Eton College

Eton College

In 1440 Henry VI founded 'The King's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor' and, a year later, King's College Cambridge, which was to be supplied with scholars from Eton. The school was to be part of a large foundation which included a community of secular priests, 10 of whom were Fellows, a pilgrimage church, and an almshouse. Provision was made for 70 scholars to receive free education.

To this end Henry lavished on Eton a substantial income from land, and a huge collection of holy relics among which were fragments of what were supposed to be the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns. He even persuaded the Pope to grant a privilege unequalled anywhere in England: Eton was to have the right to grant Indulgences to penitents on the Feast of the Assumption.

Henry's close personal interest in the building led to frequent changes of plan. In 1448 the partially constructed church was demolished to make way for another church that was to be on a far grander scale. Meanwhile the accommodation for the school along the north side of School Yard was completed (1443), a single class room below (Lower School) and a large dormitory (Long Chamber) above; College Hall, where priests, Head Master, and scholars could eat, was in use by 1450. Cloister Court, providing residential accommodation for priests and Fellows, was completed about the same time.

Progress on the new church was, however, interrupted when the Lancastrian Henry VI was deposed in 1461 by the rival Yorkist claimant, Edward IV. Parliament annulled all grants of lands made by the Lancastrians: the College had its lands, ornaments, and relics transferred to St George's, Windsor. Tradition has it that Edward's celebrated mistress, Jane Shore, interceded on behalf of the College and saved it from extinction by persuading Edward to restore some of its lands. The College was indeed saved but the greatly reduced income necessitated the abandonment of the almshouse and a reduction in the number of priests.

At this time, the early 1470s, the pilgrimage church was far from finished: the choir had no roof and the building of the nave had not yet commenced. A former Provost of Eton, Bishop Waynflete, came to the rescue of the College and arranged for the choir to be roofed in wood and for the west end to be completed by the addition of the Antechapel (1479-82). This is the Chapel that we now have, a fine example of the Perpendicular Gothic style, noble in its unity and simplicity of design, but only a part of what might have been one of the largest and finest churches in the country if Henry's plans had been fully executed.

The third side of School Yard to be completed in its present form was Lupton's Range with Lupton's Tower in the centre. It was built in 1520 by Henry Redman whose work is also to be seen at Hampton Court. Lupton's Range provided extra accommodation for the head of the College, the Provost. The fourth side of School Yard, the west, was added by Provost Allestree in 1665 but was rebuilt 1689-94 because it became unsafe. Its main feature is Upper School on the first floor, Eton's second and largest classroom. In the middle of School Yard stands the fine bronze statue of the Founder in Garter robes. It was erected in 1719 by Provost Godolphin and is the work of Francis Bird.

More than five and a half centuries after the foundation, having educated so many great men, the school has a fame that is second to none. From the 70 scholars for whom Henry provided, the school has expanded to about 1,290 boys aged from 13 to 18. The scholars are admitted by competitive examination. The remainder, known as 'Oppidans', are distributed between 24 boys' houses. Besides a large part-time staff, there are 143 masters and there is a Governing Body composed of a resident Provost and Vice-Provost together with 10 non-resident lay Fellows, successors from 1869 of the 10 priest-Fellows of the original foundation.


Henry( for more informations about Henry read the artikel 'Henry Lay') attached the greatest importance to the religious aspects of his new foundation and he ensured that the services would be conducted on a magnificent scale by providing an establishment of 10 priest Fellows, 10 chaplains, 10 clerks and 16 choristers. There were 14 services each day, in addition to which prayers were said, and Masses offered for the souls of the Founder's parents and, after the Founder's death, for the Founder instead. This last provision reflected the strongly held belief in the late Middle Ages that prayers and Masses for the soul of a dead person hastened the progress of that soul from Purgatory to Paradise.

All these arrangements befitted a church that was intended to become one of the great places of pilgrimage in Europe. For about a decade pilgrims, attracted by the Indulgences and the relics, flocked to Eton at the Feast of the Assumption in August. A fair lasting six days was held on the playing fields to meet the needs of pilgrims.

For almost 40 years before the present Chapel was completed, services were held in the old parish church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin and, until demolished about 1480, situated on the site of the present graveyard. In the crisis of the 1460s the annual influx of pilgrims ceased and the large establishment of clergy was permanently reduced in size.

