How did Edward II celebrate the tenth anniversary of his succession to the throne, on 7 July 1317? By founding a college at Cambridge University, of course! To quote from W.W. Rouse Ball's The King's Scholars and King's Hall (1917), on that date "Edward II issued a writ to the sheriff of Cambridgeshire directing him to pay out of royal moneys in his hands the sums necessary for the maintenance in the University of Cambridge of certain scholars whom the king proposed to send there...Two days later the first ten [or perhaps twelve; see below] scholars, with John de Baggeshot their warden, arrived in Cambridge, and took up their residence in a house hired for them at the expense of the crown." By Christmas 1319, when the scholars of King's Hall (as it became known) spent the festive season with the king in York, there were thirty-two of them, maintained clothes and all at Edward II's expense.
W.W. Rouse Ball's excellent work on King's Hall and its early history details the lives of the scholars. They received around nine yards of cloth annually at Christmas to make their robes and were also given shoes, while the warden received two sets of robes a year, the winter set fur-lined. The warden Simon de Bury was given a tunic and a long tabard with hood, lined with budge (sheep's wool) in 1325. The scholars also received pocket money: half a mark (six shillings and eight pence) twice a year. They had to be at least fourteen years old and with a good knowledge of Latin to be accepted, and of course of good knowledge and ability in general. The journeys of the thirty-two scholars from Cambridge to York to spend Christmas 1319 with Edward II is documented by Rouse Ball: six of them plus the warden left Cambridge on 20 December and arrived 150+ miles away in York on horseback a mere four days later on Christmas Eve, which was making excellent time given the vagaries of travelling in the dead of winter, while the remaining twenty-six left on the same day but didn't arrive until 28 December. (Edward II's reaction to their tardiness is sadly unrecorded.) While in York, one scholar was involved in an assault on a man named William Hardy, presumably a local resident, and was left behind in disgrace when the others returned to Cambridge.
Alan B. Cobban's The King's Hall Within the University of Cambridge in the Later Middle Ages also contains a wealth of information about Edward II's foundation. It was properly designated at the time as Aula scolarium Regis Canterbrigiae, or Aula Regis for short. Cobban cites the beginning of Edward's writ of 7 July 1317: Come nous eioms envoiez noz chers clercs Johan de Baggeshote et douze autres einfaunz de notre chapelle a luniversite de Cantebr' a demorer y et demody a nos coustages..., "As we have sent our dear clerk John Bagshot and twelve other children of our chapel to the university of Cambridge to remain there and to be at our expense...". In 1546, the King's Hall was incorporated into the new foundation of Trinity College, along with Michaelhouse College, founded in 1324 by Edward's ally Hervey Stanton or Staunton, chief justice of the King's Bench.
Edward II also co-founded Oriel College at Oxford with his clerk Adam Brome on 21 January 1326, and the foundation charter says that love of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a desire to increase her "divine cult" motivated him to establish the college. The king declared his zeal for sound learning and religious knowledge, granted Brome, the first college provost, and the scholars permission to acquire sixty pounds worth of lands and property, and specifically requested that five or six of the first ten scholars be students of canon law. The foundation was originally named the Hall of the Blessed Mary; the name 'Oriel' comes from a house called La Oriole granted to the college after Edward's deposition, and the college's full name is still "The House of the Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford, commonly called Oriel College, of the Foundation of Edward the Second of famous memory, sometime King of England."
Part of the entry on the Charter Roll relating to the foundation of Oriel states:
"Ordinance for a college of scholars studying in theology and dialectic in the university of Oxford, to be governed by a provost, to which office Adam de Brom, king's clerk, is appointed; and for the habitation and support of the said provost and scholars, gift to them of a messuage, five shops, five solars and one cellar in Oxford in the parish of St Mary, late of Roger le Mareschal, parson of the church of Tackeley, and of a messuage in the suburbs of Oxford called ' La Perilloshalle'..." (Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-1326, pp. 481-2, 485-6).
Whatever Edward II's numerous faults, flaws, mistakes and ineptitude, his establishment of colleges at Oxford and Cambridge universities is something that should be remembered and acknowledged. Edward is sometimes, for reasons which escape me, deemed to be 'stupid'. To this I can only respond that 'stupid' people generally don't care about learning to the extent that they found and endow colleges at the only two universities which existed in his kingdom then, which Edward, incidentally, described as "the twin jewels of our crown." Hardly anyone else in the entire long history of Oxford (founded before 1096) and Cambridge (founded in or before 1209) has founded colleges at both universities, Edward's descendant Henry VI, who founded King's College at Cambridge and All Souls at Oxford, being the only other person I can think of. So the next time you see someone sneering at Edward II for being an utter disaster, you might like to remind them of that particular achievement.