Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (no, not Trinity Hall but our younger rival next door!). His enthronement will take place in Canterbury Cathedral next week, on 21 March and will be televised by the BBC.

One item due to play a key role in the ceremony is the St Augustine’s Gospels (Corpus Christi College MS286). This magnificent manuscript is a vulgate text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and was probably brought to England by St Augustine in 597. The practice of using St Augustine’s Gospels for the enthronement of the Archbishops of Canterbury was revived in 1945. The Parker Librarian, Christopher de Hamel, will remain in charge of this precious manuscript throughout the ceremony.

St Augustine's Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

St Augustine’s Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

But why is a Corpus manuscript featuring in our Old Library blog and what its connection to Trinity Hall?

The answer lies in one of our own most precious manuscripts Thomas Elmham Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini (Trinity Hall, Cambridge, MS1) created in about 1410-1413. On one leaf of Thomas of Elmham’s history is a remarkable early plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey. It is finely drawn in red, blue and black and features the chapels of the East end, various reliquaries, the high altar and the altar screen.

Plan of the East end of St Augustine's Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

Plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

“At the top of the screen are six books identified by a small inscription as the books sent from Pope Gregory (the Great) to Augustine”. The entry in the Cambridge Illuminations exhibition catalogue continues, “It is intrinsically probable that they included the St Augustine’s Gospels.” Thus our manuscript contains the earliest depiction of the Gospels used for the enthronement of the new Archbishop! As one of the holiest works in Britain it is more than likely that St Augustine’s Gospels were kept as an object of veneration with other sacred texts above the high altar of the Abbey.

The six books above the high altar of St Augustine's Abbey

The six holy books above the high altar of St Augustine’s Abbey

The Abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries and remains a ruin today. The monastic library was dispersed and its manuscripts came onto the open market. Our manuscript was collected by the antiquarian and Catholic sympathizer, Robert Hare (d. 1611), who was a great donor not only to Trinity Hall but also to the University Library. Thomas Elmham’s Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini came to us as a result of Hare’s friendship with Henry Harvey (Master of Trinity Hall 1559-1585) and has been a treasured by the College ever since.

Robert Hare's signature

Robert Hare’s signature

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be seen at the Parker Library on Maundy Thursday, 28 March, from 2-4pm (for further information see Easter at King’s on the Parker Library blog). Thomas of Elmham’s History of St Augustine’s Abbey can be seen in September during bookable tours of Trinity Hall’s Old Library organised by Open Cambridge 2013 and the Alumni Weekend.


Historia Monasterii S. Augustini cantuariensis / edited by Charles Hardwick (London, 1858)

The Cambridge illuminations: ten centuries of book production in the medieval West / edited by Paul Binski and Stella Panayotova (London, 2005)

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be viewed at the Parker Library on the web

Parker Library blog

Open Cambridge

Cambridge Alumni Weekend 2013

Website of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Wikipedia for Justin Welby, Thomas of Elmham, St Augustine’s Abbey, and Henry Harvey

St Augustine’s Abbey is an English Heritage property and can be visited

Love is in the air. The shops are full of cards pulsating with red hearts covered in glitter and on my desk is a pretty red morocco almanac which tells of a marriage.

The red morocco almanac

The red morocco almanac

The almanac belonged to Mary Boydell (1747-1820), a renowned beauty and niece of John ‘Alderman’ Boydell (1720-1804), a publisher and print seller who was then at the height of his fame and influence. Mary had been brought up by Boydell and, on the death of his wife Elizabeth Lloyd in 1781, she took over the management of his household. Her almanac reveals that she moved in the highest circles of society and that she was also a business woman involved in her uncle’s publishing enterprise. Thus we read of “Lord Shelborne’s invitation to Breakfast with him and to see his Library and Collection of prints” and “Any Books bound in France to be done by De Rome. Rue St Jacques a Paris. (Mr Edwards recommendation)”.

“Honored Uncle & Parent”

The son of a land steward and the grandson of a parson, John Boydell spent his early teenage years in Flintshire where his father worked for Sir John Glynne. There he saw a large print of Hawarden Castle which influenced his decision to become an engraver. He moved to London as an apprentice to the engraver W. H. Toms  and bought out his final year in order to set up on his own in 1746. Through a combination of hard work and strong business sense Boydell’s fortunes improved rapidly. He established links with publishers in France and Germany and imported sophisticated engravings from the continent. Then, seeing a business opportunity, he sponsored the creation of high quality British engravings. Print mania had taken hold of the aristocratic and middle classes. It was the fashion to paper the walls of a room with engravings and Alderman Boydell was the foremost publisher and supplier of excellent quality prints. As a result he became a wealthy and influential man.

Alderman Boydell (in red) talking to Josiah Boydell. Mary Boydell is depicted in profile (above the man in the black coat with his back to the viewer). (c) Guildhall Art Gallery

Alderman Boydell (in red) with Josiah Boydell. Mary Boydell is  in profile (above the man in the black coat with his back to the viewer). (c) Guildhall Art Gallery

Shakespeare Gallery

At the end of 1786 John Boydell embarked on his most ambitious enterprise: the project to publish an illustrated edition of Shakespeare’s plays, an edition of large engravings from Shakespeare and the creation of the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall. His partners in this enterprise were his nephew Josiah Boydell (Mary’s brother) and George Nicol (1740-1828), the King’s printer. Josiah was to manage the workshop of engravers in Hampstead and Nicol was to oversee the presswork.

