In the year 1360 the title of Doctor in Theology (then better known by the Latin word, magisterium) could only be obtained by Augustinians at Paris, Cambridge and Oxford.
A house in these cities was therefore of great importance to a religious order for a sound education in theology, especially for those who would then be appointed to teach the next generation of candidates to the Order. The English Augustinians were fortunate that two of these three universities were located in their province. The University in Oxford came as a natural growth, and was not founded by anyone in particular. At that time there were already important universities, notably at Bologna in Italy (1088) and in Paris (1150).
In Oxford public lectures were given by various scholars and, by the thirteenth century, these gradually became organised following the model of Paris. The first-know Regent of Oxford University was an Augustinian, William of Hegham O.S.A., in office from 8th June 1292 to 25th January 1293. Oxford soon became renowned for its legal studies and met the approval and support of both church and state. In the 13th century the university quickly attracted various religious orders. Within half a century the five mendicant orders followed each other to Oxford. These were the Dominicans (1221), Franciscans (1224), Carmelites (1256), Friars of the Sack (1260) and Augustinians (1267).
To the credit of the Augustinian Province of England, the placing of houses in Oxford (1267 or 1268) and Cambridge (before 1289) was a project of the local Augustinians in England, whereas the studium in Paris was a decision of the General Curia of the Order. The Augustinian foundation at Oxford in 1267 came on the heels of the establishment of the Augustinian Province of England in 1265. Records show that the earliest Augustinian foundation at Oxford (very briefly in 1267 and/or 1268) was “an obscure house neare the Publique sehooles”, at a precise location no longer known. It was hired by a small band of Augustinian brethren from Austin Friars in London; before long, however, they attracted the charity of rich benefactors and moved to a more permanent site in Oxford, as indicated hereunder.
As to English Augustinian houses, following London in importance was Oxford. It was a studium generale (Augustinian study house under the direction of the Augustinian Prior General) second only to the one in Paris and founded only ten years’ later. In 1283 Giles of Rome, the earliest master and greatest scholastic of the Order, received his doctor's biretta in Paris. Nine years later, in 1292, William of Hegham, the first known Augustinian doctor of Divinity at Oxford, was master regent at Oxford University. The briefness of the interval indicates a zeal for learning among the English Augustinians and shows vigorous enterprise, even though the English studium generale never produced a line of theologians to rival that begun by Giles at the French capital.
Records exist of the donation of two parcels of land to the Austin Friars in the Parish of St Peter outside the East Gate of Oxford in 1266-1267, but nothing eventuated there after, with the patronage of King Henry III, a friary was founded in 1268 outside the South Gate, at a site where Wadham College now stands. The brevity of this interval indicates the zeal that the Austin Friars had for learning, as well as their rigorous spirit of initiative. Places in the studium generale in Paris were strictly apportioned to all European Provinces; the Austin Friars thus obtained approval of the Order to be responsible for an additional studium generale in Oxford. This is not to discount the possibility, however, that King Henry III may have been persuaded to give permission for the Augustinian convento and studium generale in Oxford by his friend and supporter in Rome, Richard Annibaldi, the Cardinal Proctector of the Augustinians.
Later, in the last two decades of the century, the Cistercians and Benedictines also came to Oxford. Copies of sermons (homilies) preached by Augustinians at the University of Oxford in 1292 and 1293 still exist. Local tradition has it that Sir John Handloe of Borstall, Buckinghamshire, bought a piece of ground in Oxford for the Augustinians soon after 1266. His grant of land to the Augustinians was confirmed by King Henry III in 1268. King Henry III was a great friend of all the religious orders that were called mendicant. He has always been regarded as the founder of the Augustinian house at Oxford. In 1268 he gave some land to the Augustinians at Oxford for the construction of a chapel, and in 1270 some oak timber for their building, and a quarry to supply building stones.
