Chapter XVIII: Of Universities

There have been heretofore, and at sundry times, divers famous universities in this island, and those even in my days not altogether forgotten, as one at Bangor, erected by Lucius, and afterward converted into a monastery, not by Congellus (as some write), but by Pelagius the monk. The second at Caerleon-upon-Usk, near to the place where the river doth fall into the Severn, founded by King Arthur. The third at Thetford, wherein were six hundred students, in the time of one Rond, sometime king of that region. The fourth at Stamford, suppressed by Augustine the monk. And likewise other in other places, as Salisbury, Eridon or Cricklade, Lachlade, Reading, and Northampton; albeit that the two last rehearsed were not authorised, but only arose to that name by the departure of the students from Oxford in time of civil dissension unto the said towns, where also they continued but for a little season. When that of Salisbury began I cannot tell; but that it flourished most under Henry the Third and Edward the First I find good testimony by the writers, as also by the discord which fell, 1278, between the chancellor for the scholars there on the one part and William the archdeacon on the other, whereof you shall see more in the chronology here following. In my time there are three noble universities in England - to wit, one at Oxford, the second at Cambridge, and the third in London; of which the first two are the most famous, I mean Cambridge and Oxford, for that in them the use of the tongues, philosophy, and the liberal sciences, besides the profound studies of the civil law, physic, and theology, are daily taught and had: whereas in the latter the laws of the realm are only read and learned by such as give their minds unto the knowledge of the same. In the first there are not only divers goodly houses builded four square for the most part of hard freestone or brick, with great numbers of lodgings and chambers in the same for students, after a sumptuous sort, through the exceeding liberality of kings, queens, bishops, noblemen and ladies of the land; but also large livings and great revenues bestowed upon them (the like whereof is not to be seen in any other region, as Peter Martyr did oft affirm) to the maintenance only of such convenient numbers of poor men's sons as the several stipends bestowed upon the said houses are able to support.. . .

Of these two, that of Oxford (which lieth west and by north from London) standeth most pleasantly, being environed in manner round about with woods on the hills aloft, and goodly rivers in the bottoms and valleys beneath, whose courses would breed no small commodity to that city and country about if such impediments were removed as greatly annoy the same and hinder the carriage which might be made thither also from London. That of Cambridge is distant from London about forty and six miles north and by east, and standeth very well, saving that it is somewhat near unto the fens, whereby the wholesomeness of the air is not a little corrupted. It is excellently well served with all kinds of provisions, but especially of fresh water fish and wild fowl, by reason of the river that passeth thereby; and thereto the Isle of Ely, which is so near at hand. Only wood is the chief want to such as study there, wherefore this kind of provision is brought them either from Essex and other places thereabouts, as is also their coal, or otherwise the necessity thereof is supplied with gall (a bastard kind of mirtus as I take it) and seacoal, whereof they have great plenty led thither by the Grant. Moreover it hath not such store of meadow ground as may suffice for the ordinary expenses of the town and university, wherefore the inhabitants are enforced in like sort to provide their hay from other villages about, which minister the same unto them in very great abundance.

Oxford is supposed to contain in longitude eighteen degrees and eight and twenty minutes, and in latitude one and fifty degrees and fifty minutes: whereas that of Cambridge standing more northerly, hath twenty degrees and twenty minutes in longitude, and thereunto fifty and two degrees and fifteen minutes in latitude, as by exact supputation is easy to be found.

The colleges of Oxford, for curious workmanship and private commodities, are much more stately, magnificent, and commodious than those of Cambridge: and thereunto the streets of the town for the most part are more large and comely. But for uniformity of building, orderly compaction, and politic regiment, the town of Cambridge, as the newer workmanship,exceeds that of Oxford (which otherwise is, and hath been, the greater of the two) by many a fold (as I guess), although I know divers that are of the contrary opinion. This also is certain, that whatsoever the difference be in building of the town streets, the townsmen of both are glad when they may match and annoy the students, by encroaching upon their liberties, and keep them bare by extreme sale of their wares, whereby many of them become rich for a time, but afterward fall again into poverty, because that goods evil gotten do seldom long endure.. . .