On 27 October, 1918, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson wrote a postcard to his friend, Robert Trevelyan, the poet, playwright, and classicist, wishing that the war could be resolved as easily as their latest postal game of chess; instead, it still seemed to ‘hang on a razor’s edge’.
Trevelyan, whose papers in the Trinity archive are currently being catalogued, was in France, working for the Friends War Victims Relief Committee. Earlier in the war he had sheltered the conscientious objector, poet John Rodker, and when he himself was called up, friends such as the art historian Desmond MacCarthy wrote to the Military Tribunal attesting that his pacifism was lifelong and not merely adopted as an excuse to avoid active service. The Tribunal accepted this, and allowed him to work with the Quakers instead. Letters from Robert to his young son Julian survive in the Trinity archives, in which he describes working on a farm which bred animals to be sold cheaply to French farmers who had lost their stock in the war and visiting Sermaize-les-Bains, destroyed in the first battle of the Marne, where the inhabitants lived in wooden huts built for them by the FWVRC. He also put together a library for relief workers. He writes of his hope that ‘there will be no more wars while I am alive, or while you are alive either’.
Robert and his two brothers, who all attended Trinity, provide a microcosm in one family of the range of attitudes towards the First World War. His elder brother, Charles, was a Liberal MP, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, who resigned from the government in August 1914 in protest at British military intervention against Germany, and with others such as Ramsay MacDonald and Bertrand Russell was a founder and key advocate of the Union of Democratic Control, which strongly opposed conscription and war censorship. He thereby incurred much personal criticism in the press.
The third brother, George Macaulay Trevelyan, later Regius Professor of History at Cambridge and Master of Trinity, was also horrified by the outbreak of war which he called ‘this doomsday’. Julian Huxley recalled in his “Memories” that on hearing the news, George ‘buried his head in his hands on the breakfast table, and looked up weeping’. However, he believed that once the war had begun it was necessary to continue fighting and to win; he wrote to Robert that he had ‘never admired Charles more’, and that the anti-war side had a ‘most useful part to perform’, but that though he accepted a share of blame for Britain he held that the German militarists must be defeated. He was judged medically unfit for military service, and so in autumn 1915 he took up the command of the first British Red Cross ambulance unit sent to Italy and served there until the end of the war, displaying notable bravery for which he was decorated by the Italian government.
All three Trevelyan brothers were convinced of the horror of war; all believed in November 1918 that everything possible should be done to ensure that such a disaster never occurred again.
Papers from the Trevelyan archive are currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.
RCT/2/105-front: Postal game of chess played by Robert with Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson.
RCT/2/105-back: Postal game of chess played by Robert with Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson
RCT/23/1: Robert Trevelyan’s identity card for the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee.
RCT4/215-front: Letter from Desmond MacCarthy to the Military Tribunal supporting Robert’s request for exemption from military service.
RCT4/215-back: Letter from Desmond MacCarthy to the Military Tribunal supporting Robert’s request for exemption from military service.
RCT23/2: Letter from Donald Tovey to the Military Tribunal supporting Robert’s request for exemption from military service.
RCT23/3: Letter from Crompton Llewelyn Davies to the Military Tribunal supporting Robert’s request for exemption from military service.
RCT15/8-front: Letter from Robert to his son, Julian written in November 1918 containing the lines “Everyone in France is very glad the war is over, and I hope there will be no more wars while I am alive, or while you are alive either”.
RCT15/8-back: Letter from Robert to his son, Julian written in November 1918.
RCT/42/9: Photograph c.1896 of the three brothers with their parents (L to R: Charles, George, Robert).
PD147: George Trevelyan, 1913.
RCT 14/204-1: Excerpt from a letter from George to Robert referring to his own reluctant support for the war and containing the lines “I never admired Charles more …”.
RCT14/101-front: Letter from George to Robert written just after the end of the war while he was still working for the Ambulance Service.
RCT14/101-back: Letter from George to Robert written just after the end of the war while he was still working for the Ambulance Service.
It is now 25 years since Andrew Wiles provided the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. A celebration of the event was held at the Isaac Newton Institute on 1 October 2018, with lectures (all now available online) by Sir Andrew Wiles, Jack Thorne and John Coates. The Wren Library provided a historical context for the day by displaying the first appearance of Fermat’s Last Theorem in print.
