Chantry Priest of Barnet - Alfred J. Church

How I Go to Oxford

In the month of September, in the year 1455, the Lord Bishop of Winchester, my good friend and patron, cometh to Eton; who, after talk had with the Provost and Master, sendeth for me. And when I was come into his presence, and had made him due obeisance, louting on one knee, and kissing his hand, and he, on his part, had kissed me on either cheek, he saith, "Nephew Thomas "—for he would call me nephew, though I was not, indeed, nearer of kin to him than cousin in the second degree—"Nephew Thomas, I hear a good report of thee from thy teachers, that thou hast made such progress in honest letters, that there remaineth not much in this place for thee to learn. Wilt thou, then, be a scholar of Oxford? I have it in my mind to set up there a college for the encouragement of true religion and sound learning, and, indeed, have already made some beginning towards the executing of this purpose. Also I have thereto the consent and favour of my lord the King, who, though he would willingly have persuaded me to build my college at Cambridge, where he hath set his foundation of King's College, yet hath approved my design. For when I set forth to him how I would convert St. John Baptist Hospital, which King Henry, his father, did found, into a college, he made answer, 'Well, Master William, if it be so in good deed, I am glad to hear of your godly intentions. What assistance in this matter you would that I should do, Master William, I will forthwith do it.' I have for the present, therefore, set up a hall, which I have called the Hall of St. Mary Magdalen, and have put therein a president and scholars. Now, Master Provost here telleth me that there is like to be no vacant place in King's College for some time to come. If so be, then, that thou desirest to advance thy studies further, I will make thee of this said Magdalen Hall, not forgetting to give thee such sustenance as thou mayest need. And when my college is founded, which, indeed, I hope will be, God favouring, within the space of twelve months at the most, I will take thee thither, and put thee in a scholar's place. And verily, so only God help me, thou shalt not be ashamed of thy college, Nephew Thomas." And, indeed, already at the date of this writing, though the work be not yet altogether finished, there is no fairer foundation in all Christendom, whether you regard the nobility of the buildings, or the greatness of the revenues, or the number and learning of the fellows and scholars that are nurtured therein. I pray that it may ever have this pre-eminence, and that it be not corrupted by riches, as hath befallen other foundations, wherein the very liberality of benefactors hath turned to the undoing of their work.

Thereafter the good Bishop spake to me concerning my future life; how should I behave myself at Oxford. He warned me that I should not consort with men of violence, or with them that give themselves overmuch to sport, and that I should not mix myself with the strifes that are between the diverse nations of scholars on the one hand, and between the whole body of scholars and the townsfolk on the other. "Be reverent," he said, "to thy elders and betters; fail not to uncover thy head to any that is of a master's degree; be not abroad from thy chamber after eight of the clock at the latest, except for grave cause; and apply thyself diligently to thy learning. Thou hast now a few years for seed-time (which will pass but too quickly, though now they seem long in the looking forward), but the harvest shall be for all thy life." And other words he spake—not many, but weighty—concerning faith and morals, which, indeed, I keep in my heart, remembering them as though they were spoken but yesterday, but will not set down in this place, because they were for my private ear only.

His admonition ended, the Bishop took from his pouch five marks, and gave them to me, saying, "Thy lodging, and thy meat and drink, with lights and such other things as thou needest, will be furnished thee without spending of thine. But thou must buy the furniture of thy chamber from him that had it before thee; and thou wilt also be at some cost for thy journey. And I would that thou shouldst have something of money in thy pouch for such needs as may occur, and especially for almsgiving. Be not over careful, nor over ready to spend. But fear not to spend upon books, so only thou buy them for the goodness of their matter, and not for the show of their binding, or the bravery of gold and colours. In this I will bear thee out, so that thou goest not beyond reason in thy purchasing. Look not for an inheritance from me, Nephew Thomas, for of that which is my own I have made other disposal, and that which cometh from the Church, to the Church it shall go back; but I will not spare to furnish thee well for that station of life to which thou shalt be called." Then the Bishop, having first given me his blessing, departed.

