Category Archives: 17th century

Notes in the margin

This month’s University Archives blog looks at some of the stranger annotations which appear in the University’s records over the centuries. Administrative records of any organisation can be fairly dry affairs. They were created because a job needed doing and the University’s officers and administrators, in the main, dutifully carried our their tasks. Many of the records in the Archives here, however, show that the people who wrote them were not that different from us today. They got bored at meetings, they criticised their colleagues, and they couldn’t resist a joke at someone else’s expense.

As well as recording the important business of the day, some records can contain extra notes and annotations in the margins, or sometimes right in the middle of the text, which add unexpected details. Although mostly mere scribbles and doodles (‘marginalia’ seems too grandiose a term for these), some of the notes are making a very different point. The following is just a very small selection of what we’ve found.

One of the earliest registers of University business in the Archives is a register kept by the Chancellor. Known as the Chancellor’s Register (Registrum Cancellarii), it was maintained by successive Chancellors from 1435 to 1469 and contained a range of business with which they, or their specially-appointed commissaries (deputies) personally dealt. The Chancellor’s powers were wide and as well as being head of the University, he also had to act as judge, magistrate and keeper of the peace in Oxford.

Throughout the register there are little pointing hands drawn in the margins, directing the reader to something important. Known as manicules, these were commonly used for centuries as a way of highlighting key points or interesting parts of a text, much like the fifteenth-century equivalent of a post-it note.

Manicule from Chancellor's Register Hyp/A/1

Pointing finger, or ‘manicule’, in the Chancellor’s Register, 1435-59 (from OUA/Hyp/A/1)

In other places, there are more elaborate doodles which appear to serve no purpose whatsoever other than to quell the boredom of the writer. On one page, written by one of the Chancellor’s commissaries, John Beek, during his deputising for the Chancellor in September 1451, there is an elaborate circular drawing. This must have taken some time to do as it is carefully drawn. Perhaps the business that day was particularly dull?

Doodle from the Chancellor’s Register, 1451 (from OUA/Hyp/A/1)

Some records in the Archives also show evidence of officers’ recordkeeping skills being criticised by their colleagues. A Register of Congregation contains a terse exchange of 1580 written in the margin in which the Registrar (and writer of the register) Richard Cullen receives a complaint from an unhappy anonymous critic. The note is written next to a blank list of inceptors (those who were proceeding to higher degrees) in Theology, Civil Law and Medicine. The names haven’t been filled in yet. The anonymous critic starts things off, complaining about the emptiness of the list:

‘Mr Cullen, you must use to make your book more perfit and not leave their names owt so long til thei be quite forgoten’

Richard Cullen retaliates, firmly passing the blame onto someone else, namely one of the University’s Bedels:

‘not forgotten but the bedell not paynge of me for regestring this act hath dune me injurye and so you’

The matter seems not to have been resolved within the pages of the register. The entries remained empty. Let’s hope the people receiving their higher degrees were not forgotten as a result.

Exchange recorded in margin of Register of Congregation (NEP/supra/Reg KK, fol 311r).

Less commonly, the University’s records have been annotated to make a joke. Robert Veel, who matriculated from St Edmund Hall on 6 May 1664, was the victim of such a joke. Robert signed his name in the University’s subscription register, as every student was required to do at that time, confirming his assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

Someone, we don’t know who, then thought it hilarious to write in the word ‘py’ after Robert’s surname, so he is now listed for posterity as Robert Veel py (ie veal pie). It looks as if the comedy addition to the register was done at pretty much the same time as Robert wrote his name, but we don’t know whether it was a bored administrator who snuck the joke in, or perhaps one of the students signing their name further down the page after Robert who saw an opportunity. Either way, the joke made it into Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses, the multi-volume register of members of the University up to 1888, published in the late nineteenth century. There, Foster rather cheerlessly describes the insertion ‘doubtless as a jest’.

Subscription entry for Robert Veel (from OUA/SP/41)

It will be interesting to see how the transition from paper to digital records in the University affects the survival of doodles and other annotations like this in the future. Born-digital records offer many benefits, but they could, rather sadly, hail the demise of such notes in the margin.

Mysterious donors, salaries and swordfish – a year in the life of the University’s accounts

As the University’s financial year draws to a close (it runs from 1 August to 31 July), this month’s University Archives blog takes a look at how the University managed its finances in years past. Financial records might, at first sight, seem a little dull, but take a closer look and they can yield some unexpectedly fascinating and intriguing details.

Until 1868, the Vice-Chancellor was personally responsible for maintaining the University’s accounts. That seems an improbably large amount of work for one person, but it wasn’t as onerous as you might think. The central University administration had been, until the late nineteenth century, very small; the only senior officers were the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar and two Proctors. The business of that central administration was also very small – most went on in colleges, independent bodies which are not part of the central University.

The Vice-Chancellor maintained a series of volumes of accounts. These were the successors to rolls of accounts which the Proctors had kept during the fifteenth century. The volumes, written in a combination of Latin and English, contained neat and well-organised summary accounts detailing University income and expenditure for the preceding financial year. Just one year’s worth of these accounts can shed some very interesting light on what was going on at the University at that time.

