A History of the University of Cambridge. Volume II: 1546-1750

By Taylor, Stephen | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2007 | Go to article overview

A History of the University of Cambridge. Volume II: 1546-1750


Taylor, Stephen, Anglican and Episcopal History


A History of the University of Cambridge. Volume II: 1546-1750. By Victor Morgan, with a contribution from Christopher Brooke. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, Pp. xxii, 613. $150.00.)

Between the Reformation and the middle of the nineteenth century it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the two English universities to the history of the church. The Church of England could, of course, be found everywhere-every square mile of England and Wales was part of a parish that possessed its own ordained minister. But anyone searching for a central institution that represented the church would have been hard pushed to identify one, especially when convocation, its "parliament," met only rarely. In the context of such institutional fragmentation, the universities could lay as great a claim as any other institution to represent the church. In 1683, indeed, the University of Oxford produced a decree that came as close as anything to a statement of Anglican theological orthodoxy since the Thirty-nine Articles, though it was soon rendered irrelevant by the Glorious Revolution. The universities were, as Victor Morgan reminds us, seen as "nurseries" or "seminaries," performing a series of interlocking roles: as centers of theological scholarship, as the source of a clergy fit to preach the Gospel throughout the land, and as the educators of a key section of the aristocracy and gentry. This volume, which completes the four-volume History of the University of Cambridge under the general editorship of Christopher Brooke, casts much new light upon these roles, since its dominant theme is the relationship between the university and the outside world. This is not to say that other themes are neglected: there is some fascinating material on constitutional changes within the university and on relations between college heads and their fellows; the declining intimacy between tutors and tiieir students is charted and explained; a couple of chapters elegantly pull together the limited surviving evidence to show us what was actually taught.

The core of the book, however, is the chapters contributed by Victor Morgan analyzing the relations of die university with the state, with parliament, and with "the country," by which he essentially means the provincial gentry. He argues that the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries witnessed the development of a particularly high degree of intimacy between the university and the wider world, which then declined in the latter part of the period covered by the volume. In the context of die working out of the revolutionary impact of the Reformation on English politics, religion, and society this probably appears unsurprising, but Morgan's account of the process is subtle and complex, revealing clearly the symbiotic nature of the relationship and, in the process, triumphantiy vindicating the practice of a sophisticated institutional history. The rapid growth of the colleges, for example, is linked to the development and significance of lay patronage, which, incidentally, helped to frustrate any ambitions that the state may have had to establish any form of doctrinal hegemony.

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