Life at the University in the Seventeenth Century

This blog article is contributed by Meredith Crosbie, a PhD student who has volunteered at MUSA since June. She was inspired to write this article by the Silver Archery Medals in Gallery 2 at MUSA.

graham portrait
This portrait of James Graham was not actually painted until the 1700s!

‘The name’s Graham. James Graham.’

At least that’s how I’d like to think the future Marquis of Montrose introduced himself while he was a student
here in St Andrews. He must have been quite a dashing figure in St Salvator’s College, where he attended in the late 1620s.

Graham studied Latin and Greek, Philosophy, and Mathematics, and in his spare time he wrote poetry and practiced golf and archery. He excelled at the latter, and won a Silver Medal in the University’s competition in 1628 (which you can view in Gallery 2, along with a rather gallant portrait of him).

Graham medal
The medal won by James Graham in 1628. Winners of the competition designed and paid for their own medals, so they provide us with a fascinating insight into how these men wanted to be remembered.

But while Montrose was a young student, finding his way through the meandering wynds of the town, an older student named Archibald Campbell had already established himself as a champion archer. In 1623 he became one of the first students to win a Silver Medal (which is also on view in Gallery 2). He too would have studied Latin and Greek, since these were required subjects for all students at the time.

campbell portrait
Portrait of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquis of Argyll

It’s not certain if Campbell’s path crossed with Montrose’s while they were students in the 1620s. But once they left the University, they became arch enemies on either side of the Scottish Civil War, and may have put their archery skills to a more deadly use.

This Delft tile was brought back from the Netherlands in the 1600s

The Silver Archery Medals and arrows are just one facet of University life from the seventeenth century at MUSA. The Collection Centre has several intriguing portraits of notable figures from that era, as well as some letters, manuscripts, and books from former students. One of Montrose’s letters is on display in a drawer in Gallery 2. You can also see Delft tiles in the Collections Centre, which would have been brought by merchants from the Netherlands and used as decoration in Scottish homes.

These intricately embroidered gloves date from the early 1600s when they were given to Henry Wardlaw by King Charles I

But the most ‘touching’ object in the collection has to be the pair of embroidered leather gloves. These date to around 1630, just after Montrose and Campbell were students at St Andrews. They were a gift from King Charles I to Bishop Wardlaw, and are lavishly decorated with coloured thread. Most upper-class men wore riding gloves at the time, along with large feathered hats, sashes, belts, boots, and various weapons. (It seems men were more interested in accessories in the seventeenth century…)

By seeing these objects in MUSA’s collection, we can get a glimpse of this sometimes forgotten time-period in the history of the University and Scotland, when former classmates could find themselves on opposite sides of a battlefield, but also when men just appreciated really a good pair of gloves.


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