A brief(ish) history of the founding of Trinity Hall

Today marks the 670th anniversary of the royal confirmation of the first piece of property purchased by Trinity Hall.

THGB/4/3/4: Reconfirmation of Trinity Hall’s charters by Elizabeth I, 1559

Although it is popularly touted, particularly amongst the punt tour guides, that Trinity Hall was founded primarily to train new priests to replace those who died during the Black Death, but in reality, Bishop Bateman had most likely been planning his foundation before the outbreak of 1349. His application to found a new college was dated January 15th 1350, and it was approved by the Bishop of Ely on January 20th and by the University the following day. The royal licence for the foundation must have predated this. On February 23rd 1350, the King gave permission to the Master, fellows, and scholars of Trinity Hall to acquire houses.  

The first piece of property was purchased on November 6th 1350 (and confirmed by royal charter on November 20th) from Simon de Brunne for £300 for land and a house, which formerly housed the monks of Ely studying in Cambridge. Four years later the house called “Draxesentre” was purchased, thus completing the acquisition of land and buildings that would make up Front Court. Soon building work began on the hall and east range of the quadrangle. Permission to build a chapel was granted in 1352, but it is unclear when it was actually built, as it wasn’t consecrated until 1513. Work began on the kitchens and additional chambers in 1374. Once it was finished, the quadrangle was larger than any of its predecessors. The College continued to acquire small parcels of land, and the present size of main site was reached by 1544, save for one small piece of land in the northwest corner purchased in 1769.  

Bishop Bateman’s vision for his new college was ambitious. He planned to create a college with more members (a master and 23 fellows and scholars) than any other college in Cambridge at the time. However, when he died suddenly in 1355, he left the college with only a master, 3 fellows, and 3 scholars. Seven fellowships were funded through bequests in the 16th century, but only one fellowship was created between then and 1931. It wasn’t until 1952, 602 years later, that his vision was finally realized.  

THGB/5/1352: foundation statutes, 1352

Daily life for the medieval students and fellows was very different than it is today. Members were to say the De Trinitate on rising and going to bed, were always to speak Latin, were to dispute 3 times a week on some point of canon or civil law (Mon, Wed, Fri), and were to listen to scripture being read to them during meals. All members of College were to be in Holy Orders or intending to proceed to Orders (and thus all took a vow of celibacy), but only canonists had to proceed all the way through to priesthood. Because of its focus on law, students of Trinity Hall were being trained to go into positions in the Church or the State.  

Books were extremely expensive, so students were not allowed to borrow books, unless they needed to take them to their lectures. As stipulated in the foundation statutes, books were never to be taken out of Cambridge and never allowed out at night (except for repairs). The original library, probably built in 1374, was located over the passage between what is now Avery Court and Front Court. The Old Library, as we know it, wasn’t built until the end of the 16th century. 

There were originally only five servants (staff): a steward, a baker, a baker’s assistant, a cook, and a cook’s assistant. Fellows and students were expected to take over their own housekeeping responsibilities, but if they had the means, they could hire private servants. According to the statutes of 1354, private servants of fellows must be ‘pacificus, castus, humilis et quiestus.’ (peaceful, chaste, humble, and quiet). 

Loggan’s plan of Trinity Hall, 1690

The medieval hall, before it was demolished and rebuilt in the 1740s, had a fire pit in the middle of the room and a hole in the ceiling with a cupulo to let out the smoke.  There were no doors in the screens between the hall and the kitchen, so it would have been a very cold place. In 1596, an alumnus left money in his will to cover the costs of having a fire burnt in the hall every day for the months of November, December, and January and for doors to be added to the screens. The fellows table was located where it is today, and behind it hung a tapestry that was gifted to the College by Dr Eden. 

