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The History of Glasgow
Chapter XXXIII - Founding of the University of Glasgow


IN the movement for the revival of letters and acquisition of knowledge which characterized the fifteenth century, manifesting itself in the establishment of an unprecedented number of universities, Scotland had an honourable share, as it can claim no less than three of these seats of learning to set against about a score which were founded in continental cities. Actuated, perhaps, so far by laudable rivalry of St. Andrews, but mainly inspired by intelligent zeal for the spread of knowledge, Bishop Turnbull, with the cordial co-operation of his sovereign, took the necessary steps for the institution of a university in the city of Glasgow. The head of the papal see, with whom rested the requisite authority, happened to be Nicholas V., a Pope specially eminent for devotion to learning, and in this combination of favourable circumstances all preliminary arrangements were successfully completed. It must have been about the time that negotiations were going on for the founding of the university that, in connection with the Universal Jubilee which had been proclaimed, Pope Nicholas decreed that for the faithful in this country a pilgrimage to Glasgow cathedral would be considered as meritorious as a pilgrimage to Rome, while a plenary indulgence was granted to all who should make true confession of their sins and present their offerings at the high altar. Of the offerings one third was to be remitted to the papal treasury, another third was to be used for the repair of the fabric of the cathedral, and the remainder was to be applied towards the upkeep of pious places in the kingdom. [Reg. Epise. Nos. 359-60, 366; Medieval Glasgow, pp. 87, 88. By what was apparently regarded as a valuable concession the citizens were permitted to use butter and milk meats instead of olive oil on certain fast days (Papal bull dated 26th March, 1451; Reg. Episc. No. 364).]

The documents bearing on the foundation of the university begin with a bull by Pope Nicholas V. [Dated 7th January, 1450-1, Glasg. Chart. i. pt. ii. pp. 31-35.] which has this opening sentence: "Amongst other blessings which mortal man is able, in this transient life, by the gift of God to obtain, it is to be reckoned not among the least that by assiduous study he may win the pearl of knowledge, which shows him the way to live well and happily, and by the preciousness thereof makes the man of learning far to surpass the unlearned, and opens the door for him clearly to understand the mysteries of the universe, helps the ignorant and raises to distinction those that were born in the lowest place." It is then narrated that the king had represented to the Apostolic see, "the prudent administrator of spiritual as well as temporal things, and the steady and unfailing friend of every commendable undertaking," that he was very desirous that a university should be established in his city of Glasgow, "as being a place of renown and particularly well fitted therefor, where the air is mild, victuals are plentiful, and great store of other things pertaining to the use of man is found." The Pope having fully considered the application, and being impressed with the "suitableness of this city, which is said to be particularly meet and well fitted for multiplying the seeds of learning and bringing forth of salutary fruits, not only for the advantage and profit of the said city, but also of the indwellers and inhabitants of the whole kingdom of Scotland, and the regions lying round about," therefore erected a university (generale studium) in the city, and ordained that it should flourish in all time, as well in King James the Secund and throw instigacioun of master William Turnbull, that tyme bischop of Glasqw, and was proclamit at the croce of Glasqw, on the Trinite Sonday, the xx day of June. And on the morne, thar was cryit ane Bret indulgence, gevin to Glasqw at the request of thaim forsaid, be Pap Nycholas, as it war the yer of grace, and with all indulgens that thai mycht haf in Rome, contenand iiii monethis, begynnand the ix of Julii, and durand to the x day of November."

Though the ancient Italian university of Bologna, where Pope Nicholas had studied and obtained his degree, is cited as indicating the nature of the privileges conferred on the university of Glasgow, the customs and technical phraseology of the latter showed an imitation of the institutions of Louvain in Belgium, which Cosmo Innes remarks was then and for all the following century the model university of modern Europe. The first statutes divided the members of the university into four " nations," here following Louvain as well as general practice ; and in the nations, as represented by their procurators, was vested the right of electing the Rector. Numerous members and graduates are noted in the first year of the university. There were lectures in Canon and Civil Law and Theology from the beginning, and these were delivered in the chapter-house of the Friars Preachers. But the Faculty of Arts alone received a definite shape and constitution. The members of that Faculty annually elected a Dean, had stated meetings, promulgated laws for their government, and acquired property. At Louvain the Faculty of Arts had four pedagogia. At Glasgow the Faculty of Arts speedily established one and applied its funds for the support of the building. Bachelors' degrees were conferred in Arts, and Licentiates and Masters of Arts were made, and these degrees were recorded not in the University registers but in the register of the Faculty. [Munirnenta, Preface, pp. xiii, xiv.]

