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From English Literature, from Widsith to the Death of Chaucer, A Source Book, by Allen Rogers Benham, A.M., Ph.D.; New Haven: Yale University Press, London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University; 1916; pp. 413-415.

YEAR 1339 A.D.


Notes from a Medieval Faculty Meeting at Oxford

“At Merton College, Oxford, the warden and fellows were bound to meet three times a year at a ‘scrutiny,’ wherein each have his opinion of the condition of the college. Of three of these meetings some rough notes taken by one who was present have been preserved.”* One set of these notes dated 1339 gives us the following notion of a medieval faculty meeting:

Middleton.  William the chaplain has often insulted the fellows.

Handel.  It would be well if the senior fellows were summoned to make peace between Wylie and Finmer.


Westcombe.  The noise the fellows make in their rooms.

Humberstone.  The quarrel between Wylie and Finmer. The fellows keep dogs, and progress in their studies is prevented by idleness. That statute is not observed, for we have no bursars. Also it would be well if the land in Little Wolford were let to a farmer.

Finmer.  Wylie, although appointed under the statute to audit accounts, will not audit them, and though thrice summoned and again called upon by the fellows, has rebelliously refused, and so falls under the statute; and he unjustly receives better commons, and thy who ought to proceed against him are too remiss.

Wanting.  The warden should not go on insulting the senior fellows in the way he has begun.

Wylie.  Somebody should be sent to Stratton to enquire about the college estates and other business.

Lynham.  As to allaying the quarrels among the fellows.

Sutton.  They ought to have a keeper of pledges,** but have not, and there is a deficit; and it is said that some books are sold, without the college or the fellows benefiting by it. The warden does not enforce process against the debtors of the college and especially against the bailiff of Elham: and Wanting owes the bailiff of Elham seven pounds and sixteen pence which belong to the college, and as he excuses himself from all other business, he ought not to take part in these college meetings. . . .

Handel.  Would be glad if a volume of decrees and of decretals were placed in the library and if the books of the college were arranged.

Buckingham.  Wanting has sold the college horses at Elham, and has kept the money in his hands, and has rendered no account nor has the bailiff. . . . There should not be a number of people taking notes in the meeting.

Dumbleton.  Nothing.

Monby.  Wylie has publicly, in the presence of all the fellows, insulted Finmer.


Leverington.  The seneschal is not present in chapel on saints’ days, but is absent for the most part. . . .

Wylie.  Begs that what has been said by Elyndon and Wanting be corrected and recommends charity. The warden should correct it, especially what had been said to the warden in the meeting, and above all what Elyndon said, that the reputations of some of the fellows were tarnished; and how that Durant accused Wylie of planning with the other seniors to prevent the election of a fellow, and that he had this from those who were recently in London.

Middleton.  Elham is in fault as to the breaking of the hall door. We ought to have a mill at Seaton.

Handel.  This opportunity should be taken of restoring peace. The juniors should show reverence to the seniors, and everyone should be enjoined publicly to observe charity, and each should try to bring this about as far as he can.

Humberstone.  The warden ought by statute to get the help of some of the fellows who are impartial to put an end to the quarrel between Wylie and Finmer. Wanting has behaved disrespectfully towards the warden by publicly addressing him as Robert.

[end of extract]

*   See Ashley, Edward III and his Wars, p. 65.
**  Professor Ashley (Ibid., p. 66) suggests that these “pledges” were objects left by students in pawn with the college for loans from college funds; they may also have been deposits for loans from the college library; cf. ante, p. 409.

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