The accounts for the financial year October 1698 to October 1699 were drawn up by the Vice-Chancellor at the time, William Poynter. As was customary, they were arranged into money received (ie income) and money spent (ie expenses). Money spent was further divided into ordinary expenses and extraordinary expenses. The ordinary expenses were things which the University generally had to pay for every year, such as salaries (or ‘stipends’) of University staff. Extraordinary expenses were a much more varied affair. They could include expenditure on building projects, one-off purchases by the University, or costs incurred by random events.

The money received in that year was much as you’d expect. Written in Latin, the accounts record rent received from tenants and other income from the University’s estates and investments, income from University fees and benefactions. The final line in the list of receipts is rather intriguing however. This records the sum of one pound and ten shilings received from ‘ab Anonymo qui Nomen suum celatum Voluit’, ie from an anonymous man who wanted his name concealed. Was this an anonymous benefaction from someone too modest to publicise their name, or something more controversial? Unfortunately we’ll probably never know.

Receipts 1698-9

Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1698-9 showing receipts (from OUA/WPgamma/21/6)

Then there are the lists of ordinary expenses. Also in Latin, they are mostly regular salary payments, but even these can reveal more then they first appear. One particularly large stipend is paid to the Keeper of the Archives, or ‘Custos Archivorum’ to give him his Latin title (meaning ‘guardian of the archives’). In this year, the Keeper, Dr John Wallis, was paid the princely sum of forty pounds. Just two lines below, the stipend of Dr Thomas Hyde ‘bibliothecario’ (ie Bodley’s Librarian) is given. This is the relatively measly sum of six pounds, thirteen shillings and fourpence. Why the discrepancy when both might appear to us to be doing similar kinds of jobs? Well, that was due to the differing roles of Drs Wallis and Hyde and the importance which the University gave to one and not the other.

The Keeper of the Archives was the University’s chief weapon in its constant battles with Oxford city. A new post created in 1634, the Keeper took a prominent, hands-on role in the University’s many disputes with the city. He was responsible for gathering written evidence and providing the documents the University needed to fight its case in court to protect its privileges and rights within Oxford. The Keeper was a key part of the University’s defensive arsenal against its ancient rival, and one of the most significant officers in the seventeenth-century University after the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Proctors. His stipend reflected that importance and he was remunerated accordingly.

Bodley’s Librarian, on the other hand, responsible since 1602 for the day to day running of the Bodleian Library, was not seen in quite the same way. More of an administrator than a University champion, his much smaller stipend reflected this perceived lower status.

Ordinary expenses 1698-9

Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1698-9 showing ordinary expenses (from OUA/WPgamma/21/6)

For the list of extraordinary expenses, the volume switches into English – maybe because of the more random and miscellaneous nature of the transactions involved. There are a range of one-off payments to individuals doing work for the University (carriers, printers and the ‘University Ingraver’), ad hoc payments to University staff (eg the Musick Master), and payments for work being done around the University, such as repair of the organ at St Mary’s Church.

The payments also allude to other things going on in the country at the time which had an impact on the University. There is an oblique reference to the credit crisis in England in the late 1690s, the University having lost money ‘by the fall of guinnys’ [guineas].

Extraordinary expenses 1698-9

Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1698-9 showing extraordinary expenses (from OUA/WPgamma/21/6)

Further down the list of extraordinary expenses is a payment by the University of two pounds and six shillings to the Bedel of Beggars for a new coat and badge of office for two years. The Bedel of Beggars later became the University Marshall, the head of the former University Police. A role still in existence today as the head of the University Security Services, the Marshall can be easily spotted at ceremonial occasions due to the size of the badge which they wear.

On the line below is a record of a payment by the University for the sizeable sum of £10 for a ‘swordfish placed in the Museum’. This would have been the Old Ashmolean Museum, opened only 16 years before where the Museum of the History of Science is now. Quite why the University wanted a swordfish, and whatever happened to it, is not known.

Again there are hints at much more involved and interesting stories in these seemingly uninspiring lists of payments. The very last extraordinary expense was the sum of fifteen pounds paid to ‘Mr Sherwin the University Bayliffe for his extraordinary paines about the Repaires and Buildings in the University’. Who knows what ‘extraordinary paines’ this man went to. Unfortunately there is no other record in the Archives here to show exactly what Mr Sherwin had battled with.

The University’s financial management was taken over from the Vice-Chancellor in 1868 by the Curators of the University Chest. The amount of work had increased by this time and the University had received criticism during the 1860s about how it managed its finances. In an attempt to find a more robust way of controlling its money, it created a new body of nine persons known as the Curators of the Chest (‘Curatores cistae academicae’) together with a new post of Secretary to the Chest to support them. The Secretary was the first professional non-academic University officer, although not, at that point, a professional accountant. The Secretary of the Chest is now the University’s Director of Finance.

