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Cambridge University: Verses presented to Queen Elizabeth

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.8915

Scope and Contents

'Orationes & Carmina Acadamiae [sic] Cantabr: ad Elizab: Reginam 1564', around 315 sets of verses by 255 authors, all named and arranged by college. There are verses in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Syriac.

Here is to be noted that before her highnes cam to the towne by aduertisment of master Secretorie / order was taken for the makyng of twoe bookes to be exhibited vnto her grace. In thone should be wrighten in Romayne hand all the verses bothe of greeke / and laten heb. Caldee / and Englishe which were made of her commyng and other wayes set vp in divers places of the towne / as is mentioned before / and that every colledge should be placed by hymselfe in that booke / in thother should should [sic] be placed and digested the founders / and benefactors of every colledge the names of every companies at this present tyme / and thee degrees and the names of all thoes that had been brought [up] in the same which had come to some great estimacion in the worlde or been in eny hie function / as bishopes / Imbassadors / or eny speciall or entyre servaunt of the prynce. Theis bookes were made / and fayer bound severallye / and delyvered vnto master Secretorye who presented the same vnto her highnes (but the kynges colledg of specyall consyderacions presented ther booke as is mensioned before by thandes of master Clarke). And rydyng about the colledges master Chauncelor caried the bookes in his owne handes / and at everye colledge pervsed the same.' (Stokys' Book (University Archives: Misc.Collect.4) fo. 74v)

Add. MS 8915 is the first of these two volumes, requested by Sir William Cecil, Secretary of State and Chancellor of the University and presented by him to the Queen in the course of her visit to the University in August 1564. Its title, written by hand on the spine, Orationes et carmina Acadamiae Cantabr: Ad Elizab: Reginam, 1564, was probably added later. It is inaccurate not only in its spelling of `academia' but also in the mention of `orationes'. In the six days of her visit the Queen indeed endured the recital of a great many orations and verses but no prose orations feature in this manuscript. Some of the verses, as noticed in the notes, were publicly declaimed and so are entered in one or other of the accounts of the visit; the rest may have been `set up in divers places of the towne' as, so it appears from contemporary accounts, a great many others were.

The original of the volume containing the names of the founders, benefactors and present members of the colleges has not been traced. The lists of college members entered in it are transcribed in Harleian MS 7033 `from my Ld Chief Justice's Hale's Papers, some of which are now in the custody of the Revd Mr G. Harbin', this in turn is copied in CUL MS Mm.2.23 (Baker 6). The same lists, along with the accounts of founders and benefactors are also to be found in Folger MS V.a.176, a manuscript previously in the possession of Sir Thomas Phillipps which contains also [Bishop] Nicholas Robinson's account of the visit complete with the full text of all orations and verses publicly recited, sermons and disputations. It is not clear whether Lord Chief Justice Hale had the original volume or a copy of it. Another copy of Robinson's account is to be found in Harleian MS 7037, and transcribed in CUL MS Mm.2.24 (Baker 10) `in quo Orationes Carmina &: pleraque omittuntur'. There is also a short account by John Brecon of St John's, with copies of a few sets of verses, mostly those which were publicly declaimed, in CUL MS Mm.4.39. Abraham Hartwell of King's composed a verse account of the occasion printed by William Seres in 1565 as Regina literata siue de ... Elizabethae reginae, in academiam Cantabrigiensem aduentu. 1564. narratio (STC 12897). It may well be that a search of Cambridge manuscript verse anthologies of the time would reveal further copies of individual verses.

The tradition of compiling anthologies of congratulatory verses was new to the university and appears to have been first suggested in a letter to the university dated 15 July 1564 from Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London. When the proctors and one of the bedels went on 17 July to consult Cecil about the `orders to be observed' on the Queen's coming, among the items specifically mentioned were `the verses made, to be seen by the best learned in every house; and the said verses to be compiled in one book, to be given to the Queen's Majestie'. It would appear, then, that the 315 or so sets of verses (forty-one in Greek, two in Hebrew, two in English, one in Aramaic and one macaronic, Greek and Latin) by 255 authors, contained in the manuscript were composed and copied in the space of just three weeks, and, as we shall see, there are indeed signs of haste to be detected in the volume. For the university, then, this was a new exercise in courtesy, and one which was to continue until it came to an abrupt halt after 1763. Enterprising individuals had presented such volumes to royalty in the hope of patronage for some decades at least, but for students from Winchester and Eton the idea of an institutional volume would also have been familiar: manuscript collections of verses had been presented by Winchester to Edward VI on his progress in 1552 and to Queen Mary and Philip of Spain on the occasion of their marriage in 1554; Eton had presented verses to the Queen in 1559/60 and in 1563. It may well be that the idea emanated from King's College (which, it will be recalled, presented their verses in a separate volume) and that Grindal was simply extending his approval of the proposal. A rumour that the Queen might be visiting the university in the course of the summer had prompted work on the construction and enlargement of stages from some months earlier.

Probably, however, it was not until mid-July that the project got under way. A stock of paper (with no watermark) was procured and distributed among the colleges, perhaps in quantities dictated by their probable requirements since each batch was designated for a specific college. Trinity Hall and Magdalene alone abstained. In each college verses were contributed from high and low, although it is noticeable that relatively few verses come from the more elderly members, whether because they had been less exposed to humanist educational ideals or whether because they were too pressed with other business we cannot say. Among the heads, only Longworth at St John's, Dr May at St Catharine's and John Caius himself addressed the task. Fellows from all colleges except St Catharine's took up their pens in various proportions from the six out of eight at Clare (75%) to the one out of eight (12%) at Caius. Contributions from other members, ranging from resident M.A.s to bible-clerks range from forty-three at Trinity and thirty-eight at St John's to two each at Caius and St Catharine's, largely, but not entirely, in proportion to their size. The participation at Christ's, where over a third of the members in residence contributed, is notable and reflects the emphasis on the teaching of rhetoric which distinguished it, along with Trinity and St John's at this time.

It has to be said, however, that the standard of versification in Latin and in Greek, to say nothing of Hebrew, is not uniformly high, and one has the impression that, in some cases, the college lecturer in rhetoric must have distributed appropriate cliches to his class. Many of the verses are, on the other hand, highly ingenious making use of the fashionable devices of acrostics, chronograms and alliteration. The young William Whitaker, not yet matriculated, produced thirty-two acrostical Greek elegiac couplets; Robert Linford, M.A. of Queens', managed a double acrostic, and William Fulke, M.A., allotted a different Greek metre to each of the muses and to the University, as well as venturing into Hebrew and Aramaic. Cecil had expressed in his letter of 15 July his desire `that two thinges may speciallye appeare in that Universitye: order and lerninge. And for order I meane bothe for religion and civill behaviour'. This volume amply demonstrates the University's willingness to oblige alternating as it does adulation for the Queen, couched in classical formulae, with more or less urgent concerns with the advancement of protestantism.

When it came to copying out the verses the colleges adopted different tactics: all of them arranged them in descending order of seniority of author, some more strictly so than others. Trinity put all their Greek verses first, headed by those of Bartholomew Dodington, the Regius Professor of Greek, in his own superb Greek hand. A single hand completed the copying of the Greek verses on the same bifolium and on two quired bifolia following. There follow two sections of eight sheets (sixteen leaves) written continuously, each in a separate hand; the second hand then takes one more sheet to complete his quota, and the section is completed by six quired sheets written by his companion. The Trinity section, therefore, has a pleasing regularity. Clare, on the other hand, settled for pleasing variety, with some eleven hands in all, some of them probably copying fair their own verses. To this end the paper was given out in individual sheets. St John's also copied their verses onto separate bifolia, each of which is usually completed by a single copyist, and subsequently brought them together, paginated, with an elaborate heading at the beginning. Such a system must have made for speed, and also allowed for the jettisoning of any sheet accidentally spoiled. Peterhouse, on the other hand, rather rashly folded ten sheets into a single quire and found themselves unable to fill it. Each college then appointed a corrector, whose hand may be seen, more or less neatly, adjusting Greek accents, and mending metre.

Almost certainly there was no time, and perhaps there was no impulse, to take the sheets to a London binder such as might have achieved a more sophisticated result. A contemporary observer states that the book was `bound in a parchment coverynge, gylt with flouris of gold at the four corners, knit with green ribband string', but in this he was less than accurate. There is no doubt that the present binding is the original one: it is indeed vellum and traces of the green silk strings still remain. There are no gilt flowers in the corners but rather, stamped on both back and front, ELIZABETHA REGINA within a crude asymmetric frame containing also a small crown and a small leopard, and a gilt oval centrepiece with a common arabesque design. The university audit book records that the binding cost six shillings, but unfortunately no voucher survives to identify the binder. It has been assumed, because a gilding press is recorded in his probate inventory, that John Denys was the only binder in Cambridge so equipped; but there are reasons to doubt that this work is his. Mr David Pearson has, strangely, found only one other use of this tool on bindings in Cambridge libraries, and that is on the two volumes of Aristotle's Opera omnia (Hervagius, Basle, 1563): St John's College Cc.8.11 12. The two binders employed by St John's at this time were Peter Sheres and a `Philip Stacyoner' who seems to have undertaken the more elaborate work. The university, at about this time, seems usually to have employed Philip Scarlet. Peter Sheres was a witness to and beneficiary of the will of Philip Scarlet's father John, in 1551, and it is just possible that the two men worked together, but on the present evidence it seems slightly more likely than not that Scarlet was the binder of this volume.

If the binding is remarkable only for its amateurishness, however, the contents reveal that the Cambridge humanist italic hand was widely and successfully practised. The hands of Bartholomew Dodington, of Thomas Binge, of Robert Linford, of John Still and of William Chaderton are discussed and illustrated in Alfred Fairbank and Bruce Dickins, The italic hand in Tudor Cambridge. There are very fine examples of them here, as also of those whom they would have wished to include: John Wells, William Lewin and William Whitaker. Much work, however, remains to be done in identifying these and all the other hands, and I have only identified with any confidence the hands of Binge and of Dodington in the list of contents.

Much work, indeed, remains to be done on all aspects of the manuscript, and the present account will, it is hoped, soon be superseded. Such as it is it has benefitted enormously from the assistance of Mrs J. Butterworth and Mr J. J. Hall of the University Library, Mr David Pearson of the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Mr Malcolm Underwood, archivist of St John's College.


  • Creation: 1564


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1 volume(s) (1 volume)

Language of Materials


Greek, Ancient (to 1453)



Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased 1992

Existence and Location of Copies

Microfilm available

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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