The first general chapter of the university was held in 1451, for the incorporation of members, in the chapter-house of the Friars Preachers. About forty members were incorporated, the eleventh name on the list being that of the famous William Elphinstone, subsequently bishop of Aberdeen. Mr. David. Cadzow, precentor of the cathedral, was chosen as the first rector. The next year's general meeting was held, in the presence of the bishop, who was ex officio chancellor, in the chapter-house of the cathedral, which continued. to be the usual place of assembly down to the time of the Reformations. [Munitnenta, ii. pp. 55-60.]

The Faculty of Arts had their first meeting in the chapter-house of the cathedral, when they elected William Elphinstone,. canon of Glasgow and father of the subsequent bishop, as their Dean. This was in 1451, and on 28th July of the following year the appointment was renewed. On 19th October, 1453, the faculty met in the place of the Friars Preachers, and on this. occasion a sum was levied from the graduates for repair of the school there. The next allusion to a school or place for carrying on the work of teaching occurs at the meeting of the Faculty held in the chapter-house of the cathedral on the morrow of All Saints, 1457, when a sum was contributed from the common purse to pay the rent of the "Pedagogium" and meet the losses sustained through famine, war and pestilence and the fewness of students in preceding years. The building here referred to is understood to be the Auld Pedagogy, which was situated on the south side of Ratounraw, being the-chief place of residence and instruction before other premises were provided. ["Ratounraw " in Regality Club, iii. pp. 65-68; Glasgow Protocols, Nos. 1894-5. The Auld Pedagogy was sometime used as the manse of the-Parson of Luss, and passing through various hands became ruinous in the-eighteenth century. Or its site part of the present Lock Hospital is erected- Medieval Glasgow, p. 93.] Next year and up to 1461 all the money on, hand was appointed to be applied in building a pedagogium, [Muninzenta, ii. pp. 178-95; Coutts' History of the University, pp. 10-12.] presumably the new structure which superseded the Auld Pedagogy for which rent was raised in 1457.

As explanatory of the reference to war and pestilence and the scarcity of funds, it may be recalled that in March, 1455 the king opened a vigorous campaign against the Douglases. Having demolished the castle of Inveravon in Linlithgow-shire he hastened to Glasgow, and gathering a force of Westland men and Highlanders, carried fire and sword into Douglasdale, Avondale and the lands of Lord Hamilton. These devastating proceedings seem to have been followed by a visitation of famine and plague, one of the frequent accompaniments of war's ravages in these early days. ["The yer of God mcccclv, in the begynning of Merche, James the Secund kest doune the castell of Inveravyne, and syne incontinent past till Glasqw, and gaderit the Westland men, with part of the Areschery, and passit to Lanerik and to Douglas, and syne brynt all Douglasdale, and all Avendale, and all the Lord Hammiltonnis landis, and heriit them clerlye, and syne passit till Edinburgh, and fra thin till the Forest, with ane ost of Lawland men.... And incontinent efter, the king passit in proper persoun, and put ane Sege till Abercorn. And within vii days, Lord Hammiltoun come till him till Abercorne, and put him, lyf, landis and gudis in the kingis will purelie and sempillye, throw the menys of his eme James of Levingstoun, that tyme chalmerlane of Scotland. And the king resavit him till grace." . . (Auchinleck Chronicle, p. 53). According to the Chronicle it was in the November immediately preceding these events that there occurred the great flood on the river Clyde which swept away houses, barns and mills, and put the town of Govan " in ane flote." Antea, p. 4.] Shortly afterwards Lord Hamilton was restored to the royal favour, and it was chiefly through his generosity that the university obtained suitable accommodation for carrying on its work.

