The College dates originally back to the year 1428. Magdalene College started its life as a hostel for Benedictine monks who were studying here at Cambridge.
In an act of staggering originality, it was first named Monks’ Hostel. This was right on the outskirts of the city back then, much less convenient for the pubs and restaurants than it is today, and the reason they put it all the way out here was literally to keep those monks out of mischief.
Now, the college has changed its name a few times across its history, it was known as Buckingham College for a time but the college master Lord Buckingham was accused of treason so they thought it would be a good idea to rename it. He was ultimately pardoned of his crimes but by this stage, it was too late to re-attach his head so it didn’t bring him much comfort. Unfortunately, this was not an uncommon fate for patrons and masters of this college. It also happened to the Duke of Norfolk. If you’ve ever seen the movie Elizabeth, Norfolk is the bad guy in that. He was also master here and also executed for treason. Someone should warn the Archbishop of Canterbury, he’s due to take over the job next year.
The college took on its current name in 1542 when it was refounded by Thomas Audley. He was chancellor to Henry VIII. One of Henry’s only chancellors to survive to have that job. He was given this college as a present by the king but unfortunately, they got into a bit of an argument over money. Audley was told as punishment that he couldn’t name this college after himself. Now, naming the college after yourself is the entire point of having a college, so Audley was quite upset and insisted on the name Magdalene (Maudleyn). It’s a Latin pronunciation of Magdalene and if you spell it the way it is pronounced you’ve got Audley written right in the middle. Although we don’t spell it that way today we spell it, Magdalene, just to confuse all the tourists a bit.
Samuel Pepys – joined the college in 1650. He is best known for his diaries which included an eyewitness account of the Great Fire of London (1666), The Great Plague and the Second Dutch War. Magdalene college built the Pepys Library (c.1700), named after Samuel Pepys. In this library, you will find copies of his original diaries alongside navel records donated by the family after his death in 1703.
Michael Redgrave was a student of Magdalene College in the 1920-30s before becoming an Actor of critical acclaim.
There are a number of scholarships and bursaries open to students wishing to study at Magdalene College. One of which is named after Nelson Mandela who is an honorary Fellow and there is a Mandela scholarship available for South Africa students wishing to study at the college.
There mixed student body in terms of sex, race and educational background at Magdalene College today. In recent years, Magdalene’s access programme has attracted many applicants from State schools, and the college’s close affiliation with international students’ bursaries such as the Prince Philip Scholarship and the Jardine Foundation has attracted many applicants from South East Asia, most notably Wong Yan Lung who went on to become Secretary for Justice for Hong Kong.