A History of the University of Cambridge, Volume 2: 1546-1750

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This volume brings to completion the four-volume series, a vital contribution to academic history. Special features of this volume relate it to social and political history—especially to the gentry who provided patronage and recruits, as well as the royal court and parliament. The history of the university features extensive material on its architectural heritage, and a chapter on such intellectual giants between 1660-1740 as Richard Bentley and Isaac Newton. Also available: Volume 1: The University to 1546 0-521-32882-9 Hardback $90.00 C Volume 3: 1750-1870 0-521-35060-3 Hardback $130.00 C Volume 4: 1870-1990 0-521-34350-X Hardback $110.00 C

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'The range and scholarship are impressive, and the vast amount of data here encapsulated adds substantially to our understanding of many of the essential strands of Cambridge's development. ... This volume will undoubtedly serve as a vital source of reference for the long-term future for all scholars with a professional interest in the selection of themes here examined and also for the informed general reader with a penchant for university history.' Journal of Ecclesiastical History
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Meet the Author

Dr Victor Morgan is Lecturer in History, University of East Anglia.

Professor Christopher Brooke is Dixie Professor Emeritus of Ecclesiastical History, University of Cambridge.

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Cambridge University Press
052135059X - A History of The University of Cambridge - Volume II 1546-1750 - by Victor Morgan

Chapter 1


A fundamental theme in the history of the University of Cambridge in this period is the intimacy between the university and the state. From the 1530s onwards the university, its individual colleges and many of its members enjoyed the benefits arising from this new-found relationship. In due course we will see the advantages that this gave the university in its conflicts with the city of Cambridge.1 But intimacy also brought its perils and corruptions, and at no time were they greater than during the unsettled 1530s and 1540s. At times during these decades the very survival of the university - or at least, of the colleges - was in question. That they did survive was in no small measure because university men already constituted influential voices in the corridors of power. But then and in the future theirs were not to be the only voices. Covetous eyes were not for the last time cast in the direction of Cambridge and her sister university.

When we speak of the state in this period we need to avoid any too grandiose a level of abstraction. In particular, we need to avoid imputing an undue degree of homogeneity. Indeed, the struggle over the fate of the universities in the 1530s and 1540s was in itself a significant indicator of what at the time was a relatively new configuration within the central institutions of the early modern English state. The outcome of the struggles in the 1530s is also an indicator of the relative balance of power between the major components within that new configuration. In working with this new type of central political institution the Cambridge men who saved the university in the 1540s were dealing with an entity that had taken on a new form in the previous twenty years. This was the royal Renaissance Court that had been created by Henry III at the beginning of his reign. Its splendour caught the contemporary eye and perhaps has beguiled modern historians. But apart from these flashy splendours there were 'the men in dark suits' who provided new levels of administrative expertise to the burgeoning aspirations of the Tudor state.2 They also provided what passed for intellectual justifications for what Henry wanted. Essentially, then, within this new type of Court we need to distinguish between the members of the recently elaborated royal household and the new administrative cadre. This cadre served mainly the great departments of state, and within the relatively new and flexible secretariat. From the viewpoint of Cambridge, the significance of the 1530s and 1540s was survival itself. In the larger scene the fortunes of the university illustrate the relative balance of influence at that time between these different types of men who met together within the bearpit that was the royal Court. Not for the last time the universities became an arena in which were to be played out conflicts that were inherent in the emerging political structures of Tudor England. In the 1530s and 1540s the universities were especially vulnerable; the paradox is that they were also especially useful to the Tudor state. The politically driven necessities of the 1530s took on an ideological component: as always, university men were well equipped to provide justifying ideologies. There were two aspects to the growing intimacy between state and university. The first involved the increasing familiarity with the universities among men at the heart of government; the second reflected the uses to which these men, and others anxious to advise government, put the universities and individual academics in the service of the state in the years down to the 1560s.

