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Scottish Education - Schools and University
Chapter III - First Period to 1560. St. Andrews University


WHILE much in connection with St Andrews from very early times up to the 10th or 11th century is outside the domain of authentic history, there is so much that cannot be questioned as to make us recognise a singular propriety in its being the possessor of the first Scottish seminary bearing the name of University. This honour and benefit fell to it in 1411, thanks to Bishop Wardlaw who in 1413 received from Pope Benedict XIII a Bull giving papal confirmation of the foundation. Its claim to this honour is strictly in keeping with its holding the Primacy of the whole Scottish Church from the downfall of Iona to that of the medieval Church [For a long time the head ecclesiastic of Scotland was the Archbishop of Canterbury, much to the dissatisfaction of the Scots, whom the Pope would not allow to have an Archbishop of their own. The first Archbishop of St Andrews was Patrick Graham in 1465, the second was William Scheves in 1478, Graham having been deposed for maladministration. Dictionary of National Biography.]; its connection with the Culdees ; its St Regulus Tower marking the change from the Celtic to the Roman Church; its priory, cathedral and monasteries-among the oldest in Scotland ; its Schola Illustris [The Schola Illustris was probably a part of the monastic buildings. The Pedagogy contained both class-rooms and dormitories as well as a kitchen and other domestic offices, and had the Chapel of St John attached to it. It was the property of the Faculty of Arts, but the Faculty of Canon Law had the use of some parts of the buildings. Unfortunately the Pedagogy had very slender endowments and so rapidly fell into decay.] the existence of which is undoubted though its exact date is uncertain, and which was probably the germ which many years afterwards developed into a University.

Bower, a contemporary writer, says distinctly that the "general study of the University in the city of St Andrew of Kilrymonth in Scotland began in 1410 after the feast of Pentecost." The substantial accuracy of the statement is confirmed by the charter granted by Bishop Wardlaw in 1411-12 where it is stated that the university had already made a praiseworthy commencement (jam laudabiliter inchoata). The reception of the Confirmation Bull and of others confirming various privileges in 1413-14 was the occasion of great rejoicing.

The historian thus describes it "The arrival [of the Papal Bulls] was welcomed by the ringing of bells from the steeples, and the tumultuous joy of all classes of the inhabitants. On the following day, being Sunday, a solemn convocation of the clergy was held in the Refectory; and the Papal Bulls having been read in the presence of the Bishop, the Chancellor of the University, they proceeded in procession to the high altar (of the cathedral) when the Te Deum was sung by the whole assembly ; the bishops, priors, and other dignitaries being arrayed in their richest canonicals, whilst 400 clerks, besides novices and lay brothers, and an immense crowd of spectators, bent down before the high altar in gratitude and adoration. High mass was then celebrated and the remainder of the day was devoted to mirth and festivity [Tytler's History of Scotland, II, p. 43 (1864).]."

James I was at this time a prisoner in England, but he was kept informed of the movement for founding a university and gave it his hearty approval. On his release from captivity and after his coronation in 1424 he made vigorous efforts to promote the growth of the university.

That he visited the institution, listened to disputations by the students, praised and promoted to benefices in the Church those who distinguished themselves in his presence, and invited foreign scholars and Carthusian monks to teach in the Paedagogium is perhaps true, but the university rdcords furnish no evidence in support of such statements. That he was keenly interested in its prosperity has been placed beyond doubt by Mr Maitland Anderson, librarian to the university. Through correspondence with an official in the Bibliographical Office in Rome he has learned from a papal missive, the text of which is now published for the first time [J. M. Anderson's Scottish Historical Review, April, 1906.] that, within two years of his coronation, James applied to Pope Martin V for permission to transfer the university from St Andrews to Perth. For this petition two reasons are given, first, that St Andrews being on the sea-coast was too near England with which country Scotland was often at war, and second, that Perth was in the centre of the kingdom, had a better climate, and a more abundant supply of provisions than other places in Scotland. The proposal was not unnatural. Perth was still the capital. His first parliament had met there in 1424. He was proposing to found there a Carthusian monastery. The transference presented little difficulty, for in St Andrews the university had the name but practically no habitation, and scarcely any property. Teaching was carried on in halls opened by the various masters. There was no collegiate life and the students lived where they pleased. The Pope referred the King's petition to the Bishops of Glasgow and Dunblane. What their views were is not known, but the proposal was not carried out.

