University of Northampton (13th century)

The University of Northampton was based in Northampton, England, from 1261 to 1265.

University of Northampton
Northampton UK locator map.svg
Map of medieval universities

The university was established by royal charter after approval from King Henry III in 1261.[1] It was the third university in England, after Oxford and Cambridge, and the 22nd in Europe. After being advised by bishops and magnates that Northampton was a threat to Oxford, Henry III dissolved the university in 1265, and signed a Royal Decree that banned the establishment of a university in Northampton.

In 2005 the decree was repealed by the Privy Council, allowing the then University College Northampton (founded in 1924) to gain university status and become the University of Northampton.[citation needed]



Northampton was, in the 13th century, a far more important town than is evident today, so it is not particularly surprising that a university was established there. The town was also, briefly, the King's seat.[2]

The University of Northampton was founded in the reign of King Richard I as a school. Richard patronised the institution and, according to at least one historian, between 1176 and 1193 the school at Northampton ‘rivalled or even eclipsed the Oxford schools’.[3] The school lost a powerful supporter with the death of King Richard. However, it still enjoyed the patronage of Simon de Montfort[4] through the reign of King John and his son Henry III.


The existence of the university was brief. Four years after it was established, during the siege of Northampton, the scholars resisted the entry of the King's forces, which resulted in Henry III revoking the town's licence to have a university.[5]

Some sources suggest an alternative motive for the closure of the university. As one writer put it

an interesting proclamation from Henry III suggests a more parochial and self-interested reason for the folding of the town’s 13th century university. On 1 February 1265, Henry wrote to the mayors and burgesses of Northampton:[6]

We, believing at the time that town would be benefited by this, and that no small benefit would accrue to us therefrom, assented at their request [to establish a university in 1261] . But now as we are truly informed by the statements of many trustworthy persons that our borough of Oxford, which is of ancient foundation, and was confirmed by our ancestors kings of England, and is commonly commended for its advantage to students, would suffer no little damage from such University, if it remained there, which we by no means wish, and especially as it appears to all the bishops of our realm, as we learn from their letters patent, that it would be for the honour of God, and the benefit of the Church of England , and the advancement of students that the University should be removed from the town aforesaid; we by the advice of our great men, firmly order that there shall henceforth be no University in our said town, and that you shall not allow any students to remain there otherwise than was customary before the creation of the said University.[7]

This suggests that academic rivalry played a part in the King's decision as evidenced by the advice he received from professors at Oxford on the matter.

Modern University of NorthamptonEdit

The university's name was revived in 2005 when the then University College Northampton, itself an amalgam of earlier institutions, was upgraded to full university status and renamed the University of Northampton. Other than the name and the location in the town, there is no link between the medieval university and the modern university.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Reading, a city dreaming of spires". Times Higher Education. 3 May 1996. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  2. ^ Andrew, Martin (2002). Northampton. The Francis Frith Collection.
  3. ^ Cobban, Alan B. (1975). The Medieval Universities: Their Development and Organization. Methuen.
  4. ^ Maddicott, J. R. (1996). Simon de Montfort. Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ Cobban, Alan B. (1988). The Medieval English Universities: Oxford and Cambridge to c. 1500. Scolar Press.
  6. ^ Gray, Drew (17 April 2013). "It should have been us! Northampton University's very long history". University of Northampton. Archived from the original on 20 April 2013.
  7. ^ Leach, Arthur F (1911). Educational Charters and Documents: 598-1909. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 163.

External linksEdit