I am making research for a book, and I need details about grants/scholarships in Western Europe around the beginning of the 19th century, ideally for a teenager living far away from the applied school.

How would the application work ? On what criteria the grant would be given ? How would the scholar go to the school without the funds to make the trip ? Would someone come and get him, someone appointed to "collect" scholars, or would the scholarship funds be made available to the student so he can go by himself ?

I read some fiction books where the protagonist is a scholar during that time period, but most of them don't mention the scholarship process at all. At best, they remain very evasive on the subject: usually, a private teacher writes a letter at the end of a very basic education (when the student comes to a certain age, or the teacher feels he does not have anything left to teach him), asking for a college grant somewhere in a big city, describing what the student has learned and recommending him. The positive response comes months later, and the protagonist travels to the school. But I fear the books I read oversimplify for the sake of the reader.

I know each country had its own education system and access to scholarship, but I am having trouble finding even very general details. And even though I am targeting Western Europe (especially the scholarships created by Napoleon in post-revolution France), I really don't need a very specific answer: any real details about a scholar travelling to a big city for higher education during that time period would help a lot.

English is not my first language - sorry if I made some mistakes. Thank you for reading my long and very specific question.


1 Answer 1


You can't find much info about grants as scholarships from the government are a fairly recent development. In the 18th and 19th century rich individuals gave grants. The terms of each grant varied very much.

Your teenager is probably a child of the lower or (lower) middle class. Most likely the middle class. It wasn't impossible for lower class children, but extremely unlikely to happen. Upper middle class and upper class could afford to pay the fees themselves. Very likely he'll try to stay with family, if someone lived in that area. Otherwise he'll be living in a boarding house.

He could have gotten that grant because his father and/or mother worked for a rich and powerful individual and was able to pull of that favor. He must be really gifted and showing lots of promise and interest - otherwise nobody would grant him anything. Your teenager is intellectually gifted, with almost certainly glowing recommendations from his schoolteacher and/or priest/minister.

Unless this rich individual was very generous, your teenager will have to live soberly and likely have a job at the side to make both ends meet.

The reason why he will get that grant is, for example, his father doing the rich individual a special favor. Rescuing his life for example, or in a mugging. Or his father is manager of the rich person, and able to get him to support his gifted son. Someone of some importance who is in regular contact with the patron. A manager of the estate, chief game keeper, that sort of thing. (Not one of the farmers, or regular game keepers.) Or he could be a lieutenant in the army/navy, asking his once general/admiral for a favor.

  • 2
    I don't know about continental Europe, but some UK unversities had forms of financial assistance, such as servitors at Oxford and elsewhere, who acted as Fellows' servants in return for free tuition etc. However, Wikipedia is coy about how a, student would access this - in England, probably by doing exceptionally well at one of the old Grammar Schools. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servitor
    – TheHonRose
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 10:36
  • 1
    No quibbles with the patronage bit, but "your teenager will have to live soberly" seems oddly suspicious. Any odds you could locate good sources to support this? Asking because insofar as I'm aware, universities in the 17th century gave very generous wine and beer allowances to students, and they'd compete to attract the best students by outdoing each other's rations. As to the students, they threw parties that would make modern fraternities look restrained. I can imagine this had changed by the end of the 19th century, but I'd be surprised if things had changed that much by the early 18th. Commented May 16, 2019 at 10:37
  • 3
    The early life of Carl Friedrich Gauss puts the lie to nearly every statement you make here. This answer is plainly wrong. Gauss' family knew no-one - yet Gauss was still recognized and sponsored by the Duke of Brunswick. Commented May 16, 2019 at 10:40
  • @TheHonRose Servitor was practically a job with duties, not a scholarship. Jos is talking about financial support for individuals without requiring to work somewhere.
    – Greg
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 18:25
  • Ahh the petite bourgeoisie...
    – Spencer
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 22:39

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