Sometime prior to 1454 a tenement and grounds situated on the east side of the High Street, to the north of the place of the Friars Preachers, with four acres of adjoining land extending over part of Dowhill, on the opposite side of the Molendinar Burn, belonged to Sir Gavin of Hamilton, provost of the collegiate church of Bothwell, and he by "a plane gift and a charter thairapoun" had conveyed the property to the prior and convent of the Friars Preachers. But this transaction had not been intended as an absolute transfer, and by letters of reversion dated 1st February, 1454-5, the prior and convent acknowledged that Sir Gavin was entitled to resume possession of the tenement and land at his pleasure. In the course of the ensuing six years changes must have been made in the ownership of which no trace has been preserved, and the property having come into the possession of Lord Hamilton, the elder brother of Sir Gavin, that nobleman conveyed it to Duncan Bunch, principal regent in the Faculty of Arts of the university, and his successors, for behoof of the regents and students in the Faculty for the time, on condition that they should perform certain acts of devotion and pay to the bishop the burgh ferm and other annualrents, all as set forth in a charter dated 6th January, 1460. [Munimenta, i. pp. 9-12, 14.]

How the lands thus transferred originally came into possession of the Hamilton family is not known, though it is not unlikely that this may have been brought about in connection with arrangements between the cathedral chapter and Walter Fitz-Gilbert, progenitor of the house of Hamilton, already referred to. [Antea, p. 149. The Hamiltons were patrons of the Chapel of St. Thomas in the city, and on 22nd August, 1449, Lord Hamilton had conferred the chaplainry on master David Cadyhow, precentor of Glasgow cathedral (Munimenta, i. p. 15). The chapel itself latterly came into the possession of the university.] Some reversionary interest in the tenement and land seems to have been retained by the bishop, and to make the title of the university, or its Arts Faculty, unchallengeable, the bishop resigned all his claims in favour of Lord Hamilton, who thereupon gave valid investiture to Duncan Bunch in name of the Faculty. In allusion to his granting the site and such buildings as then existed thereon, Lord Hamilton is designated, in the charter, founder of the College (fundator Collegii), and it is probable that the intimation of the gift had been made as early as 1458, when the Faculty first gave instructions for expenditure on the erection of a pedagogium. In the intervening three years progress must have been made with the buildings which were probably so far in use when the charter was granted. Building operations were still proceeding at that time, and six years later instructions were given for the erection of a house on the south side of the college, being on that part of the grounds which adjoined the place of the Friars Preachers. A tenement situated to the north of Lord Hamilton's property, with attached land extending to the Molendinar Burn, was gifted by Sir Thomas of Arthurle to the Faculty of Arts in 1467, but under reservation of his own liferent and that of William of Arthurle, then a regent in the Faculty. [Munimenta, i. pp. 9-19.] The sites on the east side of High Street, thus acquired, were occupied by the university from the fifteenth century till the removal to Gilmorehill in 1870.

In recognition of the valuable service rendered by Lord Hamilton in providing accommodation for the university at the outset of its career his family arms appear on the mace, that emblem of academic authority which is associated with the earliest stages of College history. David Cadyow, first rector of the university, on the occasion of his re-election in 146o, gave what has been called the "munificent contribution of twenty nobles" towards providing a mace, and as other members, assembled at a congregation in 1465, submitted to a tax to make up the requisite funds, it may be assumed that a suitable mace would then be procured. In 1490 directions were given for the reforming and correction of the silver mace, and in the condition to which it was then altered it probably remained till, along with other valuables, it was for safety removed to France at the time of the Reformation. As now

preserved the mace measures 4 feet 9 3/4 inches in height and weighs 8 lb. 1 oz. The top is hexagonal, with a shield on each side. On the first shield are the city arms, in a form similar to those in use in the seventeenth century ; on the third, the arms of Douglas of Dalkeith, as borne by the Regent Morton, the restorer of the College in 1577; the fourth has the coat of Hamilton, the first endower; the fifth of Scotland; the sixth of Turnbull, the founder of the university. The second shield is occupied with an inscription, stating that the mace was bought, on the charges of the university, in 1465, that it was taken to France in 156o and restored to the university in 1590. [Munirenta, Preface, pp. xli-xliii. A common seal was ordered for the university in 1453 and a seal for the Faculty of Arts in 1455. The university also procured a seal ad causas to be affixed to documents of small importance. For description of these seals see Coutts' History of the University, p. 29.]

