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Oxford University Archives


A history of Congregation and Convocation


3. Nineteenth century reform

Until 1854, the University continued to effect its legislation and conduct its business in the two assemblies of Congregation and Convocation as set out in the Laudian Statutes. Convocation or the Great Congregation of Regents and Non-Regents was still the supreme governing body of the University, consisting of all regents and non-regents who had kept their names on the books of the society (college or hall) to which they belonged. It also included those who had been admitted to the degrees of MA, DCL, DM or DD by diploma or decree; those with these degrees merely conferred honoris causa were not members. The Congregation of Regent Masters (the House of Congregation, later the Ancient House of Congregation) consisted exclusively of regents whether necessary or optional.

The passing of the Oxford University Act 1854 (17 and 18 Vic c81), which enacted the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1850, effected a considerable change in the University's constitution. It left the two ancient assemblies in place but added a third: the 'Congregation of the University of Oxford' (so named in the Act). The Act also transferred all powers, privileges and functions of the Hebdomadal Board to a new body called the Hebdomadal Council.

Convocation continued to comprise all masters of arts, and doctors of law, medicine and divinity who had their names on the books and it continued to carry out every formal act of the University and all its business as a corporate body (except that relating to the granting of ordinary degrees). It conferred honorary degrees and degrees by diploma or decree. All documents requiring the common seal of the University received Convocation's sanction (eg leases, conveyances, petitions to Parliament). No proposition could originate in Convocation: it had to come via Congregation. In the last resort, however, Convocation had supreme control over the actions of the University; despite losing its right to elect professors and public lecturers, it retained the power to adopt or finally reject statutes received from Congregation.

The Act renamed the Congregation of Regent Masters the Ancient House of Congregation. Its constitution remained unchanged but it no longer had anything to do with legislation and its business consisted soley of granting graces, conferring ordinary degrees and appointing examiners. It appears to have existed until 1969, when the Statutes were changed following the recommendations of the Franks Commission Report: the last University Statutes to mention the Ancient House of Congregation, or regency, were those for 1968.

The new 'Congregation of the University of Oxford' comprised the following only (all of whom were to be members of Convocation): the Chancellor, High Steward, heads of colleges or halls, Canons of Christ Church, the Proctors, members of Hebdomadal Council, University officers (as named in Schedule A eg Registrar, Keeper of the Archives, Bodley's Librarian), professors, assistant or deputy professors, public examiners, all resident members, and others to be determined in the future. Under the Act, the Vice-Chancellor was required to make an annual register of those persons qualified to be members of Congregation. From 1913, being a resident member of Convocation was no longer an entitlement to membership of Congregation.

Its business was concerned with legislation, ie a new statute was framed by Hebdomadal Council, promulgated in Congregation and either approved or rejected. Statutes approved by Congregation then had to be submitted to Convocation for final adoption or rejection. In addition, it was also entrusted with a large share of the election of members of various University bodies such as curators and delegates.

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