The crucible for these developments was the tumultuous decade of the 1530s, witnessing the king's divorce, the Reformation Parliament, the breach with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries. The monasteries were dissolved in the 1530s and the colleges saved in the 1540s by a similar process with dramatically different outcomes. Under Thomas Cromwell's direction, a group of commissioners visited the monasteries in 1535, very well aware that the appetites of the king and courtiers had been whetted by the Valor Ecclesiasticus, the great survey of ecclesiastical revenues conducted earlier in the same year. In his classic account of the Dissolution, David Knowles described the visitors as 'adulatory, pliant, time-serving . . . ready to accuse or ruin any man, friend or foe, stranger or relative, in order to retain the favour of Henry or Cromwell, but they were often sagacious, moderate and good-natured in their personal dealings when neither career nor cash was at stake'; and among the four leading visitors he drew some distinction between the career ecclesiastics and the laymen. The two clerics, Richard Layton and Thomas Legh, were pluralists who rose in Cromwell's wake in the royal service, were employed on many missions, and died before they could be promoted to bishoprics - or be burnt as heretics. The two laymen were markedly different in character, but equally unprincipled. John ap Rice or Price became a respected country gentleman on his Welsh estates - once those of Carmarthen and Brecon priories - and a noted bibliophile; under Mary it seems to have been forgotten that he had been actively engaged in persecuting the Carthusian monks and Fisher and More. John Tregonwell 'added a tomb to what is now one of the most exquisite monuments of the monastic past' - to quote Knowles again - at Milton Abbas, and like Price enjoyed the fruits of monastic spoil in a comfortable old age in which he was actually knighted by Mary.3 They were all professional lawyers and royal servants; it goes without saying that none of them had been a monk or a friar. In contrast the Commissioners who reported on the Oxford and Cambridge colleges in the 1540s were all themselves heads of colleges, and all well known in the circles of the Court. The contrast immediately reveals the very different preparations for the two commissions - and that in a measure the outcome of the commission on the colleges was already a foregone conclusion. But it had not been so at first.

The utility of the universities for ideological purposes first became evident in Henry III's pursuit of a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Henry was thwarted by the papal legate, Cardinal Campeggio's suspension of proceedings in London in June-July 1529 on the grounds that the prevailing temperature in Rome precluded further meetings. To make matters worse Clement Ⅶ then removed the case to Rome. In pursuit of some sort of authoritative learned legitimation of Henry III's urgent need for a divorce, Thomas Cranmer had suggested an appeal to the opinion of the universities. With some difficulty suitable opinions or 'determinations' were extracted from Oxford and Cambridge. Emissaries were also sent on continental tours to solicit favourable opinions from other universities, from religious houses and from individuals.4 It was the provost of King's, Edward Fox, who did much of the footwork. During 1529-30, Fox was also a member of a hastily convened think tank charged with finding justifications for the king's wishes. It was these men that produced the 'king's book', which probably was finished in October 1529 although not published until April 1531.5 Levitical law was invoked as divine authority and Pope Julius' grant of dispensation to Henry Ⅶ for his son to marry Prince Arthur's widow was, it now appeared, ultra vires. To marry a deceased brother's wife was also found to be forbidden by the law of nature.6 It was these findings, the deliberations of Convocation and the determinations of the universities that, in May 1533, provided Cranmer, by then archbishop, with the grounds for declaring void Henry's marriage to Catherine.7

In addition to the use which Henry and his advisers made of the universities, there were also those men of learning who at this time spontaneously proffered their services to the state. For theirs was the 'new learning' that sought to marry intellect with action.8 We need to recognise the type as a phenomenon of the greater part of the period with which we are concerned: we will encounter more of them in later pages. No doubt for some it was a convenient creed, and, as in the 1520s, personal opportunism often combined with high principle so that neither the historian, contemporaries, nor least the individuals themselves could easily segregate motives. The higher principle was grounded in the desire to infiltrate the new ideas into society, and the church and into the highest counsels of government. The new articulate citizen, who was usually a graduate and often the attendant in the antechambers of the powerful, was often still a member of the university.9 In an hierarchical world articulated by patronage and clientage those who sought social reform and religious change did so by soliciting the men with power and influence about the Court. They were successful, at least as reflected in the background of the graduate laity who became prominent in central government during the 1530s and 1540s. Increasingly, university alumni could be found in government, or quasi-government offices, or as informal advisers to government. What began in the 1530s was to be a characteristic feature of the English state until the late seventeenth century.