An interesting and detailed history of the University’s finance and accounting practices can be found on the University Finance Division website at History of Finance Division | Finance Division (

The Earls of Clarendon catalogue is now online

You can find the new catalogue of the family and working papers of seven Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation) online at Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts.

The archive adds considerably to the Bodleian’s existing collections of Clarendon family papers, which include the seventeenth-century state papers of the very first Earl of Clarendon (1st creation) who was chief advisor to Charles I and Lord Chancellor to Charles II. His heirs in the Hyde and Villiers families took up the mantle and continued to serve the British government and the royal family well into the twentieth century. Notable postings included the 4th Earl of Clarendon serving as Viceroy of Ireland during the Great Famine and later as Foreign Secretary, and the 6th Earl of Clarendon serving as Governor-General of South Africa in the 1930s.

The archive includes approximately 800 letters from Queen Victoria and correspondence with monarchs and statesmen including Frederick the Great of Prussia and Viscount Palmerston. It also includes intimate family and estate papers, including letters between mothers and sons and husbands and wives.

I have been blogging about interesting items I’ve found along the way, ranging from 19th-century condoms to letters from the front during the American War of Independence (plus one extremely cute dog) and you can find those posts all here at the Archives and Manuscripts blog.

‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’ – keeping the peace at Encaenia

Encaenia hasn’t always been the solemn and serious ceremony it is now. For much of its life, it was the victim of some very bad behaviour – some of which was formally sanctioned by the University, but most of which was not. Until the Sheldonian Theatre was built in 1669, the Act (the predecessor of Encaenia) took place at St Mary’s, the University Church. By the late fifteenth century, however, this, once sober occasion had begun to turn into a much less respectable and rather outrageous event.

As well as the conferral of honorary degrees, the Act (effectively the University’s annual graduation ceremony) also contained a theatrical element absent from the modern Encaenia ceremony. It attracted travelling players and musical performers, and was livelier and more exuberant than it is now. Part of the exuberance came from a character at the event who was appointed by the University almost deliberately to lower the tone. The Terrae Filius (‘son of the earth’, meaning someone of very lowly origins) was an anonymous speaker whose role was to poke fun at the University and give a satirical speech about the honorands.

Whilst originally a solemn and serious participant in the proceedings, the Terrae Filius’s speech gradually descended over the years into downright rudeness. Although the University officially tolerated this licensed outrageousness, some of the individuals present (especially those on the receiving end of the rudeness) did not. Some speeches were so offensive that the Terrae Filius was attacked and beaten afterwards. In other years the speech gives were expelled from the University, forced to retract their speech, and even arrested on the spot and taken to Oxford’s bocardo prison.

The theatricals and the insults of the Terrae Filius appealed to many undergraduates and visitors from outside Oxford and the came to the Act in large numbers. The crowds and the general spirit of licentiousness proved a dangerous cocktail with undergraduates seeing the event as an opportunity to misbehave. They made noises which disrupted the ceremony (‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’), were rude to the honorands, and deliberately sat in the wrong seats, ie those set aside for more senior University individuals. The University started having to issue notices to undergraduates warning them of the consequences of their bad behaviour.

Notice of 1652

Notice of 5 July 1652 concerning student behaviour at the Act (from OUA/WPgamma/28/8)

The Act became such an undesirable part of the University’s calendar that by the late seventeenth century it wasn’t even held every year. It seems that the University looked for any excuse not to have to hold it. Some years there were ‘not enough honorands’; other years, it wasn’t held for fear of sparking political disturbances. The event had become so rowdy that many thought it no longer appropriate to be held in a church. As a result, the Sheldonian Theatre was built and the Act moved there in 1670.

The Act was held only three times in the first half of the eighteenth century: in 1703, 1713 and 1733. The Terrae Filius didn’t even speak at the 1713 Act, his speech apparently having been burnt. His very last appearance in 1763 was in a much reduced, and heavily-censored, role.

The 1733 Act, famous for involving the composer George Frideric Handel, was the last traditional Act to take place. It was replaced shortly afterwards by the new annual Encaenia ceremony, a much-reduced version of the Act. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Encaenia (also known as the Commemoration) was becoming an important part of the University calendar again. Unfortunately rowdy undergraduate behaviour was also becoming a regular part of Encaenia. The move to the Sheldonian had not curbed the behaviour, it had simply moved it to a new location. Student rowdiness was such a part of the tradition of the event that although the Terrae Filius had long been consigned to history, his spirit lived on.

University notice concerning students banished for disruption of Encaenia 1843 (OUA/WPgamma/26/2/18)

In June 1843, four students were banished from the University for between one and five years each for ‘grievous violation of the peace’ at the Sheldonian Theatre. The University issued numerous notices over the following decades chastising the undergraduates for their continuing bad behaviour, repeated without fail each Encaenia.

University notice concerning behaviour at Encaenia, c1840 (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/19)

The notices reminded undergraduates that they had no formal right to even be at the ceremony. Encaenia was technically a meeting of Convocation (the body of MAs and higher degree holders of the University) of which undergraduates were not members.

