Trinity College is founded
Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, was believed to have played a key role in the protection of Cambridge and Oxford, and the foundation of Trinity College in 1546. However the importance of her role has recently been reassessed.
Mary I endows Trinity
In 1554, Mary Tudor endowed the college founded by her father with monastic lands, worth some £370 per year, These were large properties in the North of England, in Westmorland and Yorkshire, adding substantially to Henry VIII’s initial endowment.
The building of Trinity College’s chapel was encouraged by both Mary I and Elizabeth I, who issued royal commissions in 1554 and 1560 calling for its construction. Queen Elizabeth is commemorated with a pane in window VI on the Chapel’s South Side.
Construction work to expand the college’s buildings continued apace under the College’s eighth Master Thomas Nevile. This included the Queen’s Gate, named after Elizabeth and featuring her likeness, which was completed in 1597. This portrait of Elizabeth I from around the same date is held in the College’s collection.
In Trinity’s seventeenth-century Conclusion Book, housed in the Wren, an order, dated 18th July 1625, notes: “It is ordered by the Master and 8 Seniors that all young women shall be banished & put out of the College: And that no women under the age of 50 years or thereabouts, & also of honest fame & report & approved honesty, shall come into the College to make beds or do any other service for fellows & scholars.” Anyone who “under any colour or pretence of business bring any young women into the college to entertain, maintain, or employ them” would be punished. This was the first of several such orders from the seventeenth century, which suggests that they were not successful. A University-wide order to the same effect was announced in 1635.
On the 20th of August, 1649, the first year of the Interregnum, literary patron Anne Sadleir (1585-c.1671) donated the thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript now known as the Trinity Apocalypse, “with my other booke & my coins…to Trinitie Colledge Librarie in Cambridge”. In her inscription (below) she beseeched “God in his good time restore her with her Sister Oxford to there pristine happiness”.
This painting of Joanna Bentley (née Bernard c.1665-1740) is in the college’s collection. It is attributed to Willem Wissing, the Dutch portrait painter. Wissing died in 1687, although his workshop continued to produce work afterwards. Joanna may have sat for the painting before she married Richard Bentley in 1701, a year after he became Master of Trinity.
Joanna, and their two daughters’ presence in Trinity was one of the many crimes held against Bentley in his prosecution by Fellows of the college in 1710. Article IX of the Fellows’ Petition asks Bentley “after you were sworn and admitted Master, why did you marry, and bring your wife into the College, there to reside and inhabit; when, by the said College statutes…you are forbid to bring your wife, or any woman into College, upon pain of forfeiting your mastership?”
Elzimar Smith died aged seventy four in 1758, and is the only woman interred in the Trinity College Chapel. She was born around 1684, and lived in the Master’s Lodge with her younger brother, Robert Smith (Master of Trinity 1742-1768). Her name is spelled incorrectly on her tombstone in the Ante-Chapel.
Elizabeth Hinchcliffe (née Crewe) was the wife of John Hinchcliffe, Master of Trinity from 1768-1788. In the first year of her tenure in the Master’s Lodge, Elizabeth planted an Aicanthus seed in the Master’s Garden, purportedly one sent back from China by the Jesuit missionary and amateur botanist Pierre Nicolas d’Incarville. The Aicanthus, or Tree of Heaven, grew to a great height, and was still going strong in the early twentieth century. The Crewe family of Cheshire would continue their connections to Trinity in future generations, culminating in the Crewe Collection – a bequest of 7500 books from what Trinity’s Librarian, Dr Nicolas Bell, describes as ‘an extraordinary library and one of the most important private collections in Britain.’ The etching (c.1782) after Reynolds, shows Elizabeth (R) with her niece Emma Crewe (L).
Scientist Mary Somerville, for whom the term was coined by Trinity fellow (and later Master) William Whewell in 1834, donated a copy of her 1830 work, The Mechanism of the Heavens, to Trinity in 1831. The inscription “from Mrs. Somerville” can be found in the book’s flyleaf. Somerville’s son, Woronzow Greig, studied at Trinity between 1823 and 1830. Whewell invited Mary and her husband to stay at the college when they visited Cambridge’s Observatory in 1834 – which was, as she noted, “an unusual favour where a lady is concerned”.
