The University of Oxford in Oxford, England is a very old and distinguished institution. Oxford University has been in existence for around nine centuries (Brief 1). It is the oldest English speaking university in the world (History 1). There is no exact date when the University was established, but there is some evidence of teaching going on around 1096 (Kenny 2). There are said to be several different founders of the University, but there is no way to designate one over another. Oxford was always struggling to prove it self as being a serious university.
This is because of its great rival university in Paris, which got most of the spotlight in the earlier days. Oxford is rich in its origins and history, which is due to its extremely old background. Even though Oxford is such a distinguished institution it does have a past of problems. The University has a history of altercations with the townspeople, which involves fights, major crimes, and conflicts over the unfair treatment the townspeople received due to the University.
The Universitys relations with authority came with an abundance of privileges. The king and other leaders always put the Universitys needs before the townspeople. Oxford also demanded a great deal from its students, whose lives revolved around the University. Oxford was an extremely difficult school whose courses were of the highest quality. Oxford University is a very important part of Englands history and society today. Oxford Universitys origins, relations with town and authority, students, and curriculum make it of the most important and significant institutions of all time.
Oxford University has had many situations, people, and events that have helped in its growth. Oxfords location is in an ideal place for a major university. It is located on the confluence of the Rivers Cherwill and Thames (Oxford 1). Since Oxford is not a great cathedral city its location is one of the things that helped it gain people and popularity in its earlier days (Leff 77). The fact that royal and religious people surrounded Oxford also attracted visitors and students to its whereabouts (Leff 77). Henry I built a palace at Woodstock, which is only a few miles down the road from Oxford (Leff 77). There are also two monasteries built around Oxford, which brought the religious people to the city (Leff 77). One of the major events in Oxfords past, which helped to bring students to the city, is when King Henry III banned English students from attending Paris University in 1167 (Story 4). This forced the English students who were attending Paris to come to Oxford if they wanted to continue their studies. King Henry IIIs ban greatly boosted the number of students attending Oxford University. These are a few of the major things that helped in the growth of Oxford University.
The origins of an individual being the head of the school at Oxford are unknown to this day, but there are bits and pieces of historic information that show early leaders. There is some mention of a master of schools around 1201, but there is no chancellor in existence at that time (Thompson 2). In 1214 a charter of liberties, this involves the punishment of the townspeople, contains the first reference to a chancellor (Leff 79). The year 1214 marked the inauguration of a chancellor at Oxford University, whose name is Robert Grosseteste (Leff 79). The chancellor at Oxford symbolized something different than at its rival Paris University. At Oxford the chancellor stands for self-rule because, he was in the society of masters. While at Paris the chancellor was not in the society of masters so he would symbolize alien rule. Probably one of the earliest known teachers is Theobald Stampenisis in 1117 (Leff 77). He taught European fame and is said to have had around fifty pupils while he was at Oxford (Leff 77). Emo of Friesland was the first student to attend Oxford from overseas in 1190 (History 1). His arrival marked the beginning of Oxford Universitys tradition of international scholarships. These are just a few of the notable leaders who brought about great things to Oxford University.
Oxford Universitys relations with authority were something like a parent and a spoiled child. Whatever the University wanted they pretty much received. One of the Universitys many privileges was the custody over bread, ale, and weights and measures (Leff 88). In 1231 Henry III forced the burgesses to lower the rents. This was the first but not the last time a king stepped in to lower rents in order to help the students. In 1311 Edward II ordered the sheriff to place any student who had been taken into custody into a separate jail from the townspeople (Leff 88). This is another example of the uncontrollable privileges being given to the University and its students. Edward III showed his strong preferential treatment on March 5, 1355 when he placed the masters and scholars of Oxford University under the protection of the crown (Leff 1). The only form of real discipline that any king showed towards the students of Oxford University was in 1231, when Henry III ordered the expulsion of any student who was not on tract for a master (Leff 83). These are only a few of the numerous occasions of the kings bias treatment against the townspeople, and in favor of the University. The chancellor of Oxford University was given many privileges by the kings, which made him the most powerful man in the city of Oxford. The kings were so much in favor of the University that they would take the chancellors word over the mayor or sheriff on almost any occasion (Leff 88). In 1244 Henry III extended the chancellors power to all cases of rents, and prices of food and movables, which involved scholars (Leff 83). King Edward IIIs charter on June 27, 1355 gave the chancellor sole jurisdiction over the items of bread, ale, weights and measures, with the power to punish transgressors (Leff 91). The chancellor position at Oxford University was given its biggest responsibility in 1309 by King Edward II, who gave the chancellor the right to put burgesses and other townspeople in his own separate court (Leff 88). This privilege was expanded even more when Edward III made the chancellors court free from royal interference and no worry of being charged with false imprisonment. The kings of England made Oxford Universitys chancellor one of the most powerful and authoritative men in England.
