As a child, I always dreaded going back to school. The summers were the best part of the year. Not only was my birthday in the summer, but that season was full of swimming at the pool, riding bikes, and playing with friends. I never wanted it to end, but of course, every year it did, and I headed back to school. I enjoyed school much more in college and grad school when I was able to study what I really loved – history – rather spending so much time on (to me) less interesting subjects.
I was curious as to what subjects some of my ancestors studied when they attended college. Not many attended, and fewer graduated, but I am proud that some thought higher education was important and took advantage of it if they had the means. So this post will explore some those ancestors’ experiences at university.
1. Sir William Petre (abt. 1505-1572) – William began studying law at Oxford University in 1519 and in 1523 he became a fellow of All Souls College at Oxford. He graduated with degrees in canon and civil law in 1526 and began practicing the town of Oxford. He was quite talented and was noticed by the Boleyns, Cromwell, and Cranmer. Through their influence and his hard work, he eventually served as Secretary of State to 4 Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. He built a beautiful Tudor home, Ingatestone Hall, in Essex and is buried in the local church. I am descended from him and his first wife, Gertrude Tyrrell, through his daughter Elizabeth.
Last year, I was fortunate to visit Ingatestone Hall. It was amazing to walk the halls and stand in the rooms where my ancestors lived. The Hall is in remarkable shape, barely altered since the Tudor era.
This spring, I was back in England, and my husband and I visited Oxford for the first time. We made sure to stop by a few places at the College that had a connection with William. These included All Souls College and Chapel.
2. Sir William Gostwick, Baronet and Knight (1565-1615) – William was the son of Elizabeth Petre and John Gostwick and grandson of Sir William Petre. He matriculated as a fellow-commoner at Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1582 probably to study law. A fellow-commoner was a student who had wealth, paid double the tuition, and enjoyed many privileges but was not a nobleman. Although William attended, there is no record of him graduating. He married Jane Owen, who boasted a more impressive pedigree than his. Her great grandfather was Robert Radcliffe, 1st Earl of Sussex. Her great-great grandparents were Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Catherine Woodville, sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville wife of Edward IV. The Staffords were descendants of Edward III and had a good claim to the throne. Jane’s father was also a descendant of Owen Tudor, grandfather of Henry VII.
3. Sir Edward Gostwick (d. 1630) – Edward was the son of Sir William and Dame Jane Gostwick. He matriculated in 1606 at Christ’s College, Cambridge as a fellow-commoner, but there is no record of him graduating, just like his father. It is also probable that he studied law as well. Edward married Anne Wentworth, daughter of John Wentworth and Cecilia Unton a few years earlier. He was knighted in 1607 at Whitehall Palace, London, and in 1612, he succeeded to the baronetcy upon the death of his father.
4. Nicholas Spencer, Esq. (1573-1626) – Nicholas was the son of Robert Spencer and Rose Cokayne of Cople, Bedfordshire. When he was 16 years old, he entered the Magdalene College at Cambridge. He was likely a fellow-commoner as well, as although his family was well-off, they were not nobility. Interestingly, Nicholas’s daughter-in-law, Mary Gostwick’s 4th great grandfather Henry Stafford Duke of Buckingham was a patron of the college, and for over 100 years, Magdalene College was called Buckingham College. (12th great grandfather)
5. Nicholas Spencer, Esq. (1611-1643) – Nicholas Spencer was the son of Nicholas and Mary Spencer. Like his father, he also attended Cambridge. He matriculated at Queen’s College in 1628 to study law. The college was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou. A year later, he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in London to continue his studies. Lincoln’s Inn is one of the 4 Inns of the Court where barristers trained and practiced law. It is still in existence today and is one of the most respected professional bodies in the world. However, he never went to the bar, which was fairly common. Many young men entered the Inns for the purpose of connections rather than seriously studying law. Education was very important to Nicholas, and he saw to it that his sons received it. In his will, he instructed that his oldest son William be educated at the grammar school, then sent to university, and then to go to the Inns of Court. His second son, Nicholas was also to receive an education at the grammar school and then sent to university. However, it seems that his younger son, Nicholas, never attended university as his father wished.
Although 4 of the 5 of the above ancestors did not actually graduate, they used the education they received and the connections they made during that period of their lives to better themselves and their families.