A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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CORPUS CHRISTI COLLEGE
The College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary (fn. 1) is unique among Cambridge colleges in the circumstances of its foundation. It came into being in the 14th century as a result of the generous desire of one of the most flourishing of Cambridge guilds, the Guild of Corpus Christi, to establish an institution in which persons might be trained in academical learning and fitted to make 'supplications to God for the souls of every one of the Fraternity as he departed out of this life'. (fn. 2) Shortly after it had made this resolve the guild united with another similar society, the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Their joint efforts and resources enabled the building of the College to begin, and Henry, Duke of Lancaster, who consented to become alderman of the united guild, secured a royal licence for the new foundation. It is from 1352, the year in which this licence was granted, that the foundation of the College officially dates. Alone among Cambridge colleges it was the creation of a corporate body; and the connexion of parent and child was so close that the College can claim a continuous history with religious guilds, the existence of one of which, the Guild of St. Mary, can be traced back at least as far as 1285. (fn. 3)
The Guild of Corpus Christi appears to have been housed near St. Bene't's churchyard and it was on a square piece of ground adjoining the south side of the churchyard that the first buildings of its College arose. Brethren who had houses in Luthburne, now Free School Lane, pulled them down to make room for the new foundation, and two neighbouring hostels, the 'Long Entry' and the Hostel of the Holy Cross, were acquired by exchange of property with Gonville Hall. Gradually during the next two centuries the greater part was acquired of the existing site, between the churches of St. Bene't and St. Botolph to north and south and between Free School Lane and Trumpington Street to east and west; and though there were frequent exchanges or sales of property in other parts of Cambridge this land was always carefully preserved as the proper area for the improvement and development of what its alumni came affectionately to call 'the Old House'.
Endowments and Property.
The original endowments of the College were inadequate to support more than a Master and two fellows, but the numbers speedily increased as the result of various benefactions of the 14th century. The guildsmen took a lively interest in the fortunes of their nursling. It was natural that, largely through their generosity, the advowson of St. Bene't's church, in which they held their services, should be the first to be purchased for the College; indeed the College was so closely connected with St. Bene't's that for some 350 years it was commonly known as Bene't College. The exchange of property with Gonville Hall, already mentioned, also secured for the College the advowson of St. Botolph's, which was sold to Queens' in 1460. Other important 14th-century acquisitions were the manors of Barton, St. Andrew's Chatteris, and Landbeach, together with the advowson of the last-named, and the advowson of Grantchester.
The next two centuries saw the purchase of two more Cambridgeshire manors, Over and Ricottes, and of the advowson of Little Wilbraham; while Archbishop Parker presented that of St. Mary Abchurch in the City of London, which after the Great Fire was united with that of St. Laurence Pountney. In 1706 another Corpus Archbishop of Canterbury added to his gift of the living of Stalbridge (Dors.) the rectory of Duxford St. Peter which was sold to Clare College in 1868. In 1719 Dr. Thomas Tooke bequeathed the two Essex livings of Lambourne and Great Braxted, and in the preceding year the two Norfolk advowsons of Thurning and Fulmodestoncum-Croxton were acquired by purchase. There were no further additions to the College patronage until the 20th century when the livings of Norton (Derb.), Ashingdon with South Fambridge (Essex), and Rockland All Saints with St. Andrew (Norf.) were obtained by gift, and that of Strensham (Worcs.) was purchased with the Strensham estate. (fn. 4)
These centuries also witnessed several additions to the College's landed property. In 1687 the then Master, Dr. John Spencer, gave the manor of Elmington (Northants.), which was sold in 1929. In 1789 the Holton Hall estate (Norf.) was bought with money bequeathed for the purpose by another Master, Dr. Matthias Mawson, and in 1833 Norwood Farm near March was purchased as a result of an exchange with Pembroke College. During the next 100 years there were few changes, but after 1930 political and economic uncertainty led to many transactions in land, which came increasingly to be regarded as one of the soundest investments. Thus in 1936 the College bought the Strensham estate of 2,280 acres in Worcestershire, but sold it in 1950, 600 acres of the Upton estate near Banbury, of which it disposed in 1944, and, in 1939, the Spridlington and West Firsby (Lincs.) estates of 1,900 acres, which were sold in 1954. The most recent purchases have above all been of good arable and pasture land in eastern England, notably the Bury Farm at Stapleford, in 1935, other Lincolnshire farms bought between 1941 and 1955 but subsequently sold, and two fenland farms near Whittlesey, in 1947 and 1948. Mention must also be made of the 900-acre Boulge Hall estate (Suff.), at one time the home of Edward Fitzgerald, bought in 1946 and sold in 1953.