(Later again, on 16th November 1316, license was given by King Edward II - on the throne 1307-1327 - to the Austin Friars at Oxford to work a designated plot forty feet square in the royal quarry within the forest of Shotover, so as to extract stone for use in their building works at Oxford.) King Henry III also induced some persons and forced some others into transactions that amalgamated parcels of land into a property of suitable size. A good indication of the extent and nature of this foundation from a decree in the papal registers signed by Pope Clement VI in the year 1350: "To the prior and Augustinians of St Cross, Oxford. confirmation of the properties and privileges of the priory, and the hall called 'Schipalle' and its gardens, with meadows, woods, pastures, waters, mills, and other Iiberties and immunities."
From various scattered references we learn that the friary was laid out in the form of a quadrangle. The convent chapel was built on the scale of a cathedral, the length of the choir being sixty paces (about 33 metres) and of the nave sixty-six paces (36 metres), while the building measured forty paces (22 metres) in width, the library was situated at the end of the dormitory, and Dugdale, who saw the catalogue, describes it as being "very well furnished with books." The Oxford house of the Augustinian friars has always been regarded as a foundation of King Henry III. He not only gave generously towards the construction of its buildings, but also enlisted the help of other leading men. He induced Bogo (Bevis) de Clare, brother of Clare's founder, to give some of his land to the Austin Friars. His son Edmund, the chancellor of the university, and the mayor of Oxford were among the witnesses to the earliest title deeds of the Order in Oxford.
The benefactors were all anxious to provide new facilities for the growing university, and the monastery lay so near to the main body of the schools that its buildings were regarded from the beginning as a part of the university plant. The Augustinian Church and Chapterhouse served as the university’s School of Divinity until the university erected its own building in 1480. The Faculty of Arts used the monastic refectory as its lecture hall, and in 1326 a law was passed by the University that no one could be promoted to academic degrees without responding at least once in this School of Arts; Oxford students therefore spoke of “doing the Austins,” an expression they retained in their vocabulary nearly to the end of the nineteenth century. Neither school was directed by the Order, although the Augustinian masters regent taught in the School of Divinity like other professors. The Austin Friars merely supplied the buildings and were remunerated for their use by the University. Their own students were, of course, taught in the monastery (schola interna, "internal school" in Latin), and only those selected for a postgraduate degree attended lectures on the outside.
The Augustinian land at Oxford eventually was about six acres, where Wadham College now stands. As well as the members of royality and nobility already mentioned above, further benefactors of the Austin Friars in Oxford were the executors of Queen Eleanor, who gave them four marks in 1291; John de Chastleton, illuminator, who in 1317 left a tenement in Cat Street to be sold and the money given to these friars that they might insert his name in their martyrology.
There was also John de Docklington in 1335 (20 shillings); John Bereford (mayor at the time of the riot on St Scholastica's Day), in 1361 (13s. 4d.); Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford in 1361 (£10); Richard de Garaford in 1395; Lady Eleanor de Sancto Amando in 1426 (£2); Robert Abdy, master of Balliol College in Oxford, in 1483 (20s.); John Claymond, president of Corpus Christi College at Oxford, in 1536 (20s.) From the nunnery of Godstow they received 3s. 4d. a year and a peck of oatmeal and one of peas in Lent; from Oseney, 4d (four pence) a week, and 5s (five shillings) at Christmas; from Durham College, 10shillings a year. They were not in receipt of an annual grant from the royal exchequer.
It is not presumed that the Augustinians at Oxford played a prominent part in the life of the University. Indeed, from the absence of any outstanding names during the Order’s first century in England, it can be presumed with some confidence that the Order had a quiet beginning at Oxford. The Franciscan and Dominican Orders were already well established there before the arrival of the Augustinians, and were a much stronger presence there. This had been greatly assisted by the choice of Oxford. The Augustinians found a faculty of theology well established, in which masters generally came from the laity, i.e., they were not members of religious orders or of priesthood.
(Continued on the next page.)