Members Only 41 – Anglo Saxon Childhoods

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  1. Jamie,

    The attitude towards children remained the same throughout the Middle Ages and even during the early “Modern” times. Regular beatings and harsh treatment, even for royal and noble kids, were pretty much in practice at least until the 19th Century. In some cases (as in my parents and their siblings) it even carried on up to the first quarter of the 20th Century.
    On the other hand, the same attitude can be observed during Classical Greece and Rome, but not in early Antiquity, especially in Egypt and Mesopotamia.


  2. Hey, folks.

    Some of the attitudes towards treating children of 10 or 12 as adults may have come from the Catholic Church’s concept of the Age of Reason, which is basically the age at which a person understands the difference between right and wrong and can be held morally responsible for their actions. When I was in Catholic school in the 1960s I’m pretty certain it was around six, which is when Roman Catholic children receive their First Communion and first go to confession.

    Here’s what _The Catholic Encyclopedia_ has to say on the subject:

    “Age of Reason

    The name given to that period of human life at which persons are deemed to begin to be morally responsible. This, as a rule, happens at the age of seven, or thereabouts, though the use of reason requisite for moral discernment may come before, or may be delayed until notably after, that time. At this age Christians come under the operation of ecclesiastical laws, such as the precept of assistance at Mass on Sundays and holydays, abstinence from meat on certain days, and annual confessions, should they have incurred mortal sin. The obligation of Easter Communion literally understood applies to all who have reached “the years of discretion”; but according to the practical interpretation of the Church it is not regarded as binding children just as soon as they are seven years old. At the age of reason a person is juridically considered eligible to act as witness to a marriage, as sponsor at baptism or confirmation, and as a party to the formal contract of betrothal; at this age one is considered capable of receiving extreme unction, of being promoted to first tonsure and minor orders, of being the incumbent of a simple benefice (beneficium simplex) if the founder of it should have so provided; and, lastly, is held liable to ecclesiastical censures. In the present discipline, however, persons do not incur these penalties until they reach the age of puberty, unless explicitly included in the decree imposing them. The only censure surely applicable to persons of this age is for the violation of the clausura of nuns, while that for the maltreatment, suadente diabolo, of clerics is probably so.


    Ferraris. Bibliotheca prompta jur. can. s.v. Aetas, (Rome, 1844); Wernz, Jus Decretalium (Rome, 1899).”

    Notice that my source is based on a document from 1844. I have no idea what the Age of Reason was at this time in Anglo-Saxon England, or even if the concept existed. Since I can’t easily find out, I will leave it as an exercise for the reader : )


    1. My understanding is that the concept of the Age of Reason came about later for the Catholic Church. But even if it didn’t, I’d be quite surprised if this cultural practice came out of the Catholic church, as it appears to be built around Anglo Saxon warrior culture which reaches back to the pagan, not the catholic, traditions.

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