Pierre de Fermat famously wrote down his last theorem in the 1630s in the margin of a bilingual Greek and Latin edition of the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria. The copy with his annotation no longer survives, but Fermat’s son incorporated the conjecture into a new edition of Diophantus which he published in Toulouse after his father’s death, in 1670. Following the Diophantine proposition to divide a square into two other squares, Fermat’s observation reads:
Cubum autem in duos cubos, aut quadratoquadratum in duos quadratoquadratos & generaliter nullam in infinitum ultra quadratum potestatem in duos eiusdem nominis fas est dividere cuius rei demonstrationem mirabilem sane detexi. Hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet.
It is impossible to separate a cube into two cubes, or a fourth power into two fourth powers, or in general, any power higher than the second, into two like powers. I have discovered a truly marvellous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.
The simple proposition took more than 350 years to prove, and became the subject of a bestselling book by Simon Singh in 1997.
The diagram below is taken from a collection of Fermat’s mathematical writings compiled by his son Samuel de Fermat and published in 1679. This page shows the end of a long letter from Blaise Pascal to Fermat in which he discusses the problem of the division of a stake between two players whose game is interrupted before its close. The table shows the value of shares when two gamblers play, putting 256 pistoles at stake. ‘The numbers of the first line are always increasing. Those of the second do the same. Those of the third do the same. But after that, those of the fourth line diminish. Those of the fifth, etc. Which is strange.’
We have recently digitised Speculum Brittaniae (O.4.19) and in so doing were reminded of a piece of historical detective work undertaken in the 1970s.
In the late 16th century, the cartographer John Norden (c. 1547-1625) began a project to produce a survey of every county in England as a series called Speculum Britanniae. The project was never fully completed. Norden presented the manuscript copy of his Cornish survey containing maps and descriptions to King James I. This manuscript (now catalogued as Ms Harl 6252 in the British Museum) has long proved an enigma: bound within it is a series of engraved, printed maps. These maps were a later replacement for the original manuscripts maps, but the whereabouts of the original manuscript maps was unknown. In the 1970s this puzzle was solved by William Ravenhill of the University of Exeter.
At some point after 1642 – probably during the Civil War – the manuscript presented to the King was removed from the Royal Library and the maps were separated from the text. The antiquarian, Roger Gale (1672-1744) later purchased these maps and kept them together with another early manuscript copy of Norden’s survey that he acquired around 1696.
In 1728 William Pearson, working for the bookseller Christopher Bateman, produced a printed edition of Norden’s survey of Cornwall. He used as his basis the royal manuscript (Ms Harl 6252), but because the maps had been removed and were by that time in the possession of Roger Gale, he borrowed them from Gale in order to copy them and produce a series of engraved maps for the printed edition. A contemporary, Thomas Hearne (1678-1725), of the Bodleian Library, wrote:
The mapps in Norden’s Cornwall, lately printed, Mr Bateman borrowed of Roger Gale, Esq. They were returned to Mr Gale again … These Mapps without doubt belonged originally to the MS. That Mr Bateman hath and printed from …
Four copies of the printed edition were made on vellum, as well as 200 other copies on paper. Trinity College Library possesses one of the vellum copies (X.15.51 ) as well as two copies of the edition printed on paper (X.16.47 and Grylls 5.108).
Bateman then had a set of the engraved maps coloured and bound with the original manuscript (Ms Harl 6252). As part of a large bequest in 1738, Gale presented his composite copy to Trinity College. It was this manuscript that William Ravenhill, following various leads over 200 years later, realised contained Norden’s original manuscript maps.
A new book by Edward Wilson-Lee, Fellow of our neighbouring Sidney Sussex College and a regular reader in the Wren Library, tells the scarcely believable – and wholly true – story of Christopher Columbus’s bastard son Hernando, who sought to equal and surpass his father’s achievements by creating a universal library. Here we take a sideways look at Christopher Columbus and his son through a selection of books in the Wren Library.
La Casa de Colón
This splendidly illustrated account of the great cities of the world, printed in five large volumes in 1612–18, devotes a single plate to the three cities of Seville, Cadiz and Malaga. The perspective of Seville shows Hernando’s house, ‘La Casa de Colón’, next to the Puerta de Goles. The text was compiled by Georg Braun, and the engraved plates, hand-coloured in this copy, are largely the work of Franz Hogenberg.