University notice of 24 June 1867 concerning student behaviour (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/84)

By the time Encaenia 1867 was about to take place, the University was issuing strongly-worded notices to its undergraduates about the impact of their behaviour. It was not only bringing the University into disrepute, it was even, allegedly, putting people off accepting an honorary degree from Oxford. They just couldn’t face the ‘ordeal’ of it.

The problem of undergraduates’ bad behaviours at Encaenia was finally solved in the 1870s. The Curators of the Sheldonian Theatre were established in 1872, a direct result of the Encaenia disturbances. A new body set up to take responsibility of the Sheldonian, one of its first acts was to tackle the issue of crowd control at Encaenia. Until that time, entry to the Sheldonian had not been restricted in any way and any member of the University, undergraduate or otherwise, could turn up. In 1872 the Curators decided to admit undergraduates to Encaenia by ticket only. In 1878 they went even further, deciding on 30 May that year that undergraduates would no longer be allowed at Encaenia. Removing undergraduates from the ceremony entirely finally enabled the University to bring Encaenia back under control and into the realms of respectability.

For more information about the chequered history of the Terrae Filius, see the article by Bromley Smith and Douglas Ehninger ‘The Terrafilial disputations at Oxford’ at

The Acts of 1713 and 1733 are discussed by H Diack Johnstone in his article ‘Handel at Oxford in 1733’ available at and in his chapter ‘Music and Drama at the Oxford Act of 1713’ in Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain (ed Susan Wollenberg, 2017).

Further information about the Encaenia ceremony today can be found on the University’s website at


Admission of the Proctors

Every year, on the Wednesday of the 9th week of Hilary Term, the University admits its new Proctors and Assessor to office. These are senior officers of the University, responsible for scrutiny and discipline, whose role is to oversee student matters and uphold the University’s statutes and policies. The two Proctors (a Senior Proctor and a Junior Proctor) and the Assessor are selected from the fellows of three colleges (one for each) on a rota basis and each officer holds their position full-time for 12 months.

The role of the Proctor is ancient. First referred to in 1248, the two Proctors were the principal officers of the University, along with the Chancellor. They were responsible for discipline and order, both in terms of academic studies and conduct. At first the Proctors were chosen from among the fellows of colleges, one Proctor for each of the two ‘nations’ into which the University was divided at that time. The Senior Proctor was chosen by the ‘southerners’ and the Junior Proctor by the ‘northerners’. The procedure for their election was complex until 1574 when they began to be elected annually by Convocation (the body of MAs of the University at that time). This lasted until the early seventeenth century when, following a number of rigged elections and some chaotic and pretty violent meetings of Convocation, a new way of selecting the Proctors had to be devised.

Illuminated transcript of the Proctorial cycle, 31 December 1628 (OUA/Long Box 21/2)

The Proctorial cycle, instituted in 1628 at the initiative of King Charles I and the Chancellor of the University, William Laud, established the basis of the current system of selecting the Proctors from each college in turn. Drawn up by two mathematicians, the prearranged order (at that time spanning 23 years) was designed to avoid the conflict of recent years and ensure that the larger colleges didn’t dominate the process (although they did have more frequent turns).

The new cycle came into effect in 1629 and ten full cycles had been completed by the time a new cycle was introduced in 1859. Later amendments have since been made to the cycle to incorporate new colleges and halls; and from 1960 the women’s colleges were permitted to elect a Representative, now known as the Assessor. The Assessor was formally incorporated into the Proctorial cycle in 1978.

The incoming Proctors and Assessor are admitted to office each March at a ceremony held, in recent years, in the Sheldonian Theatre. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 ceremony took place without an audience, and the 2021 ceremony was held online. This year’s admission ceremony, on Wednesday 16 March, is the first to be held in person and in full for three years.

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

As part of the ceremony, the incoming Proctors place their hands on two ancient volumes of University statutes while they swear their oaths of office. These are copies of the 1636  Laudian Statutes held in the University Archives. The Laudian Statutes, so named because their compilation took place under the Chancellorship of William Laud, represented a watershed moment in the history of the University: it was the first time that all the University’s statutes and regulations had been brought together and recorded in one place. They remained at the heart of University governance for several centuries.

The copies of the statutes used in the ceremony were specially made  in 1636 for the Senior and Junior Proctors.  They were to be their personal copies, handed down from Proctor to Proctor as the most important tool for their job. They have recently been handsomely recovered in leather wrappers, fit for their ceremonial role. The statutes are personally escorted to and from the ceremony each year by staff of the University Archives.

The statutes are of course no longer current, but along with a bunch of historic keys which is handed to the Proctors during the ceremony, they are symbols of the ancient but continuing power which the Proctors hold within the University.


A pirate’s life?

Oil painting of the HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, sailing in a gale, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

A mysterious, unsigned, undated copy letter in the Clarendon family archive describes a sailor’s discovery of an inhabited island.

The mysteries are: who was the sailor, where was the island, and when was it “discovered”? But before all that: is this letter even real, or a fantasy?

