On the Inception of a University Master

Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton

Originally Published in the Tidings, the newsletter of the Principality of Ealdormere.

I spoke with a number of people at Investiture who expressed interest in learning the background of my Laurelling ceremony, which was based in part on an extant ceremony from the University of Cambridge for the inception ceremony of a regent master. I hope you'll pardon my using the pages of the Tidings to do so.

When I began researching the ceremony, I recalled quite quickly that universities were, in fact, guilds of a sort--at least their associations of masters were considered as such. Admission to the rank of master at a university shared quite a lot of similarities with admission to the rank of master in a craft guild. Rather than a period of apprenticeship followed by work as a journeyman, the scholar first studied for several years before attaining the rank of Bachelor (allowing him limited lecturing privileges). Further study and teaching (usually directly linked with a particular master or masters) led in a few more years to the point at which the candidate was ready to begin a full teaching career.

At the university level by the thirteenth centuries, studying at the university level involved two things: first, attending lectures at which works were "read"--the lecturer not only reading a particular work out loud, but also the glosses and commentary on the work. In this way, students studied the major works of basic theology, canon law, and natural philosophy. Also important was the formal disputation, or, to give it its period name, determining of questions; this was the process at the core of the scholastic method of inquiry. A master would pose a question of philosophy , theology, or canon law, and then would proceed to cite authorities and their various positions on the issue. After discussion amongst the students, the master would then draw a conclusion based on those sources and his interpretation of them. Determination, because of the extensive knowledge needed to array authoritative statements on the sides of an issue, was the especial hallmark of the master. It is not surprising, therefore, that the public determination of a question was part of the ceremony involved in "incepting" (the word is Latin for "beginning") as a master.

After having been observed by the university masters for a sufficient amount of time, a candidate would be allowed to seek his license to teach from the chancellor of the university. This, in itself, did not make him a master, however. Upon receiving the licentiate, the candidate had to swear an oath to incept within a certain period of time at that university. This ceremony usually took an entire day, unless several masters were incepting the same day (more on that in a moment). The candidate would appear at the collegiate church of the university, for the first time wearing the cappa clausa of the master (in the thirteenth century, this resembled a hooded poncho, with hand slits in front; it was always black). His fellows would sometimes publicly praise or admonish him; to which he was supposed to respond by pulling his hood over his head in humility. He would next be presented with his biretta (scholar1s hat) and invested with a ring . He would then swear publicly , often on an open book symbolizing knowledge, to do various things: At Cambridge, for instance, he would promise to uphold the statutes and customs of the university, to keep the peace of the university, to not reveal the secrets of the guild of masters, and to teach there for at least a year. Thence, he would be seated in the "master1s chair" and commence his public determination, which could take several hours. Because of time constraints, new masters often did not actually present their determinations on the day of their inception but might simply outline it; if this were the case, the rector would say the phrase "ad hec et ad alia sufficiunt magistrorum responsa", which translated loosely, means "this is enough for us to consider you a master"--so long as the determination went ahead the next day.

Traditionally, a newly-incepted master would host a feast after the ceremony for his fellow masters. Here, strict guidelines were passed by universities to ensure that these feasts did not get out of hand, either in expense or in behaviour. The next day, the established masters would not lecture, in honour of the new master, who was expected to complete his determination. The new master was now a "regent master", tied to his university for at least a year as a lecturer. After that, he could lecture where he wished, although in practice most masters probably stayed at their home university.

The standard Middle Kingdom Laurelling ceremony contains many of the same elements of the inception ceremony, including the promise to observe the statutes of the Order and to share knowledge. Public praise was handled by Master Hector of the Black Height (standing in for Mistress Sarra Graeham, who had originally begged the boon) and "advice on the burdens of peerage" by Duke Finnvarr (who stood for three Orders--Pelican, Knight, and Royal Peerage). When I re-wrote the ceremony, I had to compress a two-stage process taking place on two separate occasions down to a single short ceremony, but I was able to keep the basic oaths the same. Here is the "meat" of the ceremony:

Crown: As it is the judgement of the Order of the Laurel that you are fit to join their ranks, We are resolved to create you Mistress of the Laurel. Give your word now that you will observe , preserve, and conserve the statutes, privileges, and customs of this Order.

Candidate: Promitto ("I promise" in Latin)

The rector (one of the members of the Order) shall place the candidate's hand on the open book. The Crown will continue:

Crown: Do you pledge to keep the peace of the academy, to lecture within our Society for at least one year, and to ever strive for greater knowledge and wisdom, mindful that with wisdom, you shall surely grow?

Candidate: Promitto.

Crown: Will you promise to teach your students to do likewise?

Candidate: Promitto

The rector shall close the book and give it to the candidate, saying "ad hec et ad alia sufficiunt magistrorum responsa".

Crown: Then thus we confer the license to teach as a master. Be invested with the symbols of your new status, and wear them that all might know of your skills and service as your peers have attested and We have acknowledged today. Rise, Mistress Nicolaa, Magistra Laurae.

Since I did not want to burden Court with a long public lecture, I had Master Hector (who was acting as rector--we had a good laugh over the rhyme) say the phrase "ad hec et ad alia....." I actually did my promising on an old book from Robarts Library--overlaid with printouts from a microfilm of the text I1m editing for my PhD thesis. Instead of a ring, I got a medallion; and I had my cappa clausa presented at the same time. The ceremony ended with the giving of the license to teach (which would have normally come before) by Their Majesties--embodied physically in my Laurel scroll.

The original ceremony was found in Hackett, M.B. The Original Statutes of the University of Cambridge: The Text and its History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Copyright 1997, Susan Carroll-Clark.