Lessons in law from the 18th century to today

There is in the Old Library of Trinity Hall a manuscript (Trinity Hall, Ms. 48) dating from the eighteenth century which has advice about studying law.  Books about how to study law are a well-established feature of modern legal educational literature.  With Glanville Williams (whose landmark Learning the Law (1945) is due in 2020 to go into its 17th edition), Cambridge has played its part in this, as has Trinity Hall in the development of legal education over the centuries, not least by initiating nineteenth-century reforms to test the fruits of legal study which became the modern Law Tripos.  The presence of a manuscript at Trinity Hall on how to study law is, therefore, not surprising.  The directions in it were written by Sir Thomas Reeve [1], when he was Lord Chief Justice (1736-7), for his nephew, who is not named in the manuscript.


Sir Thomas Reeve, in a portrait by Jacopo Amigoni

The Reeve directions were valued by his near contemporaries – the great Sir William Blackstone acknowledged how he was inspired by them; they were used by Josiah Quincy, the celebrated American lawyer, in 1763; and English lawyer, Francis Hargrave printed an edition of them in 1792.  However, we do not know who transcribed them in Trinity Hall’s manuscript, nor precisely when this was done.  The nephew for whom Reeve wrote the directions was either Edward Place or Thomas Reeve, both of whom were admitted to the Middle Temple in 1730 and 1740 respectively.

The Reeve directions [2] are in the form of numerous principles, for example:

(1) Do not rely blindly on secondary literature as authority for legal propositions

(2) Observe the latitude or restrictions implicit in legal terms

(3) Draw on the experience of practitioners

(4) Use the latest editions of law books

(5) Be attentive to detail, ‘sentence by sentence’, reading a text more than once

(6) Use statutes and cases for the proof of an opinion which alone is not authority

(7) Ensure commentators ‘quote very fair’

(8) Learn the general reasons on which the law is founded

(9) Regulate your study; and

(10) Make notes ‘your own’ and render things noted easy for the memory.

Page from MS 48

MS 48 fol 25

Reeve also sets out recommended reading – the sixteen works he cites include, from his own lifetime, Matthew Hale, History of the Common Law (1713), William Salkeld, Reports of Cases in the Court of King’s Bench (1718), Thomas Wood, An Institute of the Laws of England (1720); and, from an earlier age, Thomas Littleton, Tenures (1481), Christopher St. German, Dialogue Between a Doctor of Divinity and a Student of the Common Law (1528-31), and Edward Coke, Institutes of the Laws of England (1628-1644).

The Reeve principles for the study of law are still worthy of consideration today.  Dr Rachel Clement Tolley, law Fellow at Trinity Hall, says: ‘Many of the Reeve directions echo the advice I give my undergraduate students today: provide authority for propositions of law, but make sure you reference cases and statutes, rather than the textbook…However, whilst I advise my students to be attentive to detail, the modern law student certainly does not have time to read everything “sentence by sentence” and “more than once”! Today’s students must learn which texts to read carefully and repeatedly, and which texts to skim read, picking out only one or two key points’. And: ‘The Reeve instructions are also notable for what they omit. I expect my students to adopt a critical distance from the law as it stands and evaluate those aspects of the law which might be described as deficient, in some way’.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales 2013-17, and a Trinity Hall alumnus, also recognises the value of Reeve’s advice, including ‘finding the time to read and read again important passages in seminal texts and cases’ and ‘never relying blindly on secondary sources’ – but he also recommends ‘a critical approach to established law and opinions on that law’, studying ‘other contemporary systems of law’, understanding ‘the digital revolution, its effect on the law and the way in which existing principles of black letter law can be developed to underpin it’, and having ‘a grounding in the application of ‘the rule of law and in ethics’.

A fuller study of the Trinity Hall manuscript, also placing it in its wider historical context, is to be printed for use in the Library in 2020.

This is a guest post by Professor Norman Doe, Cardiff University.


[1] Baker, J.H. ‘Reeve, Sir Thomas (1672/3–1737)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); online: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/23303.

[2] Trinity Hall,  MS 48 fols. 25-28.

“Exiled infamous creature:” The Case of Philip Nichols


THHR/2/4/3/81 Letter of Philip Nichols to Sir Nathaniel Lloyd, Oct 1731

On August 4th 1731, Philip Nichols was expelled from the fellowship of Trinity Hall. What was his crime, you ask? He was found guilty of stealing books not only from Trinity Hall, but also from the University Library, St John’s, and Trinity College. His treachery was discovered after the Librarian of St John’s College began to realise certain books were missing from his library.

In January 1730/1, the St John’s College Governing Body ordered the lock on their library door to be changed and entrusted one of their fellows, James Tunstall, with the task of hunting down the missing books. Tunstall enlisted William Thurlbourn, a local bookseller who also noticed there were books missing from his shop. Together they made inquiries with London booksellers, watched out for books going up for sale, and looked through past issues of the Daily Post which advertised notices of book sales. Eventually Thurlbourn found an advertisement for a sale in November 1730 of 5 books that matched books missing from St John’s. Nichols made the mistake of giving his real name to the book agent, so when Thurlbourn found the book agent, he was easily able to trace the thefts back to Nichols. On June 14th Thurlbourn confronted Nichols. At first Nichols denied stealing the books, instead saying they were given to him by someone. When Thurlbourn pressed him further, he finally confessed.

Philip Nichols was educated at the ‘other place.’ He matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford in 1715 at the age of 16 and got his MA in 1722. He was made a fellow of Trinity Hall in 1723, but he was not elected a fellow in the normal way. He was nominated by the Master, Sir Nathaniel Lloyd, who exercised the right of devolution (which was the right of the master to make someone a fellow without the approval of the fellows). After Nichols was found out, Lloyd stated in a letter that Nichols came highly recommended by Dr Irish, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, but that “from the very minute [he] first saw him [he] said [he] did not like his look.”[1] Appointing Nichols was a decision he would bitterly regret.