In extension of the privileges already conferred, King James, by a charter dated 20th April, 1453, took under his peace and protection the rector, deans of faculties, procurators of nations, regents, masters and scholars studying in the university, and exempted them as well as the beadles, scriveners, stationers and parchment makers, from all tributes, gifts, taxes, watchings, wardings and tolls imposed or levied within the kingdom. [Glasg. Chart. i. pt. ii. p. 38.] This relief from national burdens was followed by a charter of Bishop Turnbull, dated 1st December, 1453, whereby, in relation to the city and regality of Glasgow, every one connected with the university was freed from similar liabilities. Specifically enumerated there were given to the doctors, masters and "supposts"—a term which embraced scholars and servants or other subordinates(i) free power of buying and selling their own goods, specially food and clothing, free of custom and without licence from any one; (2) the privilege of sharing in the prices fixed for bread, ale and other articles of food, any dispute between the magistrates and the university people being referred to the bishop; (3) jurisdiction to the rector in all disputes with citizens or inhabitants; (4) right to occupy inns and houses in the city, so long as rent was paid; (5) release to beneficed persons, while studying, from residence on their benefices; (6) extension of all these privileges to beadles, domestics, scriveners and parchment makers, wives, children and hand-maids; (7) exemption from all tributes, exactions, watchings, wardings, contributions, burdens and personal services. [Glasg. Chart. i. pt. ii. p. 39. In accordance with these grants and subsequent renewals the college buildings and grounds east of the High Street had been exempt from rates and assessments levied by the corporation and board of police; and when, in the year 1872, the boundaries of the city were extended over the lands of Gilmorehill, to which site the university had removed in 1870, it was provided by the Extension Act that the university, its professors and officers, should have similar exemption and immunity in respect of the ownership or occupation of their new premises.] Supplementary to these privileges, the last perhaps of the favours which Bishop Turnbull had power to bestow on the university, as he died in the autumn of the following year, Bishop Andrew, the next prelate, by a charter dated 1st July, 1461, granted to the rector of the university full jurisdiction in all disputes between the it "supposts" of the university or between them and the citizens, with this qualification that the accused was to have the choice between the rector and the bishop's official as judge. On a point of precedency it was ordained that in synods, processions, and other solemn occasions, the rector should have first place, next after the bishop, and before all other prelates in the dioceses. [Ibid. p. 53.]

A statute of the Faculty of Arts, dated 2nd May, 1462, made provision for the celebration of an annual banquet on the Sunday or Feast next after the Translation of St. Nicholas (9th May), but outsiders did not join in this display, and questions of precedency, such as those indicated in Bishop Andrew's charter, did not arise. All the masters, licentiates, bachelors and students were to assemble at eight in the morning and hear matins in the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr; and thereafter they were to ride in solemn and stately procession, bearing flowers and branches of trees, through the public street from the upper part of the city to the market cross, and so back to the college, "and there take counsel for the welfare of the faculty and the removal of all discords and quarrels, that all, rejoicing in heart, might honour the prince of peace and joy." After the banquet the masters and students were directed to repair to a more fitting place of amusement, and there enact some interlude or other show to rejoice the people. [Munimenta, ii p. 39.]

Previous to the institution of the College the city's educational wants were supplied chiefly by the Grammar School, the regulation of which was the special care of the cathedral chancellor, and by the "sang" schools, over which the precentor or chantor had charge. But while the oversight of schools belonged to the church it is known that from early times municipal authorities freely co-operated with the clergy in promoting education within their bounds. Of the Grammar School in Glasgow the earliest preserved notice is contained in the abstract of a deed of gift, dated 10th January, 1460-1, whereby Simon Dalgleish, precentor and official, granted to master Alexander Galbraith, rector and master of the Grammar School, and his successors in office, a tenement lying on the west side of the High Street and south side to Rannald's Wynd. [Rannald's Wynd, so named because it formed the entrance to ground called Rannald's Yard, was afterwards known as Grammar School Wynd, and part of its site is now embraced in Ingram Street.] Unfortunately the document has not been preserved, and its contents can only be imperfectly gathered from the summary given by the compiler of the city's Inventory of Writs, in 1696. It is there stated that in return for the gift the master and his scholars had to perform "some popish rites," and the important statement is made that "the said master Simon appoints the magistrates and council of the burgh patrons, governors and defenders of the said donation." It is likely enough that the magistrates had already some charge of educational affairs, but from this time they appear to have had the responsibility of maintaining the Grammar School, and though their exercise of the patronage was not always acquiesced in by the chancellor, they gradually acquiredentire control in its management.


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