A Majestic History: Cambridge University & UK Royalty
With the coronation of King Charles III days away, people across the world are preparing to mark the momentous occasion. People linked to Cambridge may feel more connected to the event than most. The University of Cambridge has a long history of links with UK sovereign. We discover more by delving into the fascinating past of royalty for this month’s blog…
A Royalty Favour
The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. During this period, a dispute with local townspeople prompted some Oxford scholars to seek out a new place to study. In 1231, King Henry III recognised the university with a royal charter. Having the approval of the king was foundational to the new university’s survival. From the article ‘Northampton: The ancient English university killed by a king,’ Northampton University was also establishing itself in the mid-13th Century. The university had many geographical advantages over Cambridge. They believe Northampton may have continued to flourish, leaving Cambridge to flounder. However, if Henry III had not withdrawn Northampton’s royal charter and ‘university’ status in the 1260s. Therefore, decisions from the Medieval monarchy were key for Cambridge’s long continuing reign as a global leader in education.
Five of Cambridge’s thirty-one colleges were founded by monarchs or members of their families. Possibly the most infamous among these founders from royalty is King Henry VIII. He was married to his sixth wife when he founded Trinity College in 1546, just months before his death. He wanted the establishment to be a lasting legacy to his reign, producing future leaders for the Church of England. Today, those who enter Trinity College are greeted by a statue of Henry, looking down from the ornate ‘Great Gate.’ While the king’s crown and golden orb are very regal, observant visitors will notice a change of appearance. The sceptre in his right hand has been swapped for something a little less traditional…a wooden table leg!
The late Queen Elizabeth II visited the university many times throughout her long reign. Her first visit as the royalty monarch took place in 1955. Reports say several enthusiastic veterinary students attempted to lay down their college gowns for her to walk on. In homage to the tale of poet Sir Walter Raleigh, throwing his cloak over a puddle to protect the feet of Queen Elizabeth I. During this visit, the queen toured a select handful of colleges, including Newnham and Girton (both all-female at the time). This choice may have been a tactful way for the young queen to express her support for female students. Just seven years after the university had allowed women to receive full degrees. Incidentally, the first woman given a degree from Cambridge was the Queen Mother who accepted an honorary degree in 1948.
A Grand Royalty Entrance
Today, King Charles III is stepping up to the responsibilities of a sovereign. But, in 1967, he took on a different challenge: being a Cambridge undergraduate. The then-prince studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Trinity College before changing subjects to History and graduating in 1970. From the article ‘Acting and sleepless nights: King Charles’ time at Cambridge,’ he made contribution to a student newspaper. Charles recalled his arrival at Trinity as being somewhat awkward. He was driven there in a particularly small car and found it difficult to climb out to greet the Master and Senior Tutor!
However, his overall experience of student life seems to have been positive with the new king. As stated from the ‘Marie Claire article‘ he showed a particular flair for acting. He performed in several plays and comedy sketches with the college’s drama society. In September 2022, Charles took on the role of a lifetime when he became King of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms. As his official coronation approaches, many in Cambridge will join others around the world in wishing him well. Having a former student on the throne is surely another riveting jewel in the crown of the university’s rich history.
If you would like to follow in the footsteps of kings and queens, why not plan a visit to Cambridge yourself? Our Your Space Apartments provide everything you need with our friendly and knowledgeable team at your service. We look forward to hearing from you soon.