On the fifth day of October there cometh to the college one Robert Westby, a fetcher of scholars to and fro the University of Oxford, having turned aside somewhat from his way by request of the Provost that he might take me in his company. Master Westby had in his train twenty scholars or thereabouts, whom he had gathered from divers places in the county of Kent, to which county he belongeth by birth, being a citizen of Canterbury, and, when he is not busied with the fetching of scholars, a scrivener by occupation. Certain of these twenty were of tender age, having not more than twelve years; and there was one only that was of like age with myself. On the morrow we set out, and that day we rode to Henley-upon-Thames, and lay at a certain hostelry that is hard by the river, having the sign of the Swan. A fair town and a clean is this same Henley, and Thames here is yet broader and fairer to behold than he is at Eton. We had a sweet lodging at the said inn, and a supper of flesh and bread and eggs and beer. And Master Brakespear, that was mayor of the town, a lover of learning and a kinsman of Nicholas Brakespear that was Pope under the title of Adrian IV, sent two flasks of Malmsey for our better entertainment. I mind me that of these flasks Master Westby gave one cup to me and one to my companion of like age, and took the rest for himself, deeming it better, I doubt not, that the younger scholars should not be touched over soon with a liking for strong drink, of which liking he himself did know how full of damage it is. The next day we rose at six of the clock, and came before evening to Oxford, having rested awhile at Watlington, which lieth half-way between Oxford and Henley. And so, having first passed by a ford over a certain small stream that is called Cherwell, we came to the city gate, and, this being passed, to Magdalen Hall, whither I was bound, the said hall standing at a furlong's length or thereabouts from the river upon the left-hand side of the way.

Here I parted from Master Westby, and paid him his charges—to wit, for my supper at Henley, two pence; and to my dinner at Watlington, two pence; and to the hire of my horse and his food, four pence.

This done, I was taken by the porter to Master Horneley, Bachelor of Divinity, being the President of the said hall, who, having been advised beforehand of my coming by letter from the Bishop, wherein I was spoken of, it would appear, with praise beyond my deserts, received me with much courtesy and favour. Saith he, Master Aylmer, I have a fair chamber for you, which indeed I would not give but to one that will do credit to the house: and this, as my good lord the Bishop hath written, thou art like to do. It looketh towards the south, and this is of no small advantage, for the saving of fuel in the winter season, so that thou wilt find thine allowance suffice. And in summer it is not ever hot, because it is not close under the roof. It hath been built this hundred years and more, yet never hath any scholar that dwelt therein died of plague or fever." Therewith he taketh me to a chamber that was some fourteen feet each way, and having nine feet of height. Two windows it had, fairly glazed. It was, I take it, not less than thirty feet from the ground.

After this the President taketh from his pouch a bill of the goods and chattels of him that had of late dwelt in this chamber. This bill I have kept, and will here set forth:

1 Bed16d.
1 Mattress20d.
2 Blankets16d.
1 Coverlet with birds and flowers16d.
4 Sheets8d.
1 Coffer2d.
4 Candlesticks10d.
3 Chairs3d.
1 Curtain for the bed of white . . .2d.
2 Curtains for the windows of red6d.
1 Lantern2d.
1 Table8d.
1 Bellows for the fire1d.
3 Plates, 2 cups, 3 knives, 3 forks15d.

The sum of these things was one hundred and twenty-five pence, that is to say, thirty-five pence short of one mark. Also there was a hornpipe which was valued at the price of one penny; but this I sold to a certain townsman that dealt in such things for the same money, and therefore count it not in my furnishing. But I find not in this bill aught for towels. Of these I bought three, paying therefore six pence, and four pence I paid to the writer of the bill. Also on the morrow I bought a pen and an inkhorn and paper, for the which I paid one shilling. And that which was left out of the mark, being five pence (for the cost of travelling was eight pence) I gave in alms to the poor, that there might be a blessing on my work, for as the Scripture bath it, "Qui dat pauperibus is mutuatur Domino." That which remained to me of the Bishop's money I gave in charge to Master Thomas, the Manciple, keeping only therefrom for present needs one shilling. For it was my purpose to take counsel of my teachers touching the buying of books.