A print workshop by Rowlandson, 1785

A print workshop by Rowlandson, 1785

Mary’s almanac is for the year 1787 at the height of activity at the start of the Shakespeare project. The almanac is interleaved with blank pages which Mary has used to make notes which give a fascinating insight into her life at the time, ranging from information about books and prints to the state of her finances and of course the entry about her marriage.

“Friendship in Marble and Injury in Dust”

Despite, or perhaps because of, her beauty Mary’s romantic life had not been smooth. She had an unhappy love affair with Ozias Humphry, a miniature painter, who left England for India in 1785 to paint portraits of rajas and Englishmen abroad.

Her next suitor was the Cambridge alumnus and scientist Dr John Elliot, but she went on to reject him in favour of George Nicol, her uncle’s business partner. John Elliot took Mary’s rejection very badly – so badly that on 9 July 1787 he tried to shoot her from close range while she was out walking with Nicol in Soho. This notorious incident was reported in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ and in the ‘British Mercury’ which recounts “Providentially, though they were so close as to set fire to the lady’s cloack, yet by the balls glancing on her stays, she received only a slight contusion under the shoulder”. Unfortunately Dr John Elliot did not escape so lightly. He was taken to Newgate prison to await charges for the attempt on Mary’s life. In prison his refusal of food and water led to his death on 22 July. It must have been a traumatic time for all concerned.

Newgate prison (in 1833)

Newgate prison (in 1833)

“My dear Husband”

Reader she married him! Entered in a regular and confident hand the entry for 8th September 1787 reads, “Married at St Martin’s Ironmonger Lane between 8 and 9 o’clock in the Morning – and set out from thence to Dover and Paris with my dear Husband and honored Uncle & Parent Mr Alderman Boydell.” Mr and Mrs George Nicol trvelled to Paris with the Alderman – perhaps not the most romantic of honeymoons! But, ever the business woman, Mary combined business with pleasure. Just a year before, in 1786, she had travelled to Paris with Alderman Boydell on publishing business and now that her new husband was Boydell’s partner it was natural for them all to travel to Paris together.

Entry for her marriage

Entry for her marriage

This was not young, tempestuous love but perhaps it was all the more attractive to Mary after the high drama of John Elliot. Mary was 40 and she was an independent woman. George Nicol was 47 and it was his second marriage.  The month before she married Mary made a careful record of her finances in her almanac. She was well off, with income from investments and from her estate in Kinnerton in Flintshire. Her subsequent annotation shows that she could afford to be generous to her new husband, “Since the above written have made Mr George Nicol a present of the above 300 pound …”

Mary makes no further entries in the almanac after her wedding day. However, it was likely to have been a happy marriage. They had much in common, united by a love of books and by business ties, and it seems that Nicol’s temperament was good. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him as “courteous and tactful in business” and according to the Gentleman’s Magazine he was “not a bookseller but a gentleman dealing in books” (GM, 98/2, 279).


Mary Nicol continued to play an active part in her uncle’s life. When the Alderman rose to be Lord Mayor of London in 1790-91 she was his Lady Mayoress. Unfortunately the French Revolution affected the English economy and cut off an important export market for Boydell’s prints and the vast scale of the Shakespeare project brought his finances to breaking point. By 1804 the Boydells were forced to conduct a lottery to dispose of the Shakespeare Gallery and its contents. Sadly the Alderman died before the lottery could be drawn, however it raised £78,000 for the business (now in the hands of Josiah). As a final act of devotion Mary Nicol paid for a bust of the Alderman and a memorial tablet in St Olave Jewry where he was buried.

This small almanac is a remarkable survival. A bookplate in the front of the volume reveals that it once belonged to the library of the author Hugh Walpole. It came to Trinity Hall as part of the library of alumnus and bibliophile Lawrence Strangman (1908-1980).

John Boydell's resting place

John Boydell’s resting place


PDF transcript of manuscript notes in Mary Boydell’s almanac

Rider’s British Merlin for the year of our Lord God 1787. London: printed by the Company of Stationers, 1787.

John Boydell, 1719-1804 : a study of art patronage and publishing in Georgian London / Sven H.A. Bruntjen.

The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery / edited by Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick, in collaboration with the German Shakespeare Society.

Boydell’s Shakespeare gallery / Winifred H. Friedman.

Wikipedia for biographies of John Boydell, Josiah Boydell, George Nicol and others

Your Pictures for images of John Boydell and the Ceremony of administering the Mayoral oath to Nathaniel Newnham

In 1988 the Scottish artist John Bellany came to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for a life-saving operation by one of the pioneers of liver-transplantation and Fellow of Trinity Hall, Sir Roy Calne. Such was Bellany’s condition that it was uncertain whether he would survive the transplant.


Bellany after the operation (Image from The Culture Show)

Art is as fundamental to John Bellany’s existence as breathing. When he came round after the operation at three o’clock in the morning the first thing he asked for was a pencil and paper. The paper was burning in his hand but it was only when he had finished his self-portrait that he felt sure that he would survive. Now celebrating his 70th year with an exhibition “A passion for life” at the National Gallery of Scotland John Bellany, in an interview with Alastair Sooke for the Culture Show, revealed that he still considers this to be his finest self-portrait.

