Higher education postcard: Pembroke College, Cambridge

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’s postbag takes us to a very old place indeed

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

Let us think, for a moment at least, of Marie de St Pol.

Born early in the 14th century, with 1303 being the most likely year, she was French nobility, born into the Châtillon family. Well connected, she was cousin to Charles, Duke of Brittany, and granddaughter to King Henry II of England. And when she was married in 1321 to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, both King Phillipe V of France and Edward III of England were involved in the negotiations. She was clearly destined to be a bit of a mover and shaker.

(Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, shared under a Creative Commons license)

Her marriage to Aylmer did not last long. He died in 1424, possibly in a jousting incident, but more likely from apoplexy or murder, leaving Marie to avoid being forced into marriage again/pursue a life of good works.

This included the foundation, in 1347, of Pembroke College. Or, to give it its proper title, The College or Hall of Valence Mary (commonly called Pembroke College) in the University of Cambridge. Valence, of course, comes from her husband Aymer’s name. Pembroke is the third oldest college of Cambridge University (behind Peterhouse and Clare), and as well as the licence from King Edward III, which was granted on Christmas Eve 1347, papal bulls were required (and were granted) in 1355 by Pope Innocent VI and in 1366 by Pope Urban V.

The initial college buildings are those around First Court on the card. Then, in the early 17th century, work began on what is now the Ivy Court; and also on the new college chapel, to the right of First Court on the card. This was designed by Christopher Wren, at the prompting (and with the money of his uncle Matthew Wren, Bishop of Ely).

Further building works took place in the late 19th century, by architects including George Gilbert Scott Jr, son of George Gilbert Scott, the designer of St Pancras station and father of Giles Gilbert Scott, the designer of the Cambridge University library. And in the first part of the 20th century, further buildings by W D Caröe, who also designed Cardiff University’s main buildings, and Maurice Webb, son of Aston Webb, designer of the University of Birmingham’s buildings. Pembroke Hall was renamed as a college in 1856.

Pembroke has its share of notable alumni. Nicholas Ridley, martyr; Edmund Spenser, poet; Pitt the Younger, politician and prime-minister and Peter Cook, comedian. Also, stars of both the James Bond franchise (Naomie Harris, aka the recent Miss Moneypenny) and the Marvel cinematic universe (Tom Hiddleston, aka Loki). And, since we’re on that theme, Ray Dolby, sound engineer and, alongside Pearl and Dean, the name you’ll probably see most often in cinemas, was a Pembroke alumnus, and bequeathed the college £34m in 2015. And if you’ve now got the Pearl and Dean music in your head, I am sorry for planting the ear-worm.

The card itself is one drawn by artist Jeremy Bays, who produced a series of such cards featuring the distinctive bird’s eye views, as well as other works. Well worth a look.

One response to “Higher education postcard: Pembroke College, Cambridge

  1. It also features (as Valence Mary) in the Matthew Bartholomew murder mystery series by Susannah Gregory.

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