A hornbook, illustrated below, was the schoolbook for about three centuries from the mid 16th on. A printed sheet was protected from the grubby fingers of the pupils by a sheet of transparent horn mounted on a wooden back board with handle. As William Shenstone puts it in The School-Mistress (1737):

Eftsoons the Urchins to their Tasks repair:
Their Books of Stature small take they in Hand,
Which with pellucid Horn secured are;
To save from Finger wet the Letters fair:
The Work so quaint that on their Back is seen,
St. George’s high Atchievements does declare:
On which thilk Wight that has y-gazing been,
Kens the forth-coming Rod, unpleasing Sight, I ween.

HornbooksNice to see that that other staple of old-fashioned education, the rod, gets its mention. No child back then risked being spoiled by the sparing of the rod. Seemed to work in my day too.

The top left of the sheet shows a cross, from which the hornbook got the nick-name Christ Cross Row, or criss-cross-row. The alphabet in small and large letters was followed by the vowels and their combinations with the consonants in tabular format. The Trinitarian formula – “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” – followed, then the Lord’s Prayer. The hornbook often concluded with the Roman numerals.