Nichols keys

THGB/4/1/8/2/1: Affidavit of Samuel Hadderton, clerk, Fellow of Trinity College, and Keeper of the University Library, Aug 1731

How he stole the books

When Nichols’ room was searched, in addition to a number of books, they also found fourteen keys of various sizes, a pair of pincers, four screws, and a steel file. He used a variety of methods to obtain the books. In some cases he broke into the libraries using the aforementioned tools and in others he used keys that he had copied. One of the College’s cooks testified that Nichols would come to him asking for paste, which he then used to make impressions of the keys. In his letter of apology to the Master of St John’s, he states that he got into the St John’s library using a key he had found and entered the library under the cover of night. One of the keys found in his room did fit the old lock of the St John’s Library.

Some books weren’t even technically stolen because he had legitimately checked them out. Another one of the keys found in his room fit into the University Librarian’s desk, where the notes on borrowed books were kept. It was suggested that instead of stealing books from the University Library, Nichols had borrowed the books normally and then used his key to remove the borrowing records from the Librarian’s desk.


Why he stole the books

It would appear that Nichols had been living a dissolute life for years before he began stealing books. His profligate lifestyle was well known to his peers at Trinity Hall. Nathaniel Lloyd was ashamed of his behavior and he “long blushed for him.”[1] Lloyd gently admonished him, but Nichols lamented:

“happy had it been for [him] if [he] had then taken the right method, and had put on courage – honestly to confess [his] shame; possibly [he] might then have stopt there, and so have escaped the great load of guilt arising from the several Robberies, wch [he] afterwards most wickedly committed.”[2]

The best explanation for how he came to be in such a desperate situation comes from a letter he wrote to Dr Chetwode in October 19th 1731:

“Tis hard & to you I am sure it wd be tedious to tell by wt insensible degrees I arriv’d to such a height of villany as I did, you are no stranger to the scandalous debauch’d life I had led for some years before, indeed I had extricated my self from that affair & my debts were not so great but that I might have retrieved my self by honest means, but the silly shame of poverty it was that was the cause of my ruin, & push’d me on to all the robberies I afterward committed.”[3]

Once he was found out, he did not linger long. Instead of appearing before the Master of St John’s to beg for forgiveness and plead his case to the Governing Body of Trinity Hall, he first fled to Holland and then to another undisclosed location.

Nicols expulsion

THGB/4/1/8/4: Order of Expulsion of Philip Nichols, Aug 1731

His expulsion from college

Two days after Thurlbourn met with Nichols, the fellows of Trinity Hall and the other librarians involved gathered evidence. By the end of the day, there was little doubt of his guilt. The following day, William Warren, a fellow of the College, wrote a letter to Lloyd describing the situation. On June 22nd, the fellows issued a formal summons to Nichols to attend a meeting of the Governing Body on July 7th to make a case for himself. The citation stated they would proceed even if he did not show up. The citation was repeated two more times, with the last meeting being held on August 3rd. In the final meeting, the witnesses swore to their depositions before the Vice-Chancellor of the University and the evidence was recorded in the presence of a Notary Public. On August 4th, the official expulsion ceremony was performed.

The ceremony of expulsion was quite elaborate. All of the fellows and scholars gathered in the hall and the Master sat at the high table. The bell was tolled and the Master asked each fellow what ought to be done. They all said Nichols should be expelled. The sentence of expulsion was written in Latin and sealed with the College’s seal. Then a card, pasted on the table with Nichols’ name written on it, was to be cut off the table by the College Butler. Apparently this was quite a difficult task, and the Butler wasn’t able to remove the card from the table. Had the card been removed, it would have then been kicked out of the hall. The sentence was also put on the College gates for everyone to see. In addition, Nichols was expelled from the University and deprived of all his degrees.

Although this case was quite the scandal at the time, Trinity Hall and, arguably, the University Library benefited far more than they suffered from the incident. Nathaniel Lloyd felt so guilty about appointing Nichols that he swore to never use the right of devolution again and he gave a considerable amount of money to the College to make amends. That money was used to do substantial building work that transformed the College into what it looks like today. At the University Library, the incident spurred on much needed reform to their borrowing practices. Before, borrowers were not compelled to return their books and could keep them for years at a time. One book found in Nichols’ room had been borrowed seven years before.

Nichols did make his way back to England eventually. He moved to London and began writing for the Biographia Britannica in 1752. In 1763 he was embroiled in another controversy regarding the publication of Bishop Warburton’s letters, and he openly admitted his scandalous past. Nothing else is known about Philip Nichols, the “poor penitent thief.”

[1] Letter from Nathaniel Lloyd to Dr William Warren, June 19th 1731, THHR/2/4/3, p. 70c.

[2] Letter from Nathaniel Lloyd to Dr William Warren, June 19th 1731, THHR/2/4/3, p. 70c.

[3] Letter from Philip Nichols to Nathaniel Lloyd, October 17th 1731, THHR/2/4/3, p. 81.

[4] Letter from Philip Nicholls to Dr Chetwode, October 19th1731, THHR/2/4/3, p. 79b.


Chadwick, Owen. “The Case of Philip Nichols.” The Cambridge Bibliographical Society, vol. 1, no. 5 (1953): pp. 422-431.

Miscellaneous Documents, THHR/2/4/3. Trinity Hall Archive, Cambridge.

Trinity Hall v. Philip Nichols, THGB/4/1/8. Trinity Hall Archive, Cambridge.