Whatever the objections to the King's proposal may have been, it is evident that they produced no falling off in his zeal for the interests of the university, in the activity of Bishop Wardlaw, or in the co-operation of the Faculty of Arts. It is probable, as suggested by Mr Anderson in the article already referred to, that the proposed removal to Perth stirred up the authorities to renewed efforts for strengthening the position of St Andrews. We find the Bishop prepared to hand over a tenement which might be made into a college for the Faculty of Arts, provided the Faculty would make a grant from its common purse towards the construction of the building. To this the Faculty heartily agreed, and in due course the Nova Schola Facultatis was completed much to the satisfaction of all. This was followed by the King granting a charter in which he took the university under his protection, and exempted it and all its members from taxations and burdens of every kind. Till the end of his life he made most earnest endeavours to produce peace and harmony between the competing pedagogies, which had all along been a fruitful source of discord, recommending the masters and students in the different pedagogies to meet with each other frequently with a view to friendly intercourse, and so promote the prosperity of the university [Private halls or pedagogies were for some time permitted, but this was forbidden in 1429, as discords and scandals arose in connection with them. The prohibition was however evaded, and in 1460 it was resolved that there should in future be only one pedagogy. Acts of the Faculty of Arts (f. 48 a). Rashdall, II, p. 301.].

No university could start under more favourable auspices than one with a King like James I for its patron, a Bishop like Wardlaw for its founder and a churchman like Laurence of Lindores for its Rector.

St Andrews was modelled after the constitution of the University of Paris, and, like it, was divided into four `nations' - Fife, Lothian, Angus, and Alban [The Alban nation included all students not included in the other three.]. It will be seen further on that a similar division into nations was carried out in Glasgow and Aberdeen. The reason for such a division was that the Rector who was then one of the most important officers in the university, was elected by the votes of proctors chosen (one for each nation) by the students, who might be from any part of the world. Foreigners were no doubt fewer than natives and, but for such an arrangement, would have been outvoted. We have here a proof of the cosmopolitan character of the medieval University. Provision was made for the admission and recognition of students of every nationality as members of a great intellectual commonwealth.

It is curious that the United States of America should have adopted this method for the election of the President. It has been equally futile in both cases, proctors and delegates being alike pledged to vote for a particular person. The division was necessarily somewhat arbitrary, and in the foreign universities was changed from time to time, depending on their development and expansion. The election of the Rector by the students as above described has continued to our own times in Glasgow and Aberdeen and the prerogative is jealously guarded against interference. The changes and mode of election in St Andrews and Edinburgh will be mentioned in their proper place. The Rector, except as being a member of the University Court, has ceased to be an educational officer, his position is purely honorary, and his election has no educational aspect. The cleavage is generally political and, as might be expected, a source of heat, rivalry, and energetic contention. Large posters are abundantly displayed, leaflets describing the competing claims of the proposed candidates are lavishly distributed, and heated orations are fulminated at uproarious meetings for several weeks before the election. It may be fairly described as the University Saturnalia during which the students may within pretty wide limits do what they please in support of the respective candidates.

With all this however it is unquestionable that the choice made by callow youths has been almost without exception excellent. The very highest names in literature and statesmanship are found in the list of Lord Rectors, and there is scarcely one of which any university might not be proud. To be chosen for the office is one of the most coveted distinctions by men of the greatest eminence.

There is in every age a feature common to all ecclesiastical institutions, Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, a tendency to self-assertion often amounting to arrogance in their dealings with and attitude towards laymen, as if they had a heaven-sent commission to direct and control. That this, though objectionable from many points of view, has its uses cannot be denied, and is especially true of the action of the hierarchy of the middle ages. The Church was the ark which must by all means be preserved from wreckage, and be equipped to ride the storm. It had to fight against the power of the nobles, and it could fight only with intellectual weapons. Hence the encouragement of learning which characterised the efforts of the Romish Church in the 13th and 14th centuries. She felt that knowledge was power, and laboured zealously for its increase. An overweening faith in the infallibility of dogma prevented her from suspecting that increase of knowledge and cultivation of intellect might shake the foundations of dogma and ecclesiasticism, and bring them to ruin. This however was the result. Whatever the motive may have been, the fact that she did so much for the maintenance and expansion of educational institutions cannot be lightly set aside and forgotten.

As we are told by Hill Burton :

"The Church supplied something then, indeed, which we search after in vain in the present day, and which we shall only achieve by some great strides in academic organisation, capable of supplying from within what was then supplied from without. What was thus supplied was no less than that cosmopolitan nature, which made the university not merely parochial, or merely national, but universal as its name denoted. The temporal prince might endow the academy with lands and riches, and might confer upon its members honourable and lucrative privileges; but it was to the head of the one indivisible Church that the power belonged of franking it all over Christendom, and establishing throughout the civilised world a freemasonry of intellect which made all the universities, as it were, one great corporation of the learned men of the world [Hill Burton's Scot Abroad, p. 171, ed. 1883.]." This is to a large extent true, but it is right to add that in the middle ages, just as now, students went wherever great names attracted them. It is probably correct to say that within comparatively recent years lectures on Theology in Berlin, Freiburg and elsewhere, were attended by as cosmopolitan an audience as the middle ages ever saw.