Today the Chapel services retain their important position in the life of the College: boys attend once on Sundays and there is a variety of voluntary services throughout the week. The number of boys in the school so expanded that a second church, Lower Chapel, was built in



The wall paintings in the Chapel are the most considerable work of art in the College. They are the work of at least four master painters who, with their assistants, took eight years to complete them (1479-87). In the Flemish style, they decorate the stone sides of the Chapel. On the north side the paintings depict miracles of the Virgin Mary (to whom the Chapel is dedicated), while those on the south side tell a popular medieval story about a mythical Empress.

The paintings have an interesting life history . They were whitewashed over by the College barber in 1560 as a result of an order from the new Protestant church authorities, banning pictures of fictitious miracles. They remained obscured and forgotten for the best part of 300 years before rediscovery in 1847: it was not until 1923 that they were revealed by the removal of stall canopies and the paintings were subsequently cleaned and restored.


A bomb that fell on Upper School in 1940 shattered all the Chapel glass except that in the window above the organ. The east window was inserted in 1952 and is the work of Miss Evie Hone of Dublin. With its deep colours, the Crucifixion in the centre and the Last Supper below, it is considered by many to be one of the masterpieces of modern stained-glass art. The designs for the windows flanking it, four on each side, are by John Piper and were executed in glass by Patrick Reyntiens. The subjects are divided into four miracles on the north side and four parables on the south. The miracles are: The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Stilling of the Waters, and the Raising of Lazarus. The parables are: The Light under a Bushel, the House built on the Rock, the Lost Sheep, and the Sower.


At first sight the roof appears to be late medieval fan-vaulting, but it was in fact completed in 1959, superseding the old wooden roof which had become unsafe owing to damage caused by rot and the death-watch beetle. The new roof, carrying out the Founder's original intention for a stone vault, is of stone-faced concrete hung from steel trusses. An interesting comparison can be made with the exquisite fan-vault of Lupton's Chapel, finished in 1515


The amicabilis concordia (friendly agreement) between Eton College, King's College Cambridge, Winchester College and New College Oxford was signed on 1st July 1444. The relationship between Winchester and New College was the model for that between Eton and King's, and several of those involved in founding Eton College had been at Winchester.

The four colleges pledged to assist and support each other in 'actions, lawsuits and controversies' as well as in a more general way - though the agreement specifies that any costs involved were to be 'reasonable and necessary'. This was a formal document, with the four colleges' seals affixed, but it did not necessarily stop all disagreements - for example those between Eton and King's over Eton fellowships.


In a document dated 1st January 1449, King Henry VI assigned as arms to Eton College:

'On a field sable three lily-flowers argent, intending that our newly-founded College, lasting for ages to come, whose perpetuity We wish to be signified by the stabili ty of the sable colour, shall bring forth the brightest flowers redolent of every kind of knowledge, to which also that We may impart something of royal nobility, which may declare the work truly royal and illustrious, We have resolved that that portion of the arms, which by royal right belong to Us in the kingdoms of France and England, be placed on the chief of the shield, per pale azure with a flower of the French, and gules with a leopard passant or'.

The grant was attested by the Great Seal of England and is preserved in the College archives.

The grant of arms to King's College Cambridge followed the Eton grant word for word, except that three roses argent were substituted for the three lily-flowers.


The earliest records of life in the school date from the mid-16th century and they paint a picture of a strictly regimented and spartan existence for the boys. Scholars, sleeping two or three to a bed in Long Chamber, were awakened at 5 a.m., chanted prayers while they dressed, and were at work in Lower School by 6 a.m. All teaching was in Latin, the language of the Church, the law, and business, and in fact it was virtually the only subject taught. Boys were marched in double file to College Hall for the two meals supplied each day; but there was no food at all on Fridays, a day of fasting. At all times boys were under the close supervision of 'praepostors' who were monitors appointed by the Head Master to perform such tasks as noting absentees, enforcing the speaking of Latin, watching for uncleanliness ('for yll kept hedys, unwasshed facys, foule clothis and sich other') and supervising the single hour of play ('for fyghting, rent clothes, blew eyes, or sich like'). We may surmise that football was popular from a sentence for translation written in 1519: 'We will play with a bag full of wynde.' Lessons finished at 8 p.m., at which time they went to bed, again saying their prayers. There were only two holidays, each of three weeks in duration, one at Christmas when boys were not allowed to return home, and the other in the summer. These holidays divided the school year into two 'halves', a word that has survived despite the change to a three-term year in the 18th century.