Tripos, Tennis and Tatler: The Pastimes of an Eighteenth-Century Undergraduate


Fellow Commoner from R. Harraden’s Costume of the Various Orders in the University of Cambridge, 1805

This is a guest post by the Archive’s summer intern this year, Kate Foxton.

One of the treasures of the archive is the diary of fellow commoner Spencer Penrice for the year 1736-1737. Born in August 1719 to a wealthy landed family from Hertfordshire, Spencer was admitted to Trinity Hall on the 29th June 1736. His father, Sir Henry Penrice, was a judge of the High Court of Admiralty and ex-fellow of the college. The status of fellow commoner was reserved for wealthy, often noble, students who were charged higher fees and not required to proceed to a degree. Following in his father’s footsteps, Spencer began his first term at Trinity Hall on the 18th October when, after travelling up from the family’s seat at Offley, he was greeted by fellow and Regius Professor of Law, Dr Dickins, and dined with him at the Rose Inn. From this point on, the diary meticulously records daily student life in hourly increments.  Although its tone is ‘more of dutiful record than self-conscious introspection’[i] it nevertheless provides a fascinating insight into the social, academic and religious life of a fellow commoner in the early eighteenth century.

The College Community

What is apparent from Spencer’s diary is the existence of a rich and active social life within the college. He is never short of company when he takes time away from his studies to breakfast, dine in commons, take tea in his room or walk in the gardens. He often stays in his friend’s chambers late into the evening playing piquet, whist, brag or quadrille. He attends debates in the Hall (Nov 22nd, ‘Gibbon kept the Act, & Grimes & Strahan opposed him’) and is involved with the college Music Club, recalling a memorable meeting on April 27th when ‘we had some French Horns’. More active pursuits include tennis or, in the summer months, bowls at Queens Bowling Green and swims in the ‘Sophs Pool’. Occasionally he seeks a little respite from his enthusiastic companions, noting on the 3rd May that ‘Northey came into my Room, & staid till 5 ½ so I walked in the garden to get rid of him’. Although the majority of Spencer’s social and academic life is centred within the college, he participates in a wider community of undergraduates. On May 29th he attends a debate for ‘for the Restoration of K: Charles 2nd’ at Trinity College and notes that one speaker ‘was as vehement against Cromwell as Tully against Cataline & he praised Charles ye 2nd as much as he praised Caesar’.Penrice 1 edited

Penrice 1 edited

THPP/PEN p. 311-312, debate at Trinity College.

A man about town

Spectacles in the town provided exciting distractions from study. On March 13th, Spencer watches bull baiting in Parker’s Piece; on the 15th he notes, somewhat ominously, that he went ‘to the Castle Hill to see the Prisoners hang’d but was too late’. On Jan 13th he recalls seeing a display of Wax Anatomy at the ‘Faulcon’. This fascinates him, and he describes each of the five figures displayed in precise detail, including the figure of ‘a woman just growing big & the situation of the womb’. Such displays were common across Europe in this period, and showmen often took wax cabinets on the road.[ii] It is striking that these models, clearly of interest as scientific teaching tools as well as spectacles, are not confined to the environs of the university but displayed in an Inn and accessible to a more general public.

Penrice 6

THPP/PEN p. 224, wax anatomy at ‘The Faulcon.’

The Life of a lounger?

Fellow commoners had a reputation for being ‘loungers’ who spent their time hunting, dancing and wiling away the afternoons in coffee houses rather than applying themselves to serious study.[iii] The life of a ‘lounger’ is depicted in a humorous poem of 1751 from The Student or Oxford and Cambridge Monthly Miscellany II:

I rise about nine, get to breakfast by ten

Blow a tune on my Flute, or perhaps make a Bow;

Read a play till eleven, or cock my lac’d hat,

Then step to my Neighb’rs till Dinner to chat.

Dinner over, to Tom’s or to Clapham’s I go

The news of the town so impatient to know;

From the coffee-house then to Tennis away,

And at six I post back to my college, to pray:

I sup before eight, and secure from all duns,

Undauntedly march to the Mitre or Tuns….

The phenomenon of the ‘lounger’ appears in a letter of 1767 from undergraduate Framingham Willis to Thomas Kerrich, a student coming up to Cambridge for his first term.[iv] Willis warns Kerrich to beware the ‘interruption of Loungers’ who ‘take a pleasure in ruining two hours in a morning by idle chit-chat’. There are certainly shades of this leisurely, privileged lifestyle in Spencer’s journal.  Feb 17th is more than a little reminiscent of the poem:

 I breakfasted with Strahan. At 7 ½ went to Chappel. At 8 read Vinny. At 10 went to Lectures. At 11 read Vinny.  At 12 drest. At 12 ½ went to dinner. At 1 read part of a play in Gibbon’s Room.  At 2 writ a letter to Lee. At 3 Howard & Spence came & drank tea with me. At 5 they went away & I went to Lectures. At 6 went to Chappel. At 6 ½ set my things to rights, & went to the Coffee house. At 8 Brown, Brand, Sir J Cust, Powlett, & Colebrooke came & play’d at Hands here, & staid till 12 ½, & then I went to bed.

Coffee houses were established spaces of socialization in England by this period. There were at least eight or nine in existence around Cambridge by the mid-18th century and Spencer frequents them with satisfying regularity. Recent archaeological findings suggest that the ‘Claphams’ mentioned above was situated on All Saints Passage, although the earliest surviving record is the victualling licence afforded to William Clapham in 1748 so perhaps a little late for Spencer.[v] Indeed, Spencer names a coffee house only once – Paris’s. At the coffee house Spencer picks up the ‘news of the town’. This varies from the political (22nd May, ‘everybody will be entitled to the Benefits of the Insolvent Debtors Bill’) to the botanical (June 3rd, ‘a famous plant has blown & bears fruit in Holland’) to the supernatural (June 1st, ‘a woman bewitched at Bristol’) to the purely salacious (June 26th, ‘a man the very morning before he was married to a great Fortune, had the misfortune to have a letter from her to desire to be excused’). On one occasion, the coffee house itself becomes a stage for scandal when ‘one of the girls’ at Paris’s ‘ran after Colebrooke with a knife, & threw a pair of Bellows at him’.