The larger changes afoot during the 1530s and 1540s underlined the need of the university for the ear of influential men in government. At Cambridge this realisation had already dawned. Since the mid-fifteenth century the university had commonly sought protection through the election as chancellors of great dignitaries of state.10 In 1504-5, they had elected John Fisher as chancellor, an office he was to hold, with only a brief intermission, till his death. On his demise he was replaced by Thomas Cromwell. Recalling Cromwell, the seventeenth-century historian of the university, Thomas Fuller, wrote of 'How easy it was for covetousness in those ticklish times, to quarrel the college lands into superstition? Sacrilege stood ready to knock at their gates: and alas it was past their porter's power to forbid it entrance, had not the Lord Cromwell vigorously assisted the university on all occasions.'11 Cromwell's role may have been more equivocal than Fuller suggests, yet it is true that the defence of the interests of the universities against the threat posed by the dissolution of religious houses was the first major occasion on which were manifest the benefits of university alumni and patrons in government.

As a result of the dissolution of the monastic houses, both universities had lost their friaries and most of their monastic halls of residence. But Buckingham College had survived, transformed into Magdalene College; and the university had actually benefited from the premature demise of St Radegund's nunnery and St John's hospital, which had been converted into Jesus College in the 1490s and St John's College in the 1510s.12 Nor may the disappearance of the house of Augustinian or Austin canons at Barnwell greatly have affected the university. But the four major friaries were in effect very grand colleges; and their disappearance was both a disaster to the university and a hint to the greedy of what else might be done. Yet curiously enough they did not wholly disappear: the sites of the Dominican and Franciscan friaries were to be converted into Emmanuel and Sidney Sussex colleges much later in the century, and part of the Austin friars' buildings became the Perse Grammar School in the 1610s. More immediately, that subtle courtier William Mey, president of Queens', looked over his college's boundary wall and observed that the Carmelite friary was a ripe plum ready to pick - and with the expert aid of his vice-president, the eminent civilian Thomas Smith, he arranged with Thomas Cromwell (for a price) its amalgamation with Queens'.13

In 1545 the Chantries Act empowered the king to dissolve any corporation within the universities and to seize its possessions.14 Contemporary comment suggests that the threat was not so much from the king but from 'certain officers in the Court and others . . . in authority under the king' who were 'importunately suing to him to have the lands and possessions of both universities surveyed, they meaning afterwards to enjoy the best of their lands and possessions by exchange of impropriated benefices and such other improved lands'. In February 1546 the university wrote formally to the king, professing itself still willing to put its possessions at his service.15 Less formally, a campaign was mounted against the threatened depredations by courtiers.