By the 14th century, Cambridge was a mid-sized market town. Its position on the Cam and multiple crossroads made it particularly well situated for trade. It had several large fairs, including the Stourbridge fair which at its height was the largest in Europe. However even by medieval standards, it was a fairly unpleasant place to be. The streets were unpaved and heaps of dung from farm animals and other refuse was allowed to accumulate. The ditches that allowed for drainage into the river were stagnant and seldom cleared. There were many complaints about the unpleasantness of the town and concerns about the dangers it posed to health. Several royal charters ordered the townspeople to keep the streets and watercourses clean, but the cleanliness of the town remained a problem until 1575.  

Exact numbers are hard to come by, but it is estimated that half of the population of Cambridge was wiped out by the Black Death. The social and economic impact of the plague was profound and most likely deepened the already great animosity between the townspeople and the University. During the Peasants Revolt of 1381 the violence in Cambridge was so severe that it was one of six towns whose rebels were not pardoned. Many of the University’s and colleges’ earliest records were destroyed during this revolt. Continual outbreaks of plague, and other epidemics, would ravage England for 300 more years.  

670 years on I think it is safe to say that life in Cambridge is much better than it was then, even with Covid-19. No matter how tough things are now, it is some comfort to know that people have survived much worse and the College has weathered many storms.  


A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, 2-15. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.

Crawley, Charles. Trinity Hall: The History of a Cambridge College, 1350-1975. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Malden, Henry Elliot. Trinity Hall Or, the College of Scholars of the Holy Trinity of Norwich in the University of Cambridge. London: F.E. Robinson, 1902

Warren, William. Warren’s Book, edited by Alfred Dale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911.

Williamson, R. “The plague in Cambridge.” Medical history vol. 1,1 (1957): 51-64. doi:10.1017/s0025727300020767

Josephus goes online

Trinity Hall, MS4 fol 36r

The latest medieval manuscript at Trinity Hall to be digitised is a twelfth century copy of Josephus’ Historiae Antiquitatis Judaice (The Antiquities of the Jews). The Latin translations of Josephus were incredibly popular throughout the Middle Ages and the Antiquities is claimed to have been ‘the single most often copied historical work of the Middle Ages’ [1]. Despite this, an ongoing project by the University of Bern [2] has identified just over 300 manuscripts containing the Latin translations of the works of Josephus. Many of these are incomplete copies since the text is comprised of twenty books, which because of its length, were usually split into two parts.

The author, Flavius Josephus (AD 37/38-AD 100) was born in Jerusalem into a Jewish family. He became a general at the start of the First Jewish-Roman war (66–73 CE), but was captured by the enemy Roman general Vespasian, and then threw in his lot with the Romans who had occupied his homeland, and advocated Jewish surrender. He moved to Rome where he became the official historian of the imperial family.

The Antiquities was completed in around AD 93 and was originally written in Greek. It is intended to give an account of Jewish history and culture from the creation to the revolt against Rome of AD 66-70. It is written for a Roman (gentile) audience, to demonstrate that the Jews are an ancient people with great traditions and a great culture, although his narrative supports the Romans’ side of things.

The reception and use of the Antiquities is interesting. Josephus was for a long time one of the most popular authors of Christian Europe. Christian scholars embraced him for providing impartial evidence of the accounts in the gospels and the existence of Jesus. A passage found in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 (Testimonium flavianum) of the Antiquities, for example, describes the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the Roman authorities.

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

This passage in the Testimonium is probably the most discussed in Josephus because it contains references to Jesus. However it is much disputed whether it is a later addition and it is considered to be a forgery by most modern scholars.

Reception of the Antiquities among Jewish people was more ambivalent. It was only widely read in the renaissance, and considered by some as the work of a traitor because Josephus had swapped sides. It was only from the 19th century that it began to be considered an important source of Jewish history.

Josephus’ works were originally written in Greek, but the Latin translations became extremely popular and influential during the Middle Ages. The first Latin translation was printed as early as 1470. This popularity continued when William Whiston (1667-1752), professor of mathematics in Cambridge, translated Antiquities into English in 1737 [3]. From the 18th century Josephus’ works were almost as widespread in Britain as the Bible.

