This post is a digital version of Balliol’s exhibition from spring 2019. Entitled ‘Balliol in Europe, Europe in Balliol’, it examined the relationship between Balliol College and the continent over the College’s seven centuries.
This exhibition is about Balliol’s relationship with Europe. Balliol’s own foundation is essentially European. The College’s founder, John de Balliol, came from a French family, enriched by French lands. The very fabric of the College incorporated European materials. European students, from kings to refugees, have made it their home for centuries. Balliol graduates have travelled the Continent as tourists, diplomats and ambassadors, and shaped foreign policy at home. Balliol members and their families lived through and influenced significant European events and movements. Perhaps even more fundamentally, the movement of people, ideas, and materials has been crucial throughout Balliol’s history. This exhibition therefore explores how ideas about, of and from Europe have shaped not only the College’s history, but its Historic Collections, from medieval manuscripts commissioned in Europe by an English bishop, and anti-Protestant propaganda smuggled in from abroad, to maps, drawings and diplomatic communiques. We’ll look at how the collections embody the curiosity, sense of duty, tension, strife, and collaboration that have exemplified Balliol’s ever-changing relationship with Europe—and ever-changing ideas of what Europe is and what it means to be European.
European Roots: ‘The Ancient Castle of the Family of Balliol’
The Balliol family possessed extensive lands in England and France. They originated in Picardy, taking their name from Bailleul-en-Vimeu. No superstructure of the original castle survives, but earthworks may still be seen in the woods of a nearby estate. The College participated in an expedition to survey and study the site in 1923-1925.
Balliol Archives. Misc. 95.2A
European Fabric: Balliol in 1675, by David Loggan
Shortly after this engraving was published, the College embarked on a major improvement project for its Chapel. A fundraising appeal attracted about £250 from Old Members. The College Benefactions Book shows that this helped pay for a new ceiling of oak imported from Flanders, with painted beams.
Balliol Library. 30 g 62
European Students: The Kings of Norway at Balliol
Balliol has attracted foreign students for centuries, promoting the international exchange of ideas and fostering enduring links of friendship and shared identity worldwide. The relationship between Balliol and the royal house of Norway is unique, having endured for nearly a century. King Haakon wished his son, Crown Prince Olav, to attend Balliol in the 1920s. The King admired Balliol’s ‘reputation as a working college … because there must be a very definite understanding that the Prince is being sent to an English University to work’. Haakon was aware of Balliol’s left-leaning reputation, admitting that ‘perhaps the boys got very socialistic ideas there’, but even the election of the Labour-supporting A.D. Lindsay as Master did not deter the King. For his part, Prince Olav came to hold Lindsay in high regard. The Prince, later HM King Olav V, resided at Balliol 1924-1926, becoming an Honorary Fellow in 1937. Olav’s son, now HM King Harald V of Norway, followed in his father’s footsteps, attending Balliol 1960-1962, and becoming an Honorary Fellow in 1983.
Ideas of Europe: ‘It Begins with a Myth’
In Greek mythology, Europa was the daughter of the King of Tyre, a city in modern day Lebanon. She was abducted by the god Zeus in the form of a bull, and carried off to Crete where she bore him three children on the continent which bears her name. To what exactly she lent her name has changed a lot throughout history. For the ancient Greeks, Europe denoted Hellas, the lands around the Aegean Sea. Under the Romans the name was given to a province in Thrace, incorporating parts of modern Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. For the Greeks and their Roman successors, ‘Europeans’ were the peoples of the Mediterranean. The people to the north were considered barbarians, brave but unthinking. Those in Asia were deemed intellectually equal but subject to despotic leaders. These ideas had a profound influence on visions of the continent into the modern period.
George Sandys. Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished. London, 1640.
Europa’s abduction is recounted by Roman poet Ovid in Book II of the Metamorphoses, an epic poem chronicling the history of the world from creation to the death of Julius Caesar. George Sandys’ loose English translation was originally published in 1626. Balliol’s copy is a later, more elaborate edition which includes the engravings of Francis Cleyn and Salomon Savery, and Sandys’ extensive commentaries and anecdotes, expressing his concerns about the growing friction between King Charles I and Parliament.
Sandys had previously made his name with his influential travelogue, A Relation of a Journey Begun an. Dom. 1610 (1615), recounting the author’s adventures through Europe into the Levant. After passing through Europe, he describes his arrival in Constantinople where he was impressed by the moderate and tolerant nature of the Ottomans. In his description of the Ottoman Empire, Sandys makes one of the first references to coffee in English. Diarist John Evelyn (Balliol 1637) claimed coffee was introduced to England by the Cretan refugee Nicolas Konopios (Balliol c.1639): ‘He was the first I saw ever drink Coffè, which custom came not into England til 30 years later.’
Balliol Library. 645 b 11
Somerset de Chair. The Impending Storm. London, 1930.
Europa is commonly used as a symbol of victimhood, particularly for satirical effect. The illustration on the cover of Balliol alumnus Somerset De Chair’s book shows an uncertain Europa who has just realised her God-bull has turned out to be a rubber cow. The cow in question is the League of Nations, an organisation created after the First World War to resolve international disputes. Its failure to fulfil these pacifist aims is one of the many contemporary political problems discussed by de Chair in his book The Impending Storm, which anticipated the Second World War nine years before its outbreak. De Chair demonstrated his prescience again in Divided Europe, published a year later, which predicted the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
Balliol Library. 1 c 111
From Victim to Queen
Sebastian Munster. Cosmographia. Basel, 1572.