Sir Roy Calne and his team had the imagination to recognise that Bellany lived through his art and that it was vital to his recovery. He was allowed to turn his hospital room at Addenbrookes into an artist’s studio and soon the walls were covered with works documenting his recovery in pencil or paint.

The artist's "studio" in Addenbrookes

The artist’s “studio” in Addenbrookes (Image from The Culture Show)

The corpus work from this period is a unique visual record of the process of recovery. We are shown a full range of emotions from joy at being alive (“Bonjour, Professor Calne”), an unflinching quest for veracity (notably in his self-portraits), imaginative reconstructions of the operation (“Surgeon’s Hall” and “The transplant I and II”), through to the depiction of feelings of terror at the violence done to the body (the series of “Prometheus” paintings). Bellany shows us his struggle to come to terms with what has happened to him and his journey through feelings of violation, loss, guilt, exhaustion to acceptance, joy and rebirth.

Bonjour Professor Calne (Image from www.bellany.com)

Bonjour Professor Calne (Image from http://www.bellany.com)

Bellany’s liver-transplant was a life-changing (as well as life-saving) event.  In his interview with Sooke, the artist said that he’d been living under a cloud and suddenly everything was in brilliant colour – colours that he simply hadn’t been seeing before. Bellany spent his convalescence at Little Eversden, just outside Cambridge. During this period he was a Fellow Commoner of Trinity Hall (1988-1990) and as a result we have now five of his works in our collection. Perhaps the most joyful is “Flora” which hangs in the Jerwood Library.


“Flora” (Image from BBC Your Paintings)

“Flora” was painted as a thank you to Trinity Hall and this large canvas is bursting with colour and vibrancy. It is so joyful that the canvas struggles to contain the vase of flowers which almost seems to be thrust towards the viewer as a gift. The patterns made by the cloth on the table, the piles of books and the rugs on the floor all jostle for our attention and create an explosion of vigorous lines and colour. The space is difficult to read, almost dizzying in its exuberance.

In the bouquet of flowers we have lilies (amaryllis and lilium regale – whose heady scent you can almost smell) accompanied by the bright yellow of sunflowers. These flowers are laden with symbolism. The white lilies embody purity and new life through their association with the Annunciation, while the sunflowers symbolize the life-force through their association with the sun, bending their heads to follow its course throughout the day. In the centre of the bouquet we have an unambiguous symbol of life and vigour: the red amaryllis which thrusts it way up right to the top of the canvas, almost bursting out of the top.

However, these flowers also have a darker side as symbols of death: white lilies are frequently used in funerals (symbolizing the restored innocence of the soul at death) and the sunflowers remind us of Van Gogh, whose struggle with life ended in bleakness and suicide. Here Bellany reveals that he has looked death in the face and that his near-death was close to suicide: we have an acknowledgement that it was his own actions, his hard-drinking, that brought him to death’s door.

“Flora” is a painting of resurection and rebirth. The title “Flora” refers not only to the vase of flowers but also to Botticelli’s masterpiece “Primavera” where the flower-crowned Flora is the companion to the central figure in the painting. In Bellany’s painting we see the almond-shaped eyes of a beautiful young face gazing out at us from beneath a crown of sunflowers. This is the unmistakably steady, limpid gaze of Flora, a celebration of spring in all its abundance and laden with the enigmatic mystery of “Primavera”.

Flora from "Primavera" (Image from Wikipedia)

Flora from “Primavera” (Image from Wikipedia)

As in Botticelli’s painting the face in “Flora” is androgynous – is it the face of a boy or of a woman? Is this the face of  Bellany himself, reborn, literally rejuvenated, after his operation – or is it the face of Helen, his wife, whose constant support was a life-giving source of strength?  Or might it even be the face of an undergraduate at Trinity Hall, a “Fresher”, almost submerged by the pile of books that covers the bottom of the face, whose time at Trinity Hall promises to be one of a flowering of potential and the start of a new life? Certainly “Flora” was painted for Trinity Hall so the latter interpretation is possible!

Detail of "Flora"

Detail of “Flora”

That John Bellany is still alive today is a remarkable testimony to Sir Roy Calne, the Addenbrookes team, the constant support of his wife Helen and above all to his own passion for life. As he said recently, “I love life”!


Sir Roy Calne

Sir Roy Calne

Professor Sir Roy Calne (Honorary Fellow) and Dr Thomas Starzl (University of Pittsburgh) have been honoured with the 2012 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for their work on liver transplantation, an intervention that has restored normal life to thousands of patients with end-stage liver disease. Through their systematic and relentless efforts, they created a medical procedure that most physicians deemed an impossible dream. Some of Starzl’s and Calne’s early patients – originally diagnosed with untreatable and lethal diseases – are still thriving today, decades after their surgeries.


John Bellany’s website

John Bellany 31 March – 5 May 1989. Fischer Fine Art Limited. Exhibition catalogue.