The inscription at the front says that this manuscript belonged to Brother William of Monkland in Herefordshire, which was a small cell of the Benedictine Abbey of Conches in Normandy, France. He was confessor to his relative, Humphrey de Bohun, 6th Earl of Hereford (1309- 1361). The manuscript’s later provenance before its arrival at Trinity Hall is unknown.

The decoration (including the decorative use of small circles) is typical of Herefordshire production in the second quarter of the 12th century. It includes some striking initials featuring dragons.

The full manuscript is available on Cambridge Digital Library.


[1] O’Donnell, James J., Cassiodorus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 246.

[2] Josephus Latinus, University of Bern: https://legejosephum.ch/en

[3] Whiston, Wiliam, The Works of Flavius Josephus. London, 1737. Online at: https://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/index.htm#aoj

Other Digitised Manuscripts of the Latin Josephus

The Affable Society of Bears

The Affable Society of Bears

Affable bears 1

Today we will be looking at a very intriguing set of documents found in College by a member of staff in 2017. The documents in question are a set of cartoons from the late 1920s depicting a society referred to as the Affable Bears. The Affable Bears were not an official society of the College; instead the cartoons appear to chronicle the activities of a group of friends. The members are depicted as bears and chose pseudonyms upon joining the society, so it is impossible to discover the identities of the members.

Fortunately, a couple of the drawings provide crucial information about the society. Members were selected to join the society through invitation. Once someone accepted the invitation, they chose a name and were formally inducted into the society. The members drew their names and inspiration from popular culture. The five named members were Algernon, Baloo, Sylvie, Bruno, and Mr. Edward. Algernon was most likely named after the character from The Importance of Being Earnest, first performed in 1895; Baloo from The Jungle Book, published in 1894; Sylvie and Bruno from the story by the same name by Lewis Carroll, published in 1889, and Mr Edward Bear from the 1924 poem “Teddy Bear” by A.A. Milne. Mr Edward Bear from “Teddy Bear” is the first appearance of Winnie the Pooh, before he was renamed by 1926. Baloo was the resident artist of the group, producing most or all of the drawings, although, rather perplexingly, he is never listed as a formal member of the group. 

The Whim 1

It is stated that the purpose of the society was for the “promotion of Whimming and Roman Roadsing.” Their motto “a bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise,” is lifted directly from the first line of “Teddy Bear” by A.A. Milne. Their activities included regular trips to the Whim pub (a restaurant on the corner of Green Street that closed in the 1980s) and Matthew’s Café, dining together, dancing along the Roman Road (a 12 mile Site of Special Scientific Interest stretching from south-east Cambridge to Linton), swimming at Jesus Green Lido, and ice skating. The drawings are silly and light-hearted, in keeping with the exuberance of the roaring ‘20s.

Bears at home

It appears some of the bears lived together somewhere on Storey’s Way. Trinity Hall did own land on Storey’s Way at the time, but they must have been living in private accommodation. The college’s land on Storey’s Way only contained the cricket ground, pavilion, and groundsman’s house. Wychfield house and its grounds weren’t purchased until 1948.

Cartoons proliferated in the 1890s due to the desire for easy reading material for the masses resulting from the democratisation of education brought on by the Education Reform Act of 1870. By the turn of the century, as literacy rates increased, comics were increasingly marketed to children. Adults no longer needed easy reading material and it became shameful for adults to purchase comics. Baloo was undoubtedly influenced by the comics he enjoyed during his childhood and adolescence. It is extremely fortunate that these cartoons survived, as they provide an amusing glimpse at pastimes of Cambridge students during the interwar period.



Examining an Elizabethan doodle

One day while idly looking through our copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) I chanced upon an interesting doodle in the back endpapers. To find inscriptions, notes and drawings in our early printed books is not unusual. And these can offer fascinating insights into the how a book was received and used by its former owners.

The previous owner of this book was Robert Hare, an antiquary who donated a number of incunabula and medieval manuscripts to Trinity Hall. Hare died in 1611, but he mainly donated his books to the College in the 1570s and 80s. It’s unlikely though, that he was behind the drawing at the back of this book. We can tell this, because it does not match samples of Hare’s handwriting in the front of his books. We can also tell that it was not by any of the books previous owners, because it depicts fashion from a much later period.

