Corpus Christi College Oxford

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History of Corpus Christi College


Corpus was founded in 1517 by Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester and a trusted diplomatic and political adviser to King Henry VII. Bishop Fox had originally intended the College for the training of monks; if he had followed through with this plan, Corpus would probably have been dissolved in the Reformation of the next generation. Instead, he decided that it should be a place of Renaissance learning for the education of young men in the humanities and the sciences.

The beautiful main quad, with its tower, dining hall, library and adjoining chapel were planned and completed under Fox's guidance. Queen Catherine (of Aragon) was a friend of the College's first President, John Claimond, and would visit him in his College lodgings while her husband, Henry VIII, hunted at nearby Woodstock. Another early visitor was the great humanist scholar, Erasmus, who wrote admiringly of the College's library.

The College played a central role in the religious disputes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of its earliest Fellows, Reginald Pole, was Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Mary and narrowly missed becoming Pope. One of its early graduates was the renowned Protestant scholar Richard Hooker. The College's seventh President, John Rainolds, was a key organizer and translator of the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible.

In the eighteenth century, the College was able to expand following the construction of a second quad and the fine neoclassical Fellows' Building overlooking Christ Church Meadow. One of its graduates in this period was James Oglethorpe - soldier, prison reformer, member of Parliament, and founder of the colony that later became the American state of Georgia.

In the nineteenth century, Corpus was one of the first colleges to recruit its students in open competition. These included Thomas Arnold, a famous educational reformer and headmaster of Rugby School; John Keble, the Christian poet and inspiration of the Anglo-Catholic revival in the England; C.P. Scott, the most famous newspaper editor of his day; William Hailey, a distinguished colonial administrator; and the Poet Laureate Robert Bridges. The art historian, John Ruskin, was a Fellow.

In the twentieth century, its graduates included the philosophers Isaiah Berlin and Thomas Nagel, the writer Vikram Seth and both David and Ed Miliband.

For most of its history, the College has been famed for its strength in the humanities, especially Classical Studies. Over the past fifty years or so, the natural and social sciences have come to represent an equally important place in the make-up of the Fellowship and student body.