Eton achieved a particular distinction in the early 17th century under two Provosts who succeeded in their attempt to make Eton an important centre of learning. Sir Henry Savile, an outstanding scholar, gathered round him men of conspicuous ability. He built Savile House as a printing works and here he produced his exceptional work of original scholarship on St John Chrysostom. The second renowned Provost was the diplomat Sir Henry Wotton who particularly interested himself in the education of Robert Boyle who was later said to be 'the father of Chemistry'. The high reputation of the Fellows also helped to make the school popular.

This flourishing state of affairs was suddenly brought to an end by the outbreak of Civil War and the capturing of Windsor Castle in October 1642 by the Parliamentary forces. The Royalist commander, Prince Rupert, tried to retake the Castle. From the grounds of the College his artillery carried out a long-range bombardment to distract the attention of the defenders from his main attack; but all his efforts were in vain.

The Civil War represents an important turning-point in the history of Eton. In medieval times the word 'college' meant a community of priests rather than a place of education. It was during the Civil War period that the priest Fellows ceased to play the important part they had for the first 200 years. They no longer took their meals in Hall and indeed, from now on, many of them were absentees for the greater part of the year, since they held posts elsewhere. For example, Provost Allestree, builder of Upper School, was Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and Provost Godolphin, to whom the College is indebted for the Founder's statue in School Yard, was Dean of St Paul's. It was at this time, too. that what was known as the Collegiate Church took its present name College Chapel.



The Foundation Charter of 1440 provided for six choristers to sing in the daily services. By 1452 this had been increased to sixteen, all boarders. One of the clerks was responsible for teaching them and they had a special claim for consideration at elections for scholarships to the College. After Henry VI's death in 1471 their numbers were cut to ten as an economy measure, and during the Commonwealth (1649-1660) they disappeared altogether.

The choir started again at the

Restoration (1660), but increasingly its members also sang at St George's Chapel Windsor and the boys were educated there. Although Eton contributed to the costs, the services at St George's always took precedence and a choir of charity school children had to be paid to sing on Sunday mornings when the regular choir was busy at St George's Chapel.

In 1868 the link with St George's was broken and a professional choir appointed at Eton, but they do not seem to have been very good and at first many services were sung by a voluntary choir of Masters and boys.

In 1872 it was decided that the professional choir should consist of ten choristers and six lay clerks, but when new Statutes were drawn up the choir was not formally included as part of the College. The records are very incomplete but we do know that a Master was appointed to teach the boys, and that by 1892 they were using the old Brewhouse as a schoolroom. They were day boys; proposals for a boarding school were always abandoned because of the cost.

From 1910 the choristers were no longer paid but money was put aside to enable them to go on to further training or apprenticeships after they left the choir. The education and their meals were free.

The school was small - sixteen choristers and twelve probationers - but even with a second Master and with help from Masters in the (senior) school it became increasingly difficult to provide adequate teaching and facilities. Changes in education policy also made it harder for boys leaving the school at 13 or 14 to transfer to state schools and it was increasingly difficult to attract suitable applicants. By the 1960s the College considered that amalgamation with St George's School or conversion into a standard preparatory school, either day or boarding, mixing choristers and fee-paying boys, was the only way the school would be viable.

Amalgamation was impracticable and a new boarding school too expensive. A temporary building on Fellows' Eyot improved the accommodation, and numbers grew slightly but not enough to keep the school going.

When it was announced that it would close in summer 1969 so many boys left that closure was brought forward to 1968. Assistance with fees at other schools was given to the boys left in the school, and the Fellows set up Music Scholarships to raise the standard of music throughout the College.

The Old Choristers' Association still maintains links with the College and has its annual reunions in College Hall.



There had always been a clear distinction between the 70 scholars provided for by the original foundation of Henry VI and other boys who were initially known as Commensals. Commensals might be lodged with a Fellow in the Cloisters or in whatever accommodation they could secure in the town with a landlady. They paid fees, had lessons in Lower School

with the scholars and took their meals in College Hall with Fellows and scholars. It was after the Civil War, when there were no Commensals, that a new system emerged.

