The King’s Scholars

Today is the 700th anniversary of the establishment of the King’s Scholars in Cambridge, an event which marks the very beginning of Trinity’s story. On 7 July 1317 an official letter, or writ, was sent on behalf of King Edward II to the sheriff of Cambridgeshire, telling him that the king had sent twelve children from his household in the care of a man named John de Baggeshote (their master) to study at Cambridge. The children were all boys (girls were not admitted to universities till the nineteenth century). These Scholars, who were probably aged about fourteen, lived in rented accommodation. The sheriff was ordered to pay their expenses out of the money he collected on the king’s behalf, and to obtain a receipt for the money he gave them. This writ is believed to mark the very first establishment of the King’s Scholars. It was followed by others, ordering payments and gradually increasing the size of the community.

It seems unlikely that the king would have sent the boys to study at Cambridge without making arrangements with the sheriff for their maintenance, and this was evidently the first time that they were mentioned to him. Later writs are less detailed and they all refer back to arrangements already made, while the earliest surviving receipt for money paid to the Scholars covers a period beginning two days after this document. This has been assumed, quite reasonably, to be the day on which John de Baggeshote and the boys arrived in Cambridge. When the sheriff went to the Exchequer in Westminster to make his account he handed in this letter, together with the receipt for the money he had paid to King’s Scholars, and the clerks credited his account accordingly.

(TNA, E 101/552/8/2; © the National Archives)

Letter from the king to the sheriff of Cambridge, 7 July 1317

Translation: Edward by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine, to the sheriff of Cambridge, greeting. Whereas we have sent our beloved clerks John de Baggeshote and twelve others, children of our chapel, to the university of Cambridge to live there in study at our expense, in order to profit […], we order that from the issues of your bailiwick you cause to be paid to the said John every week for his commons [… twenty-]one pence, and for each of the said twelve children per week for their commons [fourteen pence, and] for the cost of their hostel and their other necessities between now and next Michaelmas […] forty shillings; making an indenture between yourself and the said John for what you have thus paid him, by the testimony of whom and of which we will cause a tally for the amount to be raised at our Exchequer, by which you will have due allowance on your account. Given under our privy seal at Bockeby [Long Buckby, in Northamptonshire] on the seventh day of July at the end of the tenth year of our reign.

In the middle ages the king constantly travelled about the country with his household. His main secretarial staff stayed in Westminster, using the Great Seal to authenticate important official documents. But a smaller group of officials accompanied him with the Privy Seal, which could be used to issue letters, or ‘writs’, under his direct instruction, like this one. These ‘writs of privy seal’ were written in French, still at this time the usual spoken language of the court. The seal would have been attached to a small strip of parchment at the bottom, but this has been torn away. The document has also been damaged by damp, leaving a hole in the middle.

What do we know about the Scholars?

Accommodation

In the fourteenth century most Cambridge students lived in rented hostels under the care of a master, and this was the arrangement adopted for the King’s Scholars. The earliest writ provides for the payment of forty shillings to cover the cost of their hostel and other necessities for about twelve weeks. We do not know, however, exactly where they lived.

The Scholars were expected to sleep at least two to a bed, as was usual in the middle ages. When two new boys, John de Kingston and John de Kelsey, were sent to Cambridge in September 1317 it was specifically ordered that a bed should be bought for them, and the sheriff’s next receipt duly recorded the purchase of ‘a coverlet, a blanket, two linen sheets, and a piece of canvas’, together costing twenty shillings. Note that there is no mention of a bedstead: the boys would have slept on the floor on a straw mattress, probably made from the canvas. The bedding could then be rolled out of the way in the daytime.

Food and Drink

B.11.22, f. 25v

The Master and Scholars received weekly allowances of 21d. and 14d. respectively for their ‘commons’, that is, the food and drink they ate and drank together. We have no specific information about the arrangements made for meals. The community probably employed servants to help buy and prepare food and drink. It is unlikely that much can have been produced in the household itself: some durable items may have been stored, but it would have been necessary for someone to go to the market every day to buy fresh provisions.

Clothing

Grants were made to the Master and Scholars from time to time to cover the cost of rent and other necessities, including clothing. But sometimes specific grants were made for the purchase of gowns and hoods, usually at Christmas or Easter. In 1319, for instance, the Master and Scholars were instructed to join the king’s household at York to celebrate Christmas. In preparation for this visit red cloth for gowns and fur for hoods was purchased from merchants at Bury St Edmunds. These were expensive items: the cloth cost over £21, the skins nearly £4.

Accounts for the purchase of gowns are one of the main sources for the names of the Scholars and their dates of admission and departure.

Teaching

Fragment of 14th-century canon law (R.11.2, 39r)

Some of the Scholars may have been at Cambridge for only a short time, but many stayed for several years. Of the sixteen in residence in 1325 twelve had been there since at least 1319, and one of them went on to be a member of the King’s Hall.

In most cases the students’ studies would have been confined to the Arts course, which was based on grammar, logic, and rhetoric — in other words language (Latin), reasoning, and persuasive speaking. Some instruction may also have been given in arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. After completing the arts course, the most advanced students proceeded to the higher faculties of Law, Medicine, and Theology.

The King’s Scholars would mainly have attended the general lectures given in the university by recent graduates, but they probably also received some teaching in their own household.

Masters

The first master, or warden, John de Baggeshote, was replaced some time between 1321 and  1325 by Simon de Bury, who died in office on 3 October 1331. His successor John de Langtoft took over a rather disorderly community, and a royal commission was sent to Cambridge to help him examine the Scholars’ progress and behaviour, improve discipline, and remove those who were no longer benefiting from their studies.