Penrice 5

THPP/PEN p. 245-246, scandal at the Coffee House.

Although he certainly lives a privileged lifestyle as a fellow commoner, it seems unduly harsh to dub Penrice a ‘lounger’. He undertakes courses in mathematics, classics and astronomy but focuses the majority of his time on law. He takes his academic commitments seriously, reading Vinny’s Legal Commentaries and undertaking mathematical problems daily, and his attendance at lectures are as regular as his afternoon trips to the coffee house. A typical day more closely resembles Nov 11th:

‘I went to chapel breakfasted with Colebrooke. I studied Vinny from 9 to 10 then went to lectures till 12 and afterwards compared Wood’s Institutes with Parry’s. Dressed for dinner. Afterwards I took a little walk & came in & read a little of Corvinus till Sir J:Cust & Pilk Hale came, they staid till 4, then I went to Logick, & from thence to Puffendorf, & then to chapel & supper, & from thence to the Coffee house. I came home about 8 read Vinny till 9, when I could hardly keep my Eyes open, so I studied mathematics till 10, then went to bed’.

Indeed, Spencer seems to suffer just as much from the irritating interruptions of ‘Loungers’ as Willis, noting on Nov 24th that he went to his room ‘with an intent to study, but Colebrooke came & took me to his Room where I read part of a play’. Although his academic life sounds just as strenuous as any undergraduate today, Tripos sounds a lot more fun in the 18th century. Spencer notes on March 24th : ‘at 1 went to the Tripos, we were let in to the schools a little before 2, The 2 moderators spoke witty speeches, & verses were thrown about’. Unlike today, Tripos was not examined through a written examination but through oral disputation.

Penrice 2

THPP/PEN p. 271, March 24th, Tripos

Tragically, Spencer died of small-pox on 6th January 1739, aged just 20 years old. We shall never know how serious his academic ambitions were, or whether he would have pursued a career in the college as his father had before him. The poignant family memorial in Great Offley Church describes him as ‘a youth of great virtues. And expectations’.

[i] Howes, Graham, ‘Eighteenth Century-Student Life – The Diary of Spencer Penrice’.

[ii] Maerker Anna, ‘Anatomizing the Trade: Designing and Marketing Anatomical Models as Medical Technologies, ca.1700-1900’ Technology and Culture, 54:3 (2013).

[iii] Stubbings, Franks, Bedders, Bulldogs & Bedells: A Cambridge Glossary Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1991) pp.47-48.

[iv] Venn, John, Early Collegiate Life (1913) pp.241-252.

[v] Cressford, Craig; Hall, Andy; Herring, Vicki; Newman, Richard, ‘”to Clapham’s I go”: a mid to late 18th-century Cambridge coffeehouse assemblage’ Post-Medieval Archaeology, 51:2 (2017).



Fit for a Queen? Boaistuau’s Histoires tragiques

The Old Library at Trinity Hall holds a very special French Renaissance book (H*.VI.68): Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires tragiques, extraictes de quelques fameux autheurs, Italiens & Latins, mises en françois […] Dediées à Tresillustre & Treschrestienne, Elizabet de Lenclastre, par la grace de Dieu Royne d’Angleterre (Paris: s.n., 1559)

Translated (with abridgements) from the Italian Matteo Bandello’s Novelle of 1554, Pierre Boaistuau’s Histoires tragiques fast became a bestseller after they appeared in 1559. In France they inaugurated an important subgenre of short narrative fiction, marked by sensational tales of forbidden love, the vicissitudes of fortune and vivid expressions of extreme pathos.

Over the subsequent fifty or so years a number of French writers, such as François de Belleforest, Vérité Habanc, Jacques Yver and François de Rosset all wrote ‘histoires tragiques’ for an enthusiastic market. In England especially, the Histoires tragiques enjoyed an illustrious afterlife: via some combination of Arthur Brooke’s verse adaptation and William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, one of Bandello-Boaistuau’s tales eventually became the source of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

title page

H*.VI.68 (title page)

The Trinity Hall copy may mark an important staging post in Boaistuau’s English career. It is an exceptionally rare variant edition, especially dedicated to Elizabeth I and with certain disobliging references to English royalty removed. Only one other example of this variant survives (at the Folger Library, Washington). Unlike the relatively plain Folger volume, Trinity Hall’s is housed in an elegant-looking calf binding, centrally stamped with an oval gilt medallion featuring the profile of Henri II of France.

How did it reach England? We know that Boaistuau left France for England some time in 1559-1560. We also know that on arriving at the English court Boaistuau presented Elizabeth with a sumptuous manuscript version of another text, the Histoires prodigieuses, now held in the Wellcome Library, London (western MS 136). The Boaistuau scholar Stephen Bamforth, who first unearthed the Wellcome manuscript, has recently suggested that the Trinity Hall Histoires tragiques may have been a further gift to Elizabeth. His suggestion gains force from the presence in Cambridge of a third Boaistuau volume clearly intended for the Queen, the Institution du royaume chrestien (1560). Elegantly decorated with coloured initials and the English royal arms, this volume is now in Emmanuel College Special Collections (S16.4.12).