Though the University of St Andrews was founded in 1411, twenty years passed before it had a local habitation. As already mentioned the teaching was carried on in rooms lent or hired for the purpose in different parts of the city, but in 1430 Bishop Wardlaw set apart a building for the exclusive use of the teachers and students. As yet it had no colleges, but it got three before the Reformation. The first, St Salvator's, was founded in 1450 by Bishop Kennedy of whom Hill Burton says "He was the first churchman to hold high political influence in Scotland. His is one of the few political reputations against which no stone is cast ["Scottish history contains no more dramatic interview than that which took place between James II and Bishop Kennedy in his castle of St Andrews, when the three great Earls-the Earl of Douglas, the Tiger Earl of Crawford, and the Lord of the Isles-had made a `band,' and bound themselves by an oath to stand by each other against the King. James in despair had all but resolved to fly from his kingdom ; but before doing so he took refuge with his cousin, the Bishop, who led him to his own chamber. There they knelt down and prayed together. After this Kennedy gave the King a sheaf of arrows bound together, and bade him break them as they were. When the King could not, he then bade him loose the sheaf and break them one by one. By this acted parable the Bishop conveyed the counsel Divide et impera. The King acted on the advice.. and thus succeeded in dissolving the band of the three great Earls." Fraser's Magazine, June, 1882, by Principal Shairp, p. 712.]." He endowed this college with great munificence, furnishing the church with stoles for the priests, gold and silver vessels, censers, bells, candelabras &c. He provided for the maintenance of thirteen persons to recall the number of our Lord and His twelve apostles. These were a Provost, a Licentiate, a Bachelor, four Masters of Arts and six poor clerics. Young men of rank and wealth were allowed to study in the college, but were bound to obey the Provost and observe the rules of the house just as the poor scholars were.

In 1468 the College of St Salvator got from Pope Pius II the unusual privilege of examining its own candidates for degrees, and Pope Pius III in I537 granted the same privilege to St Mary's. It is not certain that the privilege extended to the conferring of degrees without the intervention of the Chancellor [Sir A. Grant's Edinburgh University, I, pp. 12, 16, 1884 ed.]. If it did, it seems to show that the distinction between college and university was no longer retained. The case of Marischal College in Aberdeen in 1593 is different, inasmuch as at that time Marischal College had a Chancellor and Rector of its own, and continued to confer degrees as a distinct university till its union with King's College, Old Aberdeen, in 1860.

In 1512 the College of St Leonard was founded by Archbishop Alexander Stuart, natural son of James IV, and Prior John Hepburn. On the site chosen for it there had once stood a hospital for the lodgment of pilgrims who came to see the miracles wrought by the relics of St Andrew. As intelligence grew and superstition declined, miracles ceased and pilgrims disappeared. The hospital was converted into an asylum for old and infirm women, whose conduct seems to have given but a poor return for the refuge provided for them. The old charter says "they yielded but little or no good fruit by their life and conversation." The two founders accordingly turned it to better use, and provided for the maintenance of one principal, four chaplains, and twenty scholars. The regulations as to admission by examination, meals, dress, and internal economy generally, are laid down with great minuteness.

An examination of the statutes of St Leonard's leaves an impression that the religious exercises of a monastery and the observance of fasts and festivals, rather than literature and intellectual culture, were, to begin with, the aims of the founders. It is no doubt laid down that "thrice in the week after dinner, a lecture shall be delivered on grammar, or poetry, or oratory, or one of the books of Solomon, and that before proceeding to the degree of `Master,' let the students perfect themselves in logic, physic, philosophy, metaphysics and ethics, and in one, at least, of the books of Solomon." Beyond this there is little or nothing about the regulation of studies, the treatises to be read, or how and by whom the students were to be taught the above five subjects necessary for the degree of `Master.' The regulations as to the admission of entrants were simple, but terribly trying for the examiner who had to furnish a certificate of the candidate's competence [The entrant must be of pure life, correct morals, well versed in grammar, a good writer, and a good singer. No one unless he is found competent in these respects shall be recommended by the examiners for admission " as the examiners themselves shall hope to escape the divine condemnation, and no one shall be received by bribe, or entreaty, or the interest of any religious or secular person (unless he is found qualified) under the penalty of eternal damnation." Lyon's Hist. of St Andrews, II, pp. 245-6.].