The townspeople of Oxford University were unjustly treated and abused in order for the students to have better lives. In 1305 Edward I banned the people of Oxfords annual town tournaments and joust because it made to much noise, which disturbed the students studies (Leff 88). This is one example of how the Universitys needs and wishes always came foremost to the towns. In 1248 Henry III made the town responsible for the murder of a scholar, without even investigating into the incident to try and find the truth (Leff 83). There was another occurrence of a student getting killed in 1297. However, this time the townspeople who were responsible for the murder were found and punished, but still the town had to pay the University a two hundred pound compensation fee (Leff 85). These are a few of the instances of the University getting what ever it could out of the town, with little to no justice for the townspeople of Oxford.
The burgesses of Oxford were very unjustly and improperly treated. Often the students of the University would commit major crimes against the townspeople but only receive minor punishment. One example of this occurred in 1244 when forty-five students were imprisoned for attacking the Jews but were soon released under the chancellors orders (Leff 83). Even when the burgesses were merely defending themselves they were considered to have committed crimes and were severely punished for them. One example of this is in 1209 when a scholar murdered a woman and in return the townspeople executed several scholars (Leff 78). In punishment for their actions these townspeople were excommunicated and the town had to pay retribution for the students deaths (Leff 78). The burgesses believed that Oxford was a hotbed of criminals and clerks (Leff 86). The burgesses of the city of Oxford described their situation in this way: …if a clerk wound or beat or does violence to a layman, for which he is imprisoned by the bailiff, he will at once be delivered by the chancellor without writing written security, and if a layman ill-treats a clerk he will be imprisoned by the chancellor, and will be there a month or forty days, and will not be delivered without grievous ransom both to their common chest and the injured party, so that it grievously seems to the commonality that there is not one law for the clerks and the laymen (Leff 86).
These are just a small number of the wrong doings committed against the people who lived in the town of Oxford.
Oxford students in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were taught in a different way than college students today. There were also no specific courses like History, Mathematics, and Biology etc (Story 4). Instead the students at Oxford were taught to be well-rounded individuals (Story 4). During a students time at Oxford he attended lectures on any of the following categories: law, medicine, theology and the seven arts. At the end of students studies at Oxford he had to take an oral exam in order to receive his master (Story 4). So as one can see, a student at Oxford University had to have a great deal of discipline to be able to achieve his goals.
There were four different topics taught at Oxford University in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Leff 127). They may differ in regulations and the time taken to gain a master in one subject to another, but they all consist of very difficult and thorough material. Theology was the most revered of the subjects taught, due to its goals of understanding our purpose in life and life itself. Next there is law, which was probably the most studied of all the subjects at Oxford. Then there is Medicine, which was well needed and well taught at the University. Finally, the seven arts, which took the least amount of time to obtain a master but were very widely used through out the world.
The history of theology at Oxford University has been well preserved. Gordon Leff, author of the book Paris and Oxford Universities in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, believes that there are several factors that contributed toward such preservation of the study of theology at Oxford. He had this to say about the issue at both Oxford University and rival Paris University:the theological faculties of both universities have survived, partly because of the nature of the subject, partly because its members were older and spent over twice as long there as in the arts faculty, and partly because of the nature of the course (Leff 160-161).
Theology at Oxford University in the thirteen and fourteenth centuries was based on the Bible and the Sentences (Leff 164). The Sentences were written by Peter Lombard and consisted of four books discussing the topics of God, Creation, Christ, and the Sacraments (Leff 164). Theology attracted the purest thinkers and those who were prepared to spend a large portion of their lives debating and speculating on abstract questions, which had no direct relevance outside of the university and religious areas. The number of students who achieved masters in theology was very small because of the degree of difficulty of the subject. In the late thirteenth century and the first two decades of the fourteenth century only about twenty students receive their license in theology from Oxford (Leff 163). However, those involved in theology did receive the highest honors. Law is the area of study at Oxford that attracted the wealthiest people and promised the most lucrative returns. At Oxford there was the study of civil and then canon law (Leff 178). Before being permitted to study canon law one first had to swear to have taken three years of courses in civil law (Leff 178-179). It took a student of law at Oxford six years to earn a bachelor and five more years to obtain a license to practice law (Leff 178). Law was probably the most widely studied subject at Oxford, with one of the highest demands in the world outside of the University.
