I’ve got this idea for a sort of late medieval/early modern fantasy with a protagonist who’s the first in his family of peasant farmers and rural craftsmen to study hard enough and save up enough money to attend a university, ostensibly to fulfill his father’s dying wish that he could never achieve himself. There’s a lot more that happens after that, otherwise we wouldn’t have much of a story, but the primary question I need to get out of the way is “at what point in time could this have even been possible in a setting mostly analogous to real-life Europe?”
Most of us are aware that education was severely limited among the lower and middle classes throughout most of the Middle Ages, and that the folks in charge often conspired to make it so that serfs and peasants had very few opportunities to rise above the stations they were born into. But this obviously didn’t last forever, and I’d really like to get a good idea of when the change occurred. Was it during the Renaissance? Later? Much later? Was it the Victorian era (and I honestly hope it wasn’t because the Victorian era gets way too much exposure in fiction as it is)? I just need to get a good idea of when this shift started to occur in real life so I can adjust the technology levels and social climate of the setting to reflect that era.