Binding, front, by Claude Picques and Etienne Delaune

Bamforth’s thesis of a royal presentation copy is certainly appealing. In the absence of the elaborate manuscript or decorative work that are features of the Wellcome and Emmanuel volumes, much depends on what we make of the Trinity Hall binding. Bamforth finds it ‘superb’. The gold ‘semé’ pattern and central gilt medallion undoubtedly convey an impression of luxury. Medal-stamped bindings had become fashionable in the late 1550s, an Italian feature that first reached the Parisian market via Lyon earlier that decade. The sense of a high-status object is enhanced by the identity of the binder, Claude Picques, whose profile of Henri II was designed by the prestigious engraver Etienne Delaune. Picques declares himself ‘royal binder’ (ligator Reg[is]) in the colophon to a Psalter also dated 1559, and certainly moved in distinguished circles: in 1568 his daughter is reported as having been treated for plague by no less than the royal physician Ambroise Paré. Though different in design, the bindings on the other Boaistuau volumes at the Wellcome and Emmanuel can probably also be attributed to Picques.

And yet some doubts remain. As Bamforth points out, the text itself is noticeably messy for a presentation volume. Even by the relatively lax standards of the period, it shows signs of hurried composition (in the multiple misspellings of ‘Lancaster’ as ‘Lenclastre’ or ‘l’enclastre’, for example). Furthermore, the binding itself, though attractive, is not rare: Anthony Hobson lists several variants of the Henri II medallion design, with as many as 47 examples still surviving. Despite its luxury appearance, it seems more likely to have been destined for trade bindings than for presentation copies. This is certainly the view of the book historian Eugénie Droz who (in a short article not cited by Bamforth) reports that whereas she could find no examples of such bindings belonging to Picques’ French royal patrons, she did locate one whose owner records having paid the binder the measly sum of ‘6 sous, 3 deniers’: hardly a suitable gift for a queen. Finally, there is a problem of chronology: the dedication to Elizabeth is dated 20th October 1559; Henri II had died on 10th July that year, from an injury received during a jousting accident. Why would Boaistuau have presented the new Queen of England with a book bearing the face of French king three months dead?


Inscription on rear flyleaf

Whether or not the volume ever passed through Elizabeth’s hands, it eventually made it to Trinity Hall. A donation inscription on the rear flyleaf suggests that its early donor was indeed French, and even seems to have shared Boaistuau’s questionable grasp of the orthography of English place names: ‘Aula Stae Trinitatis. Au college ou salle de la Trinité a Cambrige [sic].’ Could this inscription be in Boaistuau’s hand, or that of his secretary? If so, what had Trinity Hall done to deserve such a boon?

This is a guest post by Dr Tim Chesters, Clare College, Cambridge.


Stephen Bamforth, ‘Boaistuau, ses Histoires tragiques, et l’Angleterre’ in Les Histoires tragiques du XVIe siècle. Pierre Boaistuau et ses émules, ed. by Jean-Claude Arnould (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018), pp. 25-37

Eugénie Droz, ‘Les reliures à la médaille d’Henri II’, in Les Trésors des bibliothèques de France, vol. 4 (Paris: G. Van Oest, 1931), pp. 16-23

Eugénie Droz, ‘Prix d’une reliure à la médaille Henri II’, Humanisme et Renaissance 2.2 (1935), 175-76

Anthony Hobson, Humanists and Bookbinders: The Origins and Diffusion of the Humanistic Bookbinding 1459-1559 With a Census of Historiated Plaquette and Medallion Bindings of the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)


Two important archive items added to Cambridge Digital Library

Two important manuscripts from the College archives have recently been added to our growing collection on the Cambridge Digital Library.

Parker register

The Parker register

The first is our copy of the Parker Register (THAR/7/1/13; James MS 29), a list of the books and manuscripts owned by Matthew Parker (1504-1575), and passed to the keeping of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Parker was Master of Corpus Christi from 1544 to 1553, and then Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 until his death in 1575. His books came to Corpus Christi under an indenture dated 1569 between Parker, Thomas Aldrich (Master of Corpus), John Caius (Master of Gonville and Caius) and Henry Harvey (Master of Trinity Hall).

These three colleges were chosen because they had close links to Norwich where Parker was born. Each College has a copy of the Register (they differ only slightly from each other) to serve as check lists for the annual audit (revived since 2004) of Parker’s books. If Corpus failed to take care of the books then they would pass first to Gonville and Caius and then to Trinity Hall if Caius was negligent. Luckily for Corpus, they have lost very little of Parker’s collection!

Our second archive item is The Master’s Statute Book (THAR/1/6; James MS20), which is really a collection of manuscripts which have been later bound together. The documents date from the 14th to the 18th century.

The Master's Statute book

The Master’s Statute book

They include William Bateman’s (c1298-1355) founding statutes for Trinity Hall which laid down the rules for discipline and administration of the College. Instructions were also provided for the management of the library such as the chaining of books. When the College built a library 240 years after Bateman’s death, his instructions were carried out and it was created as a chained library. A list of books that Bateman donated to the library is appended to the statutes. These include 30 volumes of civil law, 33 of canon law, and 29 of theology.

Unfortunately, unlike the benefaction of Matthew Parker, most of Bateman’s books have long since disappeared. Bateman’s arms: sable, a crescent ermine, his paternal arms, with a bordure engrailed argent, are included on page 21. These were adapted as the arms of Trinity Hall. It also includes a list of benefactions to the College.

These documents provide valuable insight into the history of Trinity Hall.


Cambridge, Corpus Christi College. (2019). MS 575: The Parker Register. Parker on the Web https://parker.stanford.edu/parker/catalog/ww741yn5061.
Dale, A.W.W. (ed.) (1911). Warren’s Book . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.), pp 44-49.
Dickins, Bruce, (1972) ’The Making of the Parker Library’ (Sandars Lecture for 1968-9, 25 April 1969) Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 19-34 https://www.jstor.org/stable/41154512
James, M. R. (1907). A descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of Trinity Hall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Page, R.I., (1981) The Parker Register and Matthew Parker’s Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 1-11: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41154594


Medieval manuscripts go online in digitisation project


Trinity Hall has begun the exciting task of digitising some of its most important and beautiful medieval manuscripts.  This is part of the Library’s commitment to the preservation of these manuscripts, and to sharing them with anyone who would like to do research on them.

