A History of Incorporation at Oxford


Incorporation first appears in the University Statutes in 1516 (Junior Proctor’s Book, NEP/supra/Reg C, fol 142) although it appears that the practice had been in existence for some time before this date. The 1516 Statutes were the first to make written provision for the procedure for incorporation ie the placing of members of other universities into the body of the University in the same rank, status or degree as they had held in their own university. If a graduate of another university, the degree a person had obtained at his own university would be counted as if it had been taken at Oxford and he was allowed to proceed from that point to higher degrees in the University. If an undergraduate, the number of terms which he had kept at his own university would be counted as though at Oxford.

The idea of incorporation appears to have arisen from the concept of the medieval university as a studium generale – a centre of learning within the larger 'republic of letters', with a large body of scholars from various and distant regions. The universities in medieval Europe were self-governing, numerous, and supra-national. They housed an interchangeable and mobile population of scholars who enriched each other by migrating between the centres. Incorporation was a formal embodiment of this idea of mutual enrichment.

Incorporation took place each year at the Comitia (or 'Act') ie the ceremonial culmination of the University's academic year, at which academic exercises were performed and degrees conferred. Incorporation comprised two stages: firstly, the supplication and obtaining of a grace to incorporate and secondly, admission ie the actual incorporation. The incorporation ceremony took place at a meeting of Congregation, where a candidate was presented by a Regent Master (if a student or graduate in Arts) or by a Doctor of his own faculty (if a graduate in Law, Medicine or Theology).

In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, members of universities in Scotland, France, Germany, Italy and Holland were incorporated as well as members of the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin, to whom incorporation was later confined. The reasons for incorporating are not recorded, but possible reasons might have been: if an individual had been elected to a fellowship or scholarship in Oxford and wanted to complete his course at Oxford; if an individual had had a degree refused at his own university (eg for theological, political or personal reasons); for a change of scene or to broaden experience; if an individual was beneficed or in a schoolmaster’s place near to Oxford, it would be more convenient to complete his course at the University; for the added prestige of an Oxford degree; or, for foreign students, as a means to obtaining employment or status in England.

From 1636 to 1856, the procedure for incorporation was chiefly that laid down by the Laudian Statutes of 1636 (Tit IX sectio 8, De incorporatione). According to the Statutes, the custom for those seeking incorporation was to propose a grace through a Master after a testimonial, under the seal of the university in which the individual had taken his degree, had first been read aloud in Congregation. A few of these testimonials survive for the 18th century; they record either the degree which the applicant had already attained or (in case of undergraduates) the number of terms of residence already completed. The candidate then supplicated for the incorporation, asking that he be admitted to the same degree, state and dignity in Oxford (admittatur ad eundem Gradum, Statum et Dignitatem apud Oxonienses), as that which he possessed in his own university. The candidate was presented and then had to swear an oath to observe the statutes, privileges, customs and franchises of the University. He was then admitted by the Vice-Chancellor.

The Statutes also prescribed that no candidate formerly of Oxford or Cambridge who had taken a degree from a foreign university was to be admitted to the same degree in the University without completing the time required for that degree according to the Statutes of Oxford or Cambridge, and then only with the consent of the Vice-Chancellor, Proctors, a professor and three doctors in the relevant faculty. The Statutes also made it clear that although, once incorporated, an individual would be held in the same position and state as he had enjoyed in his other university (eodem habeatur Loco et Statu, quibus in aliqua alia Universitate gaudebat) he would still be deemed to be junior (iunior) to all those who had been admitted to the same degree at Oxford in the same year.

The 1636 Statutes also stated that no doctor of divinity, medicine or civil law could be incorporated except with the express consent of the Vice-Chancellor, Proctors, a professor and three doctors in the same faculty. This provision had also appeared in the 1516 statute. By the 18th century, for example, if a Doctor of Medicine sought incorporation he had first to be admitted to a college and matriculated. He, or his college on his behalf, then had to submit evidence for his first degree to the Vice-Chancellor who then passed it to the Chancellor. Sometimes the request came back to the Vice-Chancellor in the form of a Chancellor’s letter for the information of Hebdomadal Board and the consideration of Convocation. Incorporation had to be approved by Convocation and then the applicant would be admitted by Congregation.

