THE VIEW FROM MERTON COLLEGE, OXFORD
Pecham at Merton
On 4 June 1280 in Hampton in Arden, John Pecham was irritated with the fellows of Merton College. They had appealed to Pecham as their visitor to modify certain aspects of their founding statutes, last revised by Walter of Merton, Bishop of Rochester, three years before his death in 1277. Walter had been a faithful but adaptable royalist during the Barons’ War, and Chancellor for the second time when his final revisions to Merton’s statutes were issued. By the 1270 statutes it was clear that politically speaking Merton would be on the winning side.11 He was more than aware that the stability following the civil war was a precondition for a secure foundation, since he said as much at the start of his last statutes.12 Pecham thought changing them no light matter. Merton had been founded as a cure for ‘study’s sickening’ by a man ‘most prudent in scholastic discipline’. Given his prudence and the care he had taken in drafting its statutes, Pecham was reluctant to diverge from them. On the contrary, beneficiaries seeking so to improve the rules—to what purpose?—risked being thought both shameless and thankless.13
Instead the scholars should be quietly grateful for the statutes’ existing provisions, not clamouring for improvements. They should stop bothering themselves (and Pecham).
We encourage you in the Lord and strictly order you as you wish to take consolation in our protection, that you conform your life, behaviour and studies in all things to the sacred rulings of your aforementioned founder, and do not concern yourselves with the goods of the manors except as how he himself expressly determined, knowing for certain that if you should do otherwise, certainly setting yourself up to incur the indignation of the Most High, you will weigh down the solicitude of our humble self most heavily, we who are prepared to devote our energies to you, if you will only yearn to live in peaceful and upright study; under heaven, we do not expect anything further from you.14
He wanted no more partisan dissent (dissensio partialis), nor factional in-fighting (patriae sectio). Pecham sought to redirect the scholars back to their collective purpose: ‘since you fight for Christ the Lord we entreat you to stand together, deployed in scholarly battle-lines, under your commander’. In these matters, Pecham placed much weight on the scholars’ obligations towards this leader, the college’s custos or warden, Peter of Abingdon.‘Furthermore you should obey your commander in all right and proper things, lest, feeling he works for ingrates, he be weighed down by depression and pursue your interests less energetically. On that basis you should give him a little support, because your most prudent founder commended you and your goods to his labours.’ Pecham left the scholars with a clear threat: shut up and get back to your books lest ‘with drawn sword we are forced to scourge [your] disobedience with terrible wounds’.15
Four years later the sword was drawn and the scholars scourged. In 1284 Pecham visited Merton, probably twice.16 The second visit provoked his ‘injunctions’: an extensive, itemized gloss on the 1274 statutes that comprised mainly swingeing of Merton College, Oxford (Oxford, 1997), 50—2, 69—70; G. H. Martin, ‘Merton, Walter of (c.1205— 1277)’, ODNB.
- 11 I am grateful to Roger Highfield for stressing this to me.
- 12 Merton Muniments, #6 at 21 ll. 3^; Martin, ‘Merton, Walter of (c.1205—1277)’.
- 13 Reg. Peckham, i. #106 at 123. 14 Reg. Peckham, i. #106 at 123—4.
- 15 Reg. Peckham, i. #106 at 124.
- 16 The 31 August 1284 Lambeth letter to the fellows was undoubtedly the result of a personal visit. In it Pecham withdraws an earlier concession of wood and straw/chaff granted during a recent (dudum) visit: Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 814.
criticisms of the scholars:17 ‘So that you may more easily see your defects and reform them more clearly by rule, that rule we have broken down by chapters and send it to you separated with rubrics’ (seemingly now lost).18 Here is the utile serving the honestum. As Merton’s ex officio protector (patronatus), Pecham held the college to account and did not mince his words:
Turning our weak eyes to you, a distinguished portion of the English clergy, and provoked by the prick of fear and the spark of love, we have decided to correct certain things that we have heard about you, lest little by little the salutary design of the aforesaid man should gradually evaporate because of our negligence, and also lest it come about that you, by transgressing your rule—to the maintenance of which you know you are bound by the bond of an oath, as is clear from chapter 23 of the rule—should in the future be barred as perjured and infamous from the ecclesiastical promotion and honours to which the pious wish of your aforesaid father wanted to promote you.19
Using the 1274 statutes to audit the house (its common name), Pecham worked through the statutes roughly in order. There was a pattern to his order of criticism: intellectual egoism; physical self-indulgence; corruption of charitable principles; and offences against hierarchy.
