Higher education postcard: University of Cambridge

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’ postbag takes us to a refuge from Oxford

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

Greetings from Cambridge!

Here’s a glorious collection of ancient college buildings. It all started in 1209 – back in the chaotic reign of King John.

Oxford, at this time, was established as a centre of learning dating back at least 100 years, with a chancellor as its head. But a case arose involving the death of a townswoman, and the town authorities hanged three university scholars. Critically, for Cambridge, they did so without first consulting the church authorities, who had jurisdiction (and who would probably have pardoned the scholars – the thirteenth century pecking order is made quite clear here).

At the heart of this was a dispute between the town of Oxford and the king, and the university was a pawn in this dispute. Scholars started to abandon Oxford in fear, and enough made their way to Cambridge for a university to grow.

Formal recognition came later. In 1231, King Henry III issued a writ which, by implication, recognised that there was a university in Cambridge. Later that century the pope referred to it as a studium generale – the customary medieval Latin designation of what we now call a university – and another pope issued a papal bull in 1318 which confirmed this.

So can we see the university in the card? This is a tricky question – formally, the university is The Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the University of Cambridge. So unless you can see some or all of those people, you haven’t seen the university. Yes, but… you know what I mean. Well, the university has offices at the senate house, which can be seen above King’s College Chapel, which is the building you may recognise in the centre of the card.

One last Cambridge thought. It is the coldest university town I have ever visited. I mean literally, not emotionally. The wind whips down the Wash from the Arctic and carries straight on. Those medieval scholars must have been made of tough stuff.

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