10th February 1495

The University of Aberdeen is founded

Bishop William Elphinstone threw open the doors of Aberdeen’s King’s College to anyone who wished to study – so long as they had the necessary funds.

Initially, the institution that would become the University of Aberdeen, had fewer than 40 staff and students and, being established by a bishop, one of the subjects in which they majored was divinity. However, the range of subjects was quickly extended, and less than two years after its founding it became the first university in the English-speaking world to have a chair of medicine.

Aberdeen University’s Papal Bull

Elphinstone had himself been educated at the University of Glasgow and was appointed its rector in 1474. Like Glasgow, the University of Aberdeen was founded by a Papal Bull, or edict.

As detailed in A History of the University of Aberdeen by John Malcolm Bullock, published upon its 400th anniversary in 1895, “the Bull erecting the University, given ‘at St Peter’s at Rome’ on the ‘tenth day of February 1494’ (New Style, 1495), is a fine specimen of penmanship and is still to be seen, in an excellent state of preservation, with its leaden ‘bulla’ intact in the muniment room at King’s College. As noted, it is almost identical with other Bulls, the statutory clauses indeed being word for word.”

University and cathedral together

The university was established at Aulton, rather than central Aberdeen, which would then have been quite separate from the city itself. Bullock’s book explains that the site would have been chosen “like everything else about the institution, solely on ecclesiastical reasons. The quaint little town must, even four hundred years ago, have contained fewer inhabitants than the thriving city at the mouth of the Dee, but it was the diocesan capital, and naturally enough the head of the See [seat of a bishop] desired to have this pet scheme of his grow up under the shadow of his Cathedral, which might be constantly in touch with the infant University.”

Open to all… except women

Although Bishop Elphinstone said the university should be open to all, there were still restrictions on women studying until 1892, when they were finally given access to every faculty. It took another two years for the first 20 female students to enrol.

The University has been a pioneer in many areas since its founding. In 1861, James Maxwell developed the world’s first colour photography at the university, and in 1980 the Mark 1 MRI scanner scanned its first patient.



Other events that occured in February

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