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L'universite de Caen aux XVe et XVIe siecles: Identite et representation.

Lyse Roy. L'universite de Caen aux XVe et XVIe siecles: Identite et representation.

Education and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance 24. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006. xii + 314 pp. index, append. bibl. map. tbls. $161. ISBN: 90-04-14943-0.

This monograph is a careful, detailed, and well-documented history of the University of Caen from 1432 to 1609. Caen was a provincial university which served its region well but never achieved higher status.

In 1432 Henry VI of England, who then ruled Normandy, obtained a charter for a university at Caen. In 1436 he provided funds to pay the salaries of six professors, while the Estates of Normandy provided a little more money. Henry issued university statutes, some professors were recruited, and teaching probably began between 1436 and 1439. The University of Caen had annual enrollments of about 250 students between 1440 and 1450. However, when the French king Charles VII reconquered Normandy, the university closed. Charles VII grudgingly permitted it to reopen in 1452 due to the demand of the local people and the Estates of Normandy. New statutes modeled on those of Paris were promulgated in 1457, and these endured until reformed in 1521. Despite the initial largess of Henry VI, professors did not receive salaries from public authorities, but had to live on student fees, benefices, and professional practices.

The most important part of the surviving documentation consists of student matriculation records, which were gathered twice a year from 1440 to 1558, with the exception of 1510 through 1515. The annual number of matriculations ranged from a low of 131 to a high of 699. As in almost all universities outside of Italy, the vast majority of students were young men, usually teenagers, seeking arts degrees. Roy estimates that these arts students graduated in two years: hence, the average enrollment ranged from 300 to 700 students, a respectable number for a provincial university. The University of Caen also had the three higher faculties of theology, law, and medicine, but the surviving records do not permit an estimate of the number of students, which was surely quite low. The vast majority of teachers taught arts, but it is difficult to determine their exact status. The higher faculties annually had about fifteen professors, usually seven for theology, six for law, and two for medicine, a good total for a regional university. The professors were local men: from the foundation to 1580, 161 of 165 professors came from Normandy. Few of them were scholars of distinction. Roy stresses the close integration of the university and the region, and the contribution that the university made to Normandy's intellectual and cultural life. The University of Caen was somewhat unusual in that it established a library in 1457. An inventory of 1515, included here in the first appendix, lists 278 titles, of which 39% were in theology, 29% in law, 13% in medicine, 12% in liberal arts, and 7% in other matter. The titles were traditional university texts leavened with some titles that demonstrated the beginning of humanistic studies in the university.

The French Wars of Religion from the 1560s to the 1580s were, in the author's words, years of torment for the university, as religion divided the town and the university. More than half of the residents of Caen were Huguenots in 1572, and several professors of theology became Calvinists in the war years. Theodore de Beze, who lived in Caen for two months in 1563, wished to make the university into a Calvinist academy on the model of the Geneva Academy. This did not happen, but students stayed away during the religious strife.

When Catholics finally prevailed in Normandy, they promulgated new statutes for the University of Caen between 1580 and 1586. The reforms benefited and modernized the university at the price of the loss of some autonomy. University officers were subject to royal approval, while professors were obliged to attend Mass. Henry III decreed that the university should receive the proceeds of a salt tax: hence, professors and regent arts instructors began to receive salaries from the public purse. The regents were obliged to live in the colleges where they oversaw the academic and personal lives of students. The undergraduate arts curriculum was reorganized in imitation of the Jesuit program of studies, and French was taught. When the crown installed Jesuits in one of the colleges in 1609, a new era for the University of Caen began. This era ended in 1791 when the revolutionary government closed the university.

Roy's study is based on an exhaustive investigation of the archival records and extensive reading in printed primary and secondary sources. Numerous graphs, tables, and three appendices support the author's statements. Although it is a local study, Roy is aware of the larger historical context and makes some comparative references to other universities. This is a model study of a regional university.


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Author:Grendler, Paul F.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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