Munster’s map of Europe is closer to our conception of the continent than that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Yet there are striking differences: it is orientated south and much of the north seems to be missing. The Cosmographia is a six-volume encyclopaedia of European knowledge, first published in Germany in 1544 during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The map of Europe shows Spain at the head and Bohemia at the centre, both ruled by Charles. Balliol’s copy is a Latin edition from 1572 and was donated by John Malet (Balliol 1588).
The boundaries of Charles V’s empire extended across the ocean to the Americas. For Europeans this consolidated their belief in the continent’s exceptionalism, and was embodied in the Europa Regina. a map first printed in 1537 which reconfigured Europe as queen. It appeared in all copies of the Cosmographia after 1588. It depicts Europa with the Habsburg orb and crown looking down on Asia at her feet. Surrounded by water in an allusion to Zeus’ consort Europa, she connects the rise of 16th-century Europe to her roots in classical antiquity.
Balliol Library. 575 e 8
Ideas of Europe: Christendom
What remained of the cultural networks created by the Roman Empire were maintained by the Christian Church after the imperial retreat from Western Europe. Spiritual primacy over the Empire had been granted to the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) in the 5th century after the Empire’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th century. Later re-alignments of power, however, caused the Papacy to seek protection against the Lombard kingdoms from the Empire’s Frankish successor state in the north, rather than its continuation, the Byzantine Empire, controlled from Constantinople (Istanbul). This led to a schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Pope claimed spiritual authority over much of Central and Western Europe and this crystallized in the notion of a shared ‘Christendom’.
The rapid expansion and continuing dominance of Islamic powers around much of the Mediterranean from the 7th to 18th centuries, weakening and eventually eliminating the Byzantines, further consolidated this identification. The idea of Europe as ‘Christendom’ formed the backdrop to the foundation and early history of Balliol, and would have shaped much of its intellectual life.
Vulgate Bible. 13th Century. Opening to Genesis with illumination depicting the Creation of the World
If one text underlay the unity of Christianity in Europe it was the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible made by Saint Jerome in the 4th century. It quickly became the standard Latin Bible, and its ubiquity is demonstrated by the existence of numerous copies in Balliol’s collections, dating from several different centuries. There are three medieval copies amongst the manuscripts, and several printed versions. The image on the right is from the beginning of Genesis and shows a schematic illumination of the creation story and the ultimate redemption of the world through Christ’s suffering. It dates to the 13th century but later versions include one of the College’s earliest printed books of 1481, and a version authorised by the Catholic Church from 1650.
Balliol Manuscript. Ms 2
‘We Went Out Full … But Return Empty’
Thomas Fuller. The Historie of the Holy Warre. 4th edition. London, 1651.
The frontispiece to the first modern history of the crusades could be read as a diagram of the embattled mindset of European Christendom which persisted into the 17th century. It shows the armies of ‘Europe’, ‘promiscuously blended’ in terms of language, class and nation, marching to Jerusalem only to be scattered and dismembered by ‘the Angel, Turk and Death’. The two purses at the head of the image indicate a process of depletion, perhaps spiritual as well as economic. The ultimate failure of the crusades and the continued strength of Islam under the Ottomans from the 15th century are portrayed as a continuum of divine judgement up to the time of publication. Balliol’s copy was part of the fourth edition in twelve years. It has been part of the College’s collections since at least the 18th century.
Balliol Library. 550 e 8
John Holwell. Catastrophe Mundi, or, Europe’s Many Mutations until the Year 1701. London, 1682.
In these apocalyptic predictions of the late 17th century, Europe is still being viewed through the prism of Christendom and its trials mapped onto a Christian eschatology. The Ottomans are predicted to continue their inexorable rise. The Sultan’s armies will sweep through Europe deposing the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope, laying the ground for a ‘Great Conqueror’ who will unite the world and convert the heathen. In fact, the 1683-1699 war between the Turks and the Austrians ended in defeat for the former, with significant losses of territory in Europe, anticipating their decline as a major power.
John Holwell was a respected practical mathematician with expertise as a surveyor, working for John Ogilby on his pioneering road atlas, and maintaining the friendship of Edward Halley. But he also had a double life as an astrologer with a penchant for controversial prognostications. His end is shrouded in legend, involving the drinking of poisoned coffee whilst surveying in America.
Balliol Library. 910 h 14(5)
Ideas of Europe: Nationalism
The emergence of various nation states in the early modern period might have been expected to work against the notion of a European identity. Romantic nationalism from the 18th century onwards claimed roots in local, tribal identities as opposed to classical civilization, and in various folkloric traditions with pagan overtones as opposed to Christian culture. In practice, however, the collections of folk tales and rediscovered (or reconstructed) national epics often had a popularity that spread far beyond their countries of origin. The resulting national awareness bred a pan-European milieu emphasising national and individual self-determination. Fittingly for a College with connections to Scotland two key works anticipating Scottish romanticism are to be found in Balliol’s collections.
Famiano Strada. De Bello Belgico. Rome, 1640. Engraved title page with map shaped as the Belgic Lion.
