Higher education postcard: Trinity College, Cambridge

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’s postbag takes us to a college of kings, but not King’s College

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

Greetings from Cambridge!

In 1546, Henry VIII reigned, and was busy plundering the wealth of established institutions. Monasteries were being dissolved hither and thither, and their lands and wealth confiscated by the crown. Would the universities of Oxford and Cambridge be next? An Act of Parliament was passed enabling the King to close down any college he chose…

In an early precursor of today’s well-coordinated lobbying efforts, the universities used their contacts to lobby Catherine Parr, the sixth and most fortunate wife of the psychopathic king. She in turn persuaded Henry not to close the universities down, but to found a new college. This was clearly a very impressive piece of lobbying.

But Henry chose to create a college his way – by merging two existing ones. And so It was goodbye to Michaelhouse College and King’s Hall, and hello to The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity within the Town and University of Cambridge of King Henry the Eighth’s Foundation, better known as Trinity College, Cambridge. The new college also incorporated seven halls of the university – residences for students which were not (yet) colleges. And he endowed the college with some monastic lands.

The new college struggled at first to grow, but eventually grow it did, and is now the largest Cambridge college, with about 1,000 students. In the seventeenth century it gained buildings designed by Christopher Wren, amongst others. Trinity is now a fabulously wealthy institution, and caused controversy in 2019 when it left the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), triggering a boycott by some university staff.

Trinity has royal connections beyond Henry VIII. The future Edward VII studied at the college, as did the future George VI, although neither gained a degree – following the tradition of Oliver Cromwell, lord protector, who studied at Sidney Sussex College but left before graduating.

Famously, the current king, Charles III, graduated from Trinity and is thus the first British monarch with a degree. It is unclear whether this counts as graduate employment for OfS statistics.

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