The first five selected manuscripts were given to the College by Robert Hare (d. 1611) and date from the 12th to the 15th century. They were obtained from the monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII.

Digitised manuscripts

Ms 1. History of St Augustine’s abbey. Thomas of Elmham’s (1364-c1427) history of St Augustine’s Abbey contains elaborate chronological tables and facsimiles of many lost Anglo-Saxon charters. It contains two magnificent full page illustrations

Ms 2. Ralph of Flavigny on Leviticus. This is one of the earliest copies of an important commentary on Leviticus. It contains illuminations by the artist known as the ‘Simon Master’.

Ms 3. Doctrinale ecclesie contra blasfemias Wiclef. This manuscript contains a letter from Thomas Netter of Walden (c. 1374-1430) to Pope Martin V, and his Doctrinale antiquitatum fidei, a work against the heresies of John Wycliffe.

Ms 12. De consolatione philosophiae. This early French translation of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy is full of lively coloured illustrations. There is an interesting mix of religious and secular depictions of suffering.

MS 17. Contra Lollardorum. There are only three copies of Twelve Lollard Heresies in known existence. The Trinity Hall copy is the presentation copy made for Richard II in 1395 and has beautiful illuminations.

We are grateful to the generosity of alumni who paid for the digitisation, and for the advice and expertise of Professor Nigel Morgan and the staff at Cambridge University Library’s Digital Content Unit. We hope that many of our most important medieval manuscripts and early printed books will be added to the Cambridge Digital Library on an ongoing basis.



Hidden Histories in the College Archives – A new Master’s Lodge for the Hidden Hall

One of the big tasks over this summer in the College archives has been to sort and catalogue a collection of late 19th century to early 21st century building plans that had been transferred to the College archives from the Bursar’s office and Maintenance departments. Among this collection I came across a set of architects’ plans from 1970 for a new Master’s Lodge, comprising a semi-subterranean construction with a grass roof, set in the Fellows’ Garden.  This radical design would have completely changed the College’s physical environment, and I was keen to find out more about the background to the plans.

Masters Lodge Clean

THAR/4/1/5/9 Building plan for a new Master’s Lodge, Gasson and Meunier Architects, 1970

In The Hidden Hall: Portrait of a Cambridge College (2004) John Pollard wrote about building projects that were never implemented, one of which was a set of plans for a new Master’s Lodge and library commissioned in 1970 from Cambridge architects Barry Gasson and John Meunier. The building would straddle, or partially replace, the long wall between the Fellows’ Garden and Latham Lawn. It seemed that this second set of plans I had found for a semi-subterranean lodge was created by the same architects, as an alternative to those discovered by Dr Pollard.

So, what was the story behind these plans? A study of the Governing Body minutes from 1969 and 1970 reveals heated discussions about the development of the central site to meet the changing needs of the College. The undergraduate library was housed it what is now the Graham Storey Room, and a solution was required for its expansion, with the idea that building a new Master’s Lodge in the College grounds would allow for the current lodge to be refurbished as fellows’ accommodation. On the appropriateness of the architects’ designs, the minutes record that Graham Storey quoted Professor Pevsner’s verdict in support of the claim that “any building of any kind involving the destruction of the medieval crunch [sic] wall, the copper beech and the herbaceous border was an inadmissible sacrifice that no need could justify”, and the decision to abandon the project altogether was passed by 20 votes to 4, with 4 abstentions.

No mention is made in the minutes, however, of these alternative plans in the Fellows’ Garden from the same architects, the impact of which would have been quite different. The construction would involve a gradual incline on the area equivalent to the current lawn, and turfed so that it could be walked on. The view from the gate in Latham Court onto the garden would hardly change, although one would be aware of a wall rising along the north side of the incline, and the lawn itself gradually rising in height until it met that of the long wall near to the river. The herbaceous borders on the long wall between the garden and Latham Lawn and current Master’s Lodge frontage would remain, with further planting incorporated into borders on the inclined lawn.

Although the Lodge is single storey and compact, the drawings demonstrate modern architecture in its simplest and most elegant form. Barry Gasson and John Meunier operated from the Department of Architecture at 1 Scroope Terrace, where they were teaching at the time. Later on they became best known for their outstanding design for the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, built in 1983 with Brigitte Andreson as the third partner in the practice. Architectural historian Gavin Stamp described the building in The Independent, 22 November 1998, as “a truly innovative but undemonstrative building widely and rightly praised for the beauty and sensitivity of its housing of Sir William Burrell’s collection of art and antiquities”.

Seeing the proposed Master’s Lodge plans in the College archives has left me with a strong image of what might have been an extraordinary and exciting ‘intervention’ in the College landscape, that worked with rather than against the College’s other buildings, leaving the tranquillity of the gardens undisturbed.

The building plan collections are now available for study in the archive, and interested researchers can access the catalogue on Janus, the online search facility for all the University’s archives.

Anna Crutchley

College Archivist (Maternity Cover 2018)

Matriculation photographs: Reflections of Change

This is a guest post by Lucy Holland

If one were to visit the home of any Cambridge student or alumni, it is almost certain that hung proudly on a wall is their matriculation photograph. The tradition of taking a photograph to mark the day of matriculation dates back to late 1800s, when photography was emerging as a more accessible and popular medium. Since then, every college has adopted the practice as a way of recording their new intake of students.