As a youth, Hernando Colón spent years travelling in the New World, one of them marooned with his father in a shipwreck off Jamaica. He created a dictionary and a geographical encyclopedia of Spain, oversaw the first modern maps of the world, visited almost every major European capital and associated with many of the great people of his day, from Ferdinand and Isabella to Erasmus, Thomas More and Albrecht Dürer.
“Their words have gone out to the end of the world”
One of the first ever biographical notices of Christopher Columbus is printed rather unexpectedly in the margins of this scholarly edition of the Book of Psalms, printed in Genoa in 1516. It is apparently the first polyglot work ever published, and presents the Psalter in eight columns with the Hebrew, a literal Latin version of the Hebrew, the Latin Vulgate, the Greek Septuagint, the Arabic, the Chaldean (in Hebrew characters), a literal Latin version of the Chaldean, and scholia in the right-hand column. The editor, Agostino Giustiniani, generally made brief notes in the final column relating to textual questions, but an exception is made for Psalm 19, at the fourth verse:
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
A lengthy biographical notice about Christopher Columbus is attached to this verse and spreads over the following five pages (for the full biographical notice see here). Columbus had earlier used this psalm to substantiate his claim that his discoveries were not random events but rather a key part of God’s plan. Through this widely-read edition of the psalter, his discoveries became part of the meaning of the psalm, the fulfilment of its prophecy. Unfortunately the note is riddled with factual errors, and it would not have been pleasing to Hernando that it opens with the damaging allegation that Columbus was vilibus ortus parentibus—born of low stock.
Columbus in the service of Pope Innocent VIII
The earliest reference to Christopher Columbus in the holdings of the Wren Library appears in this history of the lives of the popes, printed in Venice in 1507. The book is spuriously attributed to Petrarch, who died in 1374. The account of Pope Innocent VIII, who like Columbus was Genoese by birth, reports that it was during his pontificate that Columbus discovered the New World. This echoes the inscription on the tomb of Innocent VIII at St Peter’s in Rome which states ‘Nel tempo del suo Pontificato, la gloria della scoperta di un nuovo mondo’ (‘During his Pontificate, the glory of the discovery of a new world’). But in fact Innocent VIII died on 25 July 1492, a week before Columbus first set sail across the Atlantic.
Columbus in Hexameters
The ‘Columbeidos’ is the earliest attempt by any poet to treat Columbus’s discovery of the New World as heroic fantasy. It was written in Latin in the Vergilian epic style by the grandly named poet Guilio Cesare Stella (1564–1624) and takes up more than 1700 lines of Latin hexameters. The poem is dedicated to Philip II, King of Spain and Prince of the Indies. It was first printed in London in 1585, and this Roman edition dates from 1590.
A Utopian Library Catalogue
Hernando Colón bought a copy of this book, the second edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, in Ghent in 1520, and read it in Brussels in 1522. Many aspects of the book were reflected in Hernando’s life: voyages of exploration, maps, printing, language, and the search for forms of perfection hitherto unknown. This edition includes a map of the fictitious country designed by Hans Holbein’s brother Ambrosius, and a short poem printed in the Utopian language and using the Utopian alphabet, written by the founder and first king of the country, Utopus. The printer (Froben of Basel) went to great trouble to have a special set of type cast for this poem, and it seems that it inspired Hernando to devise his own secret alphabet of very similar ‘biblioglyphs’ to describe the books in his beloved library.
‘Columbus’ is one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s later poems, written in 1879–80 and first published in Ballads and Other Poems (1880). His son Hallam records that it was composed at the request of ‘certain prominent Americans that he would commemorate the discovery of America in verse’. Tennyson derived his view of Columbus as a religious enthusiast with a visionary mind from Washington Irving’s Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. The poem presents the aged navigator, now ignored and living in poverty, defeated by the selfishness and lust that had triumphed over Columbus’s ideals in the Spanish court. The poem has been understood as conveying Tennyson’s own fears about the decay of society in his later years.
Edward Wilson-Lee, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library (London: William Collins, 2018)
Among the greatest treasures in the Crewe Collection are three volumes of etchings by Francisco Goya (1746-1823), currently on display in the Library for the first time. It is likely that Richard Monckton Milnes acquired these in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. These volumes were accepted in lieu of inheritance Tax by H M Government from the estate of Mary Evelyn, Duchess of Roxburghe, and allocated to Trinity College in 2016.