A helpful, scrappy note that accompanies the letter, also unsigned and undated, makes a suggestion:

A letter written in Ld Cornbury’s hand but whether from a Mr. Ja[me]s Hyde son of the Chancellor who was a Sailor or who else does not appear

Lord Cornbury (d. 1753), who this note speculates is the copyist, was the son of Henry Hyde, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1st creation), and would have been the 5th Earl if he hadn’t died before his father, which made the Clarendon title temporarily extinct. I have to respectfully disagree with the note, however. I think the handwriting belongs to Thomas Villiers (1709-1786), who succeeded to the Clarendon title as the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation). If the identity of the copyist is not necessarily reliable then, what about the identity of the original author?

James Hyde (d. 1681) was the son of Edward Hyde, the original 1st Earl of Clarendon, who was Lord Chancellor to Charles II. James Hyde died aged only 31 and I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that he was a sailor but let’s assume that this is family knowledge and take the note-writer at his word. Early modern sailors started their careers extremely young, which means that if this really is a letter James Hyde wrote, it dates, roughly, to the 20 years between 1661 and 1681.

‘Honoured Father’, the letter begins:

Continue reading

Advancing and expanding access to our archives

Helping to navigate the Bodleian Libraries’ vast archives.

I am thrilled to be working on a major initiative by the Bodleian Libraries to prepare for the introduction of an online circulation system for the Bodleian’s vast collection of archive and manuscript materials. I grew up in a family avid about history and I went on to study history at university—so it’s an incredible privilege to be able to contribute to this work which will benefit readers, researchers and members of the public from all around the world.

My role at the Weston Library includes barcoding all the material stored there, uploading this information into our online systems, and contributing to the conservation and re-housing of collections. The work underway behind the scenes is a very significant project that will contribute to widening access to the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections. It’s energising to think that I am contributing to making all this material more accessible for as wide an audience of readers and scholars as possible. I am conscious that archival material is meaningful, powerful, and sometimes contested, and I am motivated by the idea I am contributing to a project which will allow a greater number of people to provide rigorous, progressive and exciting views of the past and its influence on the present.

One of the main privileges of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with all the collections in the Library. As I scamper around the Library’s many compartments to barcode the collections held there, I encounter material from all the Weston’s collections—medieval manuscripts, music archives, modern manuscripts, rare books, and maps from around the world. In the above photo, you can see me (please forgive the scruffy lockdown hair) preparing to put labels on each of the shelves in the Weston Library. I did this as the staff at the Weston came back to Library after the most recent lockdown, and the aim was to help my colleagues and I navigate the Library’s compartments to find materials—it can get quite labyrinthine! The coronavirus pandemic affected the Bodleian Libraries’ workings significantly, but through it all the Library always strived to “keep Oxford reading”. The project to which I am contributing was inevitably delayed by the pandemic because it involves a lot of work which can only be done onsite, but now a number of colleagues in the department are contributing to the project to catch up lost time and get it done!

Hopefully this has provided you with a glimpse of the daily inner-workings of the Bodleian and how we are working to make things accessible!

Academic dress in the Oxford University Archives

Of the many Oxford University traditions that have survived to the present day, one of the most visually distinctive and recognisable is the ‘academic costume’: the gowns, caps and subfusc worn today by students and officials during examinations and ceremonies. Yet despite the long presence of academic dress in the University’s history, the University Archives hold surprisingly little material relating to it. This is perhaps because until the mid 20th century, its exact nature appears to have been fairly fluid, constantly evolving, and on occasion subject to change that was not authorised by the University. It was not until 1957 that academic dress was fixed in its current form, with the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford by R.E. Clifford and D.E. Venables. This illustrated guide includes precise descriptions of each element of the academic dress, and although this book has been republished and revised, very few alterations have been made to the rules it lays out.

The oldest item relating to this topic in the University Archives is this small book, which dates from 1716 and contains numbered engravings of different forms of academic dress. An example of every official and student is shown, from the Vice Chancellor and the Bedels to the Bachelor of Arts, the Master of Arts and many others.

Title page, with the Phillipps shelfmark. Reference: OUA NW 1/10*

Bachelor of Arts

Vice Chancellor

Doctor of Theology, wearing a ‘toga coccinea’ (red cape)

These images are in fact cuts from David Loggan’s 1675 engraving Habitus Academici, part of his Oxonia Illustrata series of engravings illustrating Oxford University and its environment. The original engraving is a black and white single sheet, but here they are coloured, bound in a small volume with a new title page: ‘Habitus Academici in Universitate Oxoniensi Anno 1716’, and they are likely to be the earliest coloured representations of Oxford University academic dress. The shelfmark written at the bottom of the title page, ‘Phillipps MS 24809’, shows that it appears to have made its way into the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, one of the most important book collectors of the 19th century. It was ultimately donated to the University Archives by the Keeper of the Archives 1927-45, Strickland Gibson.

Not only are these illustrations some of the earliest of academic dress in the University Archives, but they are some of the only visual representations we hold. Most other records on this topic concern attempts to regulate academic dress, and how these rules were broken.

