Alexander Chalmers.

A history of the colleges, halls, and public buildings, attached to the University of Oxford : including the lives of the founders online

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Martha Green

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For J. COOKS and J. PARKER, Oxford ; and Messrs. LONGMAN, HURST,

REES, and ORME, London.














J. HE history of the English Universities is one
of the most interesting objects on which a lover
of literature can fix his attention. It embraces
all that is curious to the antiquary, or important
to the scholar ; and even to minds not deeply
affected by curiosity or learning, it must be a
delightful object to contemplate those extensive
and magnificent establishments, not as emerging
from national wealth, or royal favour, but from
the liberality of a series of individuals in the
darker ages of our history, who were insensibly
led to become the benefactors of sound learning
and religion, while their immediate object, al-
though proceeding from the most honourable
and benevolent motives, was to perpetuate su-
perstition and credulity.

The history of these Universities, however,
has not been studied with the care bestowed on
objects of far inferior interest, Cambridge is
^ still without an historian worthy of notice ; and
although Oxford has been more fortunate in the
extensive labours of Antony Wood and other
antiquaries, yet since the time of Ayliffe, or



perhaps Salmon, no distinct and well-arranged
publication has been allotted to the history of
her Colleges in their actual state.

An attempt to supply this deficiency is now
offered by the Editor of the following pages,
who has ever regarded the University of Oxford
(with which accident made him very early ac-
quainted) with sentiments of profound venera-
tion, and with a curiosity which insensibly led
him to inquire into its history. It was during
one of the many visits he has paid to this Uni-
versity that he first communicated the idea of a
history of the Colleges, &c. which, he conceived,
should be more ample than the common Guides
afforded, and yet less prolix and confused than
the collections of Antony Wood. But whether
he has accomplished this intended object in a
satisfactory manner, is a question which he
would be afraid to ask, without a reliance on
the candour of those who may be acquainted
with the state of the sources of which he was
to avail himself, and the disadvantages which a
person not constantly resident must ever have
to encounter in similar attempts.

The labours of Antony Wood, as given to the
public some years ago by the Rev. John Gutch,
Registrar to the University, must continue to
be the foundation of all future researches, and
to them the present writer is ready to acknow-
ledge his highest obligations. Nor has he been


less indebted to the histories of individual Col-
leges, published by Savage, Smith, Lowth, War-
ton, and particularly his much esteemed friend,
the Rev. Archdeacon Churton, whose polite
and liberal communications he begs leave to
acknowledge with the utmost gratitude.

Yet the work would have been deficient in
many points, for which no printed authorities
can be consulted, had not the Editor, throughout
the whole of his undertaking, been assisted by
many resident members of the University, who
have contributed much valuable information with
a kindness which he is at a loss to acknowledge
as it deserves. This aid was tendered in a man-
ner so extremely liberal, although peculiar to
minds distinguished at once for intelligence arid
urbanity, that, were no other consequence to
result from the Editor's labours, he would find
a consolation in recollecting that he was ho-
noured with a display of this striking and
acknowledged feature in the character of the
members of the University of Oxford.

With every assistance, however, from printed
or oral authorities, the Editor cannot presume
that he has escaped the errors to which every
attempt of this, kind must be liable, A few of
these have been pointed out, and some other
corrections, he has to lament, were communi-
cated too late.


"With respect to the plan, that laid down by
Wood has been nearly followed ; and some in-
formation, not generally known, it is hoped,
has been recovered respecting the lives of the
Founders, most of whom have been unaccount-
ably neglected. In the selection of the names
of the eminent scholars of Oxford, as well as the
short characteristic sketches attempted, more
regard perhaps has been paid to contemporary
fame, than to the capricious verdict of modern
and more fastidious times. Few pleasures can
surely be more rational, few satisfactions more
complete, than to be able to recall the memory
of departed worth, arid to point out the classic
ground that has been " dignified by genius, wis-
" dom, and piety," and which none can pass
over with "frigid indifference." Although ne-
glect has too frequently obscured the history of
the learned and the pious of ancient times, it
ought never to be forgotten, that our learning is
the result of their labours, and our piety the an-
swer to their prayers.


New College Lane,
June 16, 1S10.


