As Britain moves ever closer to the General Election, it is worth looking back on a time of ever so slightly more riotous politics at Cambridge University.
CCCC MS 106 contains a collection of documents pertaining to the sixteenth-century University, and one account, undated but likely from the 1540s, is entitled ‘A broyle upon the attempt of D. Glyn the Lawer for the election of a Vice-Chancellor contrary to the myndes and libertyes of the Regentre’.
The text is told from the point of view of one D. Glyn, and he begins, ‘Mr. Cwnerforth dyde laye violent hands upon the sete where I satt and Mr. Perne dyde pull me bakwarde by the hwde soo that yf the cheere had not beyn upholden by certain that stode bye thaye hade overthroyne hit ande me’.
Later, the gossip continues, as Glyn recounts:
‘Mr. Bambryk sayd at dinner the same daye or apon the mundaye or tuysday or at the lestwayes this wek last past, ‘I love Mr. Conerforth better then any regent in this towne for his doynges and yf he had gevyn D. Glyn a blow or tow he had servyd him well’’.
While this may appear to be an overreaction and a blockage to the democratic process, it is worth bearing in mind that the 1540s were a period of political and financial difficulties for the University. The previous decade had been one of upheaval as the new policies of Henry VIII forced the departure of monks and friars, who has been a key part of university life, and caused general inflation on the prices of basic goods. Money was tight, for example, in 1540–1, £30 had to be borrowed from various benefactions in order to cover the fees for bread and ale, and the university candelabra were pawned as security on these loans.
If nothing else, Glyn’s account underscores the perils of wearing an academic hood among enemies.