The Teacher Who would be King

All of us probably have memories of our school days and of the teachers who had the most influence on us. Personally, I had two teachers who encouraged me to become a writer. It took some years and a number of other professions before I took their advice but I have to agree with their assurances. However, we may also have memories of teachers who brought terror to us. They might portray themselves as the master of their classroom and of all who enter. That’s all very understandable but it can be taken too far. And one of the worst examples concerns a teacher who became a headmaster. He believed in his authority so much that he challenged the king.

    His name was Dr Richard Busby. He was educated at Westminster School and years later, he returned as its headmaster. This all took place during the seventeenth century. Some might describe his behaviour as eccentric but others who witnessed and were victims, might instead describe him as a madman. His rule within the school was absolute and during his fifty-eight years as head, he proudly announced that he had personally flogged every child who had attended the school. He would probably be serving a long stretch in prison today.

Dr Richard Busby

    No one dared to question his authority. Well, that’s not quite correct. One teacher did question his methods. And paid a heavy price. Busby sent a gang of schoolboys, armed with axes to chop down the wooden staircase which led up to the rooms the teacher lived in at the school. He had to climb down a rope before he could apologise to Busby for his remarks.

    It is reported that on two occasions Busby openly declared himself to be as powerful as anyone else in the country. And that included the king. Charles II once visited the school. He was met by Busby who refused to remove his hat whilst greeting the monarch. When the king challenged him, Busby replied. “I cannot do that, for the boys would think that there is someone greater than I.” Full marks for humility, I don’t think.

    On the other occasion, Busby was challenged over the importance of being a headmaster. This was either said by a very brave person or a very stupid one. Busby immediately had an answer ready for his question. “The fathers of my boys rule the country. The mothers rule the fathers. The boys rule the mothers and I rule the boys.” He might be mad but I bet that last statement made perfect sense to him. So, perhaps our teachers were not that bad after all? If they were, you have my sympathy.

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