Medicine was another of the main courses taught at Oxford, which also promised profitable rewards and was very much needed in the world. The study of medicine at Oxford took four years to acquire a bachelor and either six or eight for a license, depending on whether or not the student had a master in the arts (Leff 180). Also to achieve a license in medicine one had to pass an exam that consisted mainly of ancient Arabian traditions (Leff 180). After getting a license one had to lecture at the University for a year before he was permitted to practice in the outside world (Leff 180).
The arts were also taught at Oxford University. There are seven of these arts and they are as follows: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic and music, astronomy, moral philosophy, and metaphysics (Leff 146). The arts were mainly considered to be a stepping-stone on the way to another higher course. The course of arts had many different regulations that were first brought about by Robert de Courcon in 1215 (Leff 138). There were regulations on what books could be read, ages for different grades, and the conditions to be observed (Leff 138). The minimum age one could be to study the arts was twenty-one, and the minimum period of study in a particular subject of the arts was four years (Leff 138).
The reputation of Oxford University is one full of troubles in its social and political life but very admirable in its scholarly life. Around the 1170s Oxford University was known as a place lawyers could get very superlative advice (Thompson 2). Oxford was recognized as being one of the leading schools in the teaching of theology and law; however, it was also well known as an exceptional school of medicine and philosophy. In 1911 the vice chancellor of Oxford University had this to say about the reputation of Oxford:To be given the right, and therefore the duty, to speak in this place, and from this Chair, to speak for Oxford and on the high theme of Poetry, is indeed to be accorded a position, which might well overweight event the most competent and confident (Warren 3).
Oxford University is a very important part of Englands history. In 1355 Edward III paid tribute to the University for its invaluable contribution to learning (Brief 1). In those days being honored by a king was a very big deal, even more so than today (Brief 1). One of the many milestones in the Universitys history is in 1878, when the first halls were established for women (History 1). This shows the Universitys willingness to change against its many years of tradition, which proves that Oxford is an all around exceptional school of learning. Oxford University today has become one of the most highly distinguished schools in the world. Oxford has greatly expanded its number of students having over sixteen thousand in attendance last year (Oxford Facts 1). One quarter of these students are from over seas or some other location out side of England (Oxford Facts 1). This fact shows Oxford Universitys commitment to trying to attract as many foreign students as possible (Oxford Facts 1). In attendance last year there was one hundred and thirty different nationalities among the student body (Oxford Facts 1). Almost five thousands students are in postgraduate work; of these three thousand are in arts and humanities. The University of Oxford in Oxford, England has been around for a very long time. It has been giving students an education, and making a history for itself with all of the famous events and people that have been involved with the University. Oxford University has been one of the leading institutions of learning for the better part of nine centuries. All of its existence Oxford has been a very important part of Englands society and economy. As well as being a big part in Englands past, Oxford is also an important part in England today. The University has had some of the best students attending it and some of the best courses being taught in his halls and colleges. The lives of the students were dependent upon their education and in the end their graduation at Oxford University. Even though Oxford is a very highly distinguished school of learning, it did have its share of problems with the townspeople, who were being ill-treated by the University and the King of England. Oxfords origins are hard to pinpoint because of it exceedingly old existence but are very interesting. Oxford University is a very distinguishable and significant institution of learning in Englands history and present day. Bibliography:Works CitedA Brief History of the University. http://www.ox.ac.uk/aboutoxford/history.shtml.. 10/15/00. pgs. 1-2. History of the University. http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/outline/hist.htm. 10/16/00. Pgs. 1-2.
Kenny, Anthony. The Oxford History of Western Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1994. FSCC.
Leff, Gordon. Paris and Oxford Universities in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1968. FSCC.
Oxford. Http://www.aboutbritain.com/towns/oxford.asp. 10/16/00. pgs. 1-2.
Oxford Facts and Figures. . August 25, 2000. pgs.1-2.
The Story of Oxford. http://www.oxford-info.com/History.htm. 10/16/00. pgs. 1-9.
Thompson, R.M.. Serlo of Wilton and the Schools of Oxford. Medium Aevem. 1999: pg. 1-9.
Warren, T. Herbert. Oxford and Poetry in 1911. Folcroft, PA.: The Folcroft Press Inc., 1961. FSCC.
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