John Bellany in Cambridge 19 March to 30 June 1991. Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. Exhibition catalogue

BBC Your Paintings: uncovering the nation’s art collection

Culture Show (BBC)


Current Exhibition:

This titan of Scottish contemporary art is celebrated in the current exhibition “A passion for Life” at the National Gallery of Scotland. 17th November 2012 − 27th January 2013.

Bellany’s work at Trinity Hall:

Oli paintings: Flora, Self-portrait, Professor Sir John Lyons

Watercolour: Mountainous landscape.

Drawing: Dr. J. A. Cremona

Paintings by Sir Roy Calne:

Sir Roy Calne was inspired to paint through his friendship with John Bellany. Works by Calne can be seen in several collections, including the Royal College of Surgeons (the Hunterian Museum) and Trinity Hall.

The space outside the Old Library has been transformed by a new sculpture. The work “Trinity” was created by the artist Helene Fesenmaier for her current exhibition “Trans|figur|ation” at Trinity Hall.

All the works in the exhibition have multiple resonances and this sculpture is no exception. Looking relatively modest at first glance, “Trinity” works on many levels to challenge the viewer. Its tripartite construction, embodying the title with its associations of Christian spirituality, is striking for its appearance of fragility. Its verticality and the use of wood and metal echoes the Crucifixion, and in particular the artist’s preoccupation with Grunewald’s Isenheim altarpiece which has played a pivotal role in her work.

Grunewald’s depiction of the lacerated arms and tortured hands of Christ is echoed by the emaciated and battered arm and hand (possibly of the artist herself?) which help to anchor the piece. The gilding on the arm links it back to the altarpiece, reinforces its sacred/sacrificial quality and reminds us also of the toxic therapy used for cancer (through its visual reference to “The man with the golden arm”).

That a such a fragile looking sculpture can stand up to the elements is a surprise, but within it is a hard core, literally the backbone of the piece. This central element of concrete, metal, wood, slate and flint speaks of humanity’s ability to endure, even when completely stripped back to essentials. Here we have an embodiment of suffering: from Christ’s suffering on the cross, through the universal suffering of living beings, to the artist’s own struggle with cancer and the ravages of the illness and treatment.

Trinity spine

As we move round the sculpture we are challenged once again: writ large is “The birth of a book is the death of a tree”. What are we to make of this statement in the middle of a Cambridge college – at the heart of academia? The title of the piece leads us to identify the “book” with the Bible (and the New Testament in particular) and the “tree” with Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross. However, the artist’s choice of words also points away from the specific to the general – to further layers of meaning.

Trinity by Helene Fesenmaier

The choice of site for the sculpture is significant. It is set squarely between the Fellows garden and the Old Library. Here we have the opposition between the natural world and civilisation. The rough wooden plank faces the garden while the gilded arm with its polished books faces the Old Library. In order to read the message on the piece we have to turn our back on the garden and face the Old Library. Are we in danger of turning a blind eye to the damaging effects of our civilisation on planet Earth? The artist forces us to confront the impact of human progress on the natural world and to count its cost.

The “Trinity” can be seen as the trio of nature, civilisation and the human being who, as the fulcrum of the piece, is poised between the two. There is conflict: humanity is faced with a choice and is pulled in two directions. But there is also interdependence: each of the three elements of the piece plays a vital part in supporting the whole and cannot exist in isolation.

Trinity detail

Moreover, human beings act as both agents of change and interpreters of the world around them. This is not nature in the raw – the tree has been through the saw-mill and it has been inscribed (maybe even beautified) by the power of the word. Our environment is constantly affected by our intervention and is perceived through the filter of our literary imagination. We may yearn for Arcadia, but our very presence alters, interprets, tames and even brutalises the wilderness.

Culture does not come without human cost – the arm is elongated and weighed down by the books it holds. We are reminded of the pressure of academic life at Cambridge and the demands that are made of students and academics alike. But learning is something to be prized. Books are precious: they are brushed with gold and are the most polished element of the piece. They form the anchor of the sculpture underpinning the structure just as learning and academic excellence underpin the life of the College.

Detail of Trinity by Helene Fesenmaier

For Fesenmaier poetry is at the centre of her inspiration and books are a recurring theme in her work. And this brings us full circle to the Isenheim altarpiece – itself many layered, with its leaves unfolding just like the leaves of a book.

Forthcoming talk

There will be a unique opportunity for students and the general public to hear the artist Helene Fesenmaier talk about the exhibition on Tuesday 13 November 2012 at 5:45 pm in the Graham Storey Room. All welcome, admission free, but please book in advance by calling 01223 332555 or email events@trinhall.cam.ac.uk

Exhibition opening times

Trans|figur|ation – an exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Helene Fesenmaier is open to the public from Saturday 29 September until Sunday 25 November 2012 at the following times:

Saturdays 9.30 – 12.30

Sundays 2-5pm

Other viewing times may be arranged by calling Trinity Hall on 01223 332555 or emailing events@trinhall.cam.ac.uk


The exhibition catalogue is available for purchase from the Porters Lodge:

Helen Fesenmaier: Trans|figur|ation (London: Redfern Gallery, 2012) ISBN: 0948460377

See in particular the Introduction by Mary Rose Beaumont with her discussion of “Trinity” on page 6 of the catalogue.


