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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XIX. English Universities, Schools and Scholarship in the Sixteenth Century

§ 2. The accession of Elizabeth

As in the field of religion and of affairs, so in that of education, with the accession of Elizabeth the national unrest began to abate. Recovery, however, was slow. In the last year of Mary, only 28 degrees in arts had been conferred at Oxford. In 1561, no senior proceeded to the degree of doctor in any of the faculties. But Cecil, chancellor of Cambridge (1558–98), guided the new queen’s university policy. Leicester, a chancellor (1564–88) of a different type, was, none the less, keen to secure Oxford for protestantism, and to raise the standard of efficiency in teaching and learning. Elizabeth herself was a lover of learning and, perhaps, the best-read woman of her time, with a bias to national continuity, and an aversion to the foreigner whether pope or Calvin. The visitations of 1559 once more eliminated hostile influences. Such heads of houses and fellows as clung to the old faith either withdrew or were expelled. Dr. Bill and Lawrence Humfrey, with many others, were restored. Disaffected societies, like St. John’s, Trinity, or New College at Oxford, were effectually “purged.” But, this done, and Edward’s statutes reimposed, the visitors held their hands. When the queen visited Cambridge in 1564, a new temper, hopeful and earnest, prevailed. The number of residents at Oxford rose steadily from one thousand to two. Benefactions were again freely offered. Two results of importance gradually emerge: the restoration of the universities to their function as safe seminaries of the clergy, and the final subordination of the university to the colleges and their heads. By the Act of Incorporation of both the universities (1571), parliament, for the first time, recognised and confirmed the franchises, privileges and jurisdictions hitherto enjoyed by Oxford and Cambridge under royal charters and by usage, and each attained the status of a corporation under the style of “The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars.” Although tests were not by statute reimposed, convocation at Oxford, at Leicester’s instance, passed decrees, requiring, from all undergraduates over 12 years of age, subscription to the articles of 1562, with special stress on the royal supremacy. Freedom of teaching and even of study was jealously watched from court; and, as Whitgift made plain, protestant orthodoxy and loyalty rather than learning were approved marks of university efficiency. By degrees, the concept of the church approved by Elizabeth and expounded by Hooker became dominant in Oxford, whilst Cambridge cultivated an enlightened puritanism. But, in both the universities alike, the keenest interests were those of controversy. Cambridge, however, sent out from St. John’s and Trinity not a few schoolmasters of merit.

After 1590, Catholic influences were ruthlessly ousted from English universities. Douay (1569), with its English college ruled by Allen, had, by 1576, not less than two hundred students of British origin, amongst them not a few notable exfellows and lecturers from Oxford and Cambridge. And other English scholars found refuge at St. Omer, Valladolid, Seville and in the English college at Rome. In 1581, Leicester still complained that Oxford suffered “secret lurking Papists,” and, though less freely, Catholic houses continued to send their sons to Caius, Pembroke or Trinity Hall, at Cambridge, in spite of the harder temper of the university, or to Oriel, Trinity or St. John’s at Oxford. Puritan families mainly affected Cambridge, especially St. John’s and the new foundations of Emmanuel (1584), the avowed centre of militant protestantism, and Sidney Sussex (1599). Robert Brown, John Smith, the baptist John Cotton and Cartwright were all at Cambridge. Lawrence Humfrey, president of Magdalen, Oxford, “did so stock his college with such a generation of nonconformists as could not be rooted out in many years after his decease.” The strongest minds (Whitaker, master of St. John’s, Cambridge, may be taken as a conspicuous example) drifted to theology. The best careers open to unaided talent lay in the church. Hebrew had more students than Greek. Tremellius, who taught it at Cambridge, was a foreigner; so were most of his successors. Oxford learnt Calvinian divinity from Huguenots and other refugees, Spanish and Italian. It is not the least title to their place in the history of literature, that Oxford and Cambridge bred the men to whom we owe the Bishops’ Bible, the prayer-book and the Authorised Version.