British Universities

British Universities

British Universities

British Universities

Excerpt

In the Middle Ages the fame of Oxford had clearly outshone that of Cambridge; by the time of the Elizabethan settlement, however, Cambridge was in the stronger position. She had championed the reformed religion and suffered less than Oxford by the withdrawal of Catholic scholars; but even more important was the fact that William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, the Queen's secretary and afterwards Lord High Treasurer, was Chancellor of the university for forty years of her reign. Oxford's Chancellor in the same period was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whose administration was "less dishonest and more statesmanlike than might have been expected of so profligate a politician." Both universities (Oxford in 1571 and Cambridge in 1573) received charters of incorporation and all undergraduates over the age of sixteen were required to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles and the Royal Supremacy. While the fiercest period of theological turmoil was past, the Reformation had left many legacies of controversy. At Oxford, Leicester was active in taking measures against suspected Papists; at Cambridge stout objection was raised by Puritan colleges to the Queen's insistence on surplices and on Latin prayers in college chapels. For a time, the work of the great humanists, of Grocyn and Linacre at Oxford, of Ascham and Cheke at Cambridge, seemed in danger of being silenced in the storm of sectarian dissension such as arose over the stubborn Puritanism of Thomas Cartwright and the strong measures taken against him by Whitgift. "No more ado about caps and surplices," wrote Gabriel Harvey to Spenser in 1580. "Mr. Cartwright quite forgotten."

One notable contrast between the Tudor and the medieval university was the rise to power of the colleges as the dominant instrument of academic authority. With the end of the scholastic system there had come a natural decline of the 'common schools' of the university and instruction remained more and more in the hands of college tutors. The personnel of undergraduates had also undergone a change. In the medieval university the undergraduate had been either a member of one of the religious orders living in a religious house or a resident in a college or hostel training to be a secular priest; and the majority of them had been poor men and the sons of poor men.

In 1547, on the other hand, we find Ascham complaining that most of those who came up to the university were the sons of wealthy parents and two years later Latimer, in a sermon preached before the King, declared: "There be none now but great men's sons in colleges and their fathers look not to have them preachers." In fact, poor men have always constituted a solid part of the undergraduate population, but it was from the Tudor period onwards that the notion of social prestige came to be associated with residence in one of the ancient universities.

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