The origins of the idea of the nation state seem to have emerged during the 17th century in Europe as a result of the diplomatic settlements reached following the devastation caused by the dynastic and religious wars of the period. Holland emerged from its conflicts with the Catholic Habsburgs as an independent confederal republic with a flourishing mercantile economy, and a consciousness of a nation bound together by symbols such as the heraldic lion.
Balliol Library. 15 sa 7
Fingal, an Ancient Epic poem, in Six Books. London, 1762.
The aged bard, Ossian, sits centre-stage voicing tragic tales on a rock set in a melancholic wilderness of blasted trees. Tucked between this vignette and the title is the name of the translator, James MacPherson. He re-packaged tales he’d heard in Gaelic as a Scottish farmer’s son as a lost epic poem. It wasn’t long, however, before there were suspicions regarding its authenticity, with claims that the entire thing was MacPherson’s own fabrication. On the continent, where such sensitivities were a distant concern, the poem was received enthusiastically. It became a major influence on European romanticism, inspiring the composition of other national epics from folkloric collections such as the Finnish Kalevala, and works in other media, notably Mendlessohn’s Hebrides, or Fingal’s Cave, Overture.
Balliol Library. 535 c 4
Robert Burns. Poems Chiefly in a Scottish Dialect. Kilmarnock, 1786.
Whilst MacPherson’s Ossian poems drew upon a lost Gaelic past to express a sense of Scottishness, later in the century another farmer’s son drew on lowland Scots dialect and folklore to produce some of the most celebrated poems penned in Scotland. Robbie Burns had this, his first volume of verse, printed locally in Kilmarnock in order to fund his passage to a job as an overseer of slaves on a Jamaican sugar plantation. His bags were all packed when the immediate success of the volume saw him throw over his plans, borrow a pony and ride to Edinburgh to embark on a career of literary celebrity. Burns and his works went on to become Scottish cultural icons, and a continuing focus for Scottish national identity. In spite of the fact that he wrote in English as well, his use of the Scots dialect was seen to represent the authentic voice of a people.
Balliol Library. 30 c 254
Mapping a Continent
Willem Blaeu. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Amsterdam, 1635. Map of Europe, with the costumes of the different nations and depictions of key cities in the borders.
In the latter half of the 16th century Abraham Ortelius initiated a revolution in map-making, publishing the first atlas, in Antwerp. By the early 17th century the focus of this flowering of cartography in the Low Countries had shifted to Amsterdam. This had emerged as the chief city in the newly independent Dutch Republic and the centre of an increasingly global maritime trading empire. In the 1630s map production in Amsterdam was powered by the ongoing competition between two publishers, each attempting to outdo the other in the coverage, quality and splendour of their atlases. On the one hand were the Hondius dynasty, who had re-established Mercator’s reputation by re-publishing his atlas. On the other were the Blaeu family whose atlas of 1635 is displayed here. This competition eventually culminated with the publication of the Blaeu’s Atlas Maior in 11 volumes, printing of which began in 1662, and which was the largest and most expensive book produced in the 17th century.
Around the borders of Europe contemporary costumes for each nation are displayed. A modern viewer is hard-pressed to see much difference between them, except for the odd item of headgear, but the vignettes demonstrate an increasing awareness of regional characteristics and differences in culture, making them simultaneously exotic and familiar.
Balliol Library. 535 f 4
Networks of Books: William Gray’s Manuscript Collection
Balliol College has one man to thank for more than half of its surviving medieval library: William Gray, who gave or bequeathed nearly two hundred manuscripts by the time he died in 1478. The younger son of an aristocratic family from Northumberland, Gray was wealthy, intellectual and cosmopolitan. He led a distinguished diplomatic and clerical career, including becoming Bishop of Ely. He came up to Balliol around 1431, A decade later he travelled to the University of Cologne, and then Italy to pursue humanistic studies. Renaissance humanism, the study of classical antiquity, was itself a European movement, spreading outwards from Italy in the 14th-16th centuries. Gray brought two other Balliol fellows on his travels, and commissioned multiple books in philosophy, theology, and other subjects along the way. We know this from the memoir of a Florentine bookseller called Vespasiano, and from the books themselves.
Domenico Bandini of Arezzo. Fons Memorabilia Universi. Cologne, c 1445.
This is one of six volumes of an encyclopaedia made for William Gray during his travels. It reflects the international collaboration that characterised both scholarship and bookmaking in the later middle ages. Its author was an Italian humanist, it was commissioned by an Englishman, and copied in Cologne, Germany by Dutch scribes. The scribes and illuminators display an international range of influences: Dutch, Italian, English, even Spanish. There are over one hundred small pen-drawings in the margins of the volume, representing persons, allegorical figures, or incidents mentioned in the text. The drawing at the base of the page on the right side shows Venice, a centre for humanism.
Balliol Manuscript. MS 238E, folio 71r
English book, European scribe
Thomas Docking. Commentary on Deuteronomy. Oxford, c 1442.
This book was probably written to order for Gray while he was still in Oxford, just before he left for Cologne. Docking was a Franciscan friar and theologian writing in Oxford in the 13th century. His work was enjoying a revival when Gray commissioned this manuscript, but was uncommon outside of England. Indeed, some of the decoration, like the blue and red capitals and flourishes, was probably done by an English illuminator. However, it was signed by a Dutch scribe, Tielman Reynerszoon of Geertruidenberg in North Brabant. It is possible that Tielman accompanied Gray from Oxford to Cologne and finished some other volumes there.