Statutes and Constitution.
For a brief time the College was governed by rules drawn up by the alderman and brethren of the guild. The first formal statutes, officially adopted in 1356, appear to have been modelled on those drawn up by the founder of Michaelhouse 30 years before. All scholars, or fellows, were required to be in priest's orders, to have lectured in arts or philosophy, or at least to have been students (Bacalarii) of arts or of canon or civil law, though the study of canon law was not to be pursued by more than four of them. They were to obey the Master in all things; and Master, scholars, and chaplains were to keep common table and to wear like dress, for which they were to receive so many marks a year according to their degree. The statutes dealt with the salaries, and with the election, resignation, or expulsion of members of the society. They laid down the duties and wages of the College servants. They provided for annual supervision of the College by the Chancellor in spiritual matters and by the alderman of the guild and six brethren in matters temporal. They imposed the duty to say mass at St. Botolph's or St. Bene't's on feast days and to be present at all funerals of brothers and sisters of the guild. They declared that charters must be kept in a common chest to which there should be three keys, one kept by the Master, another by one of the chaplains, and the third and chief by the alderman of the guild.
These statutes remained in force until 1544 when they were redrafted and amended by Matthew Parker, then Master, with the aid of Dr. William May. The new draft after various further revisions and corrections was finally approved by Queen Elizabeth I's visitors in 1573. The guild had long since ceased to exist, probably early in Richard II's reign, and so its officers had no place in the new constitution. This provided for the maintenance of a Master, or keeper, 8 fellows or scholars, 2 Bible-clerks, 6 poor scholars, 1 butler, 1 manciple, and 2 cooks. But the number of fellows, Bible-clerks, and poor scholars might be increased or diminished according as the society saw fit. There followed detailed regulations for the election of Master and fellows, their duties and the oaths they were to take on admission. Within three years of his election the Master must, if he had it not already, proceed to the degree of bachelor of theology, and half or a third of the fellows were required to be ordained. The Master was to reside three months during the year, no fellow was to be absent for more than 65 days, no scholar for more than a month, unless for grave cause. Rooms were to be allotted by the Master, and Latin was to be spoken in hall. Strict rules were laid down for keeping accounts, and the keys of the common chest were henceforth to be kept by the Master and two fellows chosen by the society.
This constitution endured until 1861 when a new set of Latin statutes was approved by the Queen in Council. They abolished the restriction by which certain fellowships were confined to Norfolk men and they relaxed the obligations to take orders; simultaneous supplemental statutes in English modified the conditions under which numerous close scholarships were offered so as to bring them into relation with the altered value of money. The appointment of a new statutory commission for university and college reform led to further and more sweeping changes which were incorporated in the English statutes of 1881. Fellows were no longer required to remain celibate or to take orders within a certain time, and provision was made for the reservation of one fellowship for a University professor and for the creation of honorary fellows, should the College so desire. These statutes were supplemented by those of 1921, which created a class of non-resident fellowships for members of the College who had dis- tinguished themselves academically, but for whom no resident fellowships were available. The 1881 statutes were however shortly afterwards replaced by those made by the statutory commissioners in 1925. Substantially these statutes were still in operation in 1955. The main changes which they introduced were the imposition of a retiring age upon the Master and all administrative and teaching officers of the College; the reservation of a certain number of fellowships for teaching officers of the University; the creation of a new category of fellowships known as research fellowships; and the power given and exercised to create an executive body or committee of the governing body, which, composed of the Master and the main teaching and administrative officers, would transact the principal business of the College on behalf of and instead of the governing body. Since the Second World War, however, a certain amount of business has been returned to the governing body.
