skip to content

Magdalene College

I found myself at once at home in my small and beautiful college, rich with all kinds of ancient and venerable traditions, in buildings of humble and subtle grace." A.C. Benson, From a College Window (London, 1906), p.5.
Magdalene College


There has been a continuous tradition of academic study on the Magdalene College site for nearly 600 years. In 1428, Abbot Lytlington of Crowland Abbey near Peterborough was licensed by Letters Patent of King Henry VI to acquire the site to establish a hostel in Cambridge for Benedictine student-monks. The Benedictine monks of Crowland, Ely, Ramsey and Walden began building in the 1470s. As a result of patronage by the family of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, the name of the institution was changed from Monks' Hostel to Buckingham College sometime after 1472. The College suffered an early misfortune when the Duke of Buckingham was executed for treason in 1483, as was his son, Edward Stafford, in 1521.

One of the Benedictine abbeys involved in the College, Walden, came into the possession of Thomas, Lord Audley. Having acquired a splendid house at Audley End, the Order of the Garter, and a peerage, Lord Audley then re-founded Buckingham College as the College of St Mary Magdalene in 1542. The arms of Magdalene, with the motto Garde ta foy ('Keep faith'), and the crest showing the mythic wyvern, are derived from Audley.

Just over a century later in 1650, Samuel Pepys joined the College. Predictably, Pepys soon fell foul of the puritanical regime and was roundly reprimanded by his tutors for 'having bene scandalously overseene in drink the night before'. Pepys was a generous benefactor to his College, and made three subscriptions to the new College building that eventually came to bear his name. Begun in 1670, the fundraising for the elegant addition to the College in Second Court was initially slow, but the building was largely completed by the time of Pepys’ death in 1703. It soon provided a perfect home for his final bequest: his invaluable collection of books and papers which now constitute the Pepys Library. Regarded as the jewel in the crown of Magdalene College, the Pepys Library is a rare example of a 17th-century private library and comprises 3000 volumes of books, manuscripts, engravings and drawings.

For information about the collections of the Pepys Library, and to contact us, please visit the Pepys Library webpages on Magdalene College’s website.