King’s College London King’s College Cambridge

King’s College London King’s College Cambridge

King’s College London King’s College Cambridge

About King’s

King’s College was founded in 1441 by Henry VI (1421-71) and is one of the 31 colleges in the University of Cambridge. King’s has an outstanding academic record and is also world-famous for its Chapel and choir. The Christmas Eve service from King’s (A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols) is broadcast to millions around the world. See College history for more about the College’s past, and the news page to find out what’s happening now.


Henry VI, the college’s founderFoundation

On 12 February 1441 King Henry VI issued letters patent founding a college at Cambridge for a rector and twelve poor scholars. This college was to be named after Saint Nicholas, upon whose saint day Henry had been born.The first stone of the college’s Old Court was laid by the King on Passion Sunday, 2 April 1441, on a site which lies directly north of the modern college and which was formerly a garden belonging to Trinity Hall. William Millington, a fellow of Clare College (then called Clare Hall) was installed as the rector.

Old Court

Henry directed the publication of the college’s first governing statutes in 1443. His original modest plan for the college was abandoned, and provision was instead made for community of seventy fellows and scholars headed by a provost. Henry had belatedly learned of William of Wykeham’s 1379 twin foundation of New College, Oxford and Winchester College, and wanted his own achievements to surpass those of Wykeham. The King had in fact founded Eton College on 11 October 1440, but up until 1443 King’s and Eton had been unconnected.However, that year the relationship between the two was remodelled upon Wykeham’s successful institutions and the original sizes of the colleges scaled up to surpass Wykeham’s. A second royal charter which re-founded the now much larger King’s College was issued on 12 July 1443 . On 1 September 1444, the Provosts of King’s and Eton, and the Wardens of Winchester and New College formally signed the Amicabilis Concordia (“friendly agreement”) in which they bound their colleges to support one another legally and financially.

Members of King’s were to be recruited entirely from Eton. Each year, the provost and two fellows travelled to Eton to impartially elect the worthiest boys to fill any vacancies at the college, always maintaining the total number of scholars and fellows at exactly seventy. Membership of King’s was a vocation for life. Scholars were eligible for election to the fellowship after three years of probation, irrespective of whether they had achieved a degree or not. In fact, undergraduates at King’s – unlike those from other colleges – did not even have to pass university examinations to achieve their BA degree and instead had only to satisfy the college. Every fellow was to study theology, save for two who were to study astronomy, two civil law, four canon law, and two medicine; all fellows save those studying secular subjects were obliged to take Holy Orders and become priests, on pain of expulsion. In 1445 a Papal Bull from Eugenius IV exempted college members from parish duties, and in 1457 an agreement between the provost and chancellor of the university limited the chancellor’s authority and gave the college full jurisdiction over internal matters.

Henry VI’s revised plan for the college

Henry VI, Henry VII and Henry VIII

The original plans for Old Court were too small to comfortably accommodate the larger college community of the second foundation, and so in 1443 Henry began to purchase the land upon which the modern college now sits. The gateway and south range of Old Court had already been built, but the rest was completed in a temporary fashion to serve until the new court was ready. However, the new college site would itself be left unfinished and the “temporary” Old Court buildings, arranged to accommodate seventy, served as the permanent residential fabric of the college until the beginning of the 19th century. Henry’s grand design for the new college buildings survives in the 1448 Founder’s Will which describes his vision in detail. The new college site was to be centred on a great courtyard, bordered on all sides by adjoining buildings: a chapel to the north; accommodation and the entrance gate to the east; further accommodation and the provost’s lodge to the south; and a library, hall and buttery to the west. Behind the hall and buttery was to be another courtyard, and behind the library a cloistered cemetery including a magnificent bell tower.

Academic profile

The unofficial Tompkins Table comparing academic performance ranked King’s thirteenth out of a total of twenty-nine rated colleges at the University of Cambridge in 2012. In terms of first-class degrees, King’s ranked 7th in the university with 27.5% of final year students achieving a first.

King’s offers all undergraduate courses available at the University, except for education, Land Economy and veterinary medicine, although Directors of Studies for Anglo-Saxon Norse & Celtic and Management Studies visit from other colleges. With more than 100 fellows and some 420 undergraduate students, King’s has one of the highest ratios of fellows to students of all the Cambridge Colleges.

Since its foundation, the college has housed a library, providing books for all students, covering all the subjects offered by King’s. Around 130,000 books are held: some available for teaching and for reference, others being rare books and manuscripts. The library operates a user-oriented purchasing policy: students and Directors of Studies recommend new purchases in their subject. There is both Wi-Fi and Ethernet internet access throughout the library as well as a library computer room. Special collections include a separate Music Library, the Keynes Library, a Global Warming collection, and an Audio Visual Library.

Contact us

King'sKing’s College, Cambridge

King’s College

King’s Parade
Cambridge CB2 1ST
Tel: +44 (0)1223 331100