Until the 19th century the main building of the College consisted of what is now known as the Old Court. (fn. 5) Its construction was begun before 1352 and appears to have been completed by 1378. It can claim to have been the 'first originally planned close quadrangle in Cambridge': on the south were the Master's Lodge, the hall, butteries, and kitchen; on the other three sides chambers, built on two floors, above which attic rooms were later added. The entry on the north side was exceedingly unpretentious, through a plain archway, which was approached by a passage adjacent to St. Bene't's churchyard. During the first century of its existence the College must have been a primitive and uncomfortable place. The outside wall had no buttresses or parapets; the inside ones were bare of plaster; the windows were largely unglazed; and the ground floors were of clay, and the first-floor rooms open to the roof. Towards the close of the 15th century, however, there began a period in which much was done to improve the amenities. First, the munificence of Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk, enabled the court to be buttressed. Then about 1500 Dr. Cosyn, the Master, built the gallery which connects the court with St. Bene't's Church. In the mid-16th century, when Matthew Parker was Master, another gallery was constructed as an extension of the Master's Lodge; this was a handsome building, with a covered walk underneath, projecting into the Master's garden to the south of the lodge. The great increase of numbers in the second half of this century necessitated the conversion of the old tennis court into a pensionary for undergraduates not on the foundation and the erection, begun in 1579, of a new chapel, with a library room above it, to the south of the Master's gallery.
After a lean period in the fortunes of the society during the early part of the 17th century prospects began to revive, and in the time of Dr. Walsall (1618–26) the College could hope that a benefactor might come forward and build a second court. But this pious hope was not to be realized for 200 years. In the 17th century funds were too low to permit of any considerable building enterprise, while 18thcentury projects, which included plans for the complete rebuilding of the College in a classical style, failed to mature. It was not until 1823, under the rule of Dr. John Lamb, that the construction of the present neo-Gothic New Court was begun. The design of the architect, Wilkins (who at his wish lies buried in the new chapel and who was also the architect of the National Gallery, of Downing College, and of other college buildings in Cambridge) and the needs of the society unfortunately necessitated the destruction of the Elizabethan chapel and the Master's gallery. They also resulted in the loss of the fellows' garden. A new garden was later laid out on land adjoining Sidgwick Avenue, and remained in the possession of the College until 1948, when it was sold to the University. Completed in 1827, the New Court provided the College with a new main entrance on Trumpington Street, with a spacious new hall, a new library, and a new Master's Lodge, as well as a new chapel, which had to be extended eastwards in 1869. In the present century accommodation in College has been further increased by the addition of attic rooms above three sides of the New Court, the reconstruction of the stable yard, and the incorporation of chambers above the Westminster Bank and of houses belonging to the college in Corpus Buildings on Trumpington Street.
The close connexion of the College with St. Bene't's Church had for a long time rendered the construction of a separate chapel unnecessary. But in the time of Dr. Cosyn, Master 1478–1515, an upper and lower chapel were built on the south side of the church and connected with the College by a long narrow gallery. The lower chapel is the present vestry of St. Bene't's Church. The room above it, now a fellow's bedroom, appears to have been used as a lecture room as well as a private chapel These rooms seem to have served until 1579 when the generosity of Sir Nicholas Bacon, a former member of the College, enabled a separate and more spacious College chapel to be built south of the Master's gallery virtually on the site of the existing chapel. Much of the stone used for the building came from Thorney Abbey and Barnwell Priory, and Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake were amongst those who contributed to its construction.
The College has produced many men who have played a notable part in the life of the Church, and as a religious foundation it has naturally been affected by the great crises of the Church's history. In 1535 the policy of Henry VIII brought to an end the most spectacular of the annual events in the religious life of the College, the Corpus Christi Day procession, when the Master 'in a silk cope under a canopy, carrying the host in the pix, or rich box of silver-gilt', (fn. 6) proceeded through the town, the alderman and elder brethren of the guild, so long as that existed, going in front, and the Vice-Chancellor, university men, Mayor and burgesses following after. But in William Sowode and his successor, Matthew Parker, the College had Masters sympathetic to the new ideas, and Parker especially, who had been an undergraduate and fellow of the College, was, as will be seen, to bring it immense benefits.
