Principal's Blog: 1st February 2021

blogBowerscrop1I remain conscious that many members of our Brasenose community have been affected by covid-19 with deaths in some families. I send my sympathy to all so affected. This is a terrible time.

Australia Day Honours List:
We send our congratulations to the two Brasenose alumni included in the Australia Day 2021 Honours List. They are:

1. Companion (AC) in the General Division - Malcolm Turnbull (1978)
For eminent service to the people and Parliament of Australia, particularly as Prime Minister, through significant contributions to national security, free trade, the environment and clean energy, innovation, economic reform and marriage equality, and to business and philanthropy.

  1. 2. Member (AM) in the General Division - Emeritus Professor Peter John Roberts-Thomson (1972)

For significant service to medical education, and to immunology.

Notorious principals:
It will come as a major surprise (if not a shock) to many of you that not all Principals of Brasenose have been paragons of complete and undiluted integrity and virtue. Space does not permit me to include all of the foibles of all past Principals (or indeed the present one) so I have chosen three to dwell upon, which I will include in the blog from time to time.

There was no real close competition for the first one as Robert Shippen was well ahead in a crowded field. He came from Stockport (where he attended the Grammar School) and survived as Principal for no less than thirty-five years 1710 to 1745.

Jo Mordaunt Crook in his history of Brasenose describes him as an “archetype of unreformed Oxford”. R W Jeffrey a Fellow (and there were then only six of them at the time) said of him that he was “truculent, dishonest, interfering and sensual”. Hearne another Oxford man piled in too and said that he was “a most lecherous man”. It is also said that he gained his earlier Fellowship at Merton College by trickery. And this was someone in clerical orders, although Hearne felt the need to put in his diary “Nor can I learn that he ever yet preached. He is a meer Hocus-Pocus, and very unfit for a Cure of Souls”.

Shippen seemed to make a career habit of gaining appointments by stealth. He had been Gresham Professor of Music in London even though he apparently knew little of music. He was Vice Chancellor of the University for some of the time 1718 to 1723 at a time when this rotated around the College Principals (a practice which only ended quite recently).

He grew insane towards the end of his life. The Fellows tried to persuade the Visitor (then as now the Bishop of Lincoln) to remove their ailing Principal but he declined to do so.

Shippen made a habit of acquiring a wide range of parish benefices and these included Great Billing in Northants (which came with a fine Rectory); Whitechapel and Amersham. This supplemented his £100pa as Principal and he also had fees on the renewal of College leases.

We can however thank him for one thing. On the plus side he bought eight sites which still exist today; one next to the chapel and seven towards High Street.

It was quite a family too. One of his brothers was Tory leader in the House of Commons known as “Honest” Will Shippen. He came to a sticky end as he was sent to Tower “for saying K George’s speech was calculated for Germany rather than England”.

More Principals to follow!

I am delighted that our Library remains open, unlike many other libraries across Oxford. I want to thank the Librarians for their tireless work.

At the chapel service on 24 January, Rev Canon Daniel Inman Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral gave an inspiring sermon about Daniel.

You may have seen in the press coverage of the scientific research which says that dogs originated as Siberian wolves. Until now, scientists only knew that dogs had evolved out of a wolf population somewhere in Asia or Europe – but the new research has now pinpointed the specific region where that occurred and the approximate date that the transformation took place. One of the paper's co-authors is our Kurti Senior Fellow Greger Larson. 

I have enjoyed reading Litigating Religions by Chris McCrudden.

Finally I want to pay tribute to Dr Llