St John's College, Cambridge

St John's College
University of Cambridge
Cambridge - St John College - New Court.jpg
View over the rear buildings from the Backs
Johns coat of arms.png
Arms of St John's College, being the arms of the foundress Lady Margaret Beaufort
Arms: Royal arms of England a bordure componée azure and argent
LocationSt John's Street (map)
Full nameThe College of St John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge
MottoSouvent me Souvient (Old French; motto of the foundress Lady Margaret Beaufort)
Motto in EnglishI often remember
FounderLady Margaret Beaufort
Established1511; 510 years ago (1511)
Named afterThe Hospital of St John the Evangelist
Sister colleges
MasterHeather Hancock, from October 2020
Undergraduates658 (2019-20)
Postgraduates319 (2019-20)
Endowment£619.6m (2019)[2]
St John's College, Cambridge is located in Central Cambridge
St John's College, Cambridge
Location in Central Cambridge
St John's College, Cambridge is located in Cambridge
St John's College, Cambridge
Location in Cambridge

St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge (the full, formal name of the college is the College of St John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge[3]) founded by the Tudor matriarch Lady Margaret Beaufort. In constitutional terms, the college is a charitable corporation established by a charter dated 9 April 1511. The aims of the college, as specified by its statutes, are the promotion of education, religion, learning and research.[4] It is one of the larger Oxbridge colleges in terms of student numbers. For 2018, St. John's was ranked 9th of 29 colleges in the Tompkins Table (the annual league table of Cambridge colleges) with over 30 per cent of its students earning first-class honours.[5]

The college's alumni comprise the winners of 12 Nobel Prizes (including physicists Paul Dirac, Roger Penrose and Max Born, the latter having been affiliated with the college in the 1930s), seven prime ministers and 12 archbishops of various countries, at least two princes and three saints.[6][7] The Romantic poet William Wordsworth studied at St John's, as did William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, the two abolitionists who led the movement that brought slavery to an end in the British Empire. Prince William was affiliated with the college while undertaking a university-run course in estate management in 2014.[8]

St John's is well known for its choir, its members' success in a wide variety of inter-collegiate sporting competitions and its annual May Ball. The Cambridge Apostles and the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club were both founded by members of the college. The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race tradition furthermore began with a St John's student and the college boat club, Lady Margaret Boat Club, is the oldest in the university. In 2011, the college celebrated its quincentenary, an event marked by a visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.[9]


Engraving of St John's College, David Loggan, c. 1685

The site was originally occupied by the Hospital of St John the Evangelist, probably founded around 1200.[10] The hospital infirmary was located where the east end of the current chapel now stands.[11] By 1470 Thomas Rotherham Chancellor of the university, extended to the hospital the privileges of membership of the university.[10] This led to St. John's House, as it was then known, being conferred the status of a college.[12] By the early 16th century the hospital was dilapidated and suffering from a lack of funds. Lady Margaret Beaufort, having endowed Christ's College sought to found a new college, and chose the hospital site at the suggestion of John Fisher, her chaplain and Bishop of Rochester.[10] However, Lady Margaret died without having mentioned the foundation of St John's in her will, and it was largely the work of Fisher that ensured that the college was founded. He had to obtain the approval of King Henry VIII of England, the Pope through the intermediary Polydore Vergil, and the Bishop of Ely to suppress the religious hospital, by which time held only a Master and three Augustinian brethren, and convert it to a college.

The college received its charter on 9 April 1511. Further complications arose in obtaining money from the estate of Lady Margaret to pay for the foundation and it was not until 22 October 1512 that a codicil was obtained in the court of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In November 1512 the Court of Chancery allowed Lady Margaret's executors to pay for the foundation of the college from her estates. When Lady Margaret's executors took over they found most of the old Hospital buildings beyond repair, but repaired and incorporated the Chapel into the new college. A kitchen and hall were added, and an imposing gate tower was constructed for the College Treasury. The doors were to be closed each day at dusk, sealing the monastic community from the outside world.

Over the course of the following five hundred years, the college expanded westwards towards the River Cam, and now has twelve courts, the most of any Oxford or Cambridge College. The first three courts are arranged in enfilade.

The college has retained its relationship with Shrewsbury School since 1578, when the headmaster Thomas Ashton assisted in drawing up ordinances to govern the school. Under these rulings, the borough bailiffs (mayors after 1638) had power to appoint masters, along with Ashton's old college, St John's, having an academic veto. Since then, the appointment of Johnian academics to the Governing Body, and the historic awarding of 'closed' Shrewsbury Exhibitions, has continued. The most recent Master of St. John's, the late Chris Dobson, was an ex officio Governor of Shrewsbury from 2007.[13]

St John's College first admitted women in October 1981, when K. M. Wheeler was admitted to the fellowship, along with nine female graduate students. The first women undergraduates arrived a year later.[14]