The Marian reaction forced Parker to retire from the Mastership and two members of the society were deprived of their fellowships in 1553. In 1557 there appear to have been only five fellows. With the accession of Elizabeth I, however, the fortunes of the college revived. Parker became Archbishop of Canterbury and among numerous benefactions endowed four new fellowships and several scholarships. (fn. 7) Some years later a Puritan party arose in the College, headed by Aldrich, the Master, who referred to Parker as 'Pope of Lambeth and of Bene't College' and was eventually forced to resign for refusing to observe certain College statutes. Several Corpus men opposed the practices of the Elizabethan church; Robert Browne became the father of congregationalism, and other members 'drifted off into heresy, like Francis Kett, or into atheism, like Christopher Marlowe'; (fn. 8) while Dr. Benjamin Carrier, Archbishop Whitgift's chaplain, was not alone in turning papist.
The Civil Wars of the 17th century had less effect on Corpus than on more high-church colleges. The fellows were, in July 1643, granted general leave of absence owing to the confusion of affairs, and the College plate was distributed amongst them for safety, and concealed. Soon afterwards the Earl of Manchester, as Chancellor, was commissioned by Parliament to reform the University, and two fellows who refused to obey his summons were ejected. The Master and the rest of the society appear, however, to have conformed to the new regulations and it is significant that when the Puritan iconoclast William Dowsing visited Bene't College he found 'nothing to amend', whereas a report drawn up earlier for Laud had referred to the long psalm singing and the reverence of the College services. In St. Bene't's Church, on the other hand, Dowsing worked considerable damage. Later six fellows were removed by the Commonwealth's visitors because of their refusal to subscribe to the Engagement required by the Independents. But Dr. Love, Master since 1632, contrived to keep his place at the Restoration, and his successor, Peter Gunning, was one of the most famous of the Restoration divines. The reign of James II led to a last stirring incident. 'It was feared lest both the College and their MSS. might fall into the hands of papists' and at the Revolution of 1688 a Cambridge mob broke into the College and sacked the rooms of the bursar who was suspected of Roman Catholicism. (fn. 9) After this there were no more such 'Popish' associations. In Archbishops Tenison and Herring the College produced two stalwart champions of the protestant succession and many members of the society enjoyed Whig patronage and preferment between 1700 and 1840. Tenison was one of the original members of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; and a later fellow, John Owen, became one of the founders of the British and Foreign Bible Society. By 1860 the College had become an Evangelical stronghold, and the Evangelical connexion continued for the rest of the 19th century. In 1887, following the example of Clare and St. John's, members of the College established a mission in the parish of Christ Church, Old Kent Road, in south-east London. In 1956 the Mission area and buildings were handed over to the diocese of Southwark.
As has been said, the circumstances of its foundation gave the College an exceptionally close connexion with the citizens of Cambridge. But this was not always a blessing, and on certain occasions led to sharp encounters. The generosity of guildsmen to their infant College was not appreciated by the townsmen of 1381 who seem to have regarded Corpus as too exacting a landlord. Accordingly on the Saturday after the Feast of Corpus Christi, the bailiffs and commonalty, having assembled in the Tolbooth and chosen James of Granchester as their captain, marched on the College, broke in, and 'traitorously carried away the Charters, Writings and Muniments with the Jewels and other Goods of the same College'. They then did considerable damage in other parts of the town.
The abolition of the Corpus Christi procession under Henry VIII was also an occasion of friction, for after the procession it had been customary for the College to provide a dinner in hall for the townsmen who had taken part. The College gave up the dinner with the procession, much to the indignation of the townsmen who claimed it as their due and threatened to take back the houses belonging to the College which had originally been townsmen's property. But royal commissioners confirmed the possessions of the College; the townsmen 'both hungry and angry at the loss both of their dinner and houses, were fain to desist'. (fn. 10)
More agreeable to record is the close co-operation between the Mayor and Dr. Butts, Master of Corpus Christi and Vice-Chancellor, nearly 100 years later at the time of the terrible outbreak of plague. Dr. Butts described himself at this time as 'alone, a destitute and forsaken man; not a Scholler with me in the college, not a Scholler seen by me without'. (fn. 11) His efforts to relieve suffering and check the epidemic were successful, but there can be little doubt that the experience affected his mind, and on Easter Sunday in the following year, 1632, he was found hanging in the lodge. In 1665 when there was another outbreak of plague the College was again almost emptied save for one fellow, two scholars, and a few servants.