Los Caprichos (Crewe 156.8)
Goya issued this first collection of prints in 1799. The set of 80 pictures offers a deeply satirical condemnation of the social norms of his day, and is far darker than the title of ‘Caprices’ would lead one to expect. The plates were produced with a combination of etching and aquatint, and this first edition was overseen by the artist himself. Five further etchings are bound at the end of the volume.
Los desastres de la guerra (Crewe 156.9)
Goya’s second collection of prints, ‘The Disasters of War’, was created between 1810 and 1820, as a reaction to the Peninsular War and the resultant famine which affected Madrid in 1811-12. Goya described the series of 82 plates as depicting ‘the fatal consequences of Spain’s bloody war with Bonaparte, and other forceful caprices’. Almost all of the images are deeply disturbing, and they have inspired reactions from many artists in later generations. Although Goya had printed a few proofs of all the plates in his lifetime, they were not issued as a set until many years after his death, in 1863. This set is a fairly early copy of the first edition.
La Tauromaquia (Crewe 156.10)
Goya produced the 33 prints of La Tauromaquia in 1815-16, at the age of 69, while working on the Desastres de la Guerra. The plates depict the various techniques of bull-fighting, with a particular focus on its more violent aspects. In several of the pictures the spectators are shown in shadowy form in the background. The prints were made for Goya in 1816 in an edition of 320 copies, and complete sets are now much rarer than the Caprichos and the Desastres.
For those of you who are able to visit the Library in person, the pages of each volume will be turned each week in order to display different prints. Digital images of the all three volumes can be found in the Wren Digital Library.
The Crewe collection contains four items belonging to the British poet, Robert Southey, who was born in in Bristol in 1774 and died in London in 1843. He lived much of his life in Keswick where he supported, in addition to his own family, the wife of Coleridge and her three children after the poet abandoned them, as well as the widow of poet Robert Lovell and her son.
He published his first collection of poems in 1795 and in 1813 became Poet Laureate, a post he held until his death. Southey was a prolific poet, essayist, historian, travel-writer, biographer, translator and polemicist. Although he is little read today, Southey was an influential and controversial figure in British culture from the mid-1790s through to the mid-1830s.
Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797), made use of letters Southey had written to friends during his time in the Iberian Peninsula, blurring the boundaries between private and public correspondence. In 1807 he returned to the epistolary travel book genre, publishing Letters from England under the pseudonym of Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, an account of a tour supposedly from a foreigner’s viewpoint. This was one of Southey’s best-selling publications. He also published a History of the Peninsular War, in 3 volumes between 1823 and 1832.
Southey’s interest in Spain is reflected in his ownership of a rare copy of the book, Memoires Curieux Envoyez de Madrid (1690) [Crewe 31.17] which he inscribed on the title page and dated London 1820.
This book covers topics such a bull-fighting, maxims and proverbs of Spain and the custom of infant betrothal in the Spanish Royal family.
He also owned
Antoniana Margarita, opus nempè physicis, medicis, ac theologis, non minus utile, quàm necessarium by Gometium Pereyram, medicum Methynæ Duelli, quae Hispanorum lingua appellatur. (1749) [Crewe Collection]
This copy is interesting as it was annotated by Coleridge in 1812. Writing in Keswick, he used the front fly leaf to address Southey and disparage his interest in bullfights. He wrote:
P.22. Notice this, dearest Southey! as a curious specimen of the argumentum ad hominem from the Spanish Metaphysician to his Spanish Readers! If you do not admit the cogency of these & the following arguments, it is impossible for you without the most flagrant, as well as demonstrable inhumanity, or rather anti-christian atrocity, to continue to enjoy Bullfights!
The third book in the Crewe collection owned by Southey is Les imaginaires, ou, Lettres sur l’heresie imaginaire by Sr. de Damvilliers (1667) [Crewe 31.5 & 6]. This bears an ink inscription on the verso of the flyleaf preceding the title page: Robert Southey, Rouen 5 Sept. 1838. This work is a defence of the Jansenist schools of Port Royal against the Jesuits who brought about their closure in 1660.