This campaign was forwarded through resort to others about the Court who were familiar with the universities and who could be relied upon to defend their interests. On the same day as Cambridge made its formal submission to the king, it also wrote to the secretary of state, William Paget. Paget was reminded of the importance of the universities to the state, and asked to protect the cause of learning.16 Paget was an appropriate man to importune: the very model of the new, academic, government official and courtier. Educated at Trinity Hall, he had afterwards studied at Paris. Employed on numerous missions foreign and domestic, he had served as a clerk to the privy council for four years, and had become a privy councillor, clerk of parliament, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and secretary of state.17 The university was further aided by another of its native sons, Sir Thomas Smith. Smith was a former fellow of Queens' and public orator. In 1544 he had been vice-chancellor, and at the time was Professor of Civil Law. In 1548 he was to succeed Paget as secretary of state.18Smith interceded on behalf of the university with the queen, Catherine Parr, to whose council he was clerk.19 In her turn Catherine spoke on behalf of the university to the king. For her part the queen favoured not only the reformed religion, but also the reformers, and, therefore, by extension, university men. She had already, or was subsequently, to call upon Cambridge dons to educate the children of the royal household that she had inherited from her predecessors.20First William Grindal, the pupil of Roger Ascham, and after Grindal's death in 1548 Roger Ascham himself, became tutors to Princess Elizabeth.21 John Cheke was summoned to Court as tutor to Prince Edward. Informally, the university had jointly appealed not only to Smith, but also to his close friend, Cheke.22 It was Cheke who had been appointed as the first Regius Professor of Greek, in 1540, and it was Cheke who was the inspiring tutor to many men who subsequently went on to influential positions in public life.23

In the immediate circumstances of 1545-6 the invocation of the influence of the university men about the Court was remarkably successful. The university had asked Paget that the proposed enquiry into the revenues and expenditure of the colleges should not be consigned to 'such as know better quid pecunia solet facere quam quo in loco doctrina debet esse [what money is accustomed to do than where learning should reign] but to such as can rightly esteem both'.24The outcome of this and similar requests was the appointment of a commission consisting of Matthew Parker, John Redman and William Mey.25

At the same time Richard Cox was appointed sole commissioner for the University of Oxford.26They were all men high in royal favour; like Cromwell's commissioners, they were the king's men. But they were also, and much more, leaders of the Oxford and Cambridge establishment; and Cox was head of Henry III's own college, soon to become Christ Church. They were also beneficiaries of the new cathedral establishment. Between 1538 and 1542 all the ex-monastic cathedral chapters were refounded as secular chapters, and among other refoundations, most notably, Westminster Abbey acquired a dean and chapter who enjoyed all the privileges of a royal peculiar long since usurped by the abbot and monks.27 Among the canons of Ely might be found Richard Cox, archdeacon and canon from 1540 to 1553 (and later bishop), and Matthew Parker and William Mey, canons from 1541 to 1554.28 Among the first canons of Westminster was John Redman (1540-51), who as warden of the King's Hall had a privileged role in the Chapel Royal.29William Mey was to be dean of St Paul's from 1545 to 1554 - and briefly again in 1559-60.30

At the time Parker was the newly elected master of Corpus, and had just been elected vice-chancellor as successor, and under the sponsorship, of Thomas Smith.31Neither was Parker innocent of the workings of the Court. In 1535 he had been appointed chaplain to Anne Boleyn, and through her patronage had become dean of the collegiate church of Stoke-by-Clare in Suffolk. His revival of the school at Clare appears to have provided one of the grounds for the recommendation - supposedly from the king - that Corpus elect him as its master.32

William Mey was a pluralist, a civil servant and an expert lawyer, notionally (as academic lawyers had to be) a civil or Roman lawyer, but in practice also an expert on canon law: he was appointed to the commission to reform ecclesiastical laws in the same year, 1546, that he was appointed to the Cambridge commission. His civilian training helped to prepare him also for diplomatic service; and again during 1546 he was dispatched with Sir William Petre on a diplomatic mission to France. Petre described his colleague as 'a man of the most honest sort, wise, discrete, and well lernyd, and one that shall be very mete to sarve his Majestie many wayes'.33 The most senior commissioner was John Redman, warden of the King's Hall, itself a part of the Chapel Royal, though located in Cambridge. He had been public orator in 1537, was twice Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, and a royal chaplain. He was a noted Greek scholar, who as Lady Margaret's Professor had espoused the cause of the new pronunciation of Greek, in alliance with Cheke: Cheke and Smith were his disciples. He was a relatively conservative figure among the reformers, although he repented on his deathbed in 1551, under Edward Ⅵ, of having striven against justification by faith alone, and revised his views on the Eucharist. But among the commissioners he was the supreme beneficiary and the most revolutionary. He was, as Patrick Collinson has said, 'in reality the true founder of Trinity'. Under his influence his own King's Hall (already the largest college in Cambridge and long dedicated to the Trinity) was converted by Henry III into a yet larger college, mopping up Michaelhouse and Physwick Hostel (hitherto a wholly owned subsidiary of Gonville Hall) in the process - along with an ample store of monastic and other ecclesiastical loot.34 His most notable acquisition was the lion's share in the prebend of Masham in York Minster, reckoned the most valuable prebend in England (Redman had evidently studied the Valor), and previously dedicated to the support of cardinals.35 Redman has a right to be considered the most underrated master of intrigue of Tudor England.

