Changes to the celibacy rule at the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge Universities

Duckenfield, B (2008) Changes to the celibacy rule at the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. (PhD thesis), Kingston University,


This thesis investigates the process of reforming the rule relating to celibacy for Fellows of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. This is the first full length study of the changes in Statutes removing the ban on marriage for Fellows of university colleges, combining research into university, religious, legal and social history. This study traces the origins of the obligatory rule of chastity at the universities' foundations until revision of their Statutes in 1882. Originally students at the universities undertook training as priests even if destined for other professions, therefore chastity was obligatory. The roles of the Church, Crown, and Parliament have been studied in relation to the origins of celibacy for priests, its continuance at the university colleges, throughout the reformation of religion, its preservation until almost the end of the nineteenth century and the consequences of intervention from all three establishments. The main structure of college administration, staff, way of life, and the impact upon reform of events, arguments and debates on the advantages and disadvantages of the system have also been examined and assessed. Key stages, incorporating a chronological view, in the process of changing university colleges from monastic type establishments into environments where married Fellows with families were accepted have been investigated and evaluated. This thesis demonstrates how political, economic, social and legal factors combined, both within and outside the universities, together with the efforts of a few persistent and far-sighted individuals, to create a climate favourable to change. The documents consulted cover a wide range of sources including college archives, government reports, parliamentary speeches, political and ecclesiastical proceedings, diaries, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies and newspapers. This study contributes to an understanding of the process of reform and seeks to demonstrate how, not one single event, but a variety of factors combined over a period of time created circumstances making changes acceptable and possible. It also throws new light on the influence and achievements of individuals, in particular James Heywood, Robert Potts, and Lord John Russell, and points to the need for further research into their lives and work.

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