A brief history of the University

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.

By February 1411 the school had established itself sufficiently to obtain a charter of incorporation and privileges from the Bishop of St Andrews, Henry Wardlaw. 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.

Bishop Wardlaw turned to the exiled Pope Benedict XIII to seek his blessing. 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 survives to this day in the University of St Andrews museum, MUSA.