It was provided in the statutes of St Leonard's that children of the nobility and others who wish to acquire knowledge and virtue will be admitted, provided they in no way infringe the statutes. If they choose to eat with the other students, they must submit to the same discipline, and be liable to the same punishment. They must not wear a secular dress, nor garments too much cut away, nor caps of a green, scarlet, blue, yellow or any showy colour, but their garments must be such as becomes grave and clerical persons. They must not let their beards or hair be too long, but be so cut that a great part of the ears shall be seen.

The contrast between the absence of details for the regulation of study and the minuteness with which, especially on feast, but also on other, days, every hour had its occupation in religious exercises either in chapel or at meals, is noteworthy. A general awakener for every week aroused the college at 5 o'clock from Easter to September, and at half past 6 from September to Easter. The kind and quantity of food and drink, the order in which students in turn should serve at table, the reading of the Scriptures or some moral book, and the singing of the Epistle at the common table, are all exactly specified. "Especially," say the statutes, "we forbid any female to enter our college except the common laundress, who shall not be less than 50 years old, because, says St Jerome, no one can serve God with all his heart who has any transactions with a woman.... No one shall go out of college without leave from the Principal or one of the regents ; nor shall they grant this leave to any one but on good grounds, and without having received proofs of his purity and integrity."

All this savours more of a monastery than a university, and in these modern days is somewhat difficult of comprehension. But has it not its good side? The founders were true to themselves and to their conception of life, though it was unquestionably narrow. With the corruption and formality of their worship we have no sympathy, and we think the methods by which they endeavoured to elevate life and keep it pure were mistaken ones, but their aim at combining life and religion was good and worthy of respect. Some of the regulations about games and physical exercises are quaint. "Once a week the students with one of the masters shall repair to the links (ad campos), and having there practised honest games shall return in time for vespers. If field exercises be allowed more than once a week (which however we object to, says the statute) then let the students take to some honest labour in a garden or elsewhere [Fraser's Magazine, June, 1882, by Principal Shairp, P. 716.]."

In the acts of the Faculty of Arts (which was practically the university) there is one which forbids two or three weeks to be spent in connection with cock-fighting (in procuratione gallorum), but there was no objection to two or three days being so spent. Acta Fac. Artium, f. I b.

By another, students were allowed to engage in hawking provided they went in their ordinary dress, and not in borrowed secular costumes. Acta Fac. Artium, f. 15 a [Rashdall, vol. ii, part ii, pp. 673, 675].

The third college was founded by Archbishop James Beaton in 1537, and further endowed and remodelled by Archbishop Hamilton in 1553. By a bull received from the Pope it was dedicated to the Blessed Mary of the Assumption. It was endowed for the maintenance of thirty-six persons, among whom were included professors of philosophy, rhetoric and grammar. The regulations and aim were similar to those of St Leonard's. These three colleges came into existence at no great distance of time before the Reformation; their intellectual food for some time was medieval theology and philosophy; they were meant to strengthen the Church and act as a bulwark against heresy and schism. But gleams of enlightenment had begun to pierce

the darkness of the middle ages. By the fall of Constantinople Greek books and Greek teachers long known already in Italy had been dispersed through a great part of Europe. In pursuance of the study of Greek Italy preceded England by about 8o years. St Paul's School, London, founded in 1512, is the oldest humanistic school in England. Its statutes in 1518 enjoin that the Master shall be "learned in good and clean Latin, and also in Greek, if such may be gotten." It may be inferred from this proviso that Greek scholars were not plentiful in this country. At the end of the 15th century the Aldine press at Venice had sent out, among other editions, the whole of Hesiod, large portions of Theocritus, Aristotle and Aristophanes, and early in the 16th century Thucydides, Sophocles, Herodotus, Xenophon, Euripides and Demosthenes followed in quick succession. In England Greek had got a footing in some schools in 1506, but it was not till 1590 that we find in the statutes of Harrow School precise directions for the teaching of Greek [Jebb, Cambridge Modern History, vol. 1, pp. 562, 582.]. This awakening was accompanied by other influences. Printing had been invented and America discovered. Only the slumberer and sluggard could remain irresponsive to the stimulation of the freer and more intellectual atmosphere around them. But, "by a strange irony of fate two of these colleges became, almost from the first, the foremost agents in working the overthrow of that church which they were founded to defend [Principal Shairp in article above quoted, p. 717]." This was especially true of St Leonard's, of which the famous Scottish reformer Alexander Alane (Alesius) was one of the earliest students.

