Records of St Mary's College in the University of St Andrews

Scope and Content

The college archive includes tenurial material dating from 1413 such as charters and deeds, inventories and bundled papers relating to land in St Andrews and elsewhere administered by the College. This includes material on teinds from 1616 and patronage of those churches attached to the college from 1550 and on other gifts and endowments. There is other supplementary bundled material including relating to professorships from 1692, bursary and mortification papers, prizes and scholarship material from 1554-1889, factors' papers including legal material from 1686, rentals, accounts and vouchers from 1658-1897 and correspondence from 1825-89. The material which has been classified includes papers of Principals of the college and staff, material relating to students and bursaries, minutes from 1736-1903, secretarial and factorial papers including accounts, diet books 1709-1814, rentals 1682-1916. Much of the material is of a domestic nature.

Administrative / Biographical History

In February 1538 Archbishop James Beaton (d. 1539) founded 'the College of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary' on the site of the pedagogy of the University of St Andrews. Beaton had petitioned the Papacy for a new college in 1525 and again, successfully, in 1537. The New College was founded as a seminary of secular priests primarily for work in the archdiocese of St Andrews. Archbishop John Hamilton (1511?-1571) secured a fresh authorisation from the Papacy for the reform of the constitution of the college, renewed work on the buildings and, finally, issued a new charter in 1553-4 re-defining the college. The college remains that part of the University where Divinity has been taught since 1579.

St Mary's College remains on its original site on South Street, St Andrews. The oldest parts of the College were built under both Archbishops Beaton and Hamilton. The northern and western blocks on the site have been much altered but are still in use. The southern block evidently housed the Common Hall but was demolished after a century. The Collegiate Church or Chapel seems to have stood on the east side of the court, perhaps on the site of the older chapel of St John. Around 1620 Principal Robert Howie extensively remodelled the college buildings. The old Hall was demolished and a new one created in the old west building. The Royal Commission of 1826 authorised work to be done on the buildings of St Mary's College and in 1829-30 the old north building of the college was demolished and replaced by an addition to the Library. The archway entrance was rebuilt but the best features of the earlier buildings were retained. The buildings were taken over by the government and maintained as a public charge until 1890. The house in the north-west corner of the College court was the official residence of the Principal from 1707 until 1978 when it was converted into offices for staff. During the eighteenth century the College bought up neighbouring properties to straighten its boundaries. From 1888 parts of the college policies were used for a botanic garden, a Medical building and an extension to the library.

Under Beaton's foundation the college was to teach not only Theology and Arts but also Canon Law, Civil Law and Medicine. In addition the college secured from the Papacy the coveted right to promote to degrees on its own. Robert Bannerman, principal regent of the Pedagogy, was instituted by the founder as first Theologian and Provost of St Mary's College in 1538. A confirmatory royal charter of James V was granted in 1538. Hamilton's re-foundation of 1554 regulated the teaching, discipline, government and ceremonies of the college. It included only teachers of Arts, Theology and Canon Law. 'The New Foundation and Erection of the three Colleges in the University of St Andrews' was ratified by King and Parliament in November 1579. As a result, the New College became a seminary of Protestant theology and was restricted to the study of theology. The professorships of Laws and Mathematics which had been instituted at St Mary's in 1574 were transferred to St Salvator's College. St Mary's was now to have a staff of five professors, one of Hebrew, two of Old Testament and another of New Testament. The fifth was to act as professor of Systematic Theology and Principal of St Mary's College. Due to financial problems, only three of the five professorships became settled. The Chair of Hebrew was endowed by the Crown in 1668.

By the start of the eighteenth century the Principal was Primarius Professor of Divinity and shared the teaching with his fellow masters. The second master was Second Professor of Divinity, the third master was known as Professor of Divinity and Ecclesiastical History after the revival and full endowment of the post in 1707, and the fourth master was Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages. In 1826 the Royal Commission confirmed that the second Professor of Divinity should become a Professor of Biblical Criticism. The patronage of the four established Chairs and the Principalship of St Mary's College was transferred to the University Court after 1858. Two new Professorships (Systematic Theology, and Practical Theology and Christian Ethics) were founded by the Church of Scotland after the union of the churches in 1929. The practise of regenting (or teaching the same students throughout their studies) was abandoned in St Mary's from 1580 due to shortage of staff and the influence of Andrew Melville, whereas it remained the norm in St Salvator's and St Leonard's until 1705, being finally discarded in 1747.

The statutes of the Faculty of Theology had been revised in 1560 but thereafter the Faculty seems to have become disorganised. An attempt in 1574 to put revised degree regulations into practice failed and it was not until 1599 that the Faculty was reinstituted 1599 with Melville as Dean and a proper course of teaching towards degrees in Theology was once more available. There is no evidence that degrees were awarded, although some students did conclude their studies with the accepted disputation of theses. In 1616 the Doctorate in Divinity was restored. By the time of the Commission of 1826, the Faculty of Theology was indistinguishable from St Mary's College, with the work of the Faculty being discharged by the College ex officio. It found that the only degree that survived was the more or less honorary DD. It recommended that the BD was to be re-instated after four years study of Divinity, Biblical Criticism, Ecclesiastical History and Oriental Languages. After five years a Bachelor was entitled to offer himself for a Doctorate, to be awarded after examination. However, the BD was not introduced until 1864 and the DD continued to be conferred mainly on an honorary basis. New degree regulations were introduced in 1895.