In more normal times increase in accommodation or decay of reputation might lead to considerable fluctuations in numbers. Thus in 1564 the society appears to have numbered 32 all told, but ten years later it could boast of more than 90 members, 13 fellows, 20 scholars, 4 Bible-clerks, and 54 pensioners. A striking later fluctuation is shown by the University Calendar list of pensioners and sizars for the 20 years preceding the First World War; in 1894 there were 100 pensioners and sizars listed; five years later the number had fallen to 69, and in 1903 it reached the nadir of 36; by 1914 the situation had improved and 67 pensioners appeared on the roll. Since then it has expanded like most other colleges; in 1935 and 1936 there were nearly 170 undergraduates and B.A.s in residence, and in 1951 the number had increased to 237, including research students. Wilkins's hall was filled to its utmost capacity. Yet during most of its existence Corpus has been one of the smallest of Cambridge colleges, and it is likely to remain so.
Amongst notable members of the College in the 16th century were the martyrs Thomas Dusgate and George Wishart, the translator of the Bible, Richard Taverner, the circumnavigator of the globe, Thomas Cavendish, and two dramatists, Christopher Marlowe and John Fletcher. Nearly a hundred years later the College was ruled by Dr. John Spencer who has a good claim to be called the father of studies in comparative religion. In the 18th century it produced Stephen Hales, the botanist and physiologist, and a group of men whom a brother antiquary, William Cole, dubbed the 'Benedictine Antiquaries'. Of these one was Richard Gough, another Robert Masters, who wrote the history of the College, the first separately printed history of a College in English, and a third, the most celebrated of the group, 'the Arch-Druid of the Old House', Dr. William Stukeley. In the 19th century there were, amongst others, Edward Byles Cowell, Professor of Sanskrit, a scholar of great eminence, who taught Fitzgerald his Persian, and Horace Avory, who became a noted judge of the High Court.
The original statutes made no mention of a library or librarian, but there are early records of gifts of books, and in 1376 John Botener, a fellow, compiled the first inventory of volumes in possession of the College, mostly theological and legal works. A later catalogue mentions amongst other items 'a Bible which Master John Kynne, third Master of the College, bought at Northampton at the time (1380) when the Parliament was there, for the purpose of reading therefrom in the hall at the time of dinner'. Until the 16th century the books were housed in a first-floor room adjoining the Master's Lodge; then an additional room was built for them over the kitchens, and later still, when a chapel was erected in 1579, a new and more spacious library was constructed above it. This was all the more necessary since the College had lately become possessed of what is still one of its chief glories, the bulk of the magnificent collection of manuscripts and early printed books formed by Archbishop Parker, treasures concerned largely with the history of the English Church, and many of them salvaged from the wreck of dissolved monasteries. The deed of gift made elaborate provisions for the safe keeping of this valuable bequest. The collection was to be kept under three locks, the keys of which were to be in the hands of the Master and two fellows. Moreover, the Masters of Gonville and Caius and of Trinity Hall were to make an annual inspection and were empowered to inflict fines for the loss of sheets from manuscripts or of whole manuscripts or books. Further, 'if six MSS. in folio, eight in quarto, and twelve in a lesser size, should at any time be lost through supine negligence, and not restored within six months, then with the consent of the ViceChancellor and one senior doctor, not only all the books but likewise all the plate he gave shall be forfeited and surrendered up to Gonville and Caius College within a month following. And if they should afterwards be guilty of the like neglect, they are then to be delivered over to Trinity Hall, and in case of their default, he appoints them to revert back in the former order.' In 1827 the Parker books, together with the rest of the College library, were transferred to their present home in the New Court.