Unlike their Commensal predecessors 'Oppidans' (Latin 'oppidum' meaning 'town') were not allowed to take their meals in Hall. New and more elaborate lodging arrangements were needed and what developed in the early 18th century was the 'Dame's house'. The first of these Dames' houses was said to have been run by the mother of the Head Master, Dr Snape, who built Jourdelay's House in 1722 for the purpose. Gladstone, for example, boarded with Mrs Shurey in the house now completely rebuilt at the southern end of the Long Walk; Wellington boarded with Miss Naylor at the Manor House which is adjacent to the Memorial Buildings in Common Lane. Dames' houses were in a few cases run by men known as Domines who were usually teachers of non-classical subjects but they were not part of the regular staff of the school.

this are the Captain of the school and the

captain of the oppidans

Of 13 houses in 1766, three were run by Domines. Soon after this, assistant masters began taking boarders and the Dames' houses were gradually superseded. The last of the Dames was the remarkable Miss Evans who had the attractive house on the left side of Keate's Lane (Evans's) and who retired in 1906. There are now 24 oppidan houses with about 50 boys in each.

At the same time as the oppidan houses were coming into existence, the tutorial system was taking shape. Parents were able to choose from among eight or nine assistant masters a tutor to supervise their son's work. Some of the wealthier parents, however, chose to send their sons to Eton accompanied by a private tutor. One of these, Dr Barnard, was so successful (Horace Walpole called him the 'Pitt of masters') that he was appointed Head Master, a post he held with great distinction (1754-65). In the mid-19th century it was made compulsory to have a tutor chosen from among the regular staff, and the private tutor disappeared from the Eton scene.



famous persons in the history of Eton


Henry George Ley was born in Chagford in Devon in 1887. He was a chorister at St George's Chapel Windsor Castle, Music Scholar at Uppingham School, Organ Scholar of Keble College Oxford (1906) where he was President of the University Musical Club in 1908, and an Exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music where he was a pupil of Sir Walter Parratt. He was organist at St Mary's Farnham Royal from 1905-1906, and at Christ Church Cathedral Oxford (1909-1926), Professor at the Royal College of Music in London from 1919, and Precentor at Eton College (that is, in charge of the music in College Chapel) from 1926 to 1945. He was an Honorary Fellow of Keble College Oxford from 1926 to 1945 and died in 1962.


There has always been a close association between the College and the monarchy. This may be partly because the office of Provost is a royal appointment but no doubt also because Eton is so close to Windsor Castle, which has so often been a favoured royal residence. But no monarch showed more interest, nor became more Etonian at heart, than George III(see picture), who spent

most of his long reign (1760-1820) at Windsor. He was Eton's second great royal patron.

School functions were frequently enhanced by his presence and he seldom passed through Eton without stopping to talk to masters and boys, many of whom he knew by name. On numerous occasions boys were entertained at the Castle, In return, the College deeply respected and loved the King, whose birthday, the Fourth of June, was made a holiday. To this day it is celebrated as a holiday with 'Speeches', cricket, and a procession of boats on the river. Speeches are held several times a year. Senior boys wearing tailcoats, knee-breeches, and black silk stockings recite by heart passages from literature before dignitaries of the College, visitors, and a large audience.


One of the ceremonies most often attended by George III was 'Montem'. It was customary for the school to process to a small hill ('ad montem' in Latin means 'to the hill') on what is now the south side of Slough. The origins of this festival are obscure but in any event it was 'customary' by 1561 and underwent various changes before it became, under George III, a major royal occasion held triennially. This colourful pageant was brought to an end after the 1844 Montem, with the reluctant consent of Queen Victoria, mainly because of the unmanageable crowds of sightseers brought to Slough by the new railway.


The longest-serving and arguably the most remarkable Head Master in Eton's history is Dr Keate (1809-34). He has the reputation of being the greatest flogging Head Master, the symbol of unreformed Eton, and a figure of fun. He is caricatured by Kinglake as follows: 'He was little more (if more at all) than five feet in height, and was not very great in girth, but within this space was concentrated the pluck of ten battalions. You could not put him out of humour, that is out of the ill-humour which he thought to be fitting for a Head Master. His red, shaggy eyebrows were so prominent that he habitually used them as arms and hands for the purpose of pointing out any object towards which he wished to direct attention. He wore a

fancy dress, partly resembling the costume of Napoleon, partly that of a widow woman.'

