Parents and Children: How Renaissance Parenting Differed From Today

Emmalee Lesko

Parents. They are the key source in every child’s life. They are there to nurture a child and love them. Parents also are there from the time they are born, until the time a child is ready to leave the house, and even then some. According to a source from News Canada, “The first few years of a child's life are full of new and exciting experiences…” This would mean that an adult needs to be there for their child. But what if back in the early Renaissance period, the relationship between parents and children was extremely different? Instead of parents pampering their young, “there seems to have been little concern for child between birth and five or six years old” (Medieval and Renaissance Parenting 1). That’s seems strange, since those are the most important part of a child’s life. Medieval parents often brought their children up, not by themselves, but the help of other influences such as wet-nurses, social commentators, and religious leaders. The treatment of children throughout the middle ages, and the treatment of Hal from King Henry IV, by William Shakespeare, is quite similar. Children were fairly unnoticed, just as Hal is by his father, King Henry.

While said that children go fairly unnoticed, this is usually up until the later years of life, reaching about age 7 or 8. “At age eight the French nobility would send their sons to a castle to begin his training in the ways of men. From age eight to fourteen he would learn the essentials: hawking, fighting, and riding. The castle's chaplain would oversee his religious education” (Medieval and Renaissance Parenting 1). Parents would know about their children, but it was virtually difficult to form a connection between parent and child. With a child gone so long, there is no time between birth and teenage years that a father can spend time with his son. Females were essentially brought up to help with the household, in a peasant home, while noble girls would be brought up to be a lady. Marriage was also a big issue among the families. The parents were always looking for a good match for their child as to marry into money, or a better family. “Among the nobility, children would perpetuate the family name and increase the family's holdings through advancement in service to their liege lords and through advantageous marriages” says Barbara Hanawalt, author of The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. “Some of these unions were planned while the bride- and groom-to-be were still in the cradle” (Hanawalt 96). So basically children were so important to families because of money and status, which is not unusual for Medieval ways.

Now parents did love their children, at least mothers did, because they are their own. But it is possible that childhood isn’t taken so seriously for a reason. “Perhaps childhood is so overlooked in the Middle Ages because it was so short. “At seven and eight the entrance into adulthood began” (Medieval and Renaissance Parenting 1). This would explain why parents do not have a dominant role in a child’s life. Girls were usually married rather early, and had their first children in the mid teens. When Europe was flourishing in the mid Renaissance, parents began to slightly see their children more, bringing them up with “their own individual rights” (2). Parents were able to allow their children some freedoms, which could play off in the Shakespeare’s play.

King Henry really did care about his son, but at the same time, was very aggravated by him. Harry, or Hal, was a really free, charismatic young guy, with no regards for nobility at the time, though he was the prince. He could care less about the throne, and concentrated more on just living. He is a “ young man of great abilities and violent passions” (Johnson 4). This in turn drives his father nuts, as he wants him to be more like Harry Percy. This is well known as the king says “then would I have this his Harry [Percy], and he mine” (Shakespeare 375).  The King wants to switch his son with Percy, or Hotspur, because he is a war leader. He has won many battles, and done so well in life, while be the exact same age at Hal.

The fact that King Henry doesn’t like him, ultimately seems the whole reason of Hal’s big plan. He wants to hang around with “low life losers” because he wants to impress his father when the time is right. He will show them that he is a great ruler. It is sad because all he wants to do is impress King Henry, and Henry doesn’t care. “Redeeming time when men think least I will,” says Hal, meaning that he will, do just that. He will in time be who he is supposed to be (Shakespeare 377).  In the end, his father does like him better, as Harry proved that he is something pretty good. He kills Hotspur, despite Falstaff’s lie of saying he finished him off. Hal goes on to be a great ruler and King, surprising them all as he hoped to do.

The treatment of children, though not very welcoming at the earliest ages, has gotten better of the last hundreds of years. At this day and age, parents do a lot for their children, hoping for the best outcome, and best child ever. While it was sort of similar in the Renaissance, parents did not care for their children the same as they do now. Renaissance parents were harsh, they hardly noticed them, and they didn’t really have a role in their child’s life. It wasn’t until the child was older that a mother or father would be around. In King Henry IV, it was rather the same. King Henry did not care very much for his son, as he wanted Hal to be Hotspur, a fiery military man. The treatment of children was different, but I’m sure the children grew up to be very strong back then. Almost as strong as we are today.

Works Cited

Bevington, David. The Necessary Shakespeare. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Pearson Education,  
Inc., 2005. 373-411.

Hanawalt, Barbara. "The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England." Oxford
University Press (1986).

Hughes, Rachelle. "Medieval and Renaissance Parenting." (2008).

Johnson, Samuel. "Preface to Shakespeare." Etext. 16 Oct. 2004. 24 Oct. 2008

"Learning Through Senses – The Key To A Child's Development." News Canada.