Magdalene college Cambridge

Private Punting Tour

Magdalene college

founded in 1428

Magdalene college has over 600 years of academic history. Originally founded in 1428 as a safe place for Benedictine student-monks to live, the college was later re-founded ( and renamed ) in 1542. The college continued to grow and by the 18th century began to expand its curriculum away from theology alone towards subjects associated with the enlightenment movement.  The college is home to the Pepys Library and is free to visitors wishing to explore the college grounds.

Early History of Magdalene College

The college today is situated  across the river from Quayside, one of Cambridge’s earliest settlements dating back to the iron age. The site was once a Roman river crossing along the route from Colchester in the south-east, to Chester in the north-west. Thousands of Roman coins have been discovered close by along with pottery and other household items.

Following the collapse of the Roman empire, the settlement was left defenseless and was mostly abandoned for several hundred years. The site was later inhabited for a brief time by Viking armies in 874 and Norman armies in1068, following William I victory at the Battle of Hastings. 

Initial Foundation as a Hostel for Monks

By the year 1428, England was under the rule of Henry IV, who licensed the site of what is now Magdalene college to become a hostel for Benedictine student-monks studying during their stay at Cambridge University, which had been founded just over 200 years prior in 1209.  

Benedict Monks belong to the catholic church and follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, written by Saint Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century as a foundation for monastic communities. The student monks were required to devote themselves to the study of Cannon Law and the original hostel – known as ‘Monks Hostel’ – was purposely built away from the temptations of the town to the south of the river.

The hostel became Buckingham College due to the patronage of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, subsequently followed by Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham in 1519, who paid for the construction of the first college Hall.

Re-foundation by Lord Audley

Unfortunately for both Buckingham College, their primary patron was executed for treason in 1521 before he could endow the college. The college fell on hard times for the next 20 years until the college was re-founded by Thomas Audley in 1542.

Former speaker of the House of Commons, Thomas Audley was Lord Chancellor during the trials of Bishop John Fisher, one of the founders of St.John’s College and present during the execution of Anne Boleyn. Following the dissolution of catholic monasteries during the English Reformation, Henry VIII gifted Wadlen Abby, a Benedictine abbey associated with Buckingham college, to Thomas Audley. Audely introduced the motto, garde ta foy (‘keep faith) as well as the college crest.



Magdalene College Pronunciation

Audley dedicated and named the college after St.Mary Magdalene, however the college is pronounced Maudlyn, as to keep the founders name within it. An extra ‘e’ was added to the college name in the 16th century to distinguish Cambridge from the Oxford college.

Magdalene College Alumni

Magdalene college is relatively small when compared to some of the larger colleges, with around 350 undergraduates, 200 postgraduates and 100 fellows. The college has produced a number of noteworthy alumni, such as Thomas Hardy, an English poet and novelist, Partick Blackett, nobel prize winner for physics in 1948, and also Nelson Mandela, who was given an honorary degree.

The Pepys Library

Magdalen college’s most well known alumni and benefactor was Samual Pepys. Son of a local tailor, Pepys was awarded a scholarship to Magdalene in 1654. Pepes was a member of parliament before becoming president of the Royal Society and secretary to admiralty.

Pepys is best known for a diary which he kept between the ages of 26 to 36. The diary depicts life in London during the 1600s and is one of the best accounts of the Great Fire of London.

Following his death, Pepys donated his personal library of over 3000 books (arranged by height) to Magdalene college, along with his diary and a custom made oak bookcase, all of which are kept today within the Pepys Library at Magdalene College.

Visiting Today

Both Magdalene college and the Pepys Library are free to visit. Opening times may vary so its advisable to check the college opening times before arrival. The college can also be viewed from the river by taking one of our shared or private river tours, which will introduce the history of Magdalen college as well as 8 other colleges along the River Cam.

Trip Advisor

star rating  The most Amazing Punt Company river tour that i had with “ Josh “ he made the journey unforgettable he was explaining everything and show us every sight with details... read more

avatar thumb rafa717
15 February 2023

star rating  Great team, excellent customer service! Joe was our guide and he was amazing. Full of knowledge, patience and great sense of humour. Thank you for having us.

avatar thumb AfsanaN7
15 February 2023

star rating  Absolutely lovely experience. Easy to find. Our tour guide, Josh, had so much knowledge about the area.

avatar thumb neyrah2023
14 February 2023
Scroll to Top