At Trinity Hall the archive houses a complete collection of undergraduate matriculation photographs for every year since 1869. This summer I have been undertaking a digitisation project to index the entire collection. My focus has been on inputting the names of all students present in each photograph into the central University archive database Janus. This will make it possible for researchers, alumni or their relatives to more easily locate individuals in the photographs. Along the way the project has resulted in some unexpected surprises, as well as provided a chance to reflect on the changes Trinity Hall has undergone over the last 150 years.

What is Matriculation?

Matriculation, derived from the Latin word ‘matricula’ meaning ‘register’, is the process which marks the formal admission of a student into the University body.[1] Our earliest record of the process at Cambridge University survives from 1544 in the form of matriculation registers compiled by the university central clerk. It was only from 1724 that students had to sign their own name in the register.[2] Fundamentally the process remains unchanged, with incoming students to this day signing a declaration form. However, now part of the tradition is for students to have a large group photograph with their peers.

A Timeless Tradition

Like any Cambridge tradition, there are many aspects of matriculation photography that has remained the same. The very earliest matriculation photograph, dated to 1869, is believed to be one of the first taken of a Cambridge undergraduate cohort.


The matriculation photograph from 1869 is the oldest in Trinity Hall’s archive, and likely one of the earliest taken in Cambridge. Note the inclusion of future master Henry Latham third from the left, one of the few photos taken of him.

It features a small group of men dressed with their best hats and canes – noticeably without gowns – casually arranged on chairs on Latham Lawn. Despite its age, it remains as recognisable as a matriculation photograph as those taken presently. The reasons for this are two-fold.

Firstly, the decoration and design of the paperboard mount used to display matriculation photographs remains almost entirely unchanged. The mount which houses the photograph for the 1869 admission of undergraduates features hand painted crests for Trinity Hall and university at the top, together with the college’s name, the year and the type of cohort handwritten in calligraphy. Below the photograph is a list of names of individuals as appear in the photograph, again handwritten. While today the mounts are printed, the style is exactly replicated down to the style of calligraphy and placement of the crests.

Secondly, with these photographs taken within college grounds the setting is always a recognisable corner of the college. There is no portion of Trinity Hall which has not over the years served as the backdrop for a matriculation photograph. Front Court, Latham Lawn, the Master’s Lodge, the Gatehouse Building, the Old Library, and the Latham building in particular have all featured at some point. It is uncertain who made the decision of where to locate the photograph, but it is a testament to the timeless beauty of Trinity Hall that so many of its buildings have set the scene for these commemorative photographs.

Reflections of Change

Cataloguing this wide range of photographs has also brought to light many of the changes that Trinity Hall has undergone throughout the past 150 years.

Most noticeably, these photographs can reveal trends in undergraduate numbers. The average number of students admitted in the 1860s was 50, rising to 67 by the 1890s. This was supplemented under Henry Latham’s mastership (1888-1902) by an increase in the number of students from overseas, including students from New Zealand, Australia Japan, and India.[3] Undergraduate numbers remained more or less the same until the war years of 1914-1918, when the college became almost entirely empty of students. In the immediate years that followed, when over 250 ex-servicemen and new undergraduates arrived at Trinity Hall, changes to college life were acutely felt and can be traced through the matriculation photographs. In the 1919 matriculation photograph a group of students can be seen wearing their military dress, including famous alumni and novelist and playwright J.B Priestley.


Taken in the Fellow’s Garden in May 1919, this photograph shows all the first year men who had arrived to Trinity Hall the previous October.


This photograph features all the men who returned to Trinity Hall following the end of World War I. Novelist and playwright J.B. Priestley is amongst this cohort.

Between 1920-39 cohort sizes increased as Trinity Hall underwent expansion of student numbers to an average of 87 students. The majority of these students were to read arts subjects such as Law and English, though there was a slight increase in the uptake of Natural Sciences.[4] It also became mandatory from the late 1920s for gowns to be worn in the matriculation photograph, and have remained a familiar fixture to this day.


The 1935 matriculation photograph is one of the first where undergraduates are wearing gowns, a tradition which continues to this day.

From the 1950s, student numbers continued to increase, averaging around one hundred students. A trend also emerged at this time for students to hold an identifying card with their number on it, ensuring that they could be easily identified on the list of names. The system was later changed in the 1980s to arranging students alphabetically.

The 1970s is perhaps the most significant decade of change for the matriculation photograph. It became tradition during this time for the Master, and later the Senior Tutor, to participate by sitting front and centre amongst the students. But perhaps most monumental is the 1977 photograph which is the first to feature women, this being the year when the first cohort of female undergraduates were admitted to Trinity Hall.

It is being able to chart changes such as these, that has made this digitisation project so rewarding and also incredibly valuable. Each of the college’s matriculation photographs is a vibrant and unique historical artefact that has much to tell us about life at Trinity Hall.

[1] K. Taylor, Central Cambridge: A Guide to the University and Colleges (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 106.

[2] H.E. Peek and C.P Hall, Archives of The University of Cambridge (Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp.30-31.

[3] C. Crawley, Trinity Hall: The History of a Cambridge College, 1350-1975 (Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 180.

[4] C. Crawley, Trinity Hall: The History of a Cambridge College, 1350-1975 (Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 211.

Our copy of Novellae Constitutiones featured on World’s Rarest books blog

IMG_0652_inside pagesTrinity Hall’s Old Library is one of the partners of Preserving the World’s Rarest Books. The blog for the project features our copy of a Greek text Novellae Constitutiones which was printed by Charlotte Guillard, one of the few women printers of the sixteenth century to work under her own name. You can read more on its fascinating history here.



