Anniversaries are times for celebration and reflection. We have much to celebrate - 600 years of history, achievement and of striving Ever to Excel.
Scottish students in the Middle Ages were forced abroad to pursue their studies, with no national university to develop their academic abilities. By 1410 most had been driven to Paris from Oxford and Cambridge by the Wars of Scottish Independence with England. So when the Catholic Church was divided by two rival Popes – with Pope Boniface IX supported by the French Cardinals while Scotland remained faithful to Pope Benedict XIII – Scottish students found themselves in a difficult position. The time had come to establish a seat of learning, of international standing, back home in Scotland.
St Andrews was the obvious choice – the seat of the greatest bishopric in Scotland and location of a monastery noted as a centre for learning. In May 1410 a group of masters, mainly graduates of Paris, initiated a school of higher studies in St Andrews.
The school went on to establish itself sufficiently to obtain a charter of incorporation and privileges from the Bishop, Henry Wardlaw, dated 1411. This granted the masters and students recognition as a properly constituted corporation, duly privileged and safeguarded for the pursuit of learning. However, recognised university status and the authority to grant degrees could only be conferred by the Pope or the Emperor as heads of Christendom.
So the Bishop turned to the exiled Pope Benedict XIII to seek his blessing and King James, despite being a prisoner of the English, added his weight to the petition. In return for Scotland’s loyalty, Pope Benedict readily agreed and on 28 August 1413 full University status was conferred by a series of six Papal Bulls – one of which survived to this day in the University of St Andrews archives.
So it was that the Papal bulls began their five month journey, from the Spanish fortress in Peniscola where Pope Benedict was safely cloistered, over land and sea to St Andrews. They arrived in the town in February 1414 – to be welcomed with bells, bonfires, and a big party.
From Mediaeval origins to modern thinking
International scholars have been coming here to study; teachers to teach; and students to learn ever since. Through the centuries many great minds have been attracted to St Andrews, including – poet William Dunbar MA 1479, Benjamin Franklin honorary Doctor of Laws 1759, Nobel Prize Winner in medicine James Black, James Gregory who designed the Gregorian telescope, Edward Jenner pioneer of the smallpox vaccine, Rudyard Kipling, John Stuart Mill, JM Barrie and John Napier the inventor of logarithms.