Trinity Hall exhibition

Helene Fesenmaier is represented by the Redfern Gallery

Wikipedia for articles on Arcadia, the Isneheim altarpiece and the “Man with the golden arm”.

Isenheim altarpiece image from http://strawhutembassy.wordpress.com

You Tube video of the unfolding of a maquette of the Isenheim altarpiece

Man with the golden arm image from http://www.creativereview.co.uk/

TTrinity Hall and Cambridge University offer an extensive network of pastoral support  to students and academics to help them with the demands of academic life.

In the summer of 1564 Elizabeth I made her one and only visit to Cambridge. In honour of the occasion, despite the fact that it was the summer vacation, all the members of the University were recalled to Cambridge. They lined the streets and cheered “Vivat Regina!” as she and her retinue rode into town.  The Queen stayed at the Provost’s Lodge of King’s College from 5-10 August, but many of her retinue were put up at other colleges. Crawley tells us that the Lord Chamberlain and Lord Clinton were lodged at Trinity Hall and that the Queen was welcomed to College with a speech by John Hammond (fellow 1557-74).

The University and town organised a full programme of events, including orations, debates, services and, best of all, plays which were put on most evenings for her entertainment. On Sunday 6 August, after Evensong, Elizabeth saw Plautus’s “Aulularia” which was performed in Latin on a ‘great stage’ built in King’s ante-chapel. The players were drawn from all the Cambridge colleges, with the exception of King’s. The reason for this was that men from King’s were busy preparing for performances due to take place on the two following evenings. On Monday evening they formed the cast of “Dido” written in Latin by Edward Halliwell and on the subsequent evening, Tuesday 8 August, they performed Mr Udall’s “Ezechias”.

A certain King’s fellow (who subsequently became Master of Trinity Hall) caught the eye of the Sovereign in the play of “Dido”. She was very favourably impressed by Thomas Preston (for that was his name), “putting forth her hand for him to kiss, her Highness … dubbed him ‘her scholar’ … and therewithal she gave him eight angels”. An angel was a gold coin worth 10 shillings and in addition the Queen promised Preston a handsome pension of £20 a year! It was Thomas Preston who made the final oration, again in Latin, on the occasion of the Queen’s departure on 10 August.  All in all the visit has been a resounding success and his meeting with the Queen was an episode that Preston was never to forget. His brass in the ante-chapel of Trinity Hall bears a Latin inscription recalling the day when Elizabeth I called him “her scholar”.

Preston’s brass in the ante-chapel (usually covered by a Persian carpet) – and a view of Preston’s feet!

The meeting was also to have repercussions for College. Twenty one years later, just before the death of Henry Harvey (Master 1559-1585) a royal mandate was sent to Trinity Hall staying the election of a new Master. This was followed by another royal mandate directing the fellows to elect Thomas Preston. Elizabeth I and Burghley had chosen “her scholar” for the job! Preston was Master of Trinity Hall from 1585 until his death in 1598, and he also served as Vice Chancellor of the University from 1589-90. According to Crawley, Preston wrote to Burghley that Trinity Hall was labouring under a “store of abuses” and that its debts were “desperate to be remedied”. Nonetheless, it was during his tenure that College undertook the expense of building a new library, the “Old Library” as we know it today.

The Charter of 1559

It is fitting that the Old Library houses two precious documents from Queen Elizabeth I. The first document is the charter reconfirming the original foundation of Trinity Hall in 1350 which was granted to College in 1559, the first year of Elizabeth’s reign.  It represents the return of academic life to something approaching normality after the upheavals of the Reformation and the reign of Queen Mary, when Colleges had been closed and amalgamated and new Colleges founded. Queen Elizabeth can be seen enthroned in the large capital “E”.

The impressive signature of the most powerful woman in the land!

The second document is a letter to the College, dated 2nd September 1587, requesting the leasing of two manors to one of Elizabeth’s courtiers, Raffe Bowes. The letter bears the impressive signature of Queen Elizabeth I. On the reverse, it is addressed to the Queen’s “trustie and welbeloved the MS [Master] and fellowes of Trinitie Hall in Cambridge”. Of course, the Master at that time was the Queen’s “scholar” Thomas Preston.

Reverse of letter with the address to the Master (Thomas Preston) and fellows

Thomas Preston was well-known to contemporaries as the author of the play “Cambyses King of Persia”, originally published in 1584, the year before he became Master. Shakespeare poked fun at the play’s bombast through the mouth of Falstaff, who says “Give me a cup of sack to make mine eyes look red, that it may be thought I have wept; for I must speak in passion, and I will do it in King Cambyse’s vein.” (Henry IV Part I, Act II, Scene 4). Today his name lives on in Trinity Hall’s drama society, the Preston Society, which puts on College musicals, pantos and plays.

But undoubtedly Thomas Preston’s outstanding legacy is that his Mastership presided over the building of the “jewel in the crown” of Trinity Hall – a wonderful Elizabethan library, still virtually unchanged today.

Inscription on Preston’s brass (from Warren’s Book)


Most of the information about Elizabeth I’s visit to Cambridge in 1564 is taken from Marion Colthorpe’s Royal Cambridge: royal visitors to Cambridge, Queen Elizabeth I – Queen Elizabeth II, Cambridge, 1977.

Trinity Hall: the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1975 / Charles Crawley. Cambridge, 1976.