THE early history of the University of Oxford is in-
volved in the same obscurity with the civil and poli-
tical state of our nation, and has been perplexed by
the same improbable and contradictory traditions and
legends. The spirit of rivalship too has had its share
in exciting disputes, which have been perpetuated with
obstinacy; a circumstance the more to be regretted, as
they end in no more important result than a certain
degree of priority in point of time, for which no liberal
mind will now think it of much consequence to con-
tend. It seems agreed upon among the ablest anti-
quaries of modern times, that, although this Univer-
sity may be traced to very high antiquity, and far be-
yond the age of satisfactory records or annals, the il-
lustrious monarch, who was formerly supposed to have
founded or restored it, had really no share whatever in
its establishment; and it is certain, that no document
or well-authenticated history can be produced in which
the name of Alfred appears as a benefactor to the Uni-
versity of Oxford. And if we can trace no credible
information to his days, it will surely be more fruit-
less to carry our researches higher, and follow, either
with doubt or credulity, the absurd traditions which
speak of the state of learning at Oxford and Cam-
bridge before the Christian sera.

The probability is, that Universities, like other esta-
blishments, arose from small beginnings, arid grew


into bulk and consequence by gradations, some the re-
sult of wisdom, and others of accident. The first se-
minaries of education in Oxford appear to have been
mere schools, in which certain persons instructed youth
in the scanty knowledge themselves possessed. These
schools were either claustral, that is, appendages to
convents and other religious houses, or secular, such
as were kept by, or hired and rented of, the inhabitants
of Oxford. When many of these secular scholars re-
sided in one house, it got the name of Hall, or Hostel,
and Governors or Principals were appointed over them,
who superintended the discipline and civil affairs of
the house. But what portion of science was taught in
these, or how far the mode of education was different
from that carried on in religious houses, where proba-
bly what may be called education was first dispensed,
it is not easy to discover. The schools were divided
into grammar-schools, sophistry-schools, schools for
arts, medicine or physic-schools, law-schools, divinity-
.schools, &c. and were we to trust to names only, these
seem adequate to a perfect system of education ; but the
literary remains of the early ages afford no great pre-
sumption in their favour. The only men of learning,
or what was considered as deserving that name, were
educated for some of the orders of the church ; and we
know, that, owing to the ignorance of lay men of the first
yanks, their sovereigns were obliged to employ ecclesi-
astics in the highest offices of state, and particularly in
the department of law. In point of fact, it is difficult
to trace any regular plan of education, tending to that
general diffusion of learning which now prevails, before
the foundation of the first College by Walter de Mer-
ton, whose statutes afford an extraordinary instance of


a matured system, and with very little alteration have
been found to accommodate themselves to the pro-
gress of science,. discipline, and civil economy in more
refined ages.

Of the number of students who resided at Oxford
in the early ages, we have more accounts than we can
rely upon with confidence. In the time of Henry III.
we are told they amounted to thirty thousand; and
even when Merton College was founded, they are said
to have amounted to fifteen thousand. But this latter
number will appear highly improbable, when we in-
quire into the state of society and population at that
time, and endeavour to discover, or rather to conjec-
ture, by what means provision could be made in Ox-
ford for the accommodation of a number almost four
times greater than ever was known since records have
been kept.

The University, as a corporate body, has been go-
verned by statutes enacted at different times, and con-
firmed by charters granted by different monarchs, with
more or less liberality. Those at present in force were
drawn out in 1629, and confirmed by the charter of
Charles I. in 1635. The Corporation is styled, "THE
" UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD/' and is governed bylaws
passed in Convocation.

The highest officer in this corporation is the CHAN-
CELLOR, whose office is of great dignity and im-
portance. In the thirteenth century, the Chancellors
were styled the Masters or Rectors of the Schools, and
appear to have derived their authority from the Bi-
shops of Lincoln, who were then the Diocesans of Ox-
ford, and who confirmed, while the Regents and Non- 1


Regents nominated; but after the reign of Edward III.
they were elected and confirmed by the Regents and
Non-Regents only. At first their election was for one,
two, or three years, but afterwards became perpetual.
Still, however, the persons chosen were resident mem-
bers of the University, and always ecclesiastics, until
the time of Sir John Mason, in 1553, who was the first
Lay-Chancellor. It was afterwards conferred, at the
pleasure of the Convocation, upon ecclesiastics or lay-
men ; but since the time of Archbishop Sheldon, in
1667, upon noblemen of distinction, who have been
members of the University.