As examples of intellectual egoism the Archbishop cited the admission of medical students, unmentioned in the statutes.20 Too many scholars, furthermore, were taking canon and civil law. Although permitted, they did so not ‘humbly’, but rather ‘presumptuously’ choosing this course of study themselves.21 Knowledge of Latin was also decaying, the relevant provisions going unheeded.22
These intellectual abuses merged with exhibitions of physical self-indulgence. Canonical hours were ‘barely kept’; prayers for benefactors were not made;23 mealtimes
!7 The edition in Statutes of the Colleges of Oxford: With Royal Patents of Foundation, Injunctions of Visitors, ed. E. A. Bond, 3 vols. (London, 1853), i. Merton, 40—5 (documents are separately paginated by college), unlike Martin’s Rolls edition, edits Pecham’s letter into numbered chapters. There is some palaeographical basis for this. Bond enumerated his text on the basis of the full points and upright lines punctuating Lambeth Palace Library MS Reg. Pecham, fos. 236v—7v, and included the marginal comments which may be only slightly later. Bond’s edited version is nevertheless more ‘user-friendly’ than the MS—it lacks his chapter numbers. There are no such equivalents in the other version, All Souls Oxford MS 182, fos.178r—180r (= new foliation 181r—3r). Bond’s edition was a product of the 1850 Royal Commission into Oxford and Cambridge. Where critical editions do not exist I have relied on him. The Cambridge equivalent is Documents Relating to the University and Colleges of Cambridge, 3 vols. (London, 1852).
- 18 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 812. The original copy of the 1274 statutes (Merton College Record 232) is unnumbered and offers no grounds for distinguishing particular ‘chapters’ (reproduced in Merton Muniments between 22 and 23). It is possible, up to a point, sensibly to project Pecham’s numbering onto ‘natural’ changes in topic within the 1274 statutes. Martin offered one such reconciliation at Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 818 n. 1. Merton must have received a numbered and rubricated version of the 1274 statute from Pecham, corresponding with his letter. Pecham clearly wanted something as navigable as—in different ways—Bodley Barlow MS 49’s regule compoti (see p. 70, n. 243) or Lambeth Palace MS 1415, Stephen Langtons Pentateuch commentary.
- 19 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 812. 20 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 812.
- 21 Reg Peckham, iii. #589 at 812—13, re Merton Muniments, #6 at 21 l. 9. Line numbers are those of the 1274 statutes in Merton College Record 232.
- 22 Reg Peckham, iii. #589 at 813, re Merton Muniments, #6 at 21 l. 10.
- 23 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 815, re Merton Muniments, #6 at 22 ll. 21—3; 23 ll. 51—2.
In turn these seeped into a deeper undermining of the college’s purposes. Walter’s golden rule was being ignored, whereby the number of scholars at Merton was a function of the total that its assets could support at 50s. each per annum.12 Indigence did not appear to be the criterion for admission that Pecham thought it should, neither did being a relation of Walter of Merton, nor coming from the dioceses of Winchester or Canterbury—all criteria from 1224. Furthermore those who gained benefices did not lose their scholarships, as the statutes envisaged. What was utile (for the scholars) was trumping, in Pecham’s view, what was honestum for the college. ‘Who, whom?’ was again a pressing question.
Underpinning all these faults Pecham perceived a general contempt for hierarchy, office, and sworn undertakings. The scholars are ‘perjured and disobedient’. In addition to their infringements or misinterpretations of the statutes, Pecham refers to a broken oath taken by members. The scholars act ‘on private arrogance, spurning their superior’s judgement’, they are ‘presumptuous and lacking in true humility’. They have ‘twisted the line of the rule [here the ‘50s. ratio’] and what is worse opted out of the commandments of charity and gratitude’.33 With respect to the warden, Peter of Abingdon, Pecham had understood with no little astonishment that furthermore you [the scholars] will not admit the master [Peter] to hear the customary weekly accounts, nor anyone in his place who is able to be present at the accounting, although it is through him that whatever may be surplus or deductible from absentees ought to be converted to the good of the house, and in spite of his being in charge of all things and persons. For such an exclusion of a president can have no other reason other than that light is hateful to evildoers.        
Pecham had likewise heard that with the fellows’ connivance, the brewer, butler, and ‘other servants of your community’ would not obey the Warden, nor would the scholars ‘help the Master to correct wrongdoers’. Given these offences to the Warden’s standing, Pecham was even obliged to state what should have been obvious, that ‘everyone whether within and without, greater or lesser is obliged to obey the master following the rule’.36
The ultimate outcomes of all this are only partly clear. We can tell the provisions against studying medicine were never effective.37 The desire to increase the fellowship would, however, be met, although it remained a longstanding issue.38 Furthermore, Peter of Abingdon did indeed resign the wardenship, as we shall see.39 What can be learnt from this history with respect to collegial accountability?
-  Merton made several iterations: a lost ordinatio (c.?1262^), and extant revisions of 1264,1270, and lastly 1274. For reference to the lost ordinatio and the text of earlier charters see MertonMuniments, ed. P. S. Allen, H. W. Garrod, OHS 86 (Oxford, 1929), 8-9. Later iterations: MertonMuniments, #2 (1264), #6 (1274); The Early Rolls of Merton College Oxford, ed. J. R. L. Highfield,OHS ns 18 (Oxford, 1964), App., #2 at 378-91 (1270).
