Any account of England’s medieval academic population that did not give anappropriate weighting to university commoners would be sadly askew. Although fee-paying commoners or pensioners appear to have been an ample presence at Oxford and Cambridge in the medieval period, many may well have gone undetected in university and college records. As stated in Chapter 1, centralized records of university personnel in the form of matriculation registers were instituted at Cambridge only from 1544 and at Oxford only from 1565, and for the next hundred years or so the registers bristle with uncertainties, omissions and problems of interpretation.1 Similarly, only in a minority of colleges do the extant records give anything like a comprehensive view of the fellows and commoners present from generation to generation, and quite a few colleges have especially scant or even negligible recall of their medieval personnel. Moreover, methods of accounting varied from college to college. Matters that were entered annually in one set of accounts may be only spasmodically entered in another or omitted entirely. This being so, it is extremely unlikely that anything approaching the full quota of commoners in residence can be retrieved from the surviving college records before 1600. The situation is even worse regarding the Oxford halls and Cambridge hostels. Before the early-sixteenth century these were the natural venues for most of the undergraduate commoners, and probably for a goodly proportion of the mature commoners as well. The unendowed halls and hostels generated far
1. See above, p. 10.