The Laudian Statutes were amended in 1829 in respect of incorporation (Tit IX sectio VIII). From this date, the candidate was to read aloud to Congregation letters of certification within 21 days of matriculating to confirm that he had resided in his own university for the terms he wished to have in Oxford. A grace was to be proposed through a master (after the reading of the certificates) together with a testimonial under seal of the other university. The candidate was then presented and admitted as before.

The statute was revised again in 1857 (Tit VI (IX) sectio VII) but only minor changes were made. Doctors of theology, medicine and civil law were still not permitted to incorporate unless they had the express consent of the Vice-Chancellor, and Proctors etc. Incorporation was also still open to members of Cambridge University and any other university (ab Academiis exteris), although this lasted only until 1861 when the statute was amended to restrict the ability to incorporate to members of Cambridge University and Trinity College Dublin only. The University appears to have received requests from various different universities to incorporate their members in the years preceding the change in Statute. The provision for the candidate to have matriculated in Oxford prior to seeking incorporation also first appears in 1861.

In 1873 the requirement for testimonials to be read out in Congregation was removed from the Statute and the permission of Hebdomadal Council was required in its place. From this date, the restrictions imposed on doctors of the three superior faculties seeking incorporation were also removed. The new statute also amended the 1861 change restricting incorporation to Cambridge and Dublin men, adding that members of other universities could incorporate, but only with the express consent of the Vice-Chancellor etc.

The statute on incorporation was completely rewritten in 1878 (Tit IX sectio VI, Statutes 1878) and appeared, for the first time, in English rather than Latin. The content remained largely unchanged and lasted until a further revision in 1908.

In 1908 the Statute, for the first time, listed those categories of people who were permitted to seek incorporation. These were undergraduates, BAs, MAs, BDs, DDs, and DScs of Cambridge and Dublin; DLitts of Cambridge; and Doctors of Literature of Dublin (who incorporated as Doctors of Letters in Oxford). Graduates seeking incorporation now had to satisfy Hebdomadal Council of their reasons for doing so and to have fulfilled the equivalent residence requirements for their Oxford degree in their former university. A notice of intention to incorporate had to be sent to the Registrar by the third day (this period was increased over time) preceding the Congregation at which the incorporation was to take place and the certificates formerly read in Congregation were to accompany the notice. In Trinity Term each year the Registrar was to publish a list of all incorporations for the academic year in the Gazette. This requirement ceased in 1975.

From 1912 the requirement for individuals seeking incorporation to have matriculated already was relaxed. From this date candidates could have already matriculated or certify that they intended to do so. All those seeking incorporation (except undergraduates) needed to obtain the permission of Hebdomadal Council. Application was to be made to Council through the individual’s head of house, or viceregent. Incorporation was to take place in the Ancient House of Congregation.

The types of degrees which entitled their holders to apply for incorporation increased in number during the twentieth century. In 1927 Doctors of Philosophy and Bachelors and Doctors of Law of Cambridge were included for the first time. The latter would incorporate as Bachelors and Doctors of Civil Law respectively. In 1936 Bachelors and Doctors of Medicine and Masters of Surgery of Cambridge were added to the list; and in 1945 Doctors of Philosophy of Dublin became eligible.

From 1947, the Statutes set out certain criteria against which the decision to allow incorporation was to be made. Those seeking incorporation as BA were only permitted to do so for taking up a course of study or educational position in Oxford, and stated to be 'of good character'. Incorporation as MA was only granted to those pursuing a course of study or educational position (as above) or to those who had 'rendered valuable services to the university' or were 'by literary or academic distinction highly qualified for the degree'. This last criterion was removed from the Statutes in 1971.