Balliol Manuscript. Ms 2
Bookmaking and European Networks
As we saw with William Gray’s library, medieval books in England commonly boasted international origins and features. They were often commissioned from European workshops, while those manufactured in England used imported materials and the work immigrant scribes and artists who contributed the styles of their own countries.
Even the spread of papermaking technology and, later, printing moved westward across the Continent, the latter reaching England about twenty years after Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in Germany in the 1450s. William Caxton, like William Gray, spent time in Cologne, where he learned the art of printing. Later, when he was a merchant living in the Low Countries, Caxton honed in on the commercial potential of printing technology and brought it back to England with him, setting up shop in Westminster.
The first book printed in England
Single leaf of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Printed by William Caxton. Westminster, 1477.
This first edition of this most English of books is printed on paper in a type probably cut and supplied from Louvain, Belgium, by Johann Veldener. Caxton worked with Veldener during his stay in Flanders. The typeface, called bastarda, is a later version of that originally used by Gutenberg. Space has been left for initials (larger decorated letters introducing important sections of text), which a client could have hand-painted to order. This book did not belong to William Gray, but he and other 15th-century Balliol Fellows did donate some incunables (books printed before 1501) to the Library, a few of which are still here today. Almost all of these have European provenance.
Balliol Library. 30 d 146
Printing, Propaganda, and Reformation: A Social Network for Extremists?
The Protestant Reformation, too, was a pan-European movement which evolved in different ways in each country. European towns provided refuge for English Protestants and Catholics (depending upon who was on the throne at the time), and the continent’s printing presses enabled the spread of propaganda. Banned books were smuggled back to England, providing edification and comfort to co-religionists. This was an extraordinarily dangerous undertaking, since being discovered in possession of forbidden texts meant arrest and frequently execution. Sometimes propaganda went beyond the circulation of heretical ideas or anti-Protestant polemic to directly attack the monarch, and even encourage their overthrow.
‘Dr Slander’: An Oxford Catholic in Exile
Nicholas Sander. De Origine ac Progressu Schismatis Anglicani (Of the Origin and Progression of the English Schism). Rheims, 1585.
Nicholas Sander, from a Surrey Catholic family, graduated from New College, Oxford in 1551. On the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, he fled to Rome, where he was ordained a priest. A few years later, he had settled with other Catholics in Louvain, the very city where William Caxton’s associate, Veldener, had held his printing business.
From abroad, Sander used his connections with leading Catholic churchmen to attempt to persuade European leaders to depose Elizabeth. He even participated in a failed papal invasion of Ireland, where he ultimately died of starvation. Somehow he also found the time to write this Catholic version of the history of the Reformation, intended as a counterpoint to the more famous Book of Martyrs by John Foxe. Highly critical of Elizabeth and her parents, it is the source for rumours that Anne Boleyn was disfigured by a sixth finger.
This version of the Schismatis Anglicani was published posthumously during Elizabeth’s reign by Jean de Foigny, printer to the Cardinal of Guise, who also printed favourable propaganda about Elizabeth’s rival, Mary Queen of Scots.
Balliol Library. 570 d 18
Balliol’s most famous medieval Master was John Wyclif, the early reformer whose followers, the Lollards, were persecuted as heretics. Yet by the 16th century the College was notorious for its Catholic leanings. It was the only corporate body to add a reservation to its acknowledgement of Henry VIII’s supremacy over the Pope. James Brookes, Balliol’s Master during the reign of Queen Mary, presided over the persecution of the Oxford Martyrs.
During Elizabeth’s reign, several Balliol men fled to the Continent, trained as Jesuits and returned as Catholic missionaries, only to be arrested and even martyred. Robert Persons, a Balliol Fellow forced to resign for his beliefs, returned from Europe a Jesuit and printed Catholic propaganda—including Nicholas Sander’s De Schismate Anglicano—illegally. He may have been active at Holywell Manor (now Balliol’s graduate centre), where the Catholic Napier family was known to harbour priests.
Amongst the most infamous executions of Bloody Mary’s reign were the burnings of Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley in 1555 and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1556. The sentences were carried out in Broad Street (‘in the town ditch’) just outside Balliol’s main gates, and legend has it that scorch marks are still visible on the doors today.
By the 1580s, Balliol’s Catholic tendencies had subsided. The College’s original 13th-century charter derived its authority from the Church. Balliol’s leadership sought to put things right with the Queen by soliciting a royal charter, establishing the College anew with her as Foundress. You can see this charter on the north wall of the nave in the Historic Collection Centre in St Cross Church.
The Oxford Martyrs
John Foxe. Acts and Monuments, better known as the Book of Martyrs. London, 1576.
John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is the famous Protestant history and martyrology that inspired Nicholas Sander to write his Catholic counterpoint. Foxe charts the history of the persecution of Protestants under Catholic regimes in gruesome detail. The woodcut in the image above shows Archbishop Cranmer thrusting his hand into the fire. Interestingly, elsewhere in the volume there is noticeable defacement to illustrations of the Oxford Martyrs and of Henry VIII with his feet on the Pope, suggesting this copy may have been read by a disgruntled Catholic.
