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Identify the various assumptions about children in early modern Europe, and analyze how these assumptions affected child-rearing practices.

By MartinJG Mar 14, 2014 930 Words

Identify the various assumptions about children in early modern Europe, and analyze how these assumptions affected child-rearing practices.

During early modern Europe children were treated differently throughout that time. This of course changed how their parents treated them. In the early 16th century there was a lot of sicknesses and the infant mortality rate was high. Many children died and it was normal , so when a child reached adulthood they beat the odds and were special. During that time a lot of parents thought that being strict would be the best way to raise their children also at that time children were treated like adults because of that high death rate. A century later things changed and kids were being raised nicely and the parents weren’t as strict as before. Kids in the early modern Europe were seen as special, in need of guidance, and rational human beings. This caused the parents then to treat them either harshly or kind in order to raise them up.

So in the 1500 kids were treated somewhat like adults just because of the fact that they could die at a young age. Christoph Scheurl, a jurist and diplomat, says just this in his notes. He finds that delight in his five year old son and while he emphasises some child like things, like not being able to pronounce the “r”, he still treats his son very much like an adult. Again this is because of the high infant mortality rates. He holds him dearly and close to him and also treats him with more respect for a child. Martin Luther writes in a letter about how distraught he feels when his daughter dies. He says that she was very obedient and respectful. He is however as a father and protestant leader aware and respectful in that it was God’s will but he is still sad and is mourning his tragic loss. Parents loved their kids dearly at that time and respected them and showed them to respect so when their kids died it was very heartbreaking.

At that time while you had some parents respect their children and treat them like adults you had people who felt that being strict, disciplinary, and overall harsh would make their kids stronger. An example of this is found in The Domostroi which is a Russian manual on household management. It says that in order to guide your son and show that you love him that you must “whip him often” and must also give him a good education. This of course was done in order to make the parents proud and to guide and make the child grow into a good and respected person. That may have seemed a little harsh to some other people in Europe but in the Russian society it was completely acceptable. In his autobiography, Benvenuto Cellini describes a time when he went to visit his son (who was born out of a wedlock) and when he wanted to leave his son started to cry and he still just left. This just shows how harshly some people were. His son was only two years old and he just left. While I understand that Cellini must have seen that since his son was born out of wedlock must be treated harshly and somewhat ignored because it was custom, it still would seem harsh to abruptly walk out on his crying son. This idea of harsh treatment did not escape the minds of the highest or wealthiest people. Even the king of France, Henry IV, felt the need of harsh treatment of his son Louis. In a letter to his governess he instructs her to whip his son every time he does something bad in order for him to grow into a better person. Henry wanted his son to grow into a great and respected king therefore he felt the need to discipline him for every mistake he committed. In the 17th century the ways of treating children switched once more. Parents started to treat their children like rational people who needed to be kindly raised. Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, wrote about her upbringing and how it was pleasant. Instead of using harsh treatment and torment she brought up by reasoning and shown why she should act the way she should. This idea was not lost to others but was more strongly enforced with the Enlightenment and rationalism at the time. Since she was a duchess and her family was of high class these ideas would be something they would hear about and probably take into consideration. William Blundell , in his book An Exercise for the Children to Embolden Them in Speaking, writes that it is the father's job to correct his daughter’s sin and that he should teach them and show them to follow God. Blundell wants to instill good Catholic ethics and morals into his daughter in order to stop here from sinning and making mistakes. John Locke also agrees that one should reason with their children. In Some Thoughts Concerning Education Locke says that we should reason with children but to their level. He says that we shouldn’ reason with them as if they were adults. He believes that children are blank slates and can be taught new and good things in order for them to grow into good people. Children were treated differently throughout time either kindly, rationally, or harshly. But what can be seen is that these ways changed based on the culture of the society and the events and movements taking place at that time.

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