As the membership of Congregation grew wider, so the regulations governing incorporation were amended. From 1952 Doctors of Science and Music from Cambridge and Dublin; Doctors of Letters and Philosophy of Cambridge; and Doctors of Literature and Philosophy of Dublin could apply for incorporation if at the same time they (being qualified) applied for incorporation as MAs. Such persons could be incorporated as Doctors (if unqualified for MAs) if they were qualified under Tit X sectio I, 1.1 to become members of Congregation and have the MA conferred upon them under Tit X sectio I, 3.1(2).

Over time, there appears to have been greater regulation of incorporation and the privileges it conferred. From 1964 the Statutes specifically provided for the relevant Faculty Board to make decisions concering the acceptance of an individual’s former qualifications as equivalents in Oxford. There has also been, in more recent years, increased control over the number of degrees which a single candidate could incorporate at any one time. For example, when, in 1993, incorporation was opened to Masters of Engineering from Cambridge University, a candidate could not be incorporated both as Master of Engineering as well as BA or MA if he also held these degrees from Cambridge. Similarly, when Masters of Natural Sciences of Cambridge became eligible for incorporation in 1997, it was stated (in the Statutes) that Council had the right to determine which components of the Natural Sciences course at Cambridge were to be considered comparable to the degrees offered at Oxford (such as Master of Biochemistry, Chemistry etc).

It is still possible to incorporate at Oxford. The current University Regulations concerning incorporation (Council regs 22 of 2002) can be found at

Admission ad eundem

During the nineteenth century, at least, there appears to have existed another type of 'incorporation' known as admission ad eundem. Literally meaning 'to the same', this appears to have been a lesser, more informal version of incorporation. As it is not sepcifically mentioned in the University Statutes, it is difficult to say, with any certainty, exactly when it operated, what its purpose was, or the status of those admitted in this way.

It appears to have been in existence, at the latest, by 1851. Candidates were admitted with the same words as were used for incorporation (ut admittatur ad eundem Gradum, Statum, Dignitatem apud Oxonienses quibus ornatus est apud suos Cantabrigienses) but do not appear to have been accorded the same privileges as those incorporating proper. For example, according to the 1858 Statutes, whilst those who incorporated were entitled to membership of Convocation, those who were merely admitted ‘ad eundem gradum, statum, dignitatem sine incorporatione’ (ie without incorporating) were not entitled to membership. Similarly, those admitted ad eundem paid a set fee of £1 for admission, as opposed to the scale of much higher fees payable by those incorporating.

Admissions ad eundem appear to have been made in Convocation as they are, until 1858, recorded in the Registers of Convocation. From 1859, the records of admission then appear in the Register of Congregation. The lists of those admitted ad eundem cease, however, in 1861. In this year, the University Statutes concerning incorporation were revised and a new form of incorporation, comitatis causa (see below) was introduced. It appears, from revisions to the wording of the Statutes and from the lists of admission in the Registers of Congregation, that this new form of admission replaced admission ad eundem.

comitatis causa

Literally meaning 'for the sake of fellowship', comitatis causa was a less formal version of incorporation used in the University for a few years only in the 1860s. It did not involve admission to the body of the University (although those admitted in this way, and ad eundem, are included in Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses) or to any of its degrees but merely to the privileges of Oxford which were associated with the degree which had been obtained elsewhere. This excluded membership of Convocation.

Comitatis causa first appears in the Statutes of 1861 (Tit VI (IX) sectio VII De admissione ad privilegia graduatorum comitatis causa, p134). Doctors and Bachelors of Theology, Civil Law or Medicine and Masters of Arts from Cambridge University or Trinity College Dublin could be admitted to the same privileges that those who had obtained the degree at Oxford enjoyed (ad privilegia quibus nostrates eundem gradum adepti fruuntur). The procedure for admission was as follows: firstly the grace was given to supplicate, then the candidate was presented for admission and then finally admitted by the Vice-Chancellor. Admission did not require college membership or an oath.

Comitatis causa appears for the last time in the Statutes of 1866. It was abolished in 1868 following a decision by Hebdomadal Council to revise the Statutes. Lists of those admitted between 1861 and 1868 survive in the Registers of Congregation. No applications for admission comitatis causa (or ad eundem) survive in the Archives nor any explanation as to why it was sought.


Oxford University Archives 2004

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