History Engraving of
Marie de St Pol, Countess of Pembroke (1303–1377), a member of the de Châtillon family of France, founded Pembroke College, Cambridge. On Christmas Eve 1347, Edward III granted Marie de St Pol, widow of the Earl of Pembroke, the licence for the foundation of a new educational establishment in the young university at Cambridge. The Hall of Valence Mary (“Custos & Scolares Aule Valence Marie in Cantebrigg”), as it was originally known, was thus founded to house a body of students and fellows. The statutes were notable in that they both gave preference to students born in France who had already studied elsewhere in England, and that they required students to report fellow students if they indulged in excessive drinking or visited disreputable houses.
The college was later renamed Pembroke Hall, and finally became Pembroke College in 1856.
Marie was closely involved with College affairs in the 30 years until her death in 1377. She seems to have been something of a disciplinarian: the original Foundation documents had strict penalties for drunkenness and lechery, required that all students debts were settled within two weeks of the end of term, and gave strict limits on numbers at graduation parties.
In 2015, the college received a bequest of £34 million from the estate of American inventor and Pembroke alumnus Ray Dolby, thought to be the largest single donation to a college in the history of Cambridge University.
The first buildings comprised a single court (now called Old Court) containing all the component parts of a college – chapel, hall, kitchen and buttery, masters lodgings, students rooms – and the statutes provided for a manciple, a cook, a barber and a laundress. Both the founding of the college and the building of the citys first college Chapel (1355) required the grant of a papal bull.
The original court was the universitys smallest at only 95 feet (29 m) by 55 feet (17 m), but was enlarged to its current size in the nineteenth century by demolishing the south range.
The colleges gatehouse is the oldest in Cambridge.
Chapel Pembroke College chapel interior in September 2014
The original Chapel now forms the Old Library and has a striking seventeenth-century plaster ceiling, designed by Henry Doogood, showing birds flying overhead. Around the Civil War, one of Pembrokes fellows and Chaplain to the future Charles I, Matthew Wren, was imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell. On his release after eighteen years, he fulfilled a promise by hiring his nephew Christopher Wren to build a great Chapel in his former college. The resulting Chapel was consecrated on St Matthews Day, 1665, and the eastern end was extended by George Gilbert Scott in 1880, when it was consecrated on the Feast of the Annunciation.
Achievement in partnership: a shared commitment to academic excellence.
At Pembroke we value intellectual curiosity and nurture a spirit of lifelong learning. One of Oxford University’s Colleges for almost four centuries, generations of Pembrokians have investigated new ideas, challenged existing norms and pushed academic boundaries. We believe that a diverse mix of backgrounds and interests makes us stronger, and today our community is characterised by a supportive and down-to-earth approach, enriched by the contributions of each member.
Are you excited about the opportunity to follow your academic passions? Ready to work hard and to be challenged and encouraged as you explore new ideas?
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