The final book from Southey’s library is
Antient Christianity revived: being a description of the doctrine, discipline and practice, of the little city of Bethania. Collected out of her great charter, the Holy Scriptures, and confirmed by the same, for the satisfaction and benefit of the house of the poor by William Pardoe. (1688) [Crewe 74.17]
This book, written by a Baptist pastor who spent some weeks in prison for attending a Nonconformist meeting in 1683, contains the autograph of Robert Southey on the title page: Robert Southey. Keswick 16 Nov. 1829.
Southey was interested in religious topics. He wrote The Life of Wesley in 1820 [V.23.35 & V.23.36] and The book of the Church in 1824 [Grylls 25.247 & Grylls 25.248].
Footnote: The etching of Southey at the start of the post is by Mary Dawson Turner. Mary was the wife of the botanist, banker and antiquary Dawson Turner (1775-1858) whose extensive collection of letters is kept in Trinity College Library (catalogued here).
The following guest post is by conservator, Gwendoline Lemée:
Unusual and unique objects have the power to intrigue and fascinate us, and one such object is Hannah’s Diary which arrived on my bench in the summer of 2017. How delightful it is to work on a unique object and extend its life beyond what could have been hoped.
Hannah’s Diary is a fairly small manuscript made of 79 bifolia of ivory letter paper wrapped in a poor-quality greyish card and roughly assembled with two treasury tags pierced through the spine margins. It is written in black ink all the way through, without gaps, paragraphs or images, but the text gives us a rare and intriguing glimpse into the daily life of its author. The manuscript records every activity of every day that Hannah Cullwick, who was a servant and married to Trinity College’s alumnus Arthur Munby, undertook in the year 1863. It is part of the Munby Archive.
The manuscript was examined in the Wren Library and the treasury tags were removed to allow this work to be done. The holes the tags left behind were worn and most of them had torn out to the edges of the leaves. In addition, the manuscript had been repaired in the past with gummed paper saved from the edges of sheets of postage stamps. It was clear that conservation was needed to prevent the damage from becoming worse and to prevent loss or further damage to the edges of the loose leaves. The original binding – if we can call it such – was causing damage to the manuscript, and preserving the leaves in it was therefore not a suitable solution. This is why, after consideration of the use and condition of the manuscript, it was decided to rebind it in a limp vellum binding. This structure provides protection to the leaves, is durable, and has good opening characteristics, allowing readers to use the book safely in future.
The bifolia were cleaned of loose surface dirt with a soft conservation rubber called smoke sponge. Tears and holes were then repaired and infilled using various types and thicknesses of Japanese papers adhered with purified wheat-starch paste. Bifolia were then guarded in pairs (leaving a 10mm gap between bifolia to allow for a good opening) to form gatherings of six bifolia which allowed for the textblock to be sewn through the folds of the new guards. Narrow strips of western paper were inserted on the inside and outside of each gathering at the spine fold to compensate for the thickness of the guards and build up a strong spine. The original grey card cover was also guarded and sewn with the rest of the textblock.
In order to hold the loose guards in place during sewing, the gatherings were held together temporarily with loops of thin polyester thread. Three sewing supports were made of alum-tawed skin lined with linen braid. The two materials combined created a tear-resistant but fairly soft sewing support. They were then split in the middle to allow for a herringbone stitch sewing which makes for a very strong and flexible structure. Once the manuscript was sewn, the spine was pasted and lined with Japanese paper. The manuscript was now safe to read.
The covering was made of three pieces of calfskin parchment, cut, shaped and folded following a combination of various techniques found in the literature and adapted slightly to suit this particular manuscript. The parchment cover is entirely removable as it is held to the manuscript only by the laced-in sewing supports and tucked endleaves, not by adhesives. It is a sound binding, bringing enough support and protection to the manuscript as well as being well-suited to the nature of the paper leaves.
Finally, a bespoke cloth clam-shell box was made to protect the manuscript and keep it together with the remains of the original binding: the treasury tags and old stamp-paper repairs.
