I.2. College foundations in Oxford and Cambridge, 1249-1878

I.2. College foundations in Oxford and Cambridge, 1249-1878

The English pattern appears, at first sight, a striking exception to the rule.  England possessed two of the most ancient universities at the beginning of our period in 1400.  By the period in 1650, five universities had been established in Scotland (two of them in Aberdeen), and one in Ireland; but none had been added to the English total, nor were any more English universities founded before the nineteenth century. 

Yet even within this genuine case of English exceptionalism, the tempo at which individual colleges were founded within Oxford and Cambridge conforms to the broader European trend.  The pace of foundations, steady throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, nearly doubled within the sixteenth century, when thirteen colleges were founded; yet in the second quarter of the seventeenth century this surge came to an abrupt end. In Cambridge, two full centuries separated the establishments of Sidney Sussex in 1596 and Downing in 1800. In Oxford, during the even longer interval between the between the foundations of Pembroke 1624 and Keble 1870, the only two foundations were in fact re-foundations.*  It is not entirely misleading to think of Oxford and Cambridge as clusters of collegiate institutions not dissimilar in size to some of the smaller universities in the congested academic landscape of central Europe.

* In 1714, Gloucester Hall (founded in 1283) became Worcester College. In 1740, Hart Hall (dating from the 1280s) became Hertford College; but after this was dissolved in in 1816, Magdalen Hall (founded around 1490) occupied the site, eventually resurrecting the name of Hertford College as well in 1874.

Credits: Howard Hotson (October 2017)