Balliol Library. 30 e 63
Travel in Europe
In his diary from 1702, Balliol Fellow Jeremiah Milles records reading works on geography, history and science, while for light relief he enjoyed travellers’ tales. At that time the Library already counted among its collection many notable works of travel literature, such as George Sandys’ A Relation of a Journey Begun an. Dom. 1610 and Thomas Coryat’s Crudities. Filled with descriptions of cities, local history and customs these works helped to popularise the idea of European travel, and encouraged interest in a Grand Tour, a custom which saw wealthy young men travel through European cities as an educational rite of passage. This had a profound influence on Britain’s cultural, political, social and artistic evolution. Several Balliol alumni partook, including John Evelyn (Balliol 1637) whose diary records his visit to Provence to see Roman ruins, and his year spent studying anatomy in Padua.
Thomas Coryat. Coryat’s Crudities. 1611.
The Crudities is an exhaustive account of Thomas Coryat’s 1,900 mile journey across Europe in 1608, much of which he made on foot. A mixture of anecdotes and observations on local customs, history and architecture, among other things the Crudities introduced the fork to English readers. The self-deprecating title probably refers to the glut of travel books on the market at the time, described scathingly by a contemporary writer as ‘unseasoned crudities’, dull and void of knowledge. The self-deprecation is reflected in the mock-heroic vignettes on the title page: we see Coryat being seasick on the boat from Calais to Dover; he is pelted with eggs by a Venetian Courtesan while he escapes in a Gondola; and he narrowly escapes attack after stealing grapes from a vineyard in Germany. We also see his well-worn, lice-ridden travelling outfit, and in the centre the allegorical Germania vomits on the author’s portrait.
Balliol’s copy of Coryat’s Crudities was donated by Henry Jeffereys who also gave the College a copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio in 1656.
Balliol Library. 575 b 6
‘If I Have Seen Further …’ : Scientific Networks
The 16th century was a time when the strange ideas of an astronomer living on the Baltic coast could spread across Europe to the shores of the Mediterranean and cause a major upset in Rome. A whole set of intellectual and linguistic networks allowed the ready transmission of thoughts between scientists in different locations, enabling them to share facets of knowledge about the physical world. Latin remained an intellectual lingua franca, allowing thinkers to speak across borders. Most scientific works appeared in the language until the later 17th century, when Sir Isaac Newton was amongst the last to use it in print. Printing itself enabled the dissemination of multiple copies of the same text across the continent. During the 17th century learned societies formed to promote the systematisation of scientific approaches. Such widespread communication led not only to collaboration, but also to conflict in the process of discovery.
Isaac Newton. Analysis per Quantitatum Series, Fluxiones, ac Differentias. London, 1711.
Although not mentioned by name anywhere in Newton’s volume, it is stalked by the spirit of the German scientist and polymath, Gottfried Leibniz. Newton and Leibniz had been in dispute over which of them had invented calculus for a decade. Leibniz had been publishing on it since 1684, although he claimed that he’d had the initial insight in 1673. Newton began publishing using his notation in 1693. Both men were aware of the other’s work but their relations remained cordial until an allegation that Leibniz had plagiarised Newton surfaced in 1699, and anonymous reviews (probably by Leibniz) of Newton’s work in 1704 made the reverse claim.
With this volume Newton made his case for priority, including in it a tract on infinite series he had written in 1669, and which he had shown to others, notably the mathematician John Collins. At the time Newton had refused to publish, but Collins circulated the tract in manuscript. It is possible that Leibniz had seen a copy through Collins during a visit to London in the 1670s when he demonstrated a calculating machine that encouraged the Royal Society to make him an external member, but Leibniz refuted this. The ‘Priority Dispute’ rumbled on into the 18th century and demonstrates the self-regulation and co-ordination of scientific networks across Europe through learned forums, such as the Royal Society.
Balliol Library. 470 f 2
Newtonian Astronomy, Ancient Wisdom
David Gregory. ‘Part of a Letter from Dr. David Gregory to Dr. Sloane, Dated Oxford, October 12. 1699. Containing His Observations of the Eclipse of the Sun on the 13th of September Last’, from vol. 21 of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. London, 1699.
An early admirer of Newton, to whom he submitted his first publication, David Gregory started his career in Marischal College in Aberdeen. From there he moved to Edinburgh, then finished his education at Leiden before roving through Rotterdam and Paris, and eventually ending up in London. As Professor of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh he became known as the first teacher to incorporate Newtonian theory into his public lectures. He also wrote effusive praise of Newton’s Principia on its publication in 1684.
Balliol Library. 790 f 1
Balliol in Europe: Diplomacy
Balliol counts among its alumni many diplomats, several of whom left their papers to the College, including Louis du Pan Mallet, ambassador to Turkey at the outbreak of the First World War, and the diplomat and diarist Harold Nicolson, as well as the Morier family.
TS copy of letter from RBD Morier to M E Duff, St Petersburg, 31 December 1888.
Sir Robert Burnett David Morier (1826-1893) was up at Balliol in the 1840s and spent his diplomatic career in Europe, becoming Ambassador at Madrid and St Petersburg. In a letter to a Balliol contemporary Morier addresses ‘the great 25 year duel between Bismarck and me’. At the root of their feud lay a fundamental ideological opposition: their respective conceptions of Europe as a political entity. Morier’s views were representative of the liberal elite of the 19th century. His ‘outlook was as much European as English… [he] was at home in almost any continental country’, says his biographer Agatha Ramm (1973, p.5). Conversely, Bismarck was associated with an assertive Prussianism characterised by militarism and discipline.