The Chancellor's deputy was formerly styled Vice-
gerent, or Commissary, but for many years past, VICE-
CHANCELLOR. His office is annual, though generally
held for four years. The Vice-Chancellor is nomi-
nated by the Chancellor, on the recommendation of
the Heads of Colleges, and appoints four Deputies, or
Pro-Vice-Chancellors, who must likewise be Heads of
Colleges. During the vacancy of Chancellor, how-
ever, the office is executed by the Senior Theologus,
or Cancellarius notus, resident in the University.

The next office is that of HIGH STEWARD, who is
appointed by the Chancellor, but continues for life.
His business is to assist the Chancellor, Vice-Chan-
cellor, and Proctors, to defend the privileges, &c. of
the University, and to hold a court, by his deputy, for
determining causes in which a scholar or privileged
person is concerned. This office for some centuries
has been held by laymen or noblemen of distinction.

The office of PROCTOR is supposed to be coeval
with that of Chancellor, and it is of great trust and
importance, as the Proctors are to inspect the conduct


of the members of the University, as to all matters of
discipline and good order, and are in fact the acting
magistrates. They must be two Masters of Arts, of
not less than four years standing, and chosen out of*
the several Colleges by turns, according to a cycle in-
vented in 1629 by Dr. Peter Turner, Savilian Profes-
sor, and Robert Heggs, of Corpus College, and sanc-
tioned by the statutes given by Charles I. at that time.
After their election, they nominate four Masters of
Arts to be their deputies, or Pro-Proctors, and may
depute their authority to a larger number, if neces-

In 1603, James I. by diploma, dated March 12,
granted to each University the privilege of choosing
two Representatives in Parliament ; a measure which
was opposed by the House of Commons, but ably sup-
ported by Sir Edward Coke. These are chosen by the
Vice-Chancellor, Doctors, and Regent and Non-Re-
gent Masters, in Convocation.

The University of Oxford now consists of twenty
Colleges and five Halls. Of the Colleges, each of which
is a corporation of itself, Merton, University, and Bal-
liol, were founded in the thirteenth century ; Exeter,
Oriel, Queen's, and New College, in the fourteenth ;
Lincoln, All Souls, and Magdalen, in the fifteenth;
Brasen Nose, Corpus Christi, Christ Church, Trinity,
St. John's, and Jesus, in the sixteenth; Wadham and
Pembroke in the seventeenth ; and Worcester and
Hertford in the eighteenth. Before these Colleges were
erected, the scholars who were educated in the Halls
or Inns subsisted there at their own expence, or that
of opulent Prelates or Noblemen; but many of the
youth of the kingdom, and perhaps the greater part,



were educated in St. Frideswide's Priory, Oseney Ab-
bey, and other religious houses in Oxford and its vi-
cinity. As the Colleges, however, increased in the num-
ber and value of their endowments, the scholars and
dependents on religious houses began to decrease. In
Colleges, at first, none were educated but those who
were admitted upon the foundation ; but when learn-
ing, and the love of learning, began to be more ex-
tensively diffused, those establishments were resorted
to by independent members, under the names of Com-
moners, and Gentlemen Commoners*.

It is the intention of the present writer, and he hopes at no great
distance of time, to enter far more fully into the history of the University
from the earliest times, and endeavour to detail its rise and progress as
connected with the history of literature. This will necessarily embrace,
a great variety of important circumstances, which are of a nature too
general to be included in the history of the respective Colleges.


THIS College, which claims the priority in point of
legal establishment, was founded hy Walter de Mer-
ton, Bishop of Rochester, and Chancellor of England.
Neither time nor diligence has recovered much of the
personal history of a man, who, in an age of compara-
tive barbarity, had the judgment to project the first
regular and well-constituted College, and the liberality
to leave an example of generous and munificent en-
dowment, which, for the honour of human nature, has
been followed in many illustrious instances.