Although the exact nature of academic dress pre-20th century is hard to pin down, attempts were nevertheless made to regulate it as early as the 17th century. In the Laudian Code of 1636, which was the first coherent set of Oxford University regulations, Statute Tit. XIV De vestitu et habitu scholastico laid down rules for how academic dress should look and be worn, and required models of the various outfits be made. The original 1636 ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the the Laudian Code is held in the University Archives, as seen below with the seals of the University, Archbishop Laud and Charles I.

The ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the Laudian Code. Reference: OUA WPγ/25c/1

At this point in time, academic dress was not worn for just ceremonies and examinations, but in University members’ everyday lives, including when they were out and about in the city. As a result, rules on academic dress were also rules about the everyday physical appearance of university members. §1 of Stat. Tit. XIV in particular describes how no member’s hair should be ‘[in] curls or excessively long’, and lays out the monetary penalties and corporal punishment that could be expected for disobeying this rule.

Stat. Tit. XIV, §1 in the Codex Authenticus

As the centuries passed, University members were required to wear their gowns less and less, and so the surveillance of their everyday appearance began to relax. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of instances of students bending or breaking the rules, and during the 20th century the University Archives begin to show more evidence of how exactly rules were disobeyed. This Proctor’s memorandum from 1945, shown below, gently reminds students of the correct situations in which academic dress should be worn, in particular noting that ‘it is an offence to smoke in academic dress’.

Proctors memorandum. Reference: OUA PR 1/8/1/1

Similarly, this notice from around the 1920s-30s, sent from the Vice-Chancellor and the Proctors to the college authorities, emphasises the importance of candidates for degrees being suitably dressed. According to this note, those taking degrees recently had been doing so ‘in torn gowns, in brown shoes, in light grey suits, in flannel trousers, and even in a form of jumper or ‘pull-over’.

Vice Chancellor and Proctors notice. Reference: OUA PR 1/5/6/1

The University Archives’ most recent holding relating to academic dress dates from 1956, just before the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford in 1957. The ‘Register of Colours’ created by Shepherd and Woodward, an outfitter to the University based in Oxford, contains samples of the correctly dyed fabric to be used on each item of dress, with descriptions of the precise material and hood shape to be used.

The Register of Colours. Reference: OUA WPγ/28/15

The register is still occasionally updated by Shepherd and Woodward today, as it is relied upon by the Vice Chancellor’s Regulation 1 of 2002, which states that robes, gowns and hoods should conform to the standards ‘prescribed in the Register of Colours and Materials of Gowns and Hoods for Degrees of the University of Oxford… deposited in the University Archives.’

The topic of academic dress is one which illustrates well the relationship between the University Archives and the University itself. Our material relating to academic dress is limited to that which was considered practical to record at the time. This is why regulations for academic dress and punishments for not obeying these are represented more so in the Archives than any precise picture of exactly what was worn and how it changed over the years. Thus the Archives preserve the history of the University, but only as far as the University recorded this history at the time.

To find out more about Oxford University Archives and our holdings, please contact us.

Further Reading

Brockliss, L. W. B., ‘Students and Teachers’, The University of Oxford: A History, OUP 2016

Clifford, R. E.  & Venables, D. E., Academic Dress of the University of Oxford, Oxford 1957

Franklyn, C., Academical Dress from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Hassocks, Sussex 1970

Memoirs of a French Protestant leader – MS. French c. 15

One of the many exciting things about working on the Summary Catalogue for me has been to dive into our holdings written in foreign languages. Being French, it is always quite thrilling for me to come across a piece of French history in the Catalogue. I have to admit my knowledge of it to be limited to basics, as I chose to study British history at university. Nonetheless, there are dates and names that have stuck with me from my school days, and when I saw the description for the item numbered 47174 in the Summary Catalogue, I knew I had to check out this particular box.

French c. 15 is a copy of Mémoires du Duc de Rohan. The Mémoires were written by Henri II de Rohan, who I think is a fascinating character, and a name you would probably come across while studying 17th century French history.

This is a story that takes us back to early modern France, in the aftermath of King Henri IV’s death, and in the midst of religious unrest. King Henri IV is likely to be one of the most well-known French kings today. His name is tied to the Wars of Religion and to a document called “Edict of Nantes” – let me come back to this later.

What were the Wars of Religion?

Towards the beginning of the 16th century, new religious ideas started to spread across Europe, challenging the dominant Catholic faith. They reached France as well and estimates show that by 1570, around 10% of the French population had converted to Protestantism. Amongst nobles and intellectuals, this proportion was even higher and could have reached as much as 50%.[1] Protestants in France were called the “Huguenots”, but the origins of the name remain unclear. At the time, there was no religious liberty: in the 16th century, Huguenots were heretics and they were persecuted, both by the Crown and by the Church.

In the second half of the century, the tensions between the two religious groups turned into open conflict, culminating in eight different periods of civil war in less than forty years (1562-1598): the Wars of Religion. They include the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (23/24 August 1572) in which thousands of Protestants, including many Huguenot leaders, were killed.[2]

The time of the Wars of Religion was a deeply troubled period marked by a lack political stability. While both England and Spain each had two monarchs reigning over those forty years, France was governed by five different kings, some of whom were still children when they accessed the throne. While the four first monarchs were from the Valois family, the last one, Henri IV, was not.