Certainly the benefits of having university men in government were evident in the report of the commission. The poverty of the colleges was recorded, as was the inadequacy of their revenues to meet their expenditure. Parker and the other commissioners presented the report to the king at Hampton Court, in the presence of a number of courtiers. Henry expressed surprise at their findings and avowed that he 'thought he had not in his realme so many persons so honestly maynteyned in lyvyng bi so little lond and rent'. Therefore, he thought it unreasonable that their lands should be exchanged for worse.36 Parker wrote that at this remark some courtiers 'were grieved, for that they disappointed lupos quosdam hiantes [wolves with their mouths wide open]'.37 However, the king had not fully removed the threat, by saying merely that he would not press the colleges to exchange their lands.38

The successful campaign mounted in opposition to the threat posed by the Chantries Act of 1545 has a fourfold importance. First, it helped to preserve the colleges - in every sense the most vital parts of the new type of university that was emerging during the course of the sixteenth century. If the colleges had been plundered and emasculated the university might still have expanded during the second half of the century but it would have been a very different institution from the one that did emerge. Second, it demonstrates the extent to which university men, and particularly those of a reformist disposition, had infiltrated the Court in pursuit of their aims. It also demonstrates that they could wield effective influence on behalf of the universities even against the interests of a more traditional type of courtier. Third, it indicates the increasing dependence of the government on university-trained men. Perhaps inevitably this was combined among those about the Court with an increased familiarity with the affairs of the universities. As events on this occasion demonstrated, but not for the last time, familiarity might bring benefits and influence, but it also had its dangers. Finally, from the viewpoint of Cambridge it confirmed within the university an understanding of the benefits that might accrue from access to suitable patrons at Court. This was a lesson that was not lost, either on the institution, or on many of the individuals within it. In this the university was partaking in the wider elaboration of the patron-client system at this time: a system of patrimonial patronage that was the concomitant of an emergent system of curial politics.39

A further set of events during 1545-7 emphasised the potential threat to the university during a period of political and religious upheaval, and the virtues of influential connections at Court.

There was perennial conflict between the authorities of the university and the town of Cambridge and these were to continue well into the seventeenth century.40 In the 1540s 'the townsmen of Cambridge began now to hope their time come, to cast off the yoke (as they counted it) of the University, as if on the alteration of religion the ancient privileges of scholars should be abolished, under the notion of superstition'.41A minor dispute over the appropriation of 'an ambling nag' belonging to the master of Peterhouse was blown up into an issue of principle. Further disputes arose over the conduct of Stourbridge Fair, and the university's prisoners, malefactors taken at the fair, were liberated by the mayor's son. These petty disputes prompted Roger Ascham, the Orator, to appeal to the patrons of the university at the heart of government. Ascham 'belettered all the Lords of the privy council', and amongst the rest Sir Thomas Wriothesley the lord chancellor of England,42 whom 'the University partly commandeth as once a member, partly requesteth as now a patron thereof'. The 'belettering' also encompassed some gentlemen of the king's bedchamber. In itself this is an indication of how far university men such as Ascham were up-to-date with the configuration of politics at the centre. For we now know the extent to which the privy chamber (in referring to the 'bedchamber' Fuller was using a later term) had become a centre of power in the Henrician Court.43 To round off the drubbing given to their municipal neighbours the university procured the confirmation of its privileges in the following parliament.44