Warren’s book / edited by A.W.W. Dale. Cambridge, 1911.

Wikipedia: article on Thomas Preston

Some thirty nine years after his first candidacy, Sir William Wynne (1729-1815), was finally elected unanimously as Master of Trinity Hall in 1803. At the age of thirty-five Wynne had contested the election of 1764 with Sir James Marriott, also a fellow of the College and civil lawyer. Crawley tells us that the outcome was close and Marriott was elected by a slim margin (5 votes versus 3), with both men voting for themselves!

Trinity Hall’s “Back Court” showing the Master’s Lodge on the right and the Old Library on the left.

After a patient wait, Sir William Wynne, now aged seventy-three, finally succeeded Marriott in 1803. The Mastership of Trinity Hall was a prize worth waiting for and once he was installed as Master the floodgates of his generosity opened. He spent £1,500 on improvements to the Master’s Lodge and also turned his attention to improving the College Library.

Wynne’s catalogue housed in the Archives

His donations are recorded in the “Catalogue of books presented to the Library by the Right Hon: Sir Wm. Wynne, Master” (THAR/7/1/2/1). The new Master gave us an amazing 252 volumes in the space of just nine years, starting in 1804 (with the gift of 101 volumes) and ending in 1813, just two years before his death. Surprisingly there are very few dusty volumes on the law! Instead Wynne broadened the Library’s scope from that of an academic library specialising in the law to a gentleman’s ‘country house’ library.


There are books on English literature (Chaucer, Dryden and Milton), history, travel (Barrow’s Travels in Africa, Coxe’s Travels in Russia), the classics (Virgil, Thucydides), European literature (Racine in French and Boccaccio in Italian), oriental languages (Carlyle’s Specimens of Arabian poetry and Parkhurst’s Hebrew Lexicon), and above all the sciences: a magnificent 18 volume set of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London was donated to the Library over several years.


So what of the man who gave so generously to the Library? William Wynne came from a well-to-do Welsh family. His father, John Wynne (1677-1743) was a clergyman and Principal of Jesus College Oxford from 1812 until his marriage in 1820. In 1715 he was appointed Bishop of St. Asaph where he spent money freely on repairs to the cathedral and palace. As we have seen above, William was to follow his father’s example in becoming a Head of House (Cambridge instead of Oxford) and in spending on improvements (but this time to his College).

Bishop John Wynne was subsequently translated to Bath and Wells in 1727 and William was born a couple of years later. William did not go into the church, instead he followed his elder brother John (1724-1801) into the law and the Middle Temple. He came up to Trinity Hall in 1746, graduated in law in 1751 (LL.D. 1757) and was a Fellow of the College from 1755 onwards.

Poem in translation from ‘Specimens of Arabian Poetry’ given to the Library by Wynne

He practiced in the field of ecclesiastical law as a pleader in the Court of Arches (1757-1788) dealing chiefly with cases relating to marriage and probate. His career prospered steadily until it took off dramatically in 1788! In that year he was knighted, he became Dean of the Court of Arches (1788-1809) and a judge in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Prerogative Court (1788-1809).  He continued to move upwards becoming a member of the Privy Council in 1789 and one of the Lords of the Treasury in 1790.

Captain Cook’s last voyage: the map of Hawaii from Cook’s posthumous “A voyage to the Pacific Ocean” (London, 1784)

As Dean of the Court of Arches his name turns up constantly in the wills of the time. Perhaps the most interesting is that of a former member of Captain Cook’s crew, Alexander Mouat, which was proved before Sir William Wynne in London in 1794. Mouat was on Cooks’ last voyage, entering the crew of the Discovery as a midshipman at the age of 15. However, his will (in which he left everything to his wife Jane) was not written until 1790, by which time he had reached the rank of Lieutenant. The occasion of his will was probably his imminent departure on HMS Marlborough. Unfortunately, Mouat died just three years later on 11 October 1793.

Trinity Hall (in 1799) as it would have looked in 1803 when Wynne became Master.

Wynne was a gentleman, a wealthy lawyer and a pillar of society. His successful public career indicates a man with excellent social skills who was not afraid of hard work. An interesting glimpse is offered by the silhouette of Wynne in the National Portrait Gallery which depicts a portly gentleman of rather modest and solid demeanour. The inscription below the silhouette reveals: “There is no Portrait taken of him, he always resisting all application to sit to an Artist. Mr. Bockton the Proctor took this resemblance of him as he sat giving Judgement.” This is a man who lacked vanity, preferring instead to devote his precious time to his work!

Snapshot of Trinity Hall in 1812 during Wynne’s time as Master. College was not populous!

Sir William Wynne became Master of Trinity Hall in the autumn of his life. He passed away in 1815 at the age of eighty-six and is buried at Northop (Flints.) where his father, Bishop John, had purchased the Soughton estate (now a luxury hotel!) in 1732. Wynne’s was a life in which his devotion to his College remained constant. As Master, his generosity enriched the holdings of College Library with a lasting legacy of fine publications from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

It could be argued that Wynne had the patience and Trinity Hall reaped the rewards!


Trinity Hall : the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1975 / by Charles Crawley.

