Colleges
St George, Oxford

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Victoria County History

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William Page (editor)

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1907

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160-161

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'Colleges: St George, Oxford', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2 (1907), pp. 160-161. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=40216 Date accessed: 27 August 2014.


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COLLEGES

47. THE CANONS OF THE CHURCH OF ST. GEORGE, OXFORD

In 1074 Robert d'Oilly and Roger d'Ivri built the church of St. George in the castle of Oxford, and established a college of secular canons. As it was absorbed by Oseney as early as 1149, not much is known of its history and constitution; but a confirmation by Henry I (fn. 1) gives a list of its possessions about 1130, viz. the church of St. Mary Magdalen, Oxford, with 3 hides in Walton, and the estate (terra) of Cutslow, the church and estate of Cowley, the church and estate of Stowe (Buckinghamshire), 2 hides in Morton (Buckinghamshire), 2½ hides in Cassington, a hide in Sandford, 2 hides in Arncot, a virgate in Hook Norton, and two-thirds of the tithe of the demesne of all the manors of the two founders, numbering nearly seventy, and scattered over Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, and Northamptonshire. The number of canons is nowhere mentioned; but as Oseney in later times was bound to maintain five chaplains at St. George's to pray for the souls of the founders, it is possible that this was the original number of the canons. As was the case at Beverley, the head canon was called prepositus, (fn. 2) but unlike Beverley, the canons did not live in common, but had their separate prebends. Walter, the archdeacon of Oxford (c. 1110-51), held the prebend of Walton, and was provost in the year 1145, and probably long before. Robert de Chesney, as he tells us, (fn. 3) held the prebend of Stowe before he became bishop of Lincoln. Cowley with its church no doubt gave the title to another prebend. The canons themselves, unlike some secular canons, seem to have been men of learning and goodness. Henry of Huntingdon informs (fn. 4) us of the learning of both Walter the archdeacon and Robert de Chesney, and a certain 'Geoffrey Artur' who attests deeds which concern St. George's, and seems to have been a canon during the years 1129-51, is no other than Geoffrey of Monmouth, the historian, who in his book acknowledges the help and friendship of Walter the archdeacon. In considering the question, how it was that Oxford first became a place of learning, we must remember the presence of these learned men during the reigns of Henry I and Stephen.

That the canons were appointed by the representatives of the families of the two founders is clear from a dispute between Oseney and Reginald of St. Walery. The house of Ivri, which came to an end early in the twelfth century, was followed by the family of St. John, and in 1149 Henry d'Oilly and John of St. John granted to Oseney the chapel of St. George and all its possessions; the existing canons, however, holding their prebends for life. In 1151 Walter the archdeacon died; meanwhile John of St. John, it seems, had also died, and Reginald of St. Walery had been given his fief, and with it the right of filling up those prebends which belonged thereto.

As Walton was an Ivri manor, and Reginald of St. Walery did not consider himself bound by his predecessor's agreement, he gave the prebend to his son Walter, afterwards archdeacon of Rouen. For many years a dispute was carried on between him and Oseney; the bishop of London (fn. 5) wrote to entreat that one who had engaged in earthly warfare against the infields in Palestine should have more consideration for those engaged in spiritual warfare, but the matter was not settled until after 1166, when Bernard, his son, agreed that the prebend should be relinquished to Oseney, but that his brother, who held it, should receive £10 a year from it for his life. (fn. 6) The abbey subsequently maintained two canons and thirteen ministers to celebrate daily in the chapel, (fn. 7) but eventually refounded the college as a small educational establishment under their own patronage and, to a great extent, control. (fn. 8)

48. THE COLLEGE OF ST. GEORGE, OXFORD

The origin of this College is nowhere recorded, but in 1474 a charge was raised (fn. 9) against the abbey of Oseney, that it had received the manor of Walton from Edward III on condition that it should maintain in the church of St. George five secular priests and certain scholars; and that as Oseney did not perform this condition, the king might seize the land. The inquisition, which was held in consequence, decided that there was no truth in the story, that the land had not belonged to Edward III, and that there was no such obligation attaching to it; but the abbey may have thought it advisable to start such a college to put an end to all murmuring. Practically all we know about it is what we learn from its statutes. (fn. 10) It was to consist of five secular priests who were to pray daily in the church of St. George for the soul of Robert d'Oilly, and minister to those within the castle. Over them was a 'custos' or 'magister,' who was always to be a canon of Oseney. The scholars who were admitted were bound to observe the ordinary rules of an Oxford college, and at their admission they took an oath that they would leave something to the college by will, to help maintain before St. George's altar the light called the light of the scholars; but there was no obligation that they should be in any way connected with the Augustinian rule. It was more like a hostel or hall, where scholars could lodge under the supervision of those who would have a good influence on their morals, rather than their minds. The date of its foundation probably was about 1480. In 1523 the abbey of Oseney paid £8 a year in alms 'to six poor scholars in the castle of Oxford.' (fn. 11) As the priests were maintained from Oseney, receiving a daily allowance, the college came to an end at the dissolution.

Footnotes

1 Preserved at Ch. Ch. Oxf.
2 Exch. Q. R. Misc. Bk. No. 26, fol. 78.
3 Cott. MS. Vitell. E. xv, fol. 169.
4 Hen. of Hunt. (Rolls S.), 302.
5 Letters of Gilbert Foliot.
6 An Oseney deed at Ch. Ch. Oxf.
7 Anct. Pet. E. 904, printed in Collectanea (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), iii, 94.
8 See below.
9 Oseney Chartul. MS. 66.
10 Rawlinson MS. Statutes 34.
11 Subsidy of 1523, MS. Lincoln.