Novelist George Eliot was invited to Cambridge in May 1873 by Frederic Myers, a former Trinity Fellow and founder of the Society for Psychical Research. Eliot notes in her journal entry of May 19th 1873 how she “greatly enjoyed talking with him and some others of the ‘Trinity Men.’” Myers recounted their May meeting several years later, somewhat more dramatically:
“I walked with her once in the Fellows’ Garden of Trinity, on an evening of rainy May; and she, stirred somewhat beyond her wont, and taking as her text the three words which have been used so often as the inspiring trumpet-calls of men the words God, Immortality, Duty pronounced, with terrible earnestness, how inconceivable was the first, how unbelievable the second, and yet how peremptory and absolute the third. Never perhaps, have sterner accents affirmed the sovereignty of impersonal and unrecompensing Law. I listened, and night fell; her grave, majestic countenance turned toward me like a sibyl’s in the gloom…” (The Century Magazine, November 1881)
Agnata Frances Butler (née Ramsay, 1867-1931) read Classics at Girton, and was the only candidate in 1887 to be placed in the top division of the First Class in the Classical Tripos examinations. She married Montagu Butler, Master of Trinity, the following year, aged 21. Butler was 55. Her edition of Herodotus VII with notes was published by Macmillan in 1891, and is said to be the first such work by a British woman. She worked on the edition whilst pregnant with, and then raising her first child, James. Whilst Agnata Butler’s academic career may have given way to her role as hostess in the Master’s Lodge, she remained dedicated to the cause of education for women throughout her life. (The photograph, by Eveleen Myers, shows Agnata in 1891, aged 24).
The Philosopher Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones (1848-1922), became the first woman recorded as having delivered a paper to the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club, a philosophy discussion group founded in 1878. Jones’ paper was delivered on 1st December 1899 in rooms at Trinity College. Jones later became Mistress of Girton College from 1903-1916.
Rose Thomson (née Paget), wife of Nobel Laureate J.J. Thomson, ran Trinity’s Master’s Lodge between 1918 and 1940. She continued the work of her predecessor, Agnata Butler, in promoting links between Trinity and Camberwell, where a mission had been set up by the College in 1885. Visits by women connected to Trinity to Camberwell were returned by women and men from the Mission to Cambridge. One such occasion took place in July 1922, when over forty of the “Trinity Mission outing from Camberwell lunched at the Lodge as guests of the Ladies Committee”. This annual visit continued into the postwar, and was mentioned in the memoir of Mollie Butler, wife of Master Rab Butler. Several accounts of this annual summer visit make reference to the Ailanthus tree planted by Elizabeth Hinchcliffe in the Master’s Garden over a century earlier. The image here shows a visit from the summer of 1914, with Montagu and Agnata Butler surrounded by their guests, and what appears to be the Ailanthus in the background.
Virginia Woolf had many connections to Trinity; her two brothers, future husband, and brother-in-law all went to the college. None of these connections helped her, however, on the October day in 1928 when she attempted to enter the college’s Wren Library to see its manuscripts. The moment became part of her lectures at Girton and Newnham colleges later that month, and then published as A Room of One’s Own in 1929.
“…here I was actually at the door which leads into the library itself. I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the college or furnished with a letter of introduction. That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library. Venerable and calm, with all its treasures safe locked within its breast, it sleeps complacently and will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep for ever.”
One of the few obituaries of women in the Trinity Annual Record is that of Miss S. H. Lusk. She was Matron of Trinity for nearly thirty years, from 1916 to 1944. Her role as Matron was to engage and supervise the college’s bedmakers, “but she took a kindly and amused interest in all members of the College, Fellows and undergraduates alike, and her understanding of human nature and human foibles gave her an influence far beyond the scope of her duties.” She performed the additional duties of a College Nurse before the separate position was created, and was an active Air Raid Warden during wartime. She died on 7 August 1967.
Hester Adrian (née Pinsent, 1899-1966), educated at Somerville College, Oxford, was married to Edgar Douglas Adrian, Master of Trinity between 1951-1965. In 1965, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to social reform and mental health provision. This achievement was toasted at the Commemoration Feast of 1965, in a speech by Professor H.W.R. Wade, who remarked “what pleasure it caused to all her friends and admirers when her public services were recognised in the last new year honours by her D.B.E. In this she is following in her mother’s footsteps. But within the walls of Trinity her honour has an element of originality – which is more than I can say, Master, for your Nobel Prize…”
Women were first admitted to Trinity’s Hall as guests below the dais from 1969, and then – after some consternation amongst the older fellows – at High Table from 1970. In his Commemoration Speech from 1973, Master Rab Butler remarked how he was “proud to continue to preside over a college which is healthy and forward looking. Our Founder would be glad to note that women and wives galore have penetrated all the tables in Hall. He and Katherine Parr will no doubt be watching how much further the tide will flow.”
Women were first admitted as “research students” in 1976, making up nearly a third of all research students admitted that year. They included many international students, from France, Israel, Venezuela, the United States, and Canada. This first group of women studied for PhDs in subjects as varied as mathematics, economics, history, social anthropology, philosophy, and experimental psychology. Seven of them also briefly formed the crew of the first Trinity First and Third women’s boat.
In 1977, Marian Hobson Jeanneret, scholar of French philosophy and culture, was elected as Trinity’s first female Fellow. She remained at the College until 1992. In 2018, her portrait was hung in the Hall in recognition of her historic contribution to the college.
Ulyana Gumeniuk painted the portrait of Katherine during her Fellowship in the Creative Arts at Trinity, 2009–2011, in recognition of Katherine Parr’s pivotal role in the College’s history.