Medieval University of Dublin

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The Medieval University of Dublin was an early but largely unsuccessful attempt to establish a university in Dublin. Founded in 1320, it maintained an intermittent existence for two centuries, but never flourished, and it disappeared for good at the Reformation. It had no connection with Trinity College, Dublin, which was founded in 1592.[1]


Pope Clement V granted a brief to found the University in 1311, to John de Leche, Archbishop of Dublin. After Leche's death two years later, his successor Alexander de Bicknor had more pressing matters to deal with, and it was not until 1320 that, by the authority of the Papal brief, he issued an instrument establishing the University.[2] He appointed Regent Masters to elect the Proctors and the Chancellor. The Chancellor, subject to the authority of the Archbishop of Dublin, had jurisdiction over the members of the University and power to pass college statutes, with the consent of the Regents and the Archbishop. The University had power to confer degrees, and three Doctors of Theology were appointed. From the beginning there was an intinate connection between the University and St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin: membership of the University seems to have been synonymous with being a Canon of the Cathedral, and the Dean of St Patrick's, William de Rodyard, was elected the first Chancellor.[3]

St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin


Cardinal Newman notes that after a promising beginning, no further progress was made: it may well be said that the University never got properly started. The disturbed political condition of medieval Dublin was no doubt one reason; but the key weakness seems to have been lack of funds. Ireland in the Middle Ages was not a rich country, and the Irish were unable to provide the money which could have given the University a secure foundation. There was a noted absence of wealthy benefactors, of the kind who founded colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, nor was the English Crown generous with its endowments.[4]

Over the next two centuries, sporadic efforts were made to revive the project. In 1358, on the petition of the Irish clergy, King Edward III established a chair of theology; and in 1364 his son Lionel of Antwerp, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, founded another lectureship; but in the absence of sufficient funds the University continued to languish.[5]

In 1475, when, as Newman remarks, the University could scarcely be said to still exist, Pope Sixtus IV was persuaded by John Walton, Archbishop of Dublin, to issue a brief to re-establish it; but nothing practical seems to have been done.[6] At a Synod in 1494, Walter Fitzsimon, Walton's successor as Archbishop of Dublin, levied a contribution on the clergy for the payment of the lecturers' salaries, and it seems that some funds were made available, although they may have been used as an extra stipend for the Canons of the Cathedral.[7]


The University disappeared altogether at the Reformation, and even under the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I of England, who tried, so far as practicable, to reverse the effects of the Reformation, no effort seems to have been made to revive it.[8]


  1. ^ Newman, Cardinal John Henry The Rise and Progress of Universities London 1872 pp.207-212
  2. ^ Newman p.207
  3. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.1 p.96
  4. ^ Newman p.210
  5. ^ Newman p.211
  6. ^ Pollard, A. F. "John Colton (died 1490?)" Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 Vol. 59 p.276
  7. ^ Newman p.211
  8. ^ Newman pp.211-2