He was the last Head Master to attempt to teach all the senior boys (up to 200 but mainly around 100) in Upper School: given the lax state of discipline when he took up office and the disorderly character of the Regency period it is hardly surprising that he took severe measures. There was, of course, another side to Keate. He was a notable scholar and a gifted teacher. A fine orator himself, he taught boys to deliver speeches clearly enunciating words, and using voice and gesture to maximum effect. Two of his pupils became Prime Ministers, Derby and Gladstone, and it may well be that the training in public speaking given to boys for Speeches and Declarations had some effect on raising standards of parliamentary debate. In private, Keate was a man of geniality and kindness who much enjoyed entertaining boys to supper.

An example of the intellectual vitality of the school at this time is the foundation of the Eton Sociey in 1811. Initially a debating society, it met in Mrs Hatton's confectionery shop (which would have sold sweets and buns) on the site of what is now School Hall. Soon it became known as 'Pop' (derived from the Latin 'popina' meaning 'cookshop') and later became a society for athletes rather than intellectuals and debaters. In the course of time Pop became responsible for discipline in the school, a function it has retained to the present day.

Although the reputation of Eton under Keate remained high, the school was in need of radical reform and this was undertaken over the next few decades. Class sizes were much reduced, more class rooms were built (New Schools, 1861), more and abler staff were appointed, the curriculum was widened from its narrow concentration on the Classics and the conditions in which scholars lived were immeasurably improved. These had deteriorated in the 18th century and were a scandal. No longer did the Head Master and Usher occupy the rooms at either end of Long Chamber, so there was a complete lack of supervision in this huge dormitory after the scholars were locked in at 8 p.m.: no longer did the Fellows eat in Hall and the food had become insufficient, monotonous and unappetising, while breakfast and tea were not even provided. As a result the numbers and quality of the scholars fell to such an extent that in 1841 half the places were unfilled. The deficiencies were remedied in the 1840s when Long Chamber was abolished and the New Buildings were erected, providing comfortable single rooms for the scholars.



The most famous of all Old Etonians is perhaps the Duke of Wellington(see left picture), victor of Waterloo and later Prime Minister. His elder brother, Marquess Wellesley, however, stands out as one of the most devoted Old Etonians and he is buried in the Chapel. He was Governor-General in India, Foreign Secretary and self-styled 'Minister for Eton in the world at large' besides being one of the greatest classical scholars of his day. He was seven years in the school. The galaxy of Old Etonian Prime Ministers is well known, nineteen in all, stretching from Walpole and Pitt the Elder to Macmillan and Douglas-Home. Equally impressive are the Old Etonian writers from Gray, Shelley and Fielding to Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, not forgetting the great economist Keynes. School Library has a fine collection of first editions of works by some recent Old Etonian writers such as Ian and Peter Fleming, A. C. Swinburne, Anthony Powell, Cyril Connolly, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, and Robert Bridges. Political and literary friendships were often formed at Eton: the association of Thomas Grey and Horace Walpole is one of many examples. Old Etonian explorers include Sir Humphrey Gilbert, founder of the colony of Newfoundland, and Captain Oates, who was on Scott's expedition to the South Pole. Among the scientists are Robert Boyle, Sir John Herschel, and Sir Joseph Banks. The late King Birendra of Nepal, crowned in 1975, was also at Eton, as was his son.

Distinguished figures in the armed services, the law, and the Church are legion. Two generations of Etonians were lost in war during the last 100 years: 129 in the Boer War, 1,157 in World War I, and 748 in World War II. There is a memorial in the Cloisters to Colonel H. Jones VC who was killed in the Falklands War. To this day, a significant number of boys take up commissions in the Army after leaving school or university. As regards the Church, it was almost certainly one of the Founder's aims to create a better-educated secular priesthood, and a high proportion of Etonians in the 90 years before the Protestant Reformation became priests: four were to die Protestant martyrs and two were to die for the Catholic faith. One (Ralph Sherwin) became a saint.

As today, in the 18th century there were a small number of boys from America. Two of these, Thomas Lynch and Thomas Nelson, were signatories of the American Declaration of Independence.