The Cambridge College of Saint John the Evangelist
- a brief history
Early John's (1511-1700)
Robert Shorton was appointed the first master, the bishop of
Ely nominated the first three fellows: James Spooner, John West
and Thomas Barker; the college
was intended to eventually accommodate 50 fellows and scholars.
The chapel was first to be built, and the rest of the
building (consisting mainly the first court today)
was to ajoin upon it. The original building cost
amouted to some 5 thousand pounds, and Robert Shorton was
instrumental in managing and improving the college revenue
in those early years. The college was promised 400 pounds
per annum and upward from the revenues left by the foundress,
but that was never fulfilled. King Henry VIII, heir as law
to the foundress' estate, did his best to limit the college
The original foundation mainly consisted of the lands of the old
hospital, the lands of the hospital at Ospring in Kent acquired
through Bishop Fisher, and the foundress' estate at Fordham.
When Alan Percy was elected and ordained as the Master
in 1516, the number of fellows has risen to 31 though very
few scholars were maintained. For maintenance, every fellow
was allowed only 12 pence per week and a scholar 7. The revenue
of the college then was around 200 pounds per annum.
With endowments from Bishop Fisher (worth around 2000 pounds)
and some lands acquired during the dissolution of monasteries, the
college revenue continues to grow, reaching 600 pounds per annum
by 1545. The number of scholars rose to over 20, whilst the
number of fellows remained around 30.
The Act of Parliament for the dissolution of Colleges (1545)
was in the pattern of the dissolution of the monasteries and was
aimed at colleges, chantries, hospitals and guilds. However, the
University managed to persuade King Henry VIII to appoint as
commissioners the Vice-Chancellor, Matthew Parker, and two
chaplains of the University, with no townsmen. They ensured the King
left the Colleges untouched, essentially by a piece of creative
accountancy showing they were all poor.
In 1561 Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burleigh), Secretary of State
and Chancellor of the University, secured a new charter for the
University which confirmed and increased the University's
privileges. It now had total control over trading standards and
licencing and exemption from all taxes, except for 10 pounds per year
paid to the Exchequer. It was exempt from military service and from
various other State requisitions.
The second court was begun under the 17th Master Richard Clayton.
For the sum of 3400 pounds, Wigge and Symon obliged themselves
to erect a court in the same style, to be finished in 1602.
In the event, the north side was finished first in 1599 (as can
be seen from the gutter today) probably because it was designed
for accommodating the master, and the rest was more or less done
in 1602. The builders were ruined by the contract, and Mr Wigge
ended up in prison.
The countess of Shrewsbury (whose statue stands above the west gate)
was to pay for the building, but her misfortunes limited her
contribution to about 2760 pounds and the rest was met by the college.
A new library was probably intended as early as 1616, but the
funds were wanting. An unexpected letter from Dr Carey bishop of
Exeter in April 1623 indicated that an unknown person (later revealed as
bishop William) had promised 1200 pounds (later increased to 1450)
towards a library. The Bishop William library was finished by
The college was frequently visited by royalties, often on their
way to New Market for races. Records show that James I visited on
a number of occasions, and stayed in the Gallery of Second Court
(then the Master's Lodge, now the Senior Combination Room). It was
in that very room in December 1624 he arranged the marriage of his
son (later Charles I) to Henrietta Maria, sister of Louis XIII of
France. Though she never visited the college, an oval portrait of
Henrietta on glass adorns the central oriel of that Room. James died
the following March, the marriage took place in May and the
seeds of the English Civil War (1642-48) were thus sown.
Strongly Royalist during the Civil Wars, St John's
sent money and silver to the King in support of his unsuccessful
campaign, and were to suffer greatly under Oliver Cromwell's
Parliamentary occupation of Cambridge.
In 1643, the college was surrounded, broken into and pludered by Cromwell's
soldiers who then used it as a prison.
Dr William Beale, the 19th Master and arguably one of the best,
was arrested, paraded in London and imprisoned in the Tower.
He eventually made his escape to Spain, where he died of illness.
Following an ordinance of parliamnet for reforming and regulating
the University, Edward earl of Manchester came to St John's and without
a statutory election,
appointed the new master Mr John Arrowsmith. An oath of allegiance
was sought from all fellows, and several were ejected for not complying.