Were there any intances of girls attending university in medieval England?

Were there any instances of girls attending university in medieval England? I’ve heard that certain wealthy families with the right connections could have their daughters study at university but I have not found any examples of it in my reading anywhere.
I look forward to your feedback.

I’ve only been able to find general statements regarding the issue of girls/women attending medieval universities but not for England’s Oxford and Cambridge.


During the 1300’s children of both sexes attended school in Florence. Women from the nobility or upper classes often had obligations that required literacy. With the rise of the Medieval university household were able to employ poor university students as tutors and on such occasions girls were sometimes permitted to to join the tutoring sessions of their brothers.

During the High Middle Ages many European nations became more stable. The Viking raids were over,Law and Order improved and periods of peace ensued. The first real universities were constructed during this period. Even though still reserved mostly for the rich, they allowed a gradual shift towards education that had been lost since the times of the Romans.

Women had been virtually ignored up to this point. Even though only a small minority of them began to study in universities, this was a changing point towards a more equal society. However, women were still required to do everything his husband or lord pleased.

educated at least some women, such as Trotula of Salerno, who was educated in the medical school in that city and was considered one of the most influential physicians of the time

It appears there were no women at either Oxford or cambridge during the Middle Ages

English University Life in the Middle Ages by Alan Cobban

“…And the complete exclusion of women from Oxford and Cambridge did not prevent their significant involvement as powerful patrons …”


The main point of most medieval university education was to prepare students for a career within the higher level bureaucracy of the Catholic Church, a career which would also require one to be an ordained priest. As women could not become priests, a university education was no doubt generally thought to be of little use to them. I think that when women were educated beyond elementary level (of course, relatively few, of either sex, got even that) in the middle ages, it was through private tutoring, followed, perhaps, if they were so motivated, by studying by themselves. Of course, such opportunities would only have been open to wealthy noblewomen. No-one but the very wealthy would have been able to afford books, let alone tutors.

Thank you both. Good point njtt. It makes sense.

Both? :confused: Are you thanking yourself for answering your own question?

Heloise of Heloise and Abelard fame was certainly well educated. The Wikipedia information doesn’t give specifics other than Abelard being her teacher at one point. But she was already well known by that time. Her knowledge level would have been considered top university grade for the era.

She wasn’t considered odd in a negative way. There didn’t seem to be any major stigma for a woman to be well educated in 12th century France. But privately educated rather than university seems far more likely.

Thanks ftg. Very helpful.

From what I recall reading, private tutoring was considered the only appropriate way to educate girls - of course, a rich family could easily afford a well-educated but poor tutor. The risk was of course in letting a smart, older man near a younger woman for extended periods of time. (vis. Alberd and Heloise… did not end well)

Also, many universities had poor reputations in some ways. What, rich entitled (sorry!) boys drinking, getting rowdy and acting up when out from under the parental thumb? Who’d have thought it? Especially so in those days, where privilege conveyed some immunity. That was unlikely to be the setting for genteel women - more likely they would end up in some secluded convent school for their formative years.

IIRC, it was Dangerous Liasons where the bet is to seduce a 16 year old girl, who has just spent the last few years in a convent boarding school. (Which the protagonist accomplished by the simple expedient of using force and then telling her how if she tattled, her reputation would be worse than his.)

Catherine Howard, in testimony by herself and others before they chopped her head off, described the large group of poorer relatives’ children living in the large dormer attic of her step-grandmother’s manor, where tutors saw to their education, but probably not a good education.

Thanks for that md2000. very helpful.