As Esquire Bedell to the University of Cambridge for more than fifty years, John Buck (1597-1680) was responsible for numerous ceremonial and offical duties, including the production of written accounts of the many “material things, which do concern […] the university and town of Cambridge”. The accounts of 1665 are particularly interesting, not only in terms of the meticulous detail Buck provides in his descriptions of degree ceremonies and senate proceedings, but also for his fascinating reports on royal visits to the University during the seventeenth century.
A visit by the monarch was a very important occasion and often involved a good deal of speech-making and gift-giving. When King James I visited Cambridge on the 12th March, 1622, students and fellows lined the streets between Jesus College gate and Trinity College gate to greet him as he arrived. Once inside Trinity College, Buck records that the King was entertained by a short speech by the University Vice-Chancellor, who afterwards “presented his majesty with a book, very curiously bound”. From there, the King went up into the great chamber, “the beadles going before him with their velvet caps in their hands”, where he was treated to drinks, dinner and further speeches by prominent members of the University, eventually leaving Cambridge at around four o’clock in the afternoon.
James was followed by his successor, King Charles I, who came to Cambridge with his queen from Newmarket on the 22nd March, 1631. Once again, Buck writes, “the scholars, bachelors, fellow commoners, regents and non-regents were placed in the streets in like manner as they were when King James came thither in March 1622 [and] made a great acclamation as the king and queen passed by them, saying vivat rex, vivat regina, vivat rex, vivat regina”.
Despite receiving a similarly enthusiastic welcome, however, the royal couple on this occasion were not only keen to dine in Trinity College as James had done, but to do a spot of sight-seeing. Having refreshed themselves with food and drink, Buck reports that “the king said that he would shew the queen Kings College Chapel. But before they went out of the chamber Mr Creiton made another short speech, and their Majesties did stand all the time to hear it.
“After this speech was ended, they went to Kings College Chapel, where the provost did entertain them with a speech, their Majesties now sitting on chairs of state. The speech ended the king led the queen into the quire where they viewed the windows and stately structure and then took the coach to Royston”.
Charles visited Cambridge again on the 14th March, 1641, this time in the company of his young son, the future Charles II. In addition to the usual array of speeches and refreshments, the King was provided with a tour of St John’s College, where he was shown both the library and the chapel. After listening patiently to an address made by a “Mr Cleaveland” in First Court, the royal party proceeded towards “the great court beyond the hall”, where “two masters of arts presented his majesty with a banquet of which he ate a little and gave the prince good store to put in his pocket”.
In its effort to impress, St John’s College evidently made far more food than the King and his son could consume. Thankfully, Buck concludes, “the noblemen and the rest of his followers made quick dispatch of the remainder” - so nothing was wasted on the day!
This Special Collections Spotlight article was contributed on 1 March 2016 by Eleanor Swire, Information Services Graduate Trainee 2015-2016.