Henri IV and the Edict of Nantes

Henri of Navarre became King of France in 1589 upon the death of Henri III, who did not have any children. However, he was only crowned five years later in 1594 for a good reason: Henri IV was a Huguenot. While he chose to remain a Protestant for the first few years of his reign, his coronation only took place after he converted to Catholicism (1593), pressured by the political tensions. Henri IV nevertheless never had the full trust of either Protestants or Catholics and was murdered in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a Catholic zealot.

Henri’s biggest legacy is passing of the Edict of Nantes in 1598. Signed in Nantes, the document was originally known as the “Peace-making Edict.”[3] The Edict was inspired by several preceding edicts that unsuccessfully tried to quell the religious conflicts. It gave Protestants some rights (which came with obligations), and provided them with safe havens and was a sign of religious toleration – still a rare thing across Europe at the time.

The other Henri, Henri II de Rohan

Henri de Rohan was a member of one of the most powerful families of Britany, in Western France. He used to go hunting with King Henri IV, who was his first cousin once removed. Raised as a Protestant, Henri II de Rohan became the Huguenot leader in the Huguenot rebellions that took place after Henri IV’s death, from 1621 to 1629.
These rebellions, which are sometimes nicknamed the “Rohan Wars” from the name of the Huguenot leader, arose as the new Catholic King, Louis XIII (Henri IV’s son) decided to re-establish Catholicism in Bearn, a province in the South-West of France (located in Navarre, this was the former homeland of Henri IV). His decision to march on the province was perceived as hostility by the Protestants.

Memoirs of the Duke of Rohan on things that have taken place in France from the death of Henry the Great until the peace made with the Reformists in the month of March 1626

The Mémoires written by the Duc de Rohan are a testimony of the Huguenot rebellions. Written in 17th century French, they give insight on political matters of the time (in this instance, politics and religion are one and the same) and shed light on reasons that drove Protestants to rebel against the Crown. They give details about the relationships that the different protagonists had with each other. While the Bodleian libraries hold a manuscript copy, you can also read Henri de Rohan’s memoirs online here.

After the Mémoires

The aftermath of the Huguenot rebellions was not favourable to Protestants: in 1629, as the Huguenots lost the last conflict of the rebellions, a peace treaty was signed in Alès. The treaty banned Protestants from taking part in political assemblies and abolished safe havens. Henri de Rohan, who was the leader of the Huguenots, had to go into exile: Venice, Padua, and Switzerland. By 1634, Louis XIII had pardoned him, and Rohan was tasked with leading French troops first against Spain, and then against Germany in 1638. Henri de Rohan died from a battle wound in April 1638.

The Edict of Nantes of Nantes was completely revoked in 1685 by King Louis XIV. Freedom to worship was introduced again in France in 1789 in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,[4] a consequence of the French Revolution.

You can view the catalogue of this manuscript in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.


[1] Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, New York: Routledge, 2004, vol. 2, p. 736

[2] The exact number of casualties is unknown. Estimates range between 10,000 and 30,000.

[3] The original French term is “Édit de pacification.”

[4] The original French name is “Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.”

Read more:

Clarke, Jack A. Huguenot Warrior : the Life and Times of Henri De Rohan, 1579-1638, 1966

Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, New York: Routledge, 2004

Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629, 2005.

Memoirs of Henri de Rohan online

A book of magical charms: MS. e Mus. 243

Whilst working on the project of retro-converting the Old Summary Catalogue (OSC), I get a unique chance to look at everything acquired by the Bodleian Libraries since 1602. This includes the academic, interesting, and a bit weird. And weird is what I’m bringing you today, hopefully offering a welcome bit of escapism.

You never know what you’re going to come across each day and the item I’ve chosen to write about this time is recorded as number 3548, with the description beginning “A book of magical charms”. How could this not pique my interest? The full OSC entry is as follows:

The Newberry Library in Chicago contains a similar book of magical charms from the 17th century, for which they sought public help to transcribe in 2017 in the hope of making the various magical texts they held “more accessible to both casual users and experts”.  Christopher Fletcher, the coordinator of the US based project, explained that ” both protestant and Catholic churches tried very hard to make sure that nobody would make a manuscript like this…they didn’t like magic. They were very suspicious of it. They tried to do everything they could to stamp it out. Yet we have this manuscript, which is  a nice piece of evidence that despite all of that effort to make sure people weren’t doing magic, people still continued doing it.” [1] Although from a different continent, this is a great piece of evidence to show how magic, spirituality, and supposed ‘witchcraft’ continued to remain in the lives of many for much longer than the church and state would have liked to believe.