Opening after treatment
Front cover after treatment
Bespoke clam shell box with the remains of the original binding
The 700th manuscript added to the online James Catalogue is B.4.19. We are pleased to have reached this milestone in the same year that Trinity College is celebrating 700 years since the establishment of the King’s Scholars in Cambridge. In 1317 King Edward II sent 12 boys from the royal household, with a master, to study at Cambridge at his expense. They lived in rented accommodation. Twenty years later, Edward III transformed this community into a college by giving it a permanent house and endowment. He named this college the King’s Hall. Appropriately this volume has the name of a contemporary archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Mepeham, inscribed on the second flyleaf (he was archbishop from 1328-1333). B.4.19 is a Biblical Commentary by St Thomas Aquinas on the gospels of Luke and John. Its companion volume is B.4.18 on the gospels of Matthew and Mark.
The opening pages of both volumes are illuminated with initals showing a kneeling St Thomas, wearing his black Dominican habit, presenting his book to Pope Urban IV. This image is also repeated on f.184r of B.4.19 (shown above). The delightful borders of these illuminated pages are populated with dogs chasing rabbits, a deer and a goat (see here) and a lion with a bird above in a tree (see here).
Each gospel begins with an historiated initial. These are initials containing an identifiable scene or figure and in these instances depict the evangelist with their symbol.
Both volumes date from the late-13th century and were originally in the library of Christ Church, Canterbury. They were given to Trinity College Library, along with over one hundred other manuscripts, by a former master of the College, Thomas Nevile (d. 1615).
The Pairings Project undertaken with award-winning artist Dr Wendy McMurdo is one of the events to mark the 40th anniversary of the admission of women to Trinity. It includes contributions from those who live, work or study at the college and seeks to share, through photography and word, individual experiences of life at Trinity. The Pairings exhibition of photographs will be on display in Nevile’s Court Cloisters, beneath the Wren Library, between 4th and 25th August 2017. There will be another opportunity to view the exhibition in ante-chapel in the second half of October 2017. The contributions by four members of the Library staff are featured below.
This is a photograph of the Library’s conservator at work. It is fascinating to see all of the different tools and methods used in this job. The conservator seems to work miracles in restoring books, bindings, manuscripts and scrolls to their full glory. The before and after views are often hard to believe. His work is hugely important in keeping the collections in usable condition and with the tens of thousands of books, manuscripts, and papers held in the Library he is never short of work.
Keys are part of our everyday life. Most of us carry them around with us all the time. They can be symbolic of so many things: love, maturity, mystery, and understanding.
I have always liked keys, especially chunky ones with intricate decoration and a patina. Although they are familiar, prosaic objects they also have a sense of secrecy and potential. Where will they fit? What will they unlock? Who else has used them?
Of course, they are also about access and security. These four keys (themselves kept under lock and key) unlock the bays in the Wren Library which hold some of our most valued treasures. They are lovely to hold and give a satisfying clunk when you correctly engage them in the lock. Though these keys open areas and give access to manuscripts unseen by many, you always sense that someone has been there before you…
Will we still use keys in the future? I hope so.
This is Zazel, the human cannonball. She found fame by being launched twice a day from a spring-loaded cannon.
She was one of several female acrobats of the nineteenth century whose commercial portraits were purchased by Trinity alumnus Arthur Munby. He was interested in what he described as ‘unbecoming’ women – miners, domestic servants, milkmaids – and acrobats.
I think what inspires me about these acrobats is not only the verve of the women but also the confidence they exude. In these portrait photographs they look directly at the camera and they are confident in their status as popular celebrities of the time, known in music halls throughout the country. They made a living in their own right and performed remarkable – and dangerous – feats.
Indeed, Zazel’s career did not last as in her final act as a human canon ball she landed badly and broke her back. This life of danger, admittedly one with celebrity and popular fame, brings her much closer to the women miners and is, for me, a constant reminder of how precarious were the lives of these extraordinary women.
I find myself in this waiting room for books.
This vast building is needed to keep all the silence in.
Thousands of volumes stand in readiness on the shelves.
With infinite patience they wait to be taken down and opened.
Words to be seen, and not spoken. There are so many questions, answers and thought processes kept here being preserved and shared.
The quietest sounds are the loudest.
A ringing telephone is startling.
All my notes can be rubbed out. Ink is not permitted, my pencil is precious.
Navigate by letters and numbers. I sit in a bay where there are no boats, only books. I can’t see out, but the sun streams in lighting up the gold leaf, the brass fittings and the delicately carved fruit.
Watched over by the white marble men, I shiver in winter and simmer in the summer, but I can’t believe my luck to be spending my days in the great glass room of black and white squares and whispers.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.