The confirmatory charter of James V of 1538 endowed the New College with the same privileges and exemptions as the oldest college of the University, St Salvator's College (1450) and took those residing in College under royal safekeeping and protection, exonerating them from royal taxes. The administrative structure of the college was only formalised under the re-foundation of Archbishop John Hamilton in 1554. He used King's College, Aberdeen (1495) as a pattern. The Rector of the University was visitor in St Mary's, with the Official, the Archdeacon, the Sub-Prior of St Andrews, the Provincials of the Dominicans and Franciscans and the Provost of St Salvator's. The visitors had more extensive powers than at St Salvator's and appointed the Provost or Principal, sharing with him the appointment of the three other major offices of Licentiate, Bachelor and Canonist. These four persons formed, in effect, the governing body of the college. After them came eight priests, students of Theology and alumni of the college, then five regents in Arts, of whom three were to be "professors of philosophy', plus a Rhetorician and a Grammarian. The foundation of thirty-six persons was completed by sixteen students in Arts, a steward, a cook and a porter. The college was to be supported by the teinds of various parishes, but, unlike St Salvator's, none of these was annexed as a prebend. Financial control was reserved to the church authorities to the exclusion of the Rector. After re-organisation under the New Foundation of 1579, appointments to five chairs were to be made by Bishop, Conservator, Rector, Deans of Faculty and the remaining professors of Theology.

In 1580 Andrew Melville (1545-1622) was appointed first Principal of St Mary's College in its new form. The office of Principal of St Mary's College was conjoined with the Professorship of Divinity, introduced on the original foundation, until the two offices were separated in 1934. The Act of 1932 assigned the patronage of the office to the University Court. After 1940 the Principalship was held by one of the senior professors in the faculty. Until 1978 the term of office was from appointment until retirement. Thereafter the Court began to appoint Principals for fixed terms. The Principal of St Mary's from 1854-1886 was also Senior Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1859-1886.

By the early eighteenth century the financial position of the college was precarious. Such endowments as the college had were teinds of parishes and they were gradually diverted back to their original purpose without compensation to the college. However, careful management of its resources enabled St Mary's to continue its separate existence at the time of the formation of the United College in 1747. The college remained patron of the parishes of Conveth (Laurencekirk), Inchbrayock (Craig) and Tannadice and Logie-Pert at alternate vacancies. It sold the right of patronage over Tyninghame to the Earl of Haddington for 100 sterling in 1760. Common Tables were given up at St Mary's in 1814 and any residential element to the college disappeared thereafter.

By 1826 the colleges were the most powerful elements in the university. St Mary's College administered its own property and finance, appointed its own officers except those in the gift of the crown and private patronage, and exercised disciplinary control over its students. The Report of the University Commissioners, published in 1831, made sweeping proposals for changes to the administrative structure of the University that was to impact on the college. There was to be a new body to deal with "the whole administration and management of the revenue and property of the University and Colleges'. This was to be known as the University Court. The College might continue to appoint to the professorships and bursaries within its own patronage and to exercise what powers were left to it, but the Court was to be the dominant element in University life. It was not until 1858 that many of these recommendations were actually incorporated into the Universities (Scotland ) Act, except that the Court was only "to inquire into and control' the administration of the finances of the university by the Senate and colleges, instead of administering them itself. The Universities (Scotland) Act of 1889 had the effect of transferring the administration of the college to the University Court. The University of St Andrews Act of 1953 reconstituted the college as an 'unincorporated society' of teachers and students associated with the college but absorbed in the parent university. It was to retain its own presiding officer, the Principal of St Mary's College, who remains one of the senior figures within the University and who acts as Head of the School of Divinity. The Faculty of Divinity retains its autonomous status and its own Dean but is increasingly administered jointly with the Faculty of Arts.


The material has been arranged in accordance with a classification scheme imposed since 1961. This creates the following groups of records which reflect the different areas of activity of the College:

  • UYSM100-199 Privileges, lands and buildings
  • UYSM200-299 Officers and staff
  • UYSM300-399 Students
  • UYSM400-499 Executive proceedings
  • UYSM500-599 General administration
  • UYSM600-699 Bursaries
  • UYSM700-799 Miscellaneous
  • UYSM800-899 Relations with outside bodies

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

University of St Andrews


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Hand list available in Reading Room. Name slip index available for inventoried papers. Slip index to college minutes. Some of the early tenurial material is available on the departmental manuscripts database.

Alternative Form Available

There are transcripts made in the 1890s of some of the early charter and tenurial material.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist.Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures.

Custodial History

Retained in the custody of the University of St Andrews, except for some items which were bought back at the sale of the papers of Principal John Lee (1779-1859), Principal of the United College (1837), thereafter Principal of the University of Edinburgh.



Related Material

Material relating to the Faculty of Divinity can be found at GB 227 UYUY406-409. Other related material is held in the main university muniment run at GB 227 UYUY.


RG Cant, The University of St Andrews: A Short History, (3rd ed., St Andrews, 1992), DWD Shaw, In divers manners: a St Mary's miscellany: to commemorate the 450th anniversary of St Mary's College, 7 March, 1539, (St Andrews, 1990), JK Cameron, 'A Trilingual College for Scotland: the founding of St Mary's College' in St Mary's Bulletin, 1989, pp. 9-19, HR Sefton, 'St Mary's College, St Andrews, in the Eighteenth Century', in Records of the Scottish Church History Society, 24, 1991, pp. 161-180, JK Cameron and RN Smart, A Scottish form of the 'Emblme de la rligion rforme': the post-Reformation seal of St Mary's College in the University of St Andrews, (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries, 1977), Evidence, oral and documentary, taken and received by the Commissioners for visiting the Universities of Scotland, vol. III, St Andrews, (London, 1837).

Additional Information

This material is original. On occasion an original item may be wanting and a surviving transcript or earlier inventory entry can be substituted.

Geographical Names