Many families of noble lines in Europe had a tradition of educating their children from a young age. Once they were old enough to sit in a class, a governess or tutor would begin teaching them. This was private education for the privileged, and some nobles were educated completely in this manner. Others might be sent away to boarding school or university as they grew older, but many less wealthy families might reserve that only for the direct heir or oldest son.
The ability to afford a private education for children was often considered a necessity. Children without education might sign away the family land, or they could find business deals were not written up in their favour. Their education was often directly related to the family business, and success of that was what kept the family secure. It was a means to secure the family’s fortune and name over the generations.
Social standing was another important part of life for European nobles, and it was yet one more reason to educate them fully. A son or daughter with a good background in many different subjects was often considered desirable. Marriage to other families of noble birth or wealthy means would be easier if the children in the household were notably intelligent and educated. This included the social graces of the time as well as subjects of a more academic nature. Whether the family hired a tutor or governess, these individuals were expected to know the social graces and instil them in the children.
It might seem today that this type of educational system was haphazard, yet it served a greater purpose. Reserving higher education for those of wealth or noble birth tended to help them retain their social status. If every person had been educated to the same extent, then social upheaval might have become an issue.