A history of
Congregation and Convocation
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.