Cap and Gown

History: Universities, Colleges

Below is a short background review of the history of Colleges and Universities, Academic Regalia, Dress, and Origins of the various schools and timelines of such, all excerpted from:

History: Colleges and Universities, Academic Regalia, Dress, Origin, Schools, Timeline

The History of Academical Dress in Europe
Until the End of the Eighteenth Century
By Hargreaves-Mawdsley, W. N.
Oxford University Press 1963
Reprinted Greenwood Press, Inc.
Westport, Connecticut 1978

Origin of Universities

By the twelfth century there had emerged two outstanding seats of learning in Europe, Bologna and Paris. At the first the jurist Irnerius between 1116 and 1140 introduced the Corpus juris civilis to Europe, [1] and at the second a group of masters with the blessing of the Church occupied themselves with the liberal arts and theology. At Paris, by 1150, the theologians occupied the cathedral area and the masters and students of the liberal arts the left bank of the Seine.

The teachers in these two cities attracted audiences from all over Europe, and both teachers and students, in different ways in the two centres, formed voluntary associations for the purpose of organization and protection. These recognized groups in these two cities were known as studia, that is, schools of general repute, but elsewhere, in fact wherever a cathedral chapter had a school whose fame extended beyond its own locality, studia existed.[2]

Only the studia of Bologna and Paris, and a little later Oxford, reached the next stage in their development. As they grew in size and scope faculties were organized and officers appointed. The seal of their success was set upon them when they were recognized by the Holy See, for they were then accepted everywhere. They were, as studia generalia, free of the threat of royal or civic interference, or from the undue influence of the chancellor of the neighboring cathedral. Paris gained this distinction before Bologna, which the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa had in 1158 taken under his wing in opposition to the pope’s Paris. In this case the poiwer of the emperor was almost equal to the prestige of the pope, and under his patronage Bologna flourished as it never did again.[3] In the course of the thirteenth century the term universitas, a word used in Roman law for any kind of corporation,[4] supplanted that of stadium generale and acquired its modern sense of universitas litterarum.

The universities of Paris, famed for theology and the liberal arts and patronized by the papacy, and Bologna, notable for law and with a development under imperial auspices, were the models for the systems which were adopted by the other universities of Europe when they came into being. Paris, whose government was carried out by the masters, the masters constituting the university, was the prototype of the majority of the universities of northern Europe. Bologna, on the other hand, was rather a guild of students, who as a body possessed the supreme active power, while the professors formed themselves into a college of masters isolated from the students, and so outside the great university corporation which the students formed. This system was followed in general by the universities of southern Europe. The third great university of the Middle Ages was Oxford, which followed Paris. These three universities were the only ones founded ex consuetudine, that is they were already in existences as studia generalia in all but name when recognized by the pope. All the rest that followed were either founded by potentates and recognized in time by the papacy, or were founded by the papacy for the furtherance of its own influenced, and as their origin was ex privilegio they never enjoyed the same glory.

[1] In this section and in Section 5 on the occasions when no other reference is given I have relied on H. Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, ed. F.M. Powicke and A.B. Emden, 3 vols, 1933-5.
[2] There is a general account of the development of the schools of cathedral chapters in A.F. Leach, The schools of Medieval England, chap. Viii.
[3] C.H. Haskins, The Rise of Universities, as for instance on p. 13, deals with the rise of the studia generalia.
[4] F.K. von Savigny, Histoire du droit romain au moyen âge, iii. 295, § 154.

Return to Academic Apparel's History of Graduations main page.

Return to Academic Apparel's Main Graduation Gowns page.