We know of quite a few children from medieval Europe. Most of the are future kings, in part because most people gave littl attention to peasant children. They generally had no ducation and had little opportunity in life. We only know of a few peasant children. Some of the future kings we have some good information because they had contemporary portraits done. Portraits done by artists lookig back on time often imagine he clothes their subjects wore. Contemporary portraits, however, jhav vey accurate depictions of clothing.
Giovanni of Florence: The Boy Cardinal. (Afterward Pope Leo X) A.D. 1490.
A great many of the crew members on Columbus' cruises were boys and youths. The younger boys served as cabin boys and pages. On many vessels a half or more of the crews were boys and youths. The older boys did all the jobs of able seameen, including the dangerous job of changing the rigging in rough weather. Columbus preferred boys because they were less aware of the dangers involved. They were also in better physical condition than many adult sailors. The images we have to day of sailors with eye patches and peg legs result frm the fact that a lfe at sea was a dangerous occupation and many adult sailors had suffered crippling accidents.
Malinche as she was called by the AZtecs or Doña Marina as she was called by the Spanish. La Malinche was the young daughter of a noble Aztec family. When her father who was a chief died, her mother remarried and hproduced a son. She gave her daughter to passing traders and told everyone she had died. Mlinche became a slave of the military chief) of Tabasco. She thus spoke both Nahuatl (the lnguage poke by the Aztecs and most other non-Mayan tribe in central Mexico). It was not Malinche's choice to join Cortez and the Spanish. She was presented to him as a slave along with 19 other young women. She is one of many characters in history that are viewed very differently by different people. Few are more controversial than Malinche. Some see her as a traitor and colaborationist in modern terms. Others see her as the mother of the first "Mexican," indeed the mother of modern Mexico itself. her very name still stirs up controversy. Her detrctors accuse Malinche of aiding Cortez's conquest of Mexico which is correct, she was critcal in allowing Cortez to negotiate allainces with tribes opposing the Aztecs. She was much more than a transltor. Without her linguistic abilities and advise, Corte may well have failed. Her supports point out that she saved thousands of Indian lives by enabling Cortes to
negotiate rather than slaughter. She also assisted the Spanish to introduce Christianity and end human sacrifice and
cannibalism. Malinche converted to Christianity and became an eloquent advocate for the religion. Alhough Malinche did not speak Spanish when Cortez first met Moctezuma (Montezuma), she rapidly learned it an proved invaluable in the subsequent conquest. She was called Malinche because she was always with Cortez. It means "Marina's Captain" or "the captain's woman." Cortez after the Conquest, because he was already married, had Malinche married to a Castilian knight, Don Juan Xamarillo. She then disappeared from history. She had a son by Cortez, Don Mahin Cortes--often cited as the first Mexican.
Ixtlil' of Tezcuco: The Boy Cacique. (Afterward King of Tezcuco, the last of the ruling Aztec princes.)
Edward the boy king was perhaps more responsible than any one for making England a Protestant country. Edward VI was the only surviving son of Henry VIII. His mother was Jane Seymour. Edward was born in
1537. He ascended the throne on the death of his larger than life father when he was only 9 years old. He was betrothed to his cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, but deteriorating relations with Scotland prevented their marriage. The frail, Protestant boy died of consumption at age 16 having never married. His efforts to prevent the accession of his Catholic half sister, Mary Tudor failed disasterously for his friend Lady Jane Grey. Edward was a rather intellectual and very pious boy. He was badly served by the powerful Council of Regency which ruled in his name. His frail health led to an early death. If nothing else, Edward's reign gave England 7 more years of protestantism. But profound changes ocuured in the English church which moved England down the path to be a Protestant country. If Mary had succeded her father in 1547, she would have had a much better chance of turning England back to Catholocism. Edward's reign made this an increasingly difficult proposition.
Although not often depicted, quite a number of boys were involved in the voyages of discovery and the vessels involved with th trade as well as the privateering that followed. One of those boys was 14-year old Miles Philips. Boys served as well as cabin boys as well as pages to the nobels involved. One of those boys was Miles Philips, the page to John Hawkins. Hawkins on one of his voyages attacking Spanish colonies and ships, he was almost captured by the Spanish off Mexico (1568). He escaped but 100 of his men were left stranded ashore. Among them was Miles and it is throughh his account that we know what happened to the English. The Spanish split. One group of about 30 decided to trek north along the Gulf coast to try to reach a French outpost believed to be in Florida. Only three eventually reached England. The larger group of about 70 moved south and surendered to the Spanish in Tampico. Here they were jailed. Four days later they were ordered out where men with nooses awaited them. They were, however, not hanged, but roped together for a long trek to Mexico City. There they were simply turned over to affluent families who used them as servants, for the most part treating them reasonably. This changed with the Inquisition arrived in Mexico (1571). They were roundedcup and jailed in fetid conditions. Many were tortured. They were grilled at length on their religious beliefs. The Inquisition finally handed down the verdicts (1574). Miles and a few younger sailors were sentenced to de penance in monastaries. One was stangled and burned. Many were sentenced to floggings (up to 300 lashes). Those that survived the floggings were sentemced to slave in the galleys. Miles was released from the monastary after 3 years and through a circuitous route made it back to England.
James was the only son of Mary Queen of Scotts. He became Scotland's boy king at 1 year old when Scottish nobels forced his mother to abdicate. He later became King James I of England.