Their antipathy towards each other came to a head when the German press falsely accused Morier of sending Prussian military secrets to the French during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Morier published correspondence that conclusively established his innocence. He gives his opinion of the matter in his letters.
Balliol Historic Collections. RBD Morier Papers. 5.3
RBD Morier came from a long and distinguished line of diplomats, including his father David, and uncles John Philip (Jack) and James Justinian, whose letters, journals and drawings from their journeys in the Ottoman Empire are also included in the Morier Family Papers. The sketchbooks displayed in the exhibition date to 1804-1806, when Jack, the eldest Morier brother, was joined by younger brother David on a diplomatic mission into the Ottoman Empire’s European territories. At the time, the Ottoman Empire extended well to the north of Greece, where Jack was sent by the Foreign Office to persuade the Ottoman-ruled Greeks and Albanians not to sympathise with the French. The British Government feared a French invasion in the wake of Bonaparte’s occupation of Egypt in 1798, in which conflict the British had intervened.
Jack and David spent two years travelling the area. Their sketchbooks, letters and dispatches betray the imperialist and orientalist perspective of the age, displaying at the same time both a fascination and a denigration of the culture and country ‘that seems strange and barbarous’.
Balliol Personal Papers. Morier Family Papers. N. Manuscript Volumes. N3.2
Balliol in Europe: The Chalet
The Châlet des Mélèzes, or Chalet des Anglais, as it became known, is an Alpine retreat near Saint-Gervais, France, once owned by legendary Balliol Fellow, Francis Fortescue ‘Sligger’ Urquhart, 1868-1934. Beginning in 1891, Urquhart took parties of students from across the University to the Chalet in the Long Vacations to read, walk and play sports. After his death, the Chalet was bequeathed to his friend, Balliol Fellow Sir R. A. B. Mynors, and is now held in trust. The tradition to holiday in Europe has continued ever since, securing the French Alps in the memories of generations of Balliol students.
The Chalet Book 1891-1908.
The Chalet Books provide us with an excellent record of the parties, containing the autographs of the guests, accounts of their hikes, dinners and activities, and a great number of photographs. The first volume in the series gives the details of the hikes taken in 1898. Also included is a poem sent to Urquhart, which conveys the affection he inspired among his students.
Balliol Personal Papers. Chalet Papers. I. 1. 1. 1
Letter from Meredith Starr giving an account of using the Chalet during the Second World War.
The Chalet’s position in the Alps made it a perfect hideaway for an escaped British soldier in the Second World War. A letter from Meredith Starr recounts his journey evading German forces in Italy and subsequently France where towards the end of the period, he was advised to use the Chalet for five weeks.
In his letter to the Chalet’s owner after the event he writes:
‘I hope you will forgive us for trespassing on your property! I was one of 3 out of 37 English & American subjects who escaped being caught by the Germans… though we had several narrow escapes.’
Balliol Personal Papers. Chalet Papers. III/1/1
‘The Perfect Chalet-ite’
A little pamphlet from around 1934 provided a humorous guide to life at the Chalet, rules of conduct, how to get there, its history and details of some walks on the Prarion.
Balliol Personal Papers. Chalet papers. IV/2/2
Strained Relations: The First World War
When war came to Europe in 1914, it touched the lives of all of Europe’s inhabitants. Members of Balliol were no exception. Balliol had always attracted an international membership and the College sent men to both sides of the conflict.
Minute Book of the Hanover Club. May 1911-April 1913.
The Hanover Club was a University society with many prominent Balliol members, which aimed to ‘promote the course of good-feeling between Germany & England, by giving Englishmen and Germans in the university opportunities of meeting and discussing topics of interest & importance to both nations’. Their minute book describes the debates during the meetings, which were generally of a political nature. It shows members’ awareness of impending war. A particularly prophetic motion was tabled for debate on 27 February 1912: ‘That under the present situation of European politics a rapprochement between England and Germany is an unrealistic ideal’. The motion was carried by seven to six.
Balliol Archives. Societies. 1
The College War Memorial Book. Oxford, 1924.
In addition to the war memorials found in the Chapel Passage on Balliol’s main site and on the south wall in St Cross Church, a two-volume set was produced by the College in 1924 to commemorate the Balliol casualties. It contains an account and photograph of each, together with selections of their verse, musical notation and sketches. It includes an entry for Raymond Asquith, the Prime Minister’s son, who died at the Battle of the Somme; though none for the German Chancellor’s son Friedrich von Bethman Hollweg (Balliol 1908) who was also killed in action.
Balliol Library. 88 d 13/12 and 88 d 13/13
The Club at War: War Edition of the Balliol Club Magazine. No. 4. Oxford, May 1917 and No. 8, May 1918.
Another Balliol club to be shaken by the impact of the War was the Balliol Boys’ Club. Formed in early 1907 as a result of changing attitudes towards social responsibility and widening access to education, it was run by undergraduates for local working class boys. Based in the underprivileged area of St Ebbe’s, it offered the boys activities such as boxing, football and camping. It remained open during the course of the War, though its numbers were much reduced. The Club also played an important role in the wartime experience of many of its Old Members, of whom 250 in total saw active service. The Club’s trench magazine was devised as a way for Old Members to keep in touch with one another. It circulated from 1916 to 1919 and mostly comprises brief letters.