Langtoft, who had apparently only been appointed master while he waited for a position in the church to become available, stayed for less than two years. Thomas Powys, on the other hand, who took his place, had a very long connection with the community. At the time of his appointment he had already been a Scholar for at least eight years, and in 1337 he became the first warden of the King’s Hall, a position he kept till his death in 1360.

Careers

The later careers of only a few Scholars are known, though it is likely that many, like the later members of the King’s Hall, went into the royal service.

Robert de Imworth, for instance, a Scholar from 1318 to 1329, was appointed a purveyor, or purchaser, to the household of Queen Philippa (Edward III’s consort) in 1330 and was sent on royal business to Ireland in 1346. He married a woman named Sara, and the Robert de Imworth who was a member of the King’s Hall in the 1340s may have been their son. Their social status is indicated by the fact that their mansion at Egham was permitted to have its own chapel.

Hugh de Sutton left the community in 1321 to become a Franciscan friar, and several of those who went on to become members of the King’s Hall eventually obtained preferments in the church.

Richard de Wymondewold, a Scholar from 1329 to 1337, obtained a doctorate in Civil Law, married a woman named Syfrida, and became an advocate in the papal court at Rome.

Twenty years later Edward’s son, Edward III, transformed this community into a college of thirty-two scholars, who were to live together in a house he had recently purchased next to St John’s Hospital (later converted into St John’s College). The house was to be known as the Hall of the King’s Scholars of Cambridge (aula scolarium regis Cantebrigie), and Thomas Powys was nominated the college’s first warden. King’s Hall remained in existence till 1546, when it was dissolved as part of the arrangements for founding Trinity. All its buildings and property, and some of its personnel, were transferred to the new college. Parts of the older college still exist, including the Great Gate and the Clock Tower.

Foundation charter of the King’s Hall, 7 October 1337 (King’s Hall 8)

An exhibition focusing on the period from 1317 to 1337, before the King’s Scholars had a permanent home in Cambridge is currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

 

 

 

 

The Pethick-Lawrences: A Radical Partnership

displaycase2

Visitors to the Wren Library during the next few weeks will be able to see a special display case containing items from the Pethick-Lawrence collection. For those unable to visit, we have devised an online exhibition (click on the top left box labelled Prologue to begin):

 

 

For those who would prefer to examine the exhibits in more detail see below (click on the images to open the document viewer).

PROLOGUE

Emmeline Pethick and Frederick Lawrence, both from middle-class backgrounds, met in 1900 through their involvement in social work in the East End of London.

Emmeline first came to London to manage a club for young working women, and she and her friend Mary Neal had gone on to establish their own club, with a related dressmaking business.

Fred, a Trinity man, had been inspired by the university settlement movement, the aim of which was to encourage university-educated people to live and work in deprived urban areas, and he was working at a settlement house in the East End when he met and fell in love with Emmeline.

Fred had been intending to pursue a career as a Liberal Unionist MP, but Emmeline, a fervent socialist, challenged him to reconsider his political views, and after a period of serious reflection, which included a trip to South Africa to observe the effects of the Boer War, he came to adopt a more radical position.

The couple married in 1901 and took the unusual step of linking their surnames.

PASSION

Emmeline’s l001_peth7_48-p1etter to Fred on 27 June 1901, just after his first proposal of marriage, contains a heartfelt declaration of her commitment to socialism:

… my first consciousness was the clearest, strongest & most inveterate sense of the dignity & worth of the human body & soul above everything else ~ and this has forced me into life long campaign ~ against every sort of bondage, against all sorts of established authorities: and it is [this which] has kept me (not by choice but by inward necessity) always against the stream …  This is the great contest of the coming century: the life and death struggle of human life against material mastery.

VOTES FOR WOMEN

From 1906 the Pethick-Lawrences were at the heart of the peth-6_109-frontmilitant wing of the women’s suffrage movement, which they helped to organise and finance. Emmeline became treasurer of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and devised its distinctive colour scheme of purple, white, and green: “Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity … white stands for purity in private and public life … green is the colour of hope and thpeth-3_272-10e emblem of spring.”

Fred founded the newspaper Votes for Women, which he co-edited with his wife.

 

 

 

 

PRISON

Emmeline was imprisoned six times for her actions in support of the suffragette movement, and Fred also went to prison for the cause. Both endured forcible feeding while on hunger strike. These are some of the letters they were allowed to write to each other from prison:

Peth7/168Peth7/167Peth7/111

CONSPIRACY

Some in the suffrage movement, including Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, felt that violent measures such as the smashing of shop-windows and arson were justified ways of drawing attention to the peth7_170-p22cause.

After a spate of window-breaking in March 1912 the Pethick-Lawrences were arrested and tried for conspiracy, even though they opposed this form of protest. This is the text of Emmeline’s speech to the jury.

The Pethick-Lawrences spent large amounts of money on legal costs and fines, both for themselves and others, and eventually had to auction the contents of their home, though they just escaped bankruptcy.

DIVISION

As a result of their objections to violent protest the Pethick-Lawrences were induced to leave the WSPU, though they continued to edit Votes for Women. These are two of the letters exchanged between the two Emmelines at this time:

peth9_32-p1 peth9_35

EPILOGUE

In 1918 the suffrage movement in the United Kingdom finally began to see success, with the grant of the vote to certain categories of women over the age of 30.

After the First World War Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence became a well-known international campaigner for women’s rights and peace.

Her husband became a Labour MP. In 1942 he was briefly Leader of the Opposition, and as Secretary of State for India between 1945 and 1947 he was instrumental in the negotiations which led to that country’s independence. He was raised to the peerage in 1945.

Lord and Lady Pethick-Lawrence at the gate of their Surrey home in 1949.
Lord and Lady Pethick-Lawrence at the gate of their Surrey home in 1949.