Welsh students at Oxford, Cambridge and the inns of court during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries
Between c.1540 and 1640 at least 2500 Welsh students entered Oxford and Cambridge universities and the inns of court in London. Oxford had attracted many Welshmen in the middle ages, and continued to receive the majority, who were at their greatest proportion to the total student body in the 1590s. The popularity of Cambridge and the inns emerged after 1600, centring on the admission of wealthier students. Relative to population, North Wales counties were better represented. Approximately two—fifths of registered university Welsh entrants graduated B.A. or higher, and about one—fifth of the inns' Welsh intake became barristers. Areal affinities figured significantly in Welsh associations with particular inns and colleges. Some colleges offered scholarships and fellowships to the Welsh, and new endowments strengthened these links. The presence of Welsh officials represented another bond, while the cautions and guarantor schemes, especially at the inns, further embodied areal ties. Kindred loyalties also counted. This influx in admissions coincided with advances in Welsh schooling, which leading social groups supported. Important university bequests followed to assist Welsh students, notably at Jesus College, Oxford, and St. John's College, Cambridge. Informal financial contributions to the inns helped Welshmen there. Interest in higher education was reflected in the professions. The quality of the Welsh clergy improved by the early seventeenth century, though there was still a dearth of divinity graduates, and many Welsh students gained better preferment in England. The traditional Welsh association with ecclesiastical and civil law was superseded by the superior attraction of the common law, many barristers benefiting from the new Welsh courts system. University and inn alumni were prominent among Welsh members of Parliament and among justices of the peace by the 1630s. The educational experience contributed to Welsh cultural change, challenging the preconceptions of bardic learning and promoting new literature and values.