sir Clement Harleston. She was married to the humanist writer Roger Ascham, who was tutor to the young Elizabeth I.

Margaret was born in South Ockendon, Essex. She first married a man named Howe, who died about 1552. She then married Roger Ascham in 1554. They had at least three sons, Giles, Dudley and Thomas (or Sturmius by another account), but may have had as many as six children together. One child, a son, was lost in his infancy during the early years of their marriage.Roger was considerably older than Margaret and of ill health. He died in 1568, leaving behind his unfinished manuscript The Scholemaster. Margaret then took it upon herself to complete the manuscript and prepare it for publishing. She raised the funds and the book was successfully published in 1570.The Scholemaster is a treatise on the correct way to teach Latin composition, and also concerns the whole learning experience. It was reprinted in 1571 and 1589. It was edited by James Upton in 1711 and in 1743, by John Eyton Bickersteth Mayor in 1863, and by Edward Arber in 1870.

Unusually for the period, Margaret signed her own name in the book's preface, possibly to ensure that her own work in the manuscript would be known. It has been suggested that her intention was to introduce "a broad audience to her editorship." She is credited with preserving her husband's work, which may not otherwise have been published—which, according to George Markham Tweddell, "would have been a great loss to the world had we been deprived of honest Roger's Schoolmaster."Margaret was remarried in 1569 to her neighbour Thomas Rampston. They had two daughters together. Margaret was careful to ensure that her children were well educated and well placed. Margaret died sometime between 1590 and 1592.

Nicholas Metcalfe

Nicholas Metcalfe (died 1539) was an English churchman and college head.

Robert Pember

Robert Pember (died 1560) was an English classical scholar. He was a reader in Greek at Trinity College, Cambridge and taught Roger Ascham Greek.Robert Pember was of a Herefordshire family. He studied at Cambridge University, graduating B.A. in 1523/4 and M.A. in 1527. He became a fellow of St John's College, Cambridge in 1524. In 1546 he became one of the original fellows of Trinity College, and was a reader in Greek there until his death in 1560. He retained his post at Trinity in 1555 by subscribing to the Roman Catholic articles.He died in 1560 at Trinity College.

Robert Sackville, 2nd Earl of Dorset

Robert Sackville, 2nd Earl of Dorset (1561–1609) was an English aristocrat and politician, with humanist and commercial interests.

The Tournament (Reilly novel)

The Tournament is a 2014 book by Australian author Matthew Reilly.

Thomas Hoby

Sir Thomas Hoby (1530 – 13 July 1566) was an English diplomat and translator. He was born in 1530, the second son of William Hoby of Leominster, Herefordshire, by his second wife, Katherine, daughter of John Forden. He matriculated at St. John's College, Cambridge in 1546. Encouraged by his sophisticated half-brother, Sir Philip Hoby, he subsequently visited France, Italy, and other foreign countries, and, as Roger Ascham states, "was many wayes well furnished with learning, and very expert in knowledge of divers tongues." His tour of Italy, which included visits to Calabria and Sicily and which he documented in his autobiography, is the most extensive known to have been undertaken by an Englishman in the 16th century. In this and other respects, it may be regarded as a pioneering Grand Tour.

On 27 June 1558, Hoby married Elizabeth, third daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, of Gidea Hall, Essex. Elizabeth was a sister-in-law of Lord Burghley and a great friend of Queen Elizabeth I. The two were resident at Bisham Abbey in Berkshire.

Hoby translated Martin Bucer's Gratulation to the Church of England (1549), and Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano (1561). The latter translation of The Courtier, entitled The Courtyer of Count Baldessar Castilio, had great popularity and was one of the key books of the English Renaissance. It provided a philosophy of life for the Elizabethan era gentleman. A reading of its pages fitted him for the full assimilation of the elaborate refinements of the new Renaissance society. It furnished his imagination with the symbol of a completely developed individual, an individual who united ethical theory with spontaneity and richness of character.

On 9 March 1566 he was knighted at Greenwich, and was sent as ambassador to France at the end of the month. At the time of his landing in Calais, on 9 April, a soldier at the town gate shot through the English flag in two places. Hoby demanded redress for the insult, and obtained it after some delay, but he was not permitted to view the new fortifications. He died at Paris on 13 July 1566, and was buried at Bisham, Berkshire, where his widow erected a monument to his memory and to that of his half-brother Sir Philip Hoby.

By his wife Elizabeth, Thomas Hoby had two sons, Edward and Thomas Posthumus (both subsequently knighted), and two daughters, who died young. The Elizabeth and Anne commemorated on the family tomb were not these daughters; they were the daughters which Hoby's wife, Elizabeth, had with her second husband Lord Russell.


Toxophilus is a book about longbow archery by Roger Ascham, first published in London in 1545. Dedicated to King Henry VIII, it is the first book on archery written in English.

Ascham was a keen archer and a lecturer at St John's College, Cambridge, and wrote Toxophilus or the Schole or Partitions of Shooting to defend archery against claims that it was a sport unbefitting a scholar.Toxophilus is written in the form of a dialogue between two characters, Philologus ("a lover of study") and Toxophilus ("a lover of the bow"), who is also a scholar and defends archery as a noble pastime.

Ascham prefixed his work with an elaborate dedication to Henry VIII, who approved of the book and granted Ascham a pension of £10 a year, which was confirmed and augmented by Edward VI.

William Grindal

William Grindal (died 1548), was an English scholar. A dear friend, pupil and protégé of Roger Ascham's at St John's College, Cambridge, he became tutor to Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth, and laid the foundations of her education in the Latin and Greek languages before dying prematurely of the plague in 1548.

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