Looking back 700 years to Trinity’s origins

On 7 July 1317, King Edward II set up a society of King’s Scholars at the University of Cambridge, which 20 years later was established as ‘The King’s Hall.’

Seal of Edward II, from John Speed The Historie of Great Britaine (1632)

700 years later, Trinity College is celebrating its medieval predecessor with a conference, ‘The King’s Scholars, Cambridge and the Fourteenth-Century Universities’, on Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5 July.
Conference organiser and Trinity Fellow, Professor John Marenbon, said anyone interested is welcome to attend.

This celebration of Trinity’s ultimate origins aims to bring together the best experts on the different branches of university learning (logic, philosophy, science, law, medicine and theology) in the fourteenth century. We shall pay special attention to Cambridge and to King’s Hall in particular.

At the time, much of the College architecture familiar and famous worldwide today did not exist. Trinity historian G M Trevelyan wrote in Trinity College: An Historical Sketch (1943):

The Great Court did not exist and the famous areas that it has enclosed since the reign of Elizabeth was then traversed by two public thoroughfares…the ground was split up into various small ownerships; orchards, gardens and fields where cattle and horses grazed were divided from one another by green hedges or ditches full of water, while here and there rose a thatched roof of a house or barn.

The original 10 King’s Scholars grew to 32 by 1319 and the College, the largest of the Cambridge colleges in the fourteenth century, had its own baker and brewer, and kept pigeons, swans and bees. King’s Hall prospered – notwithstanding the effects of fever and plague on the scholars – and became the first royal ‘colony’ in an English University.

Of the few buildings to survive from that era are parts of the Master’s Lodge. When Henry VIII merged King’s Hall and Michaelhouse in 1546 to form the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the stage was set for a further evolution of the College. tradition

All are welcome to attend the conference. To reserve a place for the academic presentations, which will be given in the Old Combination Room, please email Professor Marenbon: jm258@cam.ac.uk

There is no need to RVSP for the public lectures, which are as follows:

4 July at 4.30pm: King’s Hall and Michaelhouse in the Context of Fourteenth-Century Cambridge, by William Courtenay.

5 July at 5pm:  Thinking Inside and Outside the Universities in the Fourteenth Century, by Philip Knox and John Marenbon.

The public lectures take place in Trinity’s Winstanley Lecture Theatre.

Accompanying the conference, the Wren Library will display a selection of archival documents from the King’s Hall, charting its history and development from 1317 until its re-founding as part of Trinity College in 1546.


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