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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XV. English and Scottish Education. Universities and Public Schools to the Time of Colet

§ 20. St. Andrews University

Like England, Scotland had long had her monastic schools, whence ambitions students passed to the university of Paris, or joined the boreales of Oxford or of Cambridge; but it was not until the beginning of the fifteenth century that the northern kingdom saw the establishment of the first university of its own.

At St. Andrews, which was destined, in 1472, to be raised to the dignity of a metropolitan seat, a conventual chapter of Augustinian canons had superseded an earlier society of Culdees. In 1411, Henry Wardlaw, a discreet and learned prelate, himself a doctor of canon law, who had been, not without hot contention, raised to the bishopric in 1403, was inspired to found a university in his cathedral city. He was excited thereto, in part, at any rate, by the difficulties experienced by such of the Scottish clergy as were “desirous of being instructed in theology, in canon and civil law, medicine and the liberal arts” by reason of the “dangers by sea and land, the wars, captivities and obstructions in passing to and from foreign universities.” That these dangers were no light matter was demonstrated by the conspicuous object lesson of king James I, still in the English captivity, into which he had fallen when on his way to France, as a young prince fresh from the teaching of Wardlaw himself. The good bishop secured the hearty concurrence of his prior, James Haldenstone; and, in 1413, a bull of Benedict XIII, the anti-pope whom Scotland then acknowledged and to whom Wardlaw owed his bishopric, recognised the new foundation as a studium generale. The constitution and discipline of the university was determined by the bishop’s foundation charter; which, with the charters of the prior and the archdeacons of St. Andrews and Lothian, was confirmed by king James in 1432 after his restoration to his kingdom. The founder constituted the bishop of St. Andrews for the time being perpetual chancellor of the university and reserved, likewise, the right of final determination of disputes arising between the university and the town, saving the privileges of the prior and chapter and of the archdeacon of St. Andrews. The general government of the university was remitted to an elected rector, who must be a graduate in one of the faculties and in holy orders.

The new studium generale had, in the first instance, neither special buildings nor endowment. In 1430, Wardlaw granted a tenement for the use of the masters and regents of the faculty of arts; and other well-wishers in course of time came forward with similar benefactions; but the teachers of the university were, for a long time, maintained on the fees of their hearers, and on the profits of benefices which they were authorised to hold under a general licence of non-residence. The “auld pedagogy” was, in fact, an unendowed ecclesiastical seminary, served by beneficed masters, who found their pupils among youths resident or lodging in the town. The institution was much encouraged by James I, who had, during his enforced stay in England, imbibed a taste for literature in general and for poetry in particular. Under the royal charter of confirmation, the resident members of the university were exempted from every species of taxation. As in Oxford and Cambridge, the privileges of scholars were extended to those who served them.

In 1458, bishop John Kennedy, an able and worthy prelate, who was closely connected with the throne, his mother being a daughter of Robert III, enriched the university with its first college, that of St. Salvator; endowing it with parochial tithes “as a college for theology and the arts, for divine worship and for scholastic exercises.” The numbers of the society were fixed, ad instar apostolici numeri, at thirteen persons: a provost, a licentiate in theology, a bachelor in theology, four masters of arts and six “poor clerks.” The college set up a claim to confer degrees independently of the rector of the older foundation, and supported it by a bull of Pius II, of 1458; but the pretension was speedily relinquished on the intervention of Patrick Graham, half-brother of bishop Kennedy, and the first metropolitan of St. Andrews. In 1512, John Hepburn, prior of St. Andrews, converted for the purposes of a second college the buildings and property of the ancient hospital of St. Leonard, which had been erected in an earlier age for the entertainment of the pilgrims who thronged to worship at the shrine of St. Andrews. Hepburn enjoyed the support, not only of James IV, but of the king’s illegitimate son, the young archbishop, Alexander Stewart, who was destined to fall with his father, a year later, on the fatal field of Flodden. The archbishop, a pupil of Erasmus, himself took in hand the conversion of Wardlaw’s pedagogium into the college of St. Mary; but his untimely death left the task to be completed, with royal and papal approval, by his successors, the two Beatons and John Hamilton (1553). The college of St. Mary, which, at least after 1579, was given up entirely to the study of divinity, completed the three foundations, which remained the constituent colleges of St. Andrews down to 1747; when failing revenues compelled the amalgamation of St. Salvator’s with St. Leonard’. The historian John Major, in 1521, himself provost of St. Leonard’, marvelled at the incuria of Scottish prelates, which had left Scotland without a university until 1411. The Scottish bishops of the fifteenth century made ample amends for their supine predecessors.