The Bodleian and the King

The Bodleian and the King

​The association of the hierarchy of the five orders with the social and political hierarchy reached its apogee in the Tower of the Five Orders. The Tower of the Four Orders in Merton’s Fellows’ Quadrangle (1608-10) included a niche which was evidently intended to house a statue of King James. This intention was realised in the frontispiece in Wadham College (1610-13), in which the arms and statue of King James are found above those of the founders, Sir Nicholas and Lady Dorothy Wadham. Other Oxford colleges also joined the competition to display their loyalty to the king in this era: the oldest royal foundation, Oriel, although founded in 1324, proudly inscribed 'Regnante Carolo' ('during the reign of Charles I') on the central portico which capped the remodelling of the front quadrangle between 1620 and 1642 (while one of the two kings sculpted above is the college founder, Edward II, it is disputed whether the other one is Charles I or James I).  This affirmation of hierarchy was dramatically reinforced by the statue of King James in the fourth story of the Tower of the Five Orders

Anthony Wood, the University's great seventeenth-century historian, describes the origin and significance of this carving as follows [with commentary inserted in square brackets]: 

The effigies of King James was cut very curiously in stone, sitting in a throne and giving with his right hand a book to ... Fame [holding a bronze trumpet: see the contemporary monument for Sir Henry Savile], with this prescription on the cover: 'Haec habeo, quae scripsi' ['These things I have which I have written'], with his left hand he reacheth out another book to our mother, the University of Oxford, represented in effigy kneeling to the King [unlike the standing figure of Fame, the University displays her subjection to the king by kneeling] with this inscription 'Haec habeo, quae dedi' ['These things I have which I have given']. On the verge of the canopy over the throne and the King's head, which is also most admirably cut in stone, is his motto, 'Beati Pacifici' ['Blessed are the peacemakers'], over that also are the emblems of Justice, Peace and Plenty and underneath all this an inscription in golden letters [which can be translated as follows: In the reign of the Lord James, most learned, generous and best of kings, this massive tower was erected for the Muses, the library was assembled and whatever was previously lacking for the splendor of the universty was successfully planned, begun and completed. To God alone the glory.]

Not content with this lavish testimonial of esteem, the University originally went further still. As Wood's description continues, all of the statues 

were at first with great cost and splendour double gilt, but when King James came from Woodstock to see the quadrangular pile [probably in the summer of 1621] he commanded them (being so glorious and splendid that none, especially when the sun shined, could behold them) to be whitened over and adorned with ordinary colours, which hath since so continued.

Moreover, according to delegates for the building of the schools in 1623, the university had planned ‘the building of the great gate towards Brasenose’ (on the southern wing) where ‘the Kings armes [were] to be put above, and to stand very faire bosted out, put in collours and guilded, and two other armes in the two spandrells of the gate to bee set forth in collours and guilded’.*** The Quadrangle was thus originally intended as an even more emphatic statement of support for and subordination to the monarch than it is today.


* Wood, Annals of the University of Oxford, ed. Gutch (Oxford, 1796), ii. 793-4; quoted in C. Cole, ‘The Building of the Tower of Five Orders in the Schools’ Quadrangle at Oxford’, Oxoniensia, 33/1, (1968), 101-2.
** I. G. Philip, ‘A Forgotten Gate to the Schools Quadrangle’, Oxoniensia, 17-18/1, (1952-3), 186.

Credits. Brandan Powell-Josiah (third-year student, St Anne's College), Feb. 2021; Howard Hotson, March 2021.