The Boys’ Club War Memorial board is on the south wall of Balliol Historic Collection Centre in St Cross Church, listing the members who fell, Oxford boys and Balliol men together.
Balliol Archives. The Balliol Boys’ Club. 4bii
Rhodes Scholar and Member of the German Resistance: Adam von Trott zu Solz (1909-1944)
A German aristocrat, Adam von Trott came to Balliol in 1931 as one of the first German Rhodes Scholars since the First World War, attracted by Balliol’s already-famous Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree. Von Trott was politically active during his time in Oxford, joining the Labour Society and the Jowett Society. Many Germans studied at Oxford between the two World Wars, but von Trott’s participation in the failed July Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler earned him an inscription on Balliol’s War Memorial and an international legacy still felt today. This was not always the case in his own time. As a patriot who loved his country but detested Hitler, he was frustrated by the tendency of his English friends to equate Germans with Nazis.
After leaving Oxford, von Trott returned to Germany to complete his legal training – and clandestinely seek allies in the resistance to Hitler’s regime. He even met with the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, in 1939. Unable to mention the plot to overthrow the dictator, he was suspected of working for the Nazis. In 1940 von Trott stepped up his role in the resistance movement, guided by his vision of European cooperation. He exploited his position in the German Foreign Office, making journeys to Switzerland, Sweden, the Low Countries and Turkey. On 20 July 1944 a bomb exploded next to Hitler. Believing Hitler dead, von Trott said to a colleague, ‘I won’t have to sign under that horrible greeting any more’.
Letter from Adam von Trott to Diana Hubback, February 1933.
Von Trott wrote to his friend Diana Hubback after reading in a newspaper in the Balliol Junior Common Room that Hitler had become Chancellor. Unlike some German students in Oxford, von Trott expressed his disgust at Hitler’s rise to power, resolving not to join the Nazi party unless it became necessary to do so to resist from within. Von Trott wondered if revolution would break out, foreshadowing his later vision of radical social reform in post-war Europe.
Over 700 letters between von Trott and Hubback survive. They discuss everything from social engagements and academic progress to their most personal feelings. They also comment on the situation in Europe in the 1930s, and the rising tensions between Germany and the United Kingdom, which von Trott feared would ‘estrange my few friends’ in England. Von Trott and his friends often used code when discussing political subjects, to evade German censorship.
Balliol Personal Papers. Von Trott Papers. I.iii.T36
Trial, Execution and Legacy
Adam von Trott commemorative service, 2013.
Adam von Trott was arrested a few days after the failed conspiracy to kill Hitler. At the trial the judge dubbed him a ‘spineless intellectual’ on account of his years at Oxford and his travels around the globe. Von Trott was hanged in Berlin on 26 August 1944.
In the post-war years, von Trott and his fellow conspirators were portrayed as Nazis in the press. His Balliol friend, David Astor, devoted himself to refuting this. Von Trott’s name can now be found inscribed on the plaque outside Balliol College Chapel alongside other members who lost their lives in the Second World War. The addition of five German names was not without controversy, but in the end their shared identity as Balliol men transcended war.
In 2013, the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power, a seminar on British-German relations in the European context, organized by the Adam von Trott Memorial Fund at Mansfield College, was followed by a commemorative service in Balliol Chapel.
Europe in Balliol: Refugee Scholars
Conceived as a College for poor scholars, Balliol has offered support throughout its long history to students of limited means. In the 20th century this was extended to systematically provide refuge to those who, for whatever reason, could not study in their home country. Begun as a personal campaign by the Master to help out a friend, the Refugee Scholarship programme was revived at the request of the College’s students and continues to this day.
Albrecht Mendelssohn Bartholdy
In October 1933 the Nazi government dismissed Jewish academic Albrecht Mendelssohn Bartholdy from his chair of International Law at the University of Hamburg. His close friend Balliol Master Alexander Dunlop Lindsay secured funding from the College and benefactors for a three-year fellowship for Bartholdy, which lasted from 1934 until his untimely death in 1936. By all accounts Albrecht, who was the grandson of composer Felix Mendelssohn, was a most gregarious man. Professor Hugo Wach presented Balliol College with a manuscript memoir of his friend in 1937. Its description is included in the catalogue of Balliol’s manuscripts written by R. A. B. Mynors, a Fellow of Balliol at the same time as Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The record is brief but stands out for its personal embellishment.
Balliol Manuscripts. Ms 425
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a nationwide uprising against the Soviet-led government that left 200,000 people as refugees. In Oxford, students were the first to take the initiative to provide relief, establishing two chairitable funds. The Balliol Fund was set up to provide general aid to those affected by fighting. With £20 worth of medicines that they had funded themselves, Robert Oakeshott (Balliol 1953) and Ian Rankin of Christ Church College left Oxford on 25 October and made their way to refugee camps in Hungary. A little after, the student committees throughout Oxford University established the Refugee Scholarship Fund to allow Hungarian students to continue their studies at English universities.
The Refugee Scholarship was continued at the request of the students. The JCR committee meeting minutes record the formation of a refugee sub-committee whose role was to bring forward candidates and to collect funds via a student levy. The Fellows of the College covered the candidates’ tuition and lodging. In the intervening 58 years this collaboration between students and senior members of Balliol has provided support to refugee scholars from South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Greece, Tibet and Syria.