Dating the doodle

2DC9672C-3087-4F80-85E9-50415CAA8ECD 2020-07-02 09_17_24

The figures in the doodle are clad in slashed and embroidered doublets (close fitting jackets), puffed breeches, stockings and garters. They wear ruffs at their necks and have small beards. One carries a rapier – a type of thin, two-edged sword popular throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Their outfits therefore, indicate that the figures are two gentlemen from the late 1580s. The doodle can be most likely dated to this time, particularly as the book would have been moved from its original location in a medieval book chest, to the recently built College library (now the Old library!)

Philosophy is an impenetrable armour

In the drawing are two figures. The figure to the right is standing above a human skull and some long bones. From his mouth he says: “manes sunt fabulae” which is an allusion to the lyrical poet Horace (65-8 BC): ‘You yourself will be soon buried in eternal darkness, among the Manes (ghosts/spirits) so much talked of…’. [Horace’s Odes, 1.4.16]. The word ‘fabulae’ can have a literal and a metaphorical interpretation. Taken literally it means ‘the ghosts/spirits much talked of’. However, it is a Stoic who speaks the words as an Epicurean. Epicureans reject immortality and believe that the soul is mortal and material like the body, and so the same phrase can be translated as ‘the fictitious non-existing spirits”. But the former is more likely in this context given the presence of the bones!

Above the man is written ‘A Deo ne miserum est mori’, which can be translated as ‘By God, it is better to die’. This is an allusion to the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC): “usque adeone mori miserum est?”, which can be translated as: ‘Is it then so very wretched a thing to die?’, or more simply: “Is death so hard to bear?” [1]. This refers to the Epicurean view that one need not fear death, because there is no prospect of punishment in the afterlife – the soul simply ceases to be.

The man on the left is engrossed in a book which contains the text: ‘Philosophia armatura impenetradilis’, which means ‘Philosophy is an impenetrable armour’. This is probably an allusion to Seneca (4 BC- 65 AD), a Roman Stoic philosopher who encouraged the reader to be “gird about with Philosophy,” which is essentially saying “put on the armour of philosophy.” Above the figure floats a disembodied head, which could be a spirit. The two figures therefore appear to illustrate the two sides of thought on the existence or non-existence of the afterlife.

A humanist education

The doodle shows that whoever drew it had a good grasp of Latin and knowledge of the Classic authors. This knowledge reflects a period of change at the University of Cambridge which saw a move away from its original purpose to train clerics in canon law, to providing the new humanist education to the sons of the nobility and gentry.

The humanist education of rhetoric, logic, and philosophy was conducted through studying the literary works of ancient authors such as Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Horace and Seneca. And the ability to quote from this classical wisdom to bolster arguments was a critical part of scholarly and political discourse. Books of quotations like Erasmus’ Adagia, originally printed in 1500, was among the most popular volumes of the 16th century. The Old library does in fact, contain a copy of the Adagia [3] and the doodle might have more naturally been located in this book!

Examining this doodle provides some interesting insights into the time, background and educational context of the doodler. Although we will never be able to identify them, it was most likely a student who was bored and tired in the library!

Jenni Lecky-Thompson, with thanks to Dr William O’Reilly for the Latin translations.


[1] Dryden, John, The Works of Virgil, 1697, Line 646

[2] Seneca, Epistulae Morales, 82.5

[3] Erasmus, Adagia. Basel: Johann Froben, 1523.

Further reading

Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington (1954) Handbook of English Costume in the Sixteenth Century. London: Faber and Faber.

Konstan, David, “Epicurus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 edition), edited by E.N. Zalta. Accessed at: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/entries/epicurus/>

Wilson, Catherine (2015). Epicureanism: A Very Brief Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

“The University of Cambridge: The sixteenth century.” A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Ed. J P C Roach. London: Victoria County History, 1959. 166-191. British History Online. Web. 05 July 2020. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol3/pp166-191

“1550–1600 in Western European fashion”. Wikipedia.

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.