-  The scholars’ letter does not appear to be extant. On Pecham at Merton: Douie ArchbishopPecham, 273-80; Highfield, ‘Early Colleges’, 260-3; G. H. Martin and J. R. L. Highfield, A History
-  Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 815—16.
-  Reg Peckham, iii. #589 at 815, re Merton Muniments, #6 at 21—2 ll. 12—14.
-  26 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 814.
-  27 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 813—14, re Merton Muniments, #6 at 21 ll. 11—12; 24 ll. 65—22.A weaker variant is in Balliol’s 1340 statutes: The Oxford Deeds of Balliol, ed. H. E. Salter, OHS64 (1913), #521 at 296—2. University College’s c.1280 ‘statutes’ offer a further version, ‘Pecuniamvero collectam nulli liceat ad usus alios deputare, nisi ad illum qui fuerat de ultima voluntate tes-tatoris; quam cito vero plures redditus empti fuerint augeatur [corr. angeatur] numerus et exhibi-tio Magistrorum’, Munimenta Academica, or, Documents Illustrative of Academical Life and Studies atOxford, ed. Henry Anstey, RS, 2 vols. (London, 1868), ii. 280—3 at 282. Also, The Register of Walterde Stapeldon, Bishop of Exeter (a.d. 1307—1326), ed. F. C. Hingeston-Randolph (London, 1892), 302(Stapeldon Hall/Exeter College, 1316).
-  28 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 816—12 re Merton Muniments, #6 at 22 ll. 25—8.
-  Reg Peckham, iii. #589 at 812 re Merton Muniments, #6 at 22 ll. 29—30. On collegial fellowshipas a benefice that a real benefice should displace see Nathalie Gorochov, ‘La Notion de pauvrete dansles statuts de colleges fondes a Paris de Louis IX a Philippe le Bel’, in Jean Dufour and Henri Platelle(eds.), Fondations et oeuvres charitables au Moyen Age (Paris, 1999), 119—28.
-  Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 814.
-  Scholars had to swear to the statutes (Merton Muniments, #6 at 23 ll. 50—1). Pecham refers toa separate oath (he again cites/gives numbers). He says there were nine headings to this (‘contra pro-prium juramentum, sicut patet ex quarto articulo illorum ix, quos servaturos se jurant singuli ingres-suri’), Reg Peckham, iii. #589 at 812. See also 812 (‘juramenti vos novistis astrictos’); 814 (‘contraproprium juramentum, sicut patet ex articulorum septimo quos jurastis’). Pecham distinguishes thissmaller juramentum from the set of statutes to which scholars have also sworn e.g. 815 (‘sextodecimocapitulo regulae quam jurastis’). A fifteenth-century oath is known: George C. Brodrick, Memorialsof Merton College, OHS 4 (Oxford, 1885), 29. The Sorbonne had an oath distinct from its statutes:Palemon Glorieux, Aux origines de la Sorbonne, i. Robert de Sorbon, ii. Le Cartulaire, 2 vols. (Paris,1965—6), i. #4 at 203 (1280—90). For a Nation’s oath see e.g. Statuta Nationis Germanicae UniversitatisBononiae (1292—1750), ed. Paolo Colliva, Acta Germania 1 (Bologna, 1925), #16 at 102 (1345—8).
-  Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 813. 33 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 813.
-  Weekly accountings are not specified by the 1274 statutes. Merton’s previous visitor, ArchbishopKilwardby, had visited in 1276 giving a set of ordinationes which refer to weekly doles. MertonCollege: Injunctions of Archbishop Kilwardby, 1276, ed. H. W. Garrod (Oxford, 1929), 11.
-  Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 814.
-  36 Reg. Peckham, iii. #589 at 818, similar sentiments to the latter also at 815.
-  Aston, ‘Oxford’s Medieval Alumni’, 16; Highfield. ‘Early Colleges’, 245.
-  38 Martin and Highfield, History of Merton, 43 n. 7: 57 cumulative members before 1281, 136 by1299.
-  39 Early Rolls of Merton, 70—1; Brodrick, Memorials of Merton College, 153—4.
-  4° See Highfield’s description of the 1264 statutes (Early Rolls of Merton, App., #1 at 377—8).
-  41 Merton Muniments, #2 at 17 l. 45. ‘Statuo’ is used (15 l. 5) with ‘fundo et stabilio’, also ‘inuingo’(17 l. 40). For conveyancing: ‘do, assigno, et concedo’ (15 ll. 2—3). For discussion of such language atthe Sorbonne, see John Sabapathy, ‘Regulating Community and Society at the Sorbonne in the LateThirteenth Century’, in Fernanda Pirie and Judith Scheele (eds.), Legalism: Community and Justice(Oxford, forthcoming 2014).
-  42 Early Rolls of Merton, App., #2, caps. 1, 2, 45. Societas is also used (e.g. cap. 5), congregatio (e.g.cap. 34).
-  Merton Muniments, #6 at 21 l. 7; 26 l. 97, where lex is used alongside statutum. Other verbs: 21ll. 3-6.