24 Nov 2016

[I] Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and its Trilingual Library

The first part of the exhibition introduces Richard Fox (d.1528), Bishop of Winchester and Founder of Corpus Christi College, Oxford: the exhibition will include a large reproduction of his portrait (no.1, above), as well as an earlier woodcut representation of him when Bishop of Durham (no.2), his crozier (no.3) and one of his ablution basins (no.4), commissioned by him as Bishop of Winchester. These will each be the subject of future blog-posts.

Richard Fox (sometimes spelled Foxe, as on Wikipedia) was born about 1447/8, and may have been educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and Pembroke College, Cambridge; he was ordained in 1477. He apparently went on to further education at Louvain, and Paris, where he entered the service of the exiled Henry Tudor in January 1485, as his secretary. Civil and ecclesiastical promotions soon followed: he became Keeper of the Privy Seal and Bishop of Exeter (1487); Bishop of Bath and Wells (1492); at the death of John Shirwood, Bishop of Durham (1494); and Bishop of Winchester (1501). Winchester was the richest see in England, with in income of about £4,000 per year, and thus worth even more than Canterbury. Fox remained Keeper of the Privy Seal after Henry VII’s death, becoming one of Henry VIII’s most trusted councillors; he was also a patron of buildings, arts, and scholars.

As Bishop of Winchester Fox became increasingly involved with Oxford, including the revision of the statutes of Balliol College in 1507. In 1511 he acquired land in Oxford with the intention of founding a college for Winchester monks, and building began in 1513, but by 1516 he had changed his mind, and in 1517 Corpus Christi College was founded for a President, twenty Fellows, and twenty Scholars. The intention was to train students for the secular priesthood, through literature and theology, the latter based on the works of the early Church Fathers rather than their “inferior” medieval successors. Fox’s statutes stipulated the curriculum, with Latin authors taught at 8am, Greek authors at 10am, and theology in the afternoon.

Latin was the traditional language of scholarship, but Fox intended his new College to be a centre of the “New Learning” that promoted Renaissance ideals, including the study of Classical and other texts in their original languages; for the Bible this meant Hebrew and Greek. The importance attached to Greek and Hebrew will be addressed in later blog posts.

Fox was blind by 1522 and died in 1528, aged about 80; his magnificent chantry chapel and tomb effigy can still be seen in Winchester cathedral:

Further Reading

C.S.L. Davies, “Fox, Richard (1447/8–1528)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [online edn. (requires subscription), Sept. 2010: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10051]

Barrie Dobson, “Two Ecclesiastical Patrons: Archbishop Henry Chichele of Canterbury (1414-43) and Bishop Richard Fox of Winchester (1501-28”, Gothic: Art for England, 1400-1547, ed. by R. Marks and P. Williamson, exhibition catalogue, V&A Museum (London, 2003), p.241 no.104.

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