From a pedigree of him, written about ten years
after his death, we learn, that he was the son of Wil-
Jiam de Merton, Archdeacon of Berks in 1224, 1231,
and 1236, by Christina, daughter of Walter Fitz-Oli*
ver, of Basingstoke. They were both buried in the
church of St. Michael, Basingstoke, where the site
of their tomb has lately been discovered. Their sou
was born at Merton, and educated at the convent
there. So early as the year 1239, he was in possession
of a family estate, as well as of one acquired. From
his mother he received the manor of St. John, with
which he commenced a public benefactor, by found-
ing, in 1261, the hospital of St. John, for poor and
infirm clergy; and, after the foundation of Merton
College, it was appointed in the statutes, that the
incurably sick Fellows or Scholars of that College
should be sent thither ; and the office of Master was
very early annexed to that of Warden of Merton.


Not many years ago, part of the chapel roof of this
hospital remained, pannelled with the arms of Merton
College in the intersections, and one of the Gothic
windows stopped up ; but all this gave place to a new
brick building in 1778.

According to Mr. Denne a , he occurs prebendary
of Kentish town, and afterwards had the stall of
Finsbury, both of them in the church of St. Paul's,
London. He held in 1259 a prebend in Exeter cathe-
dral ; and, according to Browne Willis, was Vicar of
Potton in Bedfordshire at the time of his promotion
to the see of Rochester. Other accounts say, that he
was first Canon of Salisbury, and afterwards Rector of
Stratton. He became eminent in the court of chan-
cery, first as King's clerk, then as prothonotary, and
lastly rose to be Chancellor of England in 1258. Of
this office he was deprived in the same year by the
Barons, but restored in 1261, with a yearly salary of
four hundred marks ; and held it again in 1274, in
which year he was consecrated Bishop of Rochester.
He appears to have been of high credit in affairs of
state, and consulted on all matters of importance, as a
divine, a lawyer, and a financier. His death, which
was occasioned by a fall from his horse, in fording
a river hi his diocese, took place Oct. 27, 1277.
Notwithstanding his liberality, at his death he was
possessed of goods, valued, by inventory, at 51101.,
of which he left legacies to the amount of 27261.
His debts amounted to 7461., and he had owing to
hrm about (i22l.

Customale Ro flense, p. 193. and Nichols's Hist, of Leicestershire,
vol. ii. part ii. p. 645.


He was interred on the north side of St. William's
chapel, at the north end of the cross aile in Rochester
cathedral, with a marble monument , which had pro-
bably been injured, or decayed, as in 1598 the pre-
sent beautiful alabaster momiment was erected to his
memory by the Society of Merton College, at the
suggestion of the celebrated Sir Henry Savile, then
Warden. The figure of the Bishop, habited in pon-
tificals, his hands raised and joined, lies on an altttf-
tomb, on the front of which is the following inscrip-
tion, in two tablets, in Roman capitals.

" Waltero de Merton, Cancellario Anglise sub Hen-
" rico Tertio : Episcopo Roffensi sub Edwardo Primo
" rege: Unius exemplo, omnium quotquot extant
" Collegiorum Fundatori : maximorum Europa? totius
" ingeniorum foelicissimo parent i : Gustos et scholares
" domus scholarium de Merton in Universitate Oxon.

" This must have been once a very costly specimen of art. Mr. Gough,
in his Sepulchral Monuments, (vol. iv. p. 113.) brings to light an ac-
count of 401. 5s. 6d. for the enamelled work of this monument. Ena-
melling flourished in the twelfth century, particularly at Limoges in
France, and was much employed in ornamenting tombs* Mr. Leonard
Yate, Fellow of Merton, and afterwards Rector of Cuxham, informed
Mr. Wood, in 1659, that when, on removing the stotie, the Founder's
grave was opened, the portraiture of his body was discovered, and his
person seen to be tall and proper : that he had in one hand a crosier staff,
which, when touched, fell to pieces ; that he had in the other a silver
chalice, which would hold more than a quarter of a pint : that the War-
den and Fellows caused it to be sent to the College, and to be put
in their cistft jocallum ; but that the Fellows in their zeal sometime?
drinking wine out of it, this their so valued relic was broken and de-
stroyed. MS. A. Wood, quoted by the late Rev. Jos. Kilner, in his " Ac~
" count of Pythagoras's School in Cambridge : as in Mr. Grose's Anti-
" quities of England and Wales, and other notices." This work was
printed some years ago, but ne"ver published. I am indebted to it for
Jtoauy interesting memoranda respecting Merton College.