Captain Cook Society

National Portrait Gallery

Welsh Biography Online

Does a donation have to be large and impressive to be important? The answer is most emphatically “No”! One of our star items is a single sheet of paper measuring no more than 18 x 22.7 cm. It is a modest piece of nineteenth-century writing paper with no “bling” about it – but it still has the wow factor because it is a letter from Charles Dickens!

This small piece of pale blue Victorian writing paper, covered with Dickens’s distinctive handwriting in dark blue ink, was given to us by the author’s great-great-grandson and Trinity Hall alumnus Christopher Charles Dickens. In it the famous author gives advice to his son, Henry Fielding Dickens, “My Dear Harry”, at the start of his time as an undergraduate at Trinity Hall in October 1868. This parental advice has a timeless quality that still rings true today and the letter always catches the imagination of our visitors!

“Farewell Tour”

The letter is written on Dickens’s headed paper with the address of Gad’s Hill Place embossed at the top. Dickens bought this beloved home in February 1857 and it was the only house that he ever owned (all the others had been rented). But at the time of writing on Thursday 15th October 1868, Dickens was away from home, staying at the Adelphi Hotel, the best hotel in Liverpool.

Dickens was one of the first “celebrities” in the sense that we use the word today. He was a public figure in much demand – a real “superstar”! In May 1868 Dickens had returned exhausted from his long and demanding tour of America. However, by October 1868 he had started a new tour, a series of performances in London and the provinces, which he called his “Farewell tour”. He stayed at the Adelphi Hotel for a week from 10 October, giving readings at Manchester Free Trade Hall and in Liverpool. Of his reading in Liverpool on 12 October, Dickens writes to Georgina Hogarth “We had a fine house here last night, and a large turnaway. Marigold and Trial went immensely. I doubt if Marigold were ever more enthusiastically received.”

These public readings of dramatised extracts from his novels lasted at least two hours. They placed a heavy strain on Dickens’s voice and were so emotionally draining that he suffered from extreme exhaustion when they were over. But these performances were important to Dickens, not just for pleasing his public but also for the money they brought in. In fact the expense and financial practicalities of Harry’s life as an undergraduate take up a large part of the letter of advice he received from his father.

“Your past expensive education”

So what of Harry himself? Henry Fielding Dickens (1849-1933) was the author’s eighth child and the only one to go to university. The eldest son, Charles, was actually sent to the most expensive school, Eton,  in January 1851, but his school fees were sponsored by Angela Burdett-Coutts, one of the richest women in England at that time and a great friend of the author’s.

Harry as a boy (image from "Katey" by Lucinda Hawksley)

The schooling of the other Dickens boys was by no means cheap! All of the sons were sent to private school, whereas the daughters were educated at home. When Harry was nine years old (in 1858) he was sent to a boarding school for English boys in Boulogne. The intention was that he should learn French, but it was not a happy experience. According to Harry in his “Recollections“, “I was very young then and although two of my brothers were at the school I felt very sad and forlorn.” It must have been a relief when in 1861 he was sent to Wimbledon School, “which was kept by Messrs. Brackenbury and Wynne; a very well known private school then at the height of its reputation.” Harry did well there and was fortunate to have an excellent maths master who prepared him for entrance to Trinity Hall.

It was common in those days for sons to follow their fathers in their choice of college at Cambridge. The entry for Harry in the Trinity Hall register shows that, as the first of the Dickens family to attend the College, he came on the recommendation of J. Brackenbury, Master of Wimbledon School.

From the Trinity Hall Archives

“Handsome for all your wants”

A few weeks previously, aware of his own lack of university experience, Dickens had written to his friend Sir Joseph Chitty asking for advice.  He doubtless turned to Chitty because of the latter’s brilliant career at Balliol College, Oxford.  “My dear Chitty, One of my sons, just 20, is going up to Trinity Hall, next October. He has been highly educated – is possessed of considerable mathematical qualifications – and goes to College to work, and to achieve distinction. He perfectly understands that if he fail to set to in earnest, I shall take him away… Will you tell me what the allowance of such a youth should be, at Cambridge – to be enough, and not by any means too much – and whether there is any express precaution I can take or enjoin upon him?”

Chitty obliged Dickens by sending him a letter of advice which the author enclosed (“I therefore send you Joe Chitty’s letter bodily”) along with his own letter to Harry. Thanks to Chitty, Dickens was able to state confidently “It seems to me that an allowance of £250 a year will be handsome for all your wants, if I send you your wine.” Undergraduates were expected to entertain their contemporaries, providing wine and brandy for drop-in guests and to accompany the occasional dinner party held in their own rooms!

In those days, undergraduates generally came from well-off families who could afford to pay for their son’s living costs and tuition fees. Thus Dickens also encloses a cheque for £5 and ten shillings for tuition fees made out to the Reverend Frank Lawrence Hopkins, who was a Fellow at Trinity Hall and Harry’s Tutor.

Whatever you do, above all other things keep out of debt

Charles Dickens in 1868 (engraving based on a photo by Mason & Co.)

Charles Dickens had suffered a childhood of extreme poverty and his own education had been cut short because his father’s indebtedness. This trauma cast a shadow over Dickens’s life and he was constantly preoccupied by money matters. In the letter he emphasises to his son “We must have no shadow of debt” and seeks to guide him as to how to manage his money – especially what not to spend it on, “I strongly recommend you to buy nothing in Cambridge”!

