Universities

Nobles very rarely sent their own sons to university although they often helped find places for the sons of men in their service.

Any boy who had done well at a grammar or song school could go to one of the only two universities in England: Oxford or Cambridge. Three universities were founded in Scotland in the 15th century: St Andrew’s, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

There were about 3,000 students at Oxford and Cambridge during this period.

The 15th century was a time when Catholic religious belief underpinned every aspect of life.  Universities taught courses intended to better understand God’s creation of the universe through a standard curriculum.

  • Trivium (‘three ways’): Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric
  • Quadrivium (‘four ways’): Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy

Having mastered these, they could choose to go on to do degrees in Divinity, Law or Medicine

New types of degree were introduced in the fifteenth-century: Master of Music and Master of Grammar (for school teachers).

The two English universities expanded during the 15th century with the addition of libraries and more colleges. Henry VI founded King’s College, Cambridge and All Souls’ College, Oxford.

Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, and Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth, both helped to found Queens’ College, Cambridge. Richard III’s queen, Anne Neville, was later a patron of this college too.

You can have an online guided tour of Queens’ College.

Through the later middle ages Anglo-Norman French and Latin were used for most public business and literature. The use of written English gradually became more common from the middle of the fourteenth century.  By the end of the fifteenth century law books were being printed in English. In 1483 Richard III had his Coronation Oath translated into English and may have been the first to swear it in English actually in the ceremony.

You can see examples of various styles of 15th century writing here.

Latin was still the language used in church matters. If someone could quote sufficient Latin to persuade the authorities that they had been trained as a clergyman they could escape justice in the civil court and be tried in the church courts instead. These were generally more lenient and did not use the death penalty.



Gateway into Merton College Oxford
Merton College, Oxford. © Discover Oxfordshire
Doorway to the Astronomy and Rhetoric Schools at Oxford University
Doorway at Oxford University
Images showing God the Geometer
God the Geometer: Austrian National Library Codex Vindobonensis 2554, f.1 verso
Fan vaulted ceiling at King's College Chapel , Cambridge
King's College Chapel, Cambridge (© Sailko, GNU Free Documentation License)