Among the more notable of the Parker manuscripts may be mentioned the 6th-century Canterbury Gospels, believed to have been given by Pope Gregory the Great to St. Augustine, the most important manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, and nearly 40 other volumes in Anglo-Saxon, a magnificently illuminated Bible from Bury St. Edmunds, 'probably the finest English book of the 12th century', Matthew Paris's own illustrated copy of his history, Prudentius's Psychomachia with remarkable Saxon drawings, a splendid 14th-century psalter from Peterborough, and a considerable collection of correspondence of most of the notable leaders of the English Reformation. In addition to the Parker manuscripts the library contains 39 manuscripts from the Brigittine monastery of Elbing near Danzig, (fn. 12) Sir Edwyn Hoskyns's collection of Coptic papyri fragments, a large number of valuable early printed books, many of them the gift of Archbishop Parker, and the collection of Greek and Roman coins, rings, engraved gems, and vases formed by the Rev. Samuel Savage Lewis, librarian from 1870 to 1891.
The following pictures are the most worthy of mention: (fn. 13) A copy of Raphael's 'School of Athens' attributed to N. Poussin, in the old combination room; Erasmus, and Colet, in the Master's Lodge; Mr. Justice Avory, honorary fellow, 1912–35, by C. Winzer, in the new combination room; and Matthew Parker, Richard Love, Master 1632–60, by D. Mytens, John Duncombe, by Joseph Highmore (1766), William Colman, Master 1778–94, by Romney, John Lamb, Master 1822–50, by Sir William Beechey, and a fine recently discovered Elizabethan portrait of an unknown young man (perhaps Christopher Marlowe), all in the hall.
In spite of the perils of civil war and of considerable sales in the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as the burglary of nearly all the communion silver in 1693, the College has an exceptionally fine collection of early English plate. (fn. 14) For part, but by no means all, it is indebted to Archbishop Parker. The following are the most notable pieces: Drinkinghorn said to have been presented to the Guild of Corpus Christi in 1347 by John Goldcorne, alderman of the guild, and still used at feasts (this is the earliest piece of plate surviving in the University); a late-14th-century Swan mazer, with a clever device to prevent its being filled too full; a 15th-century coconut cup; the Cup of the Three Kings, a late-15thcentury mazer with exceptionally fine mountings; two early-15th-century mazers; a silver-gilt ewer and dish, 1545–6, 'the earliest form of silver ewer in England, where its introduction was in all probability due to Hans Holbein the Younger'. This and the next three items were gifts from Archbishop Parker; a standing silver-gilt salt and cover, 1563; a set of 13 apostle spoons, 1566–7, except one dated from 1515– 16; a standing silver-gilt cup and cover, 1570; an ostrich-egg cup with a wooden case, covered with stamped leather (the silver mounting dates from 1593, but it is possible that the egg, which has been broken, is the egg of a cup given by Henry Tangmer in 1342 to the Guild of Corpus Christi to be used as a pyx). It was this cup which was carried in the Corpus Christi Day procession and known as the 'Gripe's Eye' (Griffin's Egg). The Neame Cup, presented by Mrs. Neame in 1935, although not strictly a piece of plate, is worthy of mention as the earliest known wooden standing cup. The inscription and arms in colour on the underside of the base show that it was given by Archbishop Parker's son John perhaps to Queen Elizabeth I not earlier than 1572.
Each of the two guilds had its own seal but no impression of the Guild of Corpus Christi's seal survives. When the guilds united to found the College they adopted a common seal which displayed the arms of both, that of Corpus Christi containing the instruments of the Passion, that of St. Mary showing the triangular verbal emblem of the Trinity. Above the shields is depicted the coronation of the Virgin, below a group of people, two of whom are dedicating a building which presumably represents the infant College. This seal is still in use, but it has not always been used exclusively. The first master, Thomas de Eltisle, had a semi-public seal which was sometimes used and was handed down to his successors. It closely resembled the original seal of the Guild of St. Mary. In the reign of Elizabeth I Matthew Parker obtained a new coat of arms for the College, but there was no change in the common seal, a replica of which was made in 1836.