Other names outstanding in history besides that of Alane can be recorded as students of St Andrews, such as George Buchanan, David Lyndsay of the Mount, the martyr Patrick Hamilton and John Knox. Following the example and almost surpassing the ability of his teacher, Major, Knox taught with remarkable success early in the 16th century the scholastic philosophy from the barren subtleties of which he was soon to shake himself clear. About the same time Buchanan was a student in St Andrews after having spent two years in Paris. This was followed by another journey to France where he graduated at the Scots College and was appointed professor in the College of Ste Barbe. Soon after his return to Scotland in 1535 he incurred the anger of Cardinal Beaton for his attack on the Franciscan monks, and was imprisoned in the castle of St Andrews. There is therefore reason for the statement made by Mr Lyon in his history of St Andrews, that "even up to the time of the Reformation the university continued to be, as it always had been, the principal one in Scotland."

It had, as we have seen, first as a professor and ultimately as Principal of St Salvator's College, John Major or Mair, the most famous teacher of medievalism in Europe. Much that he taught and wrote was entirely out of touch with the intellectual movements aroused by the new teachings of the revival of learning. Though not a Protestant, he was a churchman of very advanced opinions on religious subjects. He was opposed to the supremacy of the Pope in temporal matters, to the ambition and greed of the Court of Rome; he thought that the opinion of a general council should have more authority than a deliverance by the Pope ; and that the number of monasteries should be reduced. In ordinary politics his views were distinctly democratic. He denied the divine right of kings, holding that they derive their power from the people, who are the only proper source of authority, and that when kings rule badly they may be deposed.

The number of students for whom maintenance was provided in the three colleges was about sixty. To teach this handful of students seventeen clergymen (some of whom were beneficed) were employed, and who for their work as teachers in the university received no emoluments. In 1557 the total number of entrants in the university was thirty-one, and in 1558 only three, the reason of this serious reduction recorded in the Rector's book being, "this year on account of the tumults caused by religion very few came to this university." In 1560 and for three years afterwards the number was about thirty. The Rector's book does not show the total number of students in any one year. It only shows the number incorporated for the first time in any year. The numbers given above would therefore require to be largely increased in order to give even approximately the total number of students at the three colleges in these years.

To charge the St Andrews authorities with lack of zeal or capacity, as the cause of the small number of their students, would be unfair. The circumstances must be taken into account. They were standing at the parting of the ways. Medievalism though weakened was not killed. St Salvator's was looking in one direction, St Leonard's and St Mary's in another. The intellectual life of the middle ages depended entirely on the organisation of the Church, and the acceptance of the Church's standard of faith was for one section imperative. In the medieval university, which was essentially a religious institution, the prosecution of truth to its logical conclusion was not to be expected from that section, for it was compelled to confine its efforts to proving that the teaching of the Church could be established by human reasoning. The other section was touched by the wider and ever widening streams of new ideas that came with the renaissance and the Reformation. Scholastic philosophy lost its hold, and for them was practically dead by the end of the 15th century. What more natural than that students, in order to escape from bitter dissensions at home, should seek the quiet of universities abroad?

The subjects necessary for the degree of Master of Arts were the same as in all medieval universities, viz. grammar, logic, rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. Unless St Andrews was to lag behind, all this must be changed and adapted to the new conditions.

While there is apparently a slight confusion as to the date when Greek was first taught in Scotland, it is tolerably certain that it was taught in Montrose and Perth early in the 16th century. But in Paris in 1524 Buchanan could not get instruction in that language, and it had no recognised place there till the College Royal was founded in 15 30 for the teaching of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. We are told by James Melville that his uncle Andrew, on entering as a student at St Andrews in 1559, could read the logics of Aristotle in Greek [Melville's Diary, pp. 24, 31, ed. 1829.]. But we are also told on the same authority that Andrew Melville found Greek unknown in St Mary's College, which had much the most complete professoriate [Ibid. p. 39, ed. 1829.]. The two statements are not necessarily contradictory. We know that Andrew Melville was taught Greek in Montrose by a Frenchman, Pierre de Marsiliers. But even in Cambridge in 15 11 we are told that Erasmus, with respect to his Greek class, was doomed to almost complete disappointment [J. B. Mullinger's University of Cambridge, p. 493]. Greek had no attractions for the Cambridge students. A suspicious savour of heresy clung to the reading and teaching of Greek and was not got rid of till the beginning of the 17th century. There appears no good reason for regarding St Andrews as less progressive, and more the slave of medievalism, than the other ancient universities of Europe.

The foregoing is perhaps a sufficiently detailed account of the origin and progress of the university up to the time of the Reformation. Its proceedings will form the subject of another chapter when the second branch of our enquiry from the Reformation to 1696 is taken up.


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