Perhaps it was the fear of falling back into poverty that drove Dickens to work so hard, starting his tour of the provinces before he had fully recovered from the tour of America. He says to Harry “You know how hard I work for what I get, and I think you know that I never had money help from any human creature after I was a child.”

Dickens finishes the letter by reminding Harry about the value of the Christian life and the importance of prayer. “These things have stood by me all through my life, and you remember I tried to render the New Testament intelligible to you and lovable by you when you were a mere baby.” Dickens had written “The life of our Lord” especially for his children in 1846.


While Harry was at Trinity Hall, Dickens continued his performances for another seventeen months. However, his health was so badly affected that he finally followed his doctor’s orders and gave his last performance on 16 March 1870.

At this time Dickens also started writing his last and unfinished novel, The mystery of Edwin Drood. As research for his books, the author often took lengthy walks at night to the seedier parts of London accompanied by a policeman for safety. In his “Recollections” Harry tells us, “I just once missed a great opportunity. It had been arranged that I was to accompany him on one of these excursions, but unfortunately I was detained at Cambridge on the appointed day and I was unable to go. That night he visited the opium den which is described in the first chapter of Edwin Drood.” That would have been an exciting prospect for a young undergraduate and Harry was obviously disappointed to miss it!

"In the court" - illustration of the opium den by Luke Fildes from "The mystery of Edwin Drood"

Dickens lived long enough to complete only six numbers of the novel, passing away in the early hours of 9 June 1870 at the age of fifty-eight. Harry took his father’s advice to heart and studied hard at Trinity Hall. He gained his B.A. in mathematics in 1872, with the respectable distinction of being the 29th Wrangler. It is sad that his father was not there to celebrate his son’s success.

Subsequent career

Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, K.C.

Harry was called to the Bar in 1873 and subsequently had a distinguished career as a barrister and judge. He became a K.C. in 1892 and was knighted in 1922. Sir Henry Fielding Dickens is described by Venn as “A capable and conscientious advocate, who had a large practice in the Common Law Courts, and proved an admirable Judge. For many years he delighted thousands with readings from his father’s works. During the War he raised large sums by this means for the wounded, and later for the Charles Dickens Home for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors.” Harry was very much his father’s son – both the love of performing and a social conscience were in his genes!

The Dickens connection

Harry was the first of the Dickens family to attend Trinity Hall but he was by no means the last! Crawley tells us that three of Harry’s sons went to Trinity Hall: Henry (1892), Philip (1906) and Cedric (who was killed on the Somme in 1916). Philip’s son, also called Cedric, matriculated at the College in 1935.

The entry for Christopher Charles Dickens (Trinity Hall Archive)

The donor of the letter, Christopher Charles Dickens (1937-1999) was Harry’s great-grandson and the grandson of Henry (1892). Christopher Charles Dickens came up to Trinity Hall in 1957, where he read English for part I and then changed to Archaeology and Anthropology. In 1965 he married the Hungarian countess Jeanne-Marie Wenckheim Teleki who is described on the Charles Dickens Heritage Foundation website as being “a hurricane of a countess. Handsome, forceful and humorous.” They settled at Spofforth in north Yorkshire and raised a family of two daughters. Jeanne-Marie became involved in charitable works, and in 1991 with the help of her husband she set up the Charles Dickens Heritage Foundation in order to help the disadvantaged.


The name of Christopher Charles Dickens was posthumously in the news in 2008 on the occasion of the sale of Charles Dickens’s writing desk and chair at Christie’s. The desk and chair had passed down through the family to Christopher Charles Dickens and were donated for sale by his widow Jeanne-Marie in order to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital.  They sold for £433,250!

Christopher Charles Dickens and his family at Dickens's desk and chair

At the time Jeanne-Marie commented, “Charles Dickens was a champion of the poor and needy and an enthusiastic patron of Great Ormond Street Hospital in its early days.  My husband Charles shared his ancestor’s desire to help the disadvantaged and when I became aware of the fundraising needs of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, I knew that I had to give the desk and chair to them.  I felt that it was Charles’ wish, and it is an honour for me to fulfil this wish, it is fitting that their sale will provide care and support for the patients of Great Ormond Street hospital 150 years after Dickens himself spoke at their first fundraising dinner.”

Trinity Hall links for this story

Ever your affectionate father, Charles Dickens  This page on our website also contains links for the full text of the letter and more on Henry Fielding Dickens.


The recollections of Sir Henry Dickens, K.C. (London: Heinemann, 1934)

The letters of Charles Dickens, volune 12: 1868-1870 / edited by Graham Storey ( Oxford: Claredndon Press, 2002)

Alumni Cantabrigienses. Part II, from 1752 to 1900 / compiled by J. A. Venn (Cambridge: University Press, 1944)

Trinity Hall: the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1992 / by Charles Crawley; 2nd ed. enlarged by Graham Storey (Cambridge: Trinity Hall, 1992)

Katey: the life and loves of Dickens’s artist daughter / by Lucinda Hawksley (London: Doubleday, 2006)

The mystery of Edwin Drood / by Charles Dickens (London: Chapman and Hall, 1870)


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