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Lincoln College

The 17th Century

Lincoln was soon attracting many new undergraduates; 65 were matriculated between 1600 and 1609, rising to 204 between 1630 and 1639. With additional students who did not trouble to register themselves with the university the number of students in residence must have risen to over a hundred at this time. A high proportion of these undergraduates came from Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, and a significant number from Wales and the West Country. Some of the students were 'gentlemen commoners', who, in return for higher fees, shared many of the privileges of the Fellows, down to servitors and the bible-clerk who performed menial duties like waiting in the Hall. A mark of their wealth was the tradition that required them to give a piece of silver to the College; among the College's most treasured possessions are two beautiful silver porringers given by seventeenth-century gentlemen-commoners, Sir Henry Wright of Dagenham (1679) and Sir William Ellys (1680).

Even so, Lincoln was not (and never has been) a blue-blooded college. Most of its entrants came from middle or lower rank families, reflecting the 'educational revolution' of Stuart England that filled the grammar schools and universities with young men hungry for learning and preferment alike. Not only scholarship but the arts benefited from this new blood. In the early seventeenth century three distinguished musicians were educated at the College, including Francis Pilkington, who made a notable career as lutenist and composer of madrigals.  Another Lincoln man, William Davenant, became a distinguished playwright and Ben Johnson's successor as Poet Laureate; his family monument is in All Saints'. There is a tradition which he promoted himself that he was the illegitimate son of William Shakespeare, who regularly passed through Oxford on his journeys between London and Stratford.

The College's prosperity was also reflected in its new buildings. In 1608-9 the west range of what was to be the Chapel Quadrangle was built on the site of the halls which had been in College use since the middle of the fifteenth century. The new accommodation was essential to house the increased undergraduate body, though even with it, individual chambers were generally shared by two to four students. Other facilities were also extended. John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, completed the east range of the Quadrangle and built in it a magnificent new Chapel. At the same time the Rector's Lodgings were enlarged to accommodate married Rectors (from the Reformation until the late ninteenth century Rectors were permitted to marry, though Fellows were not). The Rector was also provided with a small garden, and in the nearby Grove, where students now play croquet, a tennis or 'ball-court' and bowling green were set up for the recreation of Fellows and undergraduates.

Lincoln was not immune from the religious and political dissensions that culminated in Civil War in the 1640s. Its benefactor John Williams was a prominent Lord Chancellor and supporter of the Crown. On the other hand the Rector of the day, Paul Hood, was of Puritan views. When the war broke out in 1642, the University supported the king against Parliament. The College contributed its share of funds, silver (though the second smallest amount of all the colleges, an indication of its comparative poverty), labour and volunteers to the doomed Royalist cause; its rooms were emptied of undergraduates and filled with courtiers and cavaliers who sometimes did not pay their bills. When Charles I left Oxford, Lincoln, like other colleges, was obliged to submit to the Parliamentary Visitors who expelled loyalist Fellows and nominated in their place men of Puritan politics and religious sympathies. Only the timeserving Rector Hood remained to watch the College filled with, as one contemporary put it, 'the dregs of the neighbour University' (Cambridge). But at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 a Royal Commission expelled five of these intruders. The aged Hood, the only head of a college who had been elected and admitted long before the Civil War, became Vice-Chancellor of the University.

In Hood's last years he became nearly blind and the conduct of College affairs passed to the sub-Rector, Nathaniel Crewe, who in 1668 succeeded as 18th Rector. Crewe's tenure was to be short. He was a shrewd courtier, was said to possess the confidence of the king's most influential mistress, Lady Castlemaine, and was duly made Bishop of Oxford in 1671 and Bishop of Durham in 1674. For a brief time Crewe held the Bishopric of Oxford together with the Rectorship of the College, so that the diocese was ruled from the Lodgings. Crewe was a former undergraduate of the College, had shone both for his scholarly and his governing talents, and continued to hold the College in great affection for many years after he left it in 1672.

Unfortunately, he was angered when in 1719 it failed to elect as Rector the candidate whom he had been asked to put forward. As a consequence the benefaction which he gave to the College, though substantial, was much less than he had originally intended. One of the new beneficiaries was the University, which to this day partakes of Lord Crewe's Benefaction (strawberries and champagne) before the ceremony at which honorary degrees are awarded each summer.
The College flourished in the late seventeenth century, attracting men to its fellowship who were to attain considerable distinction as scholars; John Radcliffe, Fellow from 1670-1675, became a wealthy, fashionable physician, though out of sympathy with the College, which had been unable to dispense him from the obligation of taking holy orders, so forcing his resignation. At his death in 1714 his large estate was formed into a trust, from the proceeds of which were built, as he intended, the Radcliffe Quadrangle at University College (1719), the Radcliffe Camera (1739-49), the Radcliffe Infirmary (1758-79) and the Radcliffe Observatory (1772). Thomas Marshall, who had fought for Charles I and later went into exile in the Low Countries, was a biblical and Anglo-Saxon scholar, of international repute. His pupil and colleague, George Hickes, Fellow from 1664 to 1681, in spite of a tempestuous career (for he opposed the Revolution of 1688 and for a time was a political refugee), was one of the most learned men of his time, distinguished as a philologist and a pioneer student of Old English and Old Norse. The period also saw significant improvements to the College's facilities. The Senior Common Room, which had been established in 1662, was wainscotted in 1684, and the Hall some sixteen years later; many of the Fellows' rooms were modernised and redecorated at this period.