Balliol Archives. JCR. Accounts & Minutes
In, Out, Shake it all About: Britain & the European Union
After the devastation of 1939-1945, leaders across the continent looked for ways to work together and avoid a resurgence of the extreme nationalism that had led to war. Winston Churchill was the first to moot the notion of a ‘Council of Europe’ and this body was inaugurated in 1949. The Council focuses mainly on ethical and legal issues administering such bodies as the European Court of Human Rights. In the 1950s a group of six states pushed towards a closer union focused on economics and trade, forming the European Economic Community in 1957 at the Treaty of Rome. This organisation continued to add new members, including Britain in 1973, and re-founded itself as the European Union at the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993. Britain has never seemed at ease in the Union and in 2016 a referendum result registered a desire to leave. The terms of this exit continue to be negotiated.
Alumni from Balliol have been prominent at key junctures in this fraught membership, from its beginnings under the premierships of Harold Macmillan (Balliol 1912) and Ted Heath (Balliol 1935), to negotiating Britain’s exit under Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Balliol 1983).
‘We have lost everything …’: Harold Macmillan and Britain’s First Application
Photograph of Harold Macmillan being presented with his portrait in Balliol Hall, January 1963
At the start of the final year of his incumbency, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan attended a dinner in Balliol to receive the portrait that now hangs in the Hall. 1963 opened badly for the PM with news that Britain’s first application for entry into the EEC had been rejected, due to the veto of President De Gaulle of France. Britain, the President felt, was not European enough and might act as a Trojan horse, allowing the Americans to disrupt the community. Although he was by no means overly enthusiastic about the prospect of entry, worrying about its impact on the UK’s agriculture and relations with the Commonwealth, Macmillan was deeply disappointed, feeling that America might sideline Britain for the Europeans.
1963, however, had more to throw at him: the firing of a third of his cabinet in the Night of the Long Knives, the Profumo affair, and a prostate problem which led to his premature resignation as Prime Minister in October. Whether his trip to Oxford was a welcome respite amongst all this is difficult to say. Macmillan had been one of the few survivors of the generation whose education was cut short by service in the First World War, and, although he retained fond memories of the era, found returning to a ‘city of ghosts’ difficult.
Balliol Archives. PHOT. 8
Ode to Joy: Ted Heath and Britain’s Entry to the EEC
Ten years after its first application failed, Britain was admitted into the EEC. In May 1971 President Pompidou had renounced De Gaulle’s veto. In October the House of Commons had approved the proposed membership. That night the Conservative Prime Minister, Ted Heath, who had made entry a priority of his tenure, returned to Downing Street and played Bach on the clavichord to his intimate circle.
Where Macmillan had had his time at Oxford cut short, Heath had had his extended to four years after he secured the organ scholarship at Balliol. The son of a builder and a parlour maid from Broadstairs, this funding was no small matter and allowed Heath to settle more fully into Oxford life, joining societies and buying books and records. The former included musical and dramatic societies, and those of all the main parties. Heath was also able to travel during his vacations and his experiences left him with a dislike of fascism and extreme nationalism: on one trip he inadvertently ended up attending one of the Nuremberg rallies and shaking hands with Himmler, on another he narrowly escaped a bloody assault on Republican Spaniards by Franco’s forces.
Entry form for the Third Millenium Games
During the course of 1992 while the Maastricht Treaty was being signed and the EU was born from the EEC, a competition was held to ascertain the most knowledgeable students in Europe. Described as a Knowledge Olympiad, the Third Millennium Games saw teams from universities across the continent compete for the title. The competition used a computer simulation that engaged the teams in running a European business. A team from Balliol College emerged as the winners, although there was some consternation in the press that it didn’t contain any British members, and that the student judged the most knowledgeable over all, Frederick Paul (Balliol 1991), was a German PPE student hailing from Nuremberg.
Balliol Archives. MISC 164
‘Stealing Brexit’: Boris Johnson and the EU Referendum
On the 23rd June 2016 the population of the United Kingdom voted in a referendum on continued membership of the EU. 52% expressed a preference to leave, 48% to remain. Whilst the result was non-binding the Conservative Party had expressed a commitment to implement the decision, although this came at the cost of losing the incumbent Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Amongst those who looked set to benefit most from the outcome was the colourful ex-mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who had returned to Parliament to become a leading figure in the ‘Brexit’ campaign. He might reasonably have expected to become PM if, a few days later, one of his key backers, Michael Gove, had not unexpectedly withdrawn his support and launched his own leadership bid. Although later appointed Foreign Secretary by Theresa May, Johnson resigned over the terms of the deal she had negotiated with the EU. After May resigned in May 2019, Johnson was appointed Prime Minister and in December 2019 he led the Conservatives to their biggest election win in over thirty years.
Johnson came to Balliol via Eton and was not entirely comfortable with the left-wing milieu in Balliol JCR, tending not to broadcast his political views inside the College. He was less inhibited in the broader University, joining the notorious, and exclusive, drinking society, the Bullingdon Club. Like Heath before him, he became President of the Oxford Union. He also edited the satirical Oxford paper The Tributary. Within Balliol he played for the Balliol Rugby XV and was President of the Arnold & Brackenbury Society, a comedic debating club.