28 February, 2008

Edward II and Oxbridge

It's a little-known fact that Edward II was the first king of England to found colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, one at each university.

In 1317, Edward founded King's Hall at Cambridge, to educate clerks for his Chancery. It housed thirty-two scholars, known as King's Scholars, though they had no fixed residence until Edward provided them with one in 1336, a house he had bought from Robert de Croyland: "he founded for the aforesaid scholars, in honour of God, the blessed Virgin, and all saints, and for the souls of King Edward his father, himself, and his queen Philippa, a college..." King's Hall was the second college of Cambridge University, after Peterhouse, founded in 1284 by Hugh de Balsham, bishop of Ely. (There's a book about King's Hall, which unfortunately I haven't read yet.)

Edward II gave books on canon and civil law, worth ten pounds, to the new Master. One of the earliest King's Scholars was Nicholas Damory, mentioned there in 1318 and 1321. Presumably he was a relative of Roger Damory, favourite of Edward II in the middle years of his reign, though I'm not aware of the precise connection - perhaps a nephew, or an illegitimate son. Nicholas was later steward of the household of Edward II's eldest granddaughter Isabella (born 1332), and also served Edward's niece Elizabeth de Clare for many years.

In 1546, Edward's descendant Henry VIII incorporated the Hall into his new foundation of Trinity College. At the same time, Michaelhouse College was also incorporated into Trinity. Michaelhouse was founded in 1323 by Hervey Staunton (or Stanton), one of the premier lawyers of the age: Chancellor of the Exchequer 1316 to 1326; Chief Justice of the King's Bench 1323 to 1324; and Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas 1326. An ally and supporter of Edward II, Staunton lost his position after the regime change of November 1326. In autumn that year, following her invasion, Queen Isabella seized 800 marks (a little over 500 pounds) Staunton had deposited at the abbey of Bury St Edmunds - on what authority, I have no idea - and used it to pay her mercenaries. Staunton died in 1327.

Today, Trinity College is the largest and richest of all the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The roll-call of famous alumni is far too extensive to write here, but includes Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, Andrew Marvell, Alfred Tennyson, the earl of Essex executed by Elizabeth I in 1601, and an astonishing thirty-two Nobel Prize winners. A much longer list is here.

Edward II also founded Oriel College at Oxford, in 1326, the fifth oldest of the Oxford colleges. The slightly later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker claims this was to give thanks for his escape from the field of Bannockburn, though I'm not sure if that's true. In April 1324, Edward granted his almoner Adam Brome a licence to endow a small group of scholars at the 'Hall of the Blessed Mary' at Oxford, with the aim of building a "certain college of scholars studying various disciplines in honour of the Virgin". The endowment was thirty pounds a year.

On 21 January 1326, Edward granted the foundation charter for the college. Whether it ever used the Blessed Mary name is unclear, and in fact it seems to have been called King's Hall, like Edward's foundation at Cambridge. The college admitted ten graduate students; undergraduates weren't admitted until the sixteenth century. In 1329, after Edward's deposition, Edward III granted a college a large house called La Oriole, hence the name of the college, first used around 1349.

Oriel alumni include Sir Walter Raleigh, Cecil Rhodes, British empire-builder in southern Africa, and Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury 1397 to 1414, grandson of the earl of Arundel of Edward II's reign.

The fourteenth century saw many other colleges founded at Oxford and Cambridge, including:

Exeter College, the fourth oldest Oxford college, founded in 1314 by Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter 1307 to 1326 and treasurer of England 1320 to 1325. Stapeldon was another ally of Edward II, and suffered a far worse fate than Hervey Staunton: on 15 October 1326, a London mob hacked his head off with a bread knife, and sent it to Queen Isabella at Gloucester. Her reaction is not recorded, but as she hated him, she probably didn't grieve for him too much. In the fourteenth century, Exeter was called Stapledon Hall and had about twelve to fourteen students. Alumni include J.R.R. Tolkien, novelist Martin Amis, and John Ford, author of the 1633 play Tis Pity She's a Whore.

Clare College, Cambridge, originally founded in 1326, was refounded in 1338 by Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare (1295 to 1360), the widow of Roger Damory, above. Alumni include Hugh Latimer, bishop of Rochester and one of the Protestant Martyrs burned alive in 1555, and First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Pembroke College, Cambridge, was founded in 1347 by Edward's cousin Marie de St Pol (c. 1303 to 1377), widow of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke. (Marie was the great-granddaughter of Henry III, Edward II's grandfather). Originally called the Hall of Valence Marie, it gave preference to students born in France. Famous alumni include William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister 1783 to 1801 and 1804 to 1806, Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser, and Thomas Grey, author of 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' (1750), one of my favourite poems.


Jules Frusher said...

That's a really interesting post - lots of things I didn't know in there! The lists of alumni were also interesting - far better than those of the University of Gloucestershire! I so wish I could have gone to one of those colleges just to be absorbed in the atmosphere.

Kathryn Warner said...

So do I, much as I liked Manchester university. ;)

Carla said...

I didn't know he had connections with both. Are there many people who founded colleges at both Cambridge and Oxford?

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: I can't think of any, offhand. Hmm, there are Queen's (or Queens') colleges at both, but I don't think the same women were involved. Wow, it would be great if my beloved Ed was the only person ever to found colleges at both! That's a great selling point for him! I must check that...