There are another three items attributed by Falconer Madan (author of the OSC and a Bodleian librarian) to the Oxford citizen Joseph Godwin, who presented this book of magical charms on the 6th August 1655. These show an interesting mixture of magic, science, and religion, that was undoubtedly prevalent – though discouraged- at the time:

– Number 3543, MS. e Mus. 173: “Copies of incantations, charms, prayers, magical formulae, astrological devices, and the like”
– Number 3546, MS. e Mus. 238: “Magical treatises” (including magic and astrology)
– Number 3550, MS. e Mus, 245: “A roll of incantations and prayers”

As with many archival items, we don’t know a huge amount of information about it. We don’t know much about Joseph Godwin, the donor, other than that he was a citizen of Oxford, and we can’t know whether this book of magical charms was written by Godwin or someone else.  What we can assume with relative confidence is that the author of this book would have been well-educated. Literacy levels are notoriously difficult to estimate; some may have been able to read and not write, and although most information comes from those able to sign their names, they may have been able to do little else. However, in England in the 17th century, it is tentatively estimated that literacy levels were around 30% for males, potentially higher for a university city such as Oxford. [2] The fact that this, as well as the other material, is written in a mixture of Latin and English, suggests an elite education. A standardised form of written English became prevalent in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with this replacing Latin and French in 1417 in government documents and business. [3] By the 17th century, Latin would have largely been the preserve of the clergy and academic community. A disproportionate amount of those persecuted for witchcraft were from poor and uneducated backgrounds, whereas this book provides additional evidence that those from all walks of life may have taken an interest.

Onto the object here at the Bodleian Library. One of the reasons I chose this item to write about was how much the first charm I came across made me laugh:

“A booke of Experiments taken
out of dyvers [diverse] auqthors. 1622

Anger to aswage.

Wryte this name in an Apple ya[v]a
& cast it at thine enemie, & thou shalt
aswage his anger, Or geve it to a
woman & she shall love thee.”

Now I’m no expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say throwing an apple at your enemy is probably not going to do wonders for repairing your friendship, even in the 17th century! Geoffrey Scare, John Callow, et al, for The Guardian in 2001, wrote about how differently we do live now, however. They began their article on witchcraft and magic in 16th and 17th century Europe with a simple truth: “‘At the dawning of the third millennium, a belief in the reality and efficacy of witchcraft and magic is no longer an integral component of mainstream Western culture. When misfortune strikes at us, our family or a close neighbour, we do not automatically seek to locate the source of all our ills and ailments in the operation of occult forces, nor scour the local community for the elderly woman who maliciously harnessed them and so bewitched us.” [4] Just like this, we do not tend to turn to magical charms in order to reverse our fortune, or solve our problems with enemies, love, or danger, as the book suggests was practiced then.

This book of magical charms is to me, a mixture of folklore, religion and spiritual belief, and I couldn’t talk about it without delving a little bit into witchcraft, which I and many others find a fascinating topic. What I found shocking when doing my research was how recent the last conviction under the 1735 Witchcraft Act was in the United Kingdom. The act repealed previous laws against witchcraft but imposed fines and imprisonment still against those claiming to be able to use magical powers. To me, witchcraft persecution is the stuff of Early Modern History classes, but it was actually 1944 when Jane Rebecca Yorke of Forest Gate in East London was the last to be convicted. [5] Whereas we may think of witchcraft now to be mostly mythical, or something a small amount of the population dabble in, the law has played a large part in punishing those who have been associated in it throughout at least the last 500 years.

The first official (and by that I mean recorded) law against witchcraft in England was in 1542. Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, making the practice of magic a crime punishable by death. Although repealed in 1547, it was  restored in 1562. An additional law was passed in 1604 by James I, a firm believer in the persecution of witches, which transferred the trials from the church to ordinary courts and thus made witchcraft trials far more commonplace. The peak of witchcraft trials took place between 1580 and 1700, usually involving lower class and older women, and the last known trials occurred in Leicester in 1717. It is estimated that 500 people in England were executed for witchcraft related offences, most of these being women. As referenced above, the 1735 Witchcraft Act, passed in 1736, repealed the laws making witchcraft punishable by death but allowed fines and imprisonment. This was repealed in 1951 for the Fraudulent Mediums Act which is turn was repealed in 2008. [6] The timeline of witchcraft makes the book of charms even more interesting, and the act of Joseph Godwin’s donation one of potential bravery (/stupidity). With witchcraft such a prevalent part of society in 1622, this object in Godwin’s home or as a donation may have led to suspicion, prosecution, and even death.

The story behind the book, we may never know, but it is a great object in itself. Here are some other interesting passages/charms I came across which provide us a unique look into belief at this time:

If you’re interested in this object, you can view it in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.

[1] Katz, B., “Chicago Library seeks help transcribing magical manuscripts,”, (3 July 2017), URL:
[2] Van Horn Melton, J., The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
[3] “Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700,” The Guardian (20 June 2001), URL:
[4] Scarre, G., J. Callow, et al, “Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth Century Europe,” The Guardian (8 June 2001), URL: /jun/08/artsandhumanities.highereducation
[5] “Jane Rebecca Yorke,” Wikipedia, URL: _Yorke
[6] “Witchcraft,” UK Parliament, URL: