Merton College, Oxford

Date: 1264 (founding of the college) and 1274 (statutes with wax seal)
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): United Kingdom
Medium: Parchment, Wax
Description: Merton College was founded in 1264 by the English chancellor and later bishop Walter de Merton (d. 1277). The college originally housed twenty residential fellows, but this number grew quickly, and there were forty fellows in 1280. (Residential undergraduates were admitted a century later.) Walter de Merton revised his founding statutes several times; shown here is the final document, dated 1274, when the college moved to Oxford. The college was built in three phases, with the chapel among the first parts completed. It contains the world's oldest continually functioning university library, built in the 1370s, and students still live in the late thirteenth- and fourteenth-century residential quadrangles.

Merton's 1274 statutes bear the wax seal of King Edward I (now broken), seated on an elaborate throne and holding a spear and an orb topped with a cross. A more complete example of this seal shows leaping creatures flanking the throne; they are lions, intended to evoke the throne of the famously wise and just biblical king Solomon, described in 1 Kings 10: 18–20. Thus, the wise British king symbolically endorses Merton's educational foundation in Oxford.

The 1274 statutes, in Latin, begin:
In the name of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen: I, Walter de Merton, clerk, and formerly Chancellor of the illustrious Lord the King of England, trusting in the goodness of the Sovereign Creator of the world, and of its blessings, and confidently reposing on the grace of Him who at his pleasure orders and directs to good the wills of men, and after I had frequently and anxiously considered how I might make some return in honor of his name, for the abundance of his bounty towards me in this life, did formerly, and before the troubles which have of late arisen in England, found and establish a house which I willed and commanded to be named and entitled "the House of the Scholars of Merton." This House was founded on my own property, which I had acquired by my own exertions: it was situated at Malden, in the county of Surrey, and was destined for the constant support of scholars residing in schools, in behalf of the salvation of my own soul, and of the souls of the Lord Henry, formerly King of England, that of his brother Richard, the renowned King of the Romans, and those of their predecessors and heirs, and of all my own parents and benefactors, to the honor and glory of the Most High. But now that peace is restored in England, and our old troubles are allayed, I approve with firm purpose of mind, establish, and confirm the former grant; and I limit, grant, and assign the local habitation and home of the school to be at Oxford, where there is a prosperous University of students, on my own proper freehold which abuts upon St. John’s Church; and it is my will that it should be called the House of the Scholars of Merton, and I decree that it shall be the residence of the Scholars forever. (trans. G. C. Brodrick, Oxford, 1885)
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 9
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, The Warden and Fellows of Merton College Oxford, Ruth Long

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Merton College, Oxford, library interior Merton College, Oxford, MCR 232, Statutes Seal of Edward I Merton College,