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British Royals

Royal Connections: Cambridge

The Duke of Gloucester has a busy day ahead of him Thursday in Cambridge. He will open the Royal Library Exhibition at Cambridge University and also a newly restored 18th-century Watermill at Mill House. The last engagement of the day leads him to Hinchingbrooke School, which marks its 450th Anniversary this year.

View from the top of Great St Mary's church

View from the top of Great St Mary’s Church

Ahead of these visits we take a look at the royal history of Cambridge, which goes back to William to Conqueror. The city of Cambridge, listed in the Domesday Book as having a population of about 2,000 persons, was considered a medium-sized town. It was formerly called Granta Bryg because the river it stands on was once called Granta.

William the Conqueror visited Cambridge himself in 1086, and he ordered a castle be built, which was first made of wood but was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. Cambridge Castle did not survive the 18th century. The Round Church, which still stand today, was built in 1107. Cambridge University was founded in 1209 and students flowed to the city. The townspeople began charging exuberant rents and the King Henry III had to intervene in 1231. By the 13th century, friars had settled in Cambridge but in 1538 Henry VIII had ordered that all friaries be closed in Cambridge.

Cambridge University benefitted from royal support. Several colleges were founded in the 16th century, including St. Johns College in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, Trinity College in 1546 by her grandson Henry VIII and Queen’s College in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou. When King Charles I came to attend a play at Trinity College in 1632 it was so poorly received by the public the Vice-Chancellor, who coincidentally also had a small role, hanged himself.

A total of 10 Kings and Queens have attended Cambridge University, including Edward VII and George VI but also Danish Queen Margrethe II and Sofia, Queen consort of Spain. A total of 18 princes and princess have attended, like The Prince of Wales and Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence.  Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was the first woman to receive a Cambridge University degree. She received the first honorary degree awarded to a woman in 1948. The Duke of Edinburgh was Chancellor of the University from 1976 to 2011, following in the footsteps of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort.

The city was often visited. Queen Anne visited Trinity College in 1705 to confer a knighthood on Isaac Newton. In 1922, the Cambridge War Memorial was unveiled by the Duke of York, who would later become George VI.  In 1951, George VI and Queen Elizabeth attended a service to give thanks for the re-instalment of King’s College Chapel’s glass windows, which were removed during World War II to keep them safe. In 1977, the Lion Yard Shopping Centre was opened by the Princess Royal and she returned in 2010 to open the new Central Library. The Queen had lunch at King’s College to celebrate the Cambridge University’s 800th anniversary, just after attending the State Opening of Parliament. 

The title Duke of Cambridge was first conferred on several short-lived sons of James II. It was then created for the future George II, who held the title from 1706 to 1727 when he became King, and the title merged with the crown. Prince Adolphus, a son of George III, was styled Duke of Cambridge;  then passed to his son, who died without legitimate issue. Of course, the world knows that the current  Duke of Cambridge is Prince William.

Photo credit: Howard Chalkley via