John Cowell, Master of Trinity Hall and his seditious dictionary


Title page of The Interpreter


The Old Library at Trinity Hall is home to many law texts including an unprepossessing book written by John Cowell. It is known as The Interpreter (1607); or to give it its pithy title, The interpreter: Or Booke containing the signification of words : Wherein is set foorth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such words and termes, as are mentioned in the lawe vvriters, or statutes of this victorious and renowned kingdome, requiring any exposition or interpretation. A worke not onely profitable, but necessary for such as desire throughly to be instructed in the knowledge of our lawes, statutes, or other antiquities (Yes I’ll stick to The Interpreter). It was one of the first English law dictionaries, so while you may think this would be an safely dull publication, it was to cause a scandal which would lead to the book’s suppression and public burning, and almost earnt the author the death penalty.

John Cowell was born in Landkey, Devon in 1552. He was educated at Eton on a scholarship, before going up to King’s College, Cambridge in 1570, aged 18. He was a Fellow of King’s from 1573 until 1595, and was appointed to the Regius Professorship of Civil Law in 1594. Two years later he became Master of Trinity Hall – a post he was to hold until his death in 1611. He was also vice-chancellor of Cambridge University between 1603 and 1604. The pinnacle of his career came in 1608 when the Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft, who was his friend and mentor, made him his vicar-general. This important position meant that he was judge of the ecclesiastic court.

Cowell’s dedication to Bancroft

Now on to the main story. The Interpreter was published in 1607 by university printer, John Legate (he rented a shop at the west end of Great St Mary’s Church), and it was dedicated to Bancroft.

As it says in Cowell’s preface, the book was intended as an academic work for the ‘advancement of knowledge’, and was unlikely to have been written with any political motivation. In fact, any controversy appeared to go unnoticed for more than two years.

Cowell’s definition of ‘prerogative’

The thing that landed Cowell in hot water was a handful of definitions contained in his dictionary, in particular ‘King’, ‘Parliament,’ ‘Prerogative’, ‘Recoveries’, and ‘Subsidies’.

So why were these so controversial? Cowell’s definitions appeared to support the idea of an absolute monarchy, which was above the law. This was controversial in a difficult political climate where the Crown and Parliament were vying for power. When the parliament met on 24 February 1609 James I’s attention was drawn towards The Interpreter. Sir Edwin Sandys described the book as “very ill-advised and indiscreet, tending to the disreputaton of the House, and the power of the common laws”. A committee was then formed later that month to consider the book and report to the House of Lords.

The Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke was one of a group of lawyers on this committee who attacked Cowell’s book. Coke perhaps felt some hostility or jealousy towards Cowell and disparagingly referred to him in letters as ‘Cow-heel’. The background to his antagonism was complex, but was rooted in Cowell’s criticism of Thomas Littleton’s scholarship, whom Coke greatly admired and had based his own work. It was also a battle between the common law courts and civil law courts, with Coke and Cowell on opposing sides.

The Interpreter was investigated and it looked for a time that Cowell would be executed. The indictment read:

Dr. Cowell, Professor of the Civil Law at Cambridge, writ a book called The Interpreter, rashly, dangerously and perniciously asserting certain heads to the overthrow and destruction of Parliaments, and the fundamental laws and government of the Kingdom.

There was much discussion of the book and of Cowell’s punishment in the Commons and Lords. While they debated the matter, James I asked Cowell to explain himself.   The King then stepped in to denounce the book with a Royal proclamation. This in effect, took the matter out of the hands of parliament.

The proclamation order read:

When Men goe out of their Element, and meddle with Things above their Capacitie, themselves shall not onely goe astray and stumble in Darknesse, but will mislead also divers others with themselves into many Mistakings and Errours.. the Proofe whereof wee have lately had by a Booke written by Docteur Cowell.. by medling in Matters above his reach, he hath fallen in many Things to mistake and deceive himselfe.. in some Poynts very derogatory to the supreme Power of this Crowne; In other Cases mistaking the true State of the Parliament of this Kingdome.

People were prohibited from buying or reading The Interpreter and Cowell’s book is said to have been publicly burnt by the hangman on 26 March 1610. It was one of only around fifteen books that were consigned to the flames during the whole of the 59 year reign of James I.

Cowell was imprisoned for a while, but the case against him was soon dropped. James I apparently let it be known that Cowell was not to be prosecuted or harmed. He resigned his professorship on 25 May 1610 and died on 11 October 1611. He was buried in Trinity Hall Chapel and left bequests in his Will to Trinity Hall, King’s College, and to Cambridge University. These included his books and manuscripts which are held in the Old Library (possibly even his own copy of The Interpreter!).


Plaque commemorating Cowell in Trinity Hall Chapel

This was not the end of the story for Cowell’s dictionary. Many copies have survived and it was reissued in unexpurgated form 27 years later, in 1658. Fresh editions were also published in the 17th century.

Further reading

Boucher, Harold, King James’s suppression of The Interpreter and denouncement of Dr. Cowell (Harold I. Boucher, 1998).

Chrimes, S. B., ‘The Constitutional Ideas of Dr. John Cowell.’ The English Historical Review, vol. 64, no. 253, (1949): 461–487. JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/556038

Hessayon, A., ‘Incendiary texts: book burning in England, c.1640 – c.1660′, Cromohs, 12 (2007): 1-25.

Levack, Brian P., ‘Cowell, John (1554–1611), civil lawyer.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (2004). Oxford University Press. Accessed 16 May 2018 at: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-6490

Simon, J., ‘Dr. Cowell’. The Cambridge Law Journal, vol. 26, no. 2 (1968): 260-272. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008197300088528

Wright, Nancy E., ‘John Cowell and the Interpreter: Law, Authority, and Attribution in Seventeenth-Century England,’ Australian Journal of Legal History vol. 1, no. 1 (1995): 11-36. https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/ausleghis1&div=7&id=&page=