B g


" communibus collcgii impensis, dcbitum pietatis
" monumentum posuere, anno .Domini 1598. Henrico
" Savile Custode. Obiit in vigilia Simonis et Juda?,
" anno Domini 1277, Edwardi Primi qninto. Inchoa-
" verat collegium Maldoniae in agro SUIT, anno Do-
" 'mini 1264, Hcnrici Tertii quadragesimo octavo :
" Cui dein, salubri consilio Oxonium, anno 1270 trans-
" lato, extrema manus foelicissimis, ut credi par est,
" auspiciis accessit anno 1274, ipsis Kalendis Augusti
fi anno regni regis Edwardi Primi secundo.

" Magne sen ex titulis, Musarum sede sacrata
" Major Mertonidum maxima progenie :
" Haac tibi gratantes, post secula sera, nepotes
" En votiva locant marmora, sancte Parens."
In 1662, when this monument was repaired by the
College, after the injuries it had received from popu-
lar fury during the civil war, the following inscription
was placed on a separate tablet.

" Hunc Tumulum fanaticorum rabie (quae durante
" nupero plusquam civili bello, prout in ipsa Templa
" sic in Heroum, Sanctorumque reliquias ibidem pie
" reconditas, immaniter saeviebat) deformatum atque
" fere deletum, Custos et scholares dornus Scholarium
" de Merton in Academia Oxoniensi pro sua erga
" funditorem pietate et gratitudine redintegrabant^
" anno Domini 1662, Custode Domino Thoma Clay-
" ton Equite."

This monument was again repaired in 1770, by the
direction of the Society, and freed from a thick cover-
ing of white-wash, applied by some unskilful " beauti-
" fier;" and a sum of money has been regularly ap-
propriated for its preservation.

With respect to the foundation of this College, an


opinion has long prevailed, which the inquiries of
some recent antiquaries have rendered doubtful. It
was stated by Wood and others, that Walter de Mer-
ton first founded a College at Maldon, as a nursery
for that at Oxford ; that at a certain age the Scholars
were removed from Maldon to Oxford, where the
Founder provided a house for them on the site of
the present College ; and that the whole establishment
was not removed from Maldon to Oxford until the
year 1274, when the third and last charter was ob-
tained. On the contrary, his original intention ap-
pears to have been to establish a religious house at
Maldon, consisting of a Warden and Priests, who
were to appropriate certain funds, with which he en-
trusted them, to the maintenance and education of
twenty Scholars, at Oxford or elsewhere; and that
when he founded Merton College, he removed the
Warden and Priests thither. What seems to confirm
this account is, that the Founder appointed a Fellow
of Merton College to instruct such of his Students
as were ignorant of grammar, which could not have
been the case had they been brought from a prepara-
tory school*.

Nothing could be more satisfactory than to be able
to trace the progress of this great work from these
small beginnings; but all that can be now collected
is, that, having purchased several tenements on the
ground where the College stands, he began his erec-
tion, and, by charter dated Jan. 7, 1264, established it
by the name of Domus Scholarium de Merton. This

Wood's Annals, rol. ii. p. 712. Lysons's Environs, art. Maiden; and
Manning's Surry.

B 3


first charter, with the statutes prescribed in it, con-
tinued in force until 1270, when it was confirmed by a
second, in which great additions were made to the en-
dowment by estates in Oxford, Oxfordshire, and other
counties ; the Scholars were increased, and the term
fratres became used as a farther step towards the
present form. A third charter was granted in 1274".
All these which respect the creation in 1264, the en-
largement in 1270, and the completion in 1274, and
refer to and confirm one another, are now preserved
in the library, and were consulted as precedents in the
foundation of Peter-house, the earliest College of the
sister University, and probably of others in both Uni-
versities. The first officers of Merton were appointed
in 127(>. It yet remains to be noticed, that Walter de
Merton's preference of Oxford is thought to have
been owing to his better acquaintance with the place;
there being a tradition, that he studied some time
among the Canons regular of Oseney, or in Mauger
Hall, in St. Martinis parish, Oxford.

Online LibraryAlexander ChalmersA history of the colleges, halls, and public buildings, attached to the University of Oxford : including the lives of the founders → online text (page 1 of 36)