Wardens and Fellows


The head of a college, its warden, was a college’s principal executive officer. (The term for both institution and the officer varies. Only sometimes is it significant.) His relationship with college scholars was key to collegial accountability. Wardens of educational colleges are somewhat different from the other officers analysed here. First, those officers were less close-fitting members of communal hierarchies. Bishops obviously had hierarchies (complicated relationships with chapters; suffragans to metropolitan; all to the pope). But the inquisitorial accountability analysed especially in Chapter 4 was less institutionalized in a community than was that of wardens. Wardens’ communal hierarchies were much more determinative of their accountability. It was worked out more frequently by a collective in relation to that collective. This complicated it. Monastic heads would be more comparable (models from religious orders are discussed on pp.198—205); deans might be a better fit. Collectives certainly played a role in previous examples (the communal franchise in relation to a podesta; the county community and Exchequer with sheriffs). But the emphasis placed on the universitas containing the warden is nevertheless distinctive and the reason why wardens and fellows go together here. Secondly, wardens’ institutional framework was in far greater flux than that of the other officers considered here. Wardens’ rights, scholars’ duties, and the relation between the two varied. The constitutional structures of the universities analysed here were the product of the thirteenth century. Colleges themselves were largely a product of the second half of that century, notwithstanding monastic and charitable antecedents. As a result of both their institutional novelty and their institutional influences—as we shall see—practical thought about accountability within them was relatively variable. The plurality of the constitutional reference points pertinent to colleges could cause problems or confusion (hospitals, monasteries, friaries). Notable too is the harnessing of the utile in the service of the honestum. Colleges’ purpose was to secure their founders’ charitable goals. Colleges did that through the elaboration of prescriptive statutes and by verifying their application—an utile technique serving a honestum goal. As in the previous chapter we find competing ideas of honestum initially rather than conflicts between the honestum and the utile. (Love’s absence is mourned more here than in the previous chapter; but there is no less conflict for that, frequently in relation to statutes’ ‘law’.) Tensions between the expedient and the ethical sneaked in through the back door—given the importance of reputation to founders and their aversion to scandalum.

The basic complication for charitable colleges with some degree ofself-government was to distinguish in their hierarchical ‘positional system’[1] between the interests of the permanent but impersonal foundation and those of its members—the temporary embodiments of that charitable impulse. Certainly it was an old problem for religious institutions, though founders’ motivations seem to sharpen the tension for colleges. Further, their wardens were neither fish nor flesh. They were the means of securing that charitable impulse—often not recipients of it themselves. Yet they stood at the apex of the hierarchy. Consequently, wardens both held to account and were held to account. In this they were like bishops; but they did not hold so clearly a qualitatively superior position. The need to secure colleges as reliable, permanent objects of a creditable charitable impulse, and the need to balance the interests of temporary beneficiaries, the permanent institution itself, and the needs of executive officers drove collegial accountability to develop in the interesting way it did from the mid-thirteenth century. This dynamic gave colleges their odd form and produced their particular approach to accountability. More than the others, this chapter is also therefore a study of accountability within a group.

Medieval colleges comprise an important chapter in the history of legislative skill and institutional design—specifically, endowed secular colleges with a degree of self-government.[2] Colleges were not, however, numerically dominant in universities. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the overall numbers of (advanced) students at such colleges was a small proportion of the total number of students at a given university.[3] Members of halls[4] and Nations[5] where greater numbers found institutional and actual homes appear here, however, largely in counterpoint to colleges. The significance of the colleges was not (at this time) their immediate impact on the majority of university students, but in the cunning little worlds they made. Colleges developed distinctive ways to secure their members’ and officers’ accountability. No single part of this was new; but the combination was oddly so. Again, England is the point of departure, but Paris is considered too. The sources used here date mostly (because of their richness), from the mid-thirteenth century to the 1330s.[6] The group providing the main focus here is the House of the Scholars of Merton, more simply Merton College, Oxford. Merton can claim to be the first secular English college with an endowment and statutes.[7] It also produced an exceptional set of records, including some produced by its ‘visitor’ (i.e. inspector), the Franciscan John Pecham, Oxford graduate, Regent Master of Theology at Paris, and from February 1279 Archbishop of Canterbury.[8]

