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The Tounis Colleges

The Scottish Intellect Episode 2 of 7

Billy Kay celebrates the rise of the Tounis Colleges after the Reformation - with new Protestant universities founded in Edinburgh, Fraserburgh and Marischall College, Aberdeen. Fraserburgh did not survive long, but the other two became enormously influential. These were part of a huge expansion in higher education that took place across Europe at the time, and were very different from the older ecclesiastical foundations like St Andrews, Glasgow and King's College. They were also better funded, with support from the local community, and especially in the case of Marischall College, from wealthy Protestant Scots in the Baltic ports who sent money home. One of them, the Danzig merchant Robert Gordon donated funds to Marischall and for the college named after him which eventually became the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

We look at the role of Reformers like Andrew Melville and discuss whether the roots of the Scottish Enlightenment and the rise of the Scottish universities in the 18th Century lay in the Reformers' desire for a school in every parish and access to the universities for a broad section of society in this earlier period of the later 16th century. Certainly by the middle of the 17th century, literacy was widespread in the towns of Scotland, and this paved the way for the ideas of the Enlightenment to percolate down through the society.

However, while basic education was widespread, in its higher echelons, most Scots still felt that to complete their education, they had to go abroad. For Scots catholics whose religion was proscribed after the Reformation there was access to the Scots Colleges attached to the great universities of Catholic Europe in places like Rome, Madrid and Paris - the one in Rome still exists as a seminary. There were also various Schottenklöster - Scottish Cloisters - ancient monasteries in German cities like Erfurt and Würzburg where Scottish savants like Andrew Gordon thrived in the 18th century. Tom McInally author of the book The Sixth Scottish University, The Scots Colleges Abroad: 1575 to 1799 argues that before the dramatic surge ahead of the Scottish universities in the first half of the the 18th century, the Scots Colleges in Europe offered a better education than what was on offer at home!
Certainly very few foreign students came to Scotland until the period of the Enlightenment. Many commentators suggest that it was contact with the universities of another Calvinist nation, the Netherlands that acted as a catalyst for the take off of the Scottish universities. Dutch universities like Leiden, Franeker, Groningen and Utrecht attracted as many as 1500 Scottish students, and many of those like Viscount Stair in law and Sir Robert Sibbald in medicine returned to Edinburgh and reformed the university on Dutch lines. Billy visits the oldest Dutch university Leiden and speaks to Dr Esther Meijers of Reading University who did her dissertation on the Scottish students in the Netherlands.

At the end of the programme Billy looks ahead to the Scottish universities influence on America. The combination of learning and piety which survived from the days of the Reformation and thrived among the moderate literati of the Scottish Kirk would have a profound effect on the Scottish universities and the intellectual colonies they established in the fledgeling United States at centres like Princeton and Philadelphia.

Among others taking part in the programme: Michael Lynch, Steven Reid author of Humanism and Calvinism, Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland, 1560 - 1625, Paul Dukes and Peter Davidson of Aberdeen University, and students, Will Symington, Michael Brown and Euan Kay of Edinburgh University.

An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.

Release date:

30 minutes

Last on

Sun 25 Sep 2011 06:03