The White Lion Society’s visit to Cambridge took place on 12th July 2018. The original visit had been planned for the previous week but the unexpected closure of one of the Colleges forced us to re-arrange the date. We thank all those members who transferred their booking to the new date and hope that no one experienced any difficulties in re-arranging their diaries. We also thank the fifteen members who attended and others who supported the event. I would especially like to thank David Broomfield (our Treasurer) for acting as our main guide and contributing with his usual enthusiasm.

Our group gathered at First Court at Magdalene College, where David guided us through the history of the establishment of the College, as represented by the arms on display above the entrances to the four stairways and other arches.

When the College was founded by Lord Audley in 1542 it was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. The choice of the name of Mary Magdalene appears to have had a touch of vanity. In many early documents the name is clearly spelt as pronounced: 'Maudleyn', containing within it the name of Audley. The final 'e' on Magdalene was an attempt, with the advent of the postal service in the mid-nineteenth century, to distinguish Magdalene Cambridge from Magdalen College, Oxford.

In 1428 Abbot Lytlington of Crowland Abbey near Peterborough was licensed by letters patent of King Henry VI to acquire the site to establish a hostel in Cambridge for Benedictine student-monks. The Benedictine monks began building in the 1470s. John de Wisbech, Abbot of Crowland, planned First Court and completed the Chapel. The Benedictines were only responsible for the communal buildings of their monastic colleges, and individual abbeys were invited to provide their own student chambers. These were the four local Benedictine abbeys of Crowland, Ely, Ramsey and Walden. Stairways leading to each set of chambers have handsome carved and painted arms which you see here. 


As a result of patronage by the family of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, the name of the institution was changed from Monks' Hostel to Buckingham College sometime after 1472. 

After our introduction we were joined by Dr Jane Hughes, the Pepys Librarian, who guided us into Second Court and there to the Pepys Library where she had made a wonderful presentation of the history and organisation of the Library. Anyone who visits Cambridge should visit this iconic Library, whose arrangement of books had the smallest first on the lowest shelves with all other books being arranged in order of size helically around the room in the original oak book cases designed by Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) in 1666.

The Pepys Library is a rare example of a 17th-century private library. The Library houses Pepys’s original diaries and remains one of the most significant collections acquired by any private individual, comprising exactly 3000 books, manuscripts, documents and prints.

Our tour of Magdalene College continued, and we next visited the Great Hall, where there is a magnificent stained-glass display containing the arms of masters and benefactors including those of Samuel Pepys (below). It is only by standing in the Great Hall that you can fully appreciate the dramatic effect of the heraldic glass, probably best seen after dark because of the College’s policy of only using candle light.

We then moved on to the College Chapel which contains a display of stall plates as well as two hatchments, rarely seen in Cambridge.

After lunch we moved on to St John’s College. This is an imposing building with impressive courts that offers a contrast to the surroundings of Magdalene College. We entered by the Great Gate and again David’s introduction set the scene for our visit as he led us through the many displays of heraldry that we found.

The foundation of St John’s College on the site of the Hospital of St John the Evangelist has been attributed to Lady Margaret Beaufort (1441-1509), the mother of Henry VII. However, before work began Margaret died and left no legacy in her will that would provide the funds to establish the College. Fortunately, John Fisher (1469-1535), Margaret’s chaplain and Bishop of Rochester, worked hard to ensure the foundation of the College and with the approval of her grandson Henry VIII, the Pope and the Bishop of Ely the College received its charter on 9 April 1511, and on 22nd October 1512 a codicil to Margaret’s will was obtained to fund the foundation.

St John’s College was opened and the Chapel there consecrated in the presence of Bishop John Fisher in July 1516. It was at the site of the 19th-century replacement of that Chapel that we assembled to continue our tour.

Due to partial closure of the Chapel we were only able to view the Chapel entrance, shown here. We were, however, able to see a number of memorials of interest, including those to Lady Margaret Beaufort and Bishop John Fisher.

We then gathered at the Library building in Third Court and, having passed through the New Library, entered the Old Library or ‘Upper Library’ which dates from 1624 and houses historic manuscripts, rare books and personal papers. Here we were greeted by our guide, Kathryn McKee, Head of Special Collections. The Library was constructed in 1624 partly from funds granted by John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln. It contains 22 impressive oak book cases, which contain an integrated library catalogue. There are also intermediate reader slopes, six feet above the ground that can only be used by visiting giants. Each of the book cases ends with the carved arms of a library benefactor. At one end of the gallery are the arms of Bishop Williams while at the other end an oriel window contains the arms of several other Library benefactors.

We next made our way, via the College’s own Bridge of Sighs, to the Hall which has a fine hammer-beam roof, painted in black and gold and decorated with the armorial devices of the College’s benefactors. The Hall has a five-bay screen, surmounted by the royal arms. Above is a hexagonal louvre, dating to 1703. It has two bay windows, containing heraldic glass dating from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries.

Our final visit of the day was to Trinity College. David wasted no time in telling us the story of this important College from it foundation to the present. Comparable in size to St John’s it includes an impressive series of buildings arranged around a number of courts.

The College was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, from the merger of two existing colleges: Michaelhouse and King's Hall. The foundation of Trinity College, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ensured that the College would not suffer the same fate as many earlier Colleges which were seen as religious institutions and suffered confiscation of their property. It was during the Mastership of Thomas Neville (1593–1615) that Trinity assumed its spaciousness, with the redesign of grounds and buildings and its courtly association with the governing class. Its first four Masters were educated at St John's, with which it had early rivalry.

From the main entrance we crossed Great Court and entered Neville Court to begin our tour of the Wren Library. The Library was completed in 1695 to the design of Christopher Wren (1632-1723), who was not only responsible for the fabric of the building but also the oak furniture. Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) was employed to provide limewood carvings of the royal arms at the end of room and the arms of major benefactors for the ends of each bay. These carving remain remarkably crisp. 

We continued our tour with a visit to the Great Hall, which is one of the earliest buildings of the College and owes its existence to having been part of one of the two constituent  institutions.

Here we enjoyed the remarkable collection of stained glass, much of which is medieval in origin. These include two large bays. At one end is a screen that includes an imposing painting of the founder Henry VIII and at the other a gallery that contains the arms and portrait of Thomas Neville, former Master.

Sadly, our tour was now coming to an end and we completed our visit, leaving the College via New Court. However, even when leaving the College, more ‘heraldry watching’ was possible, with the gates providing a last view of the arms associated the Neville family.