The significance of the outcome of these events needs to be judged within the broader context. It was not only in Cambridge that municipal authorities saw the upheavals precipitated by religious changes in the 1530s and 1540s as an opportunity to outwit their neighbours. In many English towns independent religious or quasi-religious corporations occupied substantial parts of the townscape and often affronted the civic dignity with their immunities, privileges and ceremonial. These 'corporations within corporations' not only took the obvious form of cathedral closes within towns that were episcopal seats. In many cities there were also extensive areas occupied by friaries, hospitals and secular colleges. In some towns substantial numbers of properties were owned by religious bodies and rented out as a source of income.45The equivalent in Cambridge were the colleges and the readily associated institutions of the regulars, the monks, nuns, canons and friars.46 Because they represented liberties within the framework of municipal corporations disputes often arose over the issue of boundaries and jurisdiction. The dispute over miscreants at Stourbridge can be seen as one instance of this type of dispute. In short, religious institutions within towns were often a running sore for their host municipalities. In this broader context it is illuminating to contrast what happened at Cambridge with what happened some 60 miles away at Norwich.47 There, in 1517, Cardinal Wolsey had enforced a settlement between the monks at the cathedral and the city. However, in the 1540s, with the monastic cathedral dissolved the city was able substantially to reverse this decision. Moreover, with the dissolution of the friaries this decade saw the opening up of vast tracts of the townscape. At the same time the city effectively municipalised those former religious institutions such as the Great Hospital and the school the services of which they appreciated. They also acquired the former Blackfriars as a new municipal hall. What formerly had probably been part of an episcopal crozier was refashioned as a municipal mace. In most of this it is possible to detect the doings of Alderman Augustine Steward, the 'Mr Fixit' of Henrician Norwich and a man with all the right connections. The municipal leaders of Cambridge simply were not in the same league. But the difference between what happened in a place like Norwich and what happened in Cambridge was not simply a question of differing municipal status or the presence or otherwise of personal acumen on the part of municipal leaders. It is also both a measure of how far the universities had already acquired a special status within the Tudor state and an indicator of much that was to come. By the 1540s, municipal Cambridge faced formidable opponents in the persons of academics in high places and with connections in high places. And however much contemporaries may have seen the colleges as simply another type of religious institution ripe for the picking, by the time that the Cambridge burghers reached for the promised fruit, they had it whisked from their hands. Not least this was because the university and university men had begun to play a role that they were to fulfil for decades to come as apparatchiks of the Tudor state. In the crisis surrounding Henry's divorce the early modern equivalent of ideology was suddenly important. As we have seen, it was the new humanist scholars from the universities, who were sent scuttling around Europe whipping up support. It was the same men who concocted the footnoted justifications that Henry required. When he sat there at Hampton Court listening to the apologia from the universities, no doubt Henry would have liked to gratify his importunate courtiers; but by then he had learned the lesson that these pendants could be useful: better leave them their paltry manors and the lead on the roofs of their college halls.

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

List of illustrations; General editor's preface; Preface; 1. Cambridge saved; 2. The buildings of Cambridge; 3. The constitutional revolution of the 1570s; 4. Cambridge University and the state; 5. Cambridge and parliament; 6. Cambridge and 'the country'; 7. A local habitation: gownsmen and townsmen; 8. Heads, leases and masters' lodges; 9. Tutors and students; 10. The electoral scene in a culture of patronage; 11. The electoral scene and the court: royal mandates 1558-1640; 12 Learning and doctrine, 1550-1660; 13. Cambridge and the puritan revolution; 14. Cambridge and the scientific revolution; 15. The syllabus, religion and politics, 1660-1750; 16. Epilogue; Bibliographical references.

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