This month in history

After the fireworks at the start of the month, the rest of November has seen other momentous occasions as well as challenging times.

November history composite image

Image above (l-r): Great seal of Edward III, portrait of Dr Kareen Thorne and Dr Sandra Raban, 1849 Admissions Register

The 20 November 1350 is the date of a license in mortmain for the acquisition of the original “hall of Scholars” and the day when the King confirms the foundation of the college according to the patent rolls of Edward III. Just over two years later, on 1st December 1952, the Archbishop of Canterbury endorsed the Foundation Statutes with his seal, which was given at Lambeth Palace. The following week the seals of Bishop Bateman and the University were added to the Foundation Statutes.

Much more recently on 17 November 1975, the first two female fellows were elected: Dr Sandra Raban and Dr Kareen Thorne. The decision had been made to admit female postgraduate and undergraduate students on 14 December 1974. In 2017, during our THwomen40 anniversary of women event, we unveiled a new portrait of Drs Raban and Thorne (main image). In the portrait, created by BP Portrait Award 2017 winner Benjamin Sullivan, Kareen (Biochemistry) and Sandra (Medieval History) are shown in their gowns sitting at a table with objects representing their respective academic disciplines. Both women went on to become Senior Tutor, Kareen being the first woman to hold the role. The portrait is hung in the Dining Hall – please do take a look next time you are in College.

Warren’s book tell us that on 12 November 1719, the College chapel could have burnt down. A candle fell during an evening service, “falling upon and burning a hassock or two” before the thankfully smouldering fire was discovered during Morning Service the next day. The chapel may be the smallest in Oxbridge but did you know …

  • The Chapel was built between 1352 and 1366, but wasn’t consecrated until 1513.
  • The Bishop of Ely granted permission for the chapel to be built on the site.
  • Front Court was the largest enclosed court on the Cambridge collegiate plan before the end of the 14th century and was the earliest of its kind to include a chapel.
  • The library, built in 1374, was originally in a room east of the Chapel
  • Students were fined for not attending Chapel everyday. Morning chapel began at 7am. A student coming to chapel in his nightgown, slippers, his shoes unbuckled, or his stockings untied was fined twopence by any student who was his senior.
  • Originally, Clerical fellows or fellows in Orders shared the responsibility of leading services in the Chapel
  • The chapel was redecorated in 1729-30 under the auspices of Sir Nathanael Lloyd – this included adding 15 coats of arms ot the ceiling and paving the floor in white marble.
  • The chapel used to have a window connected to the Master’s Lodge through which the Master’s family would watch services from the time of Lloyd to Jenner-Fust. It was removed in 1864, when the length of the chapel was increased by 8 feet eastwards to create the platform for the altar.
  • In 1922 a room over the ante-chapel was converted into a gallery in order to a house an organ and introduce music for the first time.

There are also some big names at our relatively small College. These are just a few of the members with connections to this month in history.

Leslie Stephen was born on 28 November 1832. He was a fellow of Trinity Hall from 1854 helped direct the changes made to College during the 1860s. He and Henry Fawcett fought to secure the College’s new statutes of 1859, which allowed fellows to marry.

Leslie Stephen resigned his Fellowship in 1868 upon losing his faith. He moved to London and spent the rest of his life as an author, journalist and man of letters. He wrote 21 books, of which The English Utilitarians and The History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century were three and two volumes respectively. He also wrote a huge number of articles and essays, and many entries in The Dictionary of National Biography, which he founded. He edited The Cornhill Magazine, which he inherited from the novelist Thackeray. Stephen knew everybody who was anybody in Victorian letters from Carlyle to Thomas Hardy. Frederick William Maitland, the great legal historian, devoted the last year of his life to writing a biography of his friend, Leslie Stephen. Leslie Stephen’s daughter was the writer, Virginia Woolf.

On 30 November 1358, Trinity Hall’s first Master (1350-55), Robert De Stretten, was elected Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. He was a favourite of and confessor to Edward, the Black Prince.

The 9 November 1963 is the anniversary of the death of law alumnus Ba U (1907) who became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Burma from 1948 to 1952 and President of the Union of Burma from 16 March 1952 to 13 March 1957.

The 12 November marks the 465th anniversary of the death of Stephen Gardiner. He was born in 1495 and Master from 1525-1551 and again from 1553-1555. It is argued he is one of the College’s most important Masters. He became was Lord Chancellor, Paget in the Council and Privy Seal C.D.C. Armstrong writes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: ‘Gardiner was one of the giants of Tudor politics. Among the English statesmen of the sixteenth century, only Wolsey, Cromwell, Cecil, and perhaps Walsingham exceeded him in stature. Few other politicians of the age had a career of comparable duration. Gardiner was a figure of the first rank for almost thirty years, surpassing the records of his first patron, Wolsey, and his great rival, Cromwell. Moreover, as the leading English religious conservative of his time, Gardiner bulks large in political, intellectual, and ecclesiastical history. He enjoyed a European reputation as a theologian, second only to Fisher among his English contemporaries.’ During the thirty years of his public importance, he always held onto the Mastership of Trinity Hall. As he said, “if all his palaces were blown down by iniquity, he would creep honestly into that shell.”

With thanks to Jonathan Steinberg and Alex Browne and Charles Crawley