The Cambridge College of Saint John the Evangelist
- a brief history
Original Foundation (1511)
The Cambridge college of Saint John the Evangelist owes its existence,
from 1511, to Lady Margaret Beaufort, great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt,
wife of Edmund Tudor, mother to Henry VII
and finally grandmother
to Henry VIII.
Henry VII, also known as Henry Tudor, began the
Tudor dynasty in 1485 when he defeated Richard III at the Battle
and Henry VIII was later
to found Trinity College,
Cambridge in 1546. In her life, Lady Margaret translated a number
of devotional books and was a patron
of the English printers William Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde,
she founded the Lady Margaret professorships of
divinity at both Oxford and Cambridge in 1502.
Paradoxically Margaret died in 1509, the year her grandson succeeded
her son, and more seriously for the college, a lengthy two years
before it was to be built. Indeed the college would have never seen
the daylight but for the sheer persistence and dedication of one
remarkable man by the name of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester,
also confessor and adviser to Lady Margaret. Having refounded God's
House as Christ's college
earlier in 1505, Lady Margaret was not so
keen to establish another college in Cambridge. Bishop Fisher
however, a firm believer in religious education, persuaded
her otherwise, though not until the final moments of her life and
not entirely without the help of his position. Unfortunately, the
part of her will concerning the foundation of a new college
was rather ineffectual (as it was done by way of codicil
and she did not seal it), leaving Bishop Fisher as the
sole witness. Since the provision for a college would incur
significant outlay, there was furious resistance from those
who stood to inherit. The death of King Henry VII followed
by the accession of Henry VIII, both in the same year of 1509,
added to the confusion. The matter went to Archbishop of Canterbury,
and was eventually judged in Fisher's favour, partly due to the
fact that he swore to the truth as a respected bishop. Much hassle
related to the site of the college followed and probably would not
have been overcome
without the help of two bulls from Pope Julius II.
the necessary approval from the Pope, the King and the Bishop of Ely,
the Charter of the College was finally granted on 9th April 1511.
The site of the college was chosen by Bishop Fisher, to be the
Hospital of St John, then a run down monastic house operated by
monks. However the Hospital existed ever since early thirteenth
century when the earliest
merely consisted of a few scholars moving from Oxford and
Paris, often lacking in the way of comfortable accomadation.
In early 1280s when the Hospital was in better shape, Hugh de
Balsham, Bishop of Ely, tried to introduce scholars into this
foundation, but the monks and the academics did not get on
together, and the latter moved down the road to found
Cambridge's first college, Peterhouse in 1284.
Bishop John Fisher and Lady Margaret Beaufort remain two most
important benefactors in the college history.