A lost Cambridge college, 1324-1540
The documents of Michaelhouse and King's Hall
The first college site
Site expansion and development
Hostels and halls
The core buildings
Plans and maps
Trinity and later
A lost Cambridge college, 1324-1540
Trinity College was founded in 1540 by Henry VIII. Henry, however, was a king who always had a watchful eye on the state of the royal coffers, and was not given to spending money when he could avoid it. He decided, therefore, not to purchase new land and buildings for his foundation. Instead, he ordered two colleges and seven hostels to surrender to him, and simply amalgamated them under a new name. The colleges were Michaelhouse and King's Hall, both wealthy institutions that owned sizeable tracts of land and a number of buildings; the hostels were Physwick, Gregory's, Ovyng's, Catherine's, Garratt, Margaret's, and Tyler's.
The 1540s were dangerous times for institutions filled to the gills with clerics - monasteries and abbeys were falling like ninepins, and the universities probably sensed it was only a matter of time before their own properties came under the greedy scrutiny of royal eyes. According to tradition, it was said to be Catherine Parr, the last of Henry's wives, who persuaded her husband to leave the places of learning alone. Given that Henry held a grudge against Cambridge for producing a number of very vocal opponents to his divorce of Ann Boleyn (such as Michaelhouse's John Fisher) the Masters and Principles of the nine foundations probably thought they were escaping lightly by surrendering to the king with a view to being part of a new royal foundation.
The two colleges - Michaelhouse and King's Hall - could not have been more different. King's Hall was a large institution founded by Edward II as a training ground of his chancery clerks. Many of its scholars went on to great things - bishops, diplomats, royal chaplains, and lord chancellors. Its fellowship seldom dipped below twenty members (and was more usually around thirty-two), and household accounts suggest they lived a life of comparative comfort. By contrast, Michaelhouse was founded for impoverished clerics and its fellowship was much smaller (usually six or seven fellows and the Master).
Of King's Hall, there remains a line of gothic arches, and King Edward's gateway (1426-7), although this was moved from its original position in 1600. It is also commemorated in a name - one of the residential buildings where students live today is called King's Hostel. Of Michaelhouse, however, virtually nothing remains.
Since the days of Michaelhouse and King's Hall, the streets of Cambridge have changed a great deal. Lanes that ran from the High Street (now Trinity Street) to the hythes (quays) on the river have been enclosed by the colleges, while Milne Street - then one of the two main roads through the city - is now blocked by King's Chapel and by the area of Trinity currently occupied by Neville's Court.
However, Michaelhouse has left a greater legacy to modern Cambridge than a few buried foundation stones: Michaelhouse's location and original buildings lent modern Trinity at least part of its present outline and allowed the continuation of St Michael's Lane (now Trinity Lane) as a public thoroughfare. Although the precise location of some of Michaelhouse's original properties are uncertain, there is sufficient documentary evidence available to allow speculation, particularly when taken in conjunction with early maps of Cambridge and the available - albeit scanty - archaeological evidence.