Minding the medieval teen

Parents of unruly teenagers may sigh wistfully at the notion of sending their children elsewhere for training, a common practice of northern Europeans in the Middle Ages. William Kremer looks at the practice of fostering in an article for the BBC News Magaine.

A Venetian ambassador to England in the early 16th century found the practice odd and wrote "the English kept their children at home "till the age of seven or nine at the utmost" but then "put them out, both males and females, to hard service in the houses of other people, binding them generally for another seven or nine years". The unfortunate children were sent away regardless of their class, "for everyone, however rich he may be, sends away his children into the houses of others, whilst he, in return, receives those of strangers into his own". It was for the children's own good, he was told - but he suspected the English preferred having other people's children in the household because they could feed them less and work them harder."

There was a sense that your parents can teach you certain things, but you can learn other things and different things and more things if you get experience of being trained by someone else," says Jeremy Goldberg from the University of York.