The Indian princess Pocahontas is perhaps the most well-known native American in American history. She was the daughter of Powhatan, the powerful chief of the Algonquian in the Tidewater Virginia. She was born around 1595. Pocahontas means "Little Wanton," or playful, frolicsome little girl. She may have seen Euopeans for the first time
in May 1607, when she was about 12 years old, as Englishmen colonists landed at Jamestown. The meeting with Captain John Smith has been romanticized and no one knows the true story. Smith claims the little Princess saved him after he had been captured by Powhatan. Some claimed that Pocahontas' actions were probably part of a ritual. At any rate, Pocahontas and Smith became friendly. For a while relations with the Algonquians were friendly and the Princess was a frequent visitor to Jamestown. Relations eventually deteriorated and Smith went back to England. The setlers kidnapped Pocahontas for ransome. During her captivity, she became a Christian and in 1613 met a wealthy tobacco planter, John Rolfe in July 1613. Pocahontas was baptized, christened Rebecca, and later married John Rolfe on April 5, 1614. The Virginia Company wanted to obtain more financial support nd new collonists. Rolfe, Pocahontas, and their son Thomas were brought to England to show civilized the native Americans were. Pocahontas created a sensation in London. She was presented to King James I and his family as well as the the rest of London society, including her old friend John Smith. She died in 1617 of tuberculosis. She was 22 years old.
Tobacco became extremely popular when introduced in Europe during the early 17th century. As the Virginia tobacco crop became increasingly important, a severe labor shortage developed. For a while, orphans were recruited in London and other English cities to work as indentured laborers. In the end, indentured English labor was more costly than slave labor. Indentuted workers could not be worked as hard and it was easier for them to run away. Nor did it prove possible to enslave the the Native Americans. (Here the Spanish were more successful.) Eventually the labor shortage was solved by importing Africans to be worked as slaves.
Louis of Bourbon: The Boy King. (Louis XIV of France; afterward known as the Grand Monarque.)
Two little Massachusetts girls sparked perhaps the most famous incident in colonial America until the Revolution--the Salem Witch Trials. Elizabeth Parris was 9 years old and Abigail Williams was 11 years old. Both girls began behave strangely, there was blasphemous screaming, convulsive seizures, trance-like states and mysterious spells. Other Salem girls began to behave similarly. Interestingly it was the girls who were involved and not the boys. No one could explain the cause, but soon witchcraft was blamed. The girls wre pressured to identify the source of their strange behavior. They named three women, including Tituba, Parris' Carib Indian slave, as witches. While the other two women maintained their innocence, Tituba confessed to seeing the devil. Tituba testified that there was a conspiracy of witches at work in Salem launching the Salem With Trials. Over 20 people were eventually executed foe withchcraft.
We note several children who played notable roles in the 18th century or whose childhood experiences had a major impact on history. Many of these individuals are well known to history. Some of these individuals were royals or future public officals. Some like Mozart were prodigies. Other were ordinary boys like the boy Jenner inoculated with cowpox, but who thus had a huge impact on countless lives. We also note the Boston appretice boys and Cybil Shepard who played roles in the American Revolution.
We know of quite a few children who were involved in some of the major events of the century. Some were future kings. Britain's Prince Albert (future Edward VII) played a major role in popularizing sailor suits and kilts for boys. As a young prince he was extremely quarelsome, but as king he played an important role in maintaining the European paece. Prince Wilhelm in Germany as a little boy was fascinated by ships and the navy and as Emperor decides to build a Germany navy. Like his uncle (Price Albert), he was also a very difficult little boy, but unlike his uncle he was constantly precipitaing diplmatic crises and palyed a major role in launching World War I. Many children from humble families also played important roles in the 19th century. Many were Americans ranging from Native Americans, Pony Express riders, and Civil War drummer boys. School was playing a more important role in children's lives during the 19th century. Some boys like the Plattsburg Boys carried out their exploits close to home. Other boys, like Johhny Clem, had to miss school and run away from home to carry out his famed Civil War exploits. Some girls like Carolyn Picklesgild were famous for trafitional activities like sewing, but others like Sacagawea achieved phenomenal physical exploits. Some of the future kings we have some good information because they had contemporary portraits done. By the 1840s photography had appeared so we know quite a bit about how these children dressed.
Children in the 20th century have not uncommonly been at the center of major events. These children have been an amazingly diverse group, from Puyi the last Chinese emperor to Ruby Bridges the little American black girl who led the way for the integration of schools in the South. Perhaps the boy to play the greatest role in the history if the 20th century was Gavrilo Princip who assasinated Austrian Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand which led to World War I. The children of the Holacaust were undountedly the most tragic children. of the century. Most like Ann Frank did not survive, but a few like Uri Orlev did survive. The most celebrated boy of the decade has to be the unknown British Scout. The final year of the century played out with the saga if the little Cuban boy, Elián González. As in pasr centuries children have both been caught up in the great events of the day and had some impact on thiose events.
The 20th century was a time where increasing efforts to protect children rights, passing child labor laws and expanding public education. Some children emerged as notable participants in history, but in the 21st century children have exploded on the world scene as both targets of terrorism and perpetrators of terrorism. And for the first time in history, many of these children are Muslim. And contrary to the widely held opinion in the Muslim world, the perpetratirs of violence aginst Muslim children are primarily other Muslims.
Brooks, E.S. Historic Boys (1913/14). This interesting book sketches the lives of 12 historic boys that have impacted history.
Philip Hoose, We Were There, Too!.
Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to the Main childhood chronology page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]