  • [1] Mary Douglas’s phrase, ‘A Feeling for Hierarchy’, in James L. Heft (ed.), Believing Scholars: TenCatholic Intellectuals (Fordham, NY, 2005), 96.
  • [2] Cf. on halls and colleges Alan B. Cobban, The Medieval English Universities: Oxford and Cambridgeto c.1500 (Aldershot, 1988), 112; J. R. L. Highfield, ‘The Early Colleges’, in J. I. Catto (ed.), TheHistory of the University of Oxford, i. The Early Oxford Schools (Oxford, 1984), 225—63 at 225—33. Interms of their contribution to the history of institutions, endowed colleges without any self-governmentbelong alongside but distinct from the older ‘hall’—that is, a private master’s private housing arrangement for his students. A classic study is A. B. Emden, An Oxford Hall in Medieval Times: Being the EarlyHistory of St. Edmund Hall, rev. edn. (Oxford, 1968). Despite its name Stapeldon Hall (Oxford’s futureExeter College) seems collegial from very early on given its endowment, statutes, and founder BishopWalter Stapeldons close supervision. See John Maddicott, Founders and Fellowship: The Early History ofExeter College, Oxford, 1314—1592 (Oxford, 2014), ch. 1, esp. 14, 26—51.
  • [3] For Oxford see T. H. Aston, ‘Oxford’s Medieval Alumni’, P&P 74 (1977), 3^0 at 4—5; Maddicott,Founders and Fellowship, 7. The Sorbonne had about thirty-two fellows. On the basis of Paris’s 1329—30computus William J. Courtenay estimates the University there comprised 3,000—3,500 members in theearly fourteenth century: Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century: A Social Portrait (Cambridge,1999), 26, justification 19—26. For relative Parisian numbers and trends over a longer period seeAlexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1978), 303—6. On numbers of colleges in Paris and Oxford by 1300, Jacques Verger, ‘Patterns’, in Hilde de Ridder-Symoens (ed.), AHistory of the University in Europe, i. Universities in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1992), 35—74 at 60—1.
  • [4] Catto argues that the Oxford hall ‘triumphs’ through incorporation into the colleges who providethe undergraduate education it formerly did. Halls remain per se less institutionally interesting andimportant. Jeremy Catto, ‘The Triumph of the Hall in Fifteenth-century Oxford’, in Ralph Evans (ed.),Lordship and Learning: Studies in Memory of Trevor Aston (Woodbridge, 2004) 209—23, esp. 220—1.
  • [5] Pearl Kibre, The Nations in the Medieval Universities (Cambridge, Mass., 1948); Ian P. Wei,Intellectual Culture in Medieval Paris: Theologians and the University, c.1100—1330 (Cambridge,2012), 111—13. Nations were relatively unimportant at Oxford: M. B. Hackett, ‘The University as aCorporate Body’, in Catto (ed.), History of the University of Oxford, i., 37—95 at 64—9.
  • [6] The chronological development of colleges predates this, but the sources are poorer.Pre-thirteenth-century Parisian collegiate foundations are listed in Hastings Rashdall, The Universitiesof Europe in the Middle Ages, rev. edn. F. M. Powicke and A. B. Emden, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1936), i. 536,and generally ch. 5 (all references are to this edn.). The history of non-monastic collegiate foundations in Oxford begins in the mid-thirteenth century. For an example of a far older monastic foundation see John Barron, ‘Augustinian Canons and the University of Oxford: The Lost College of StGeorge’, in Caroline M. Barron and Jenny Stratford (eds.), The Church and Learning in Later MedievalSociety: Essays in Honour of R. B. Dobson. Proceeedings of the 1999 Harlaxton Symposium (Donington,2002), 228-54.
  • [7] Between Balliol, Merton, and University Colleges there is little difference in terms of age. Balliol(f. 1260-6) has statutes (a charter/letter) from 1282. John Jones, Balliol College, A History, 2nd edn.(Oxford, 1997), conjectures earlier, lost statutes (6). University College’s original grant goes backto 1249 with some constitutional order from 1280. See Rashdall, Universities of Europe, iii. 175-8,179-83; Highfield, ‘Early Colleges’, 243 n. 2, 244-5, 260; T. H. Aston and Rosamund Faith, ‘TheEndowments of the University and Colleges to c.1348’, in Catto (ed.), History of the University ofOxford, i. 265-309 at 292-3; Robin Darwall-Smith, A History of University College, Oxford (Oxford,2008), 1-14.
  • [8] On Pecham see Decima L. Douie, Archbishop Pecham (Oxford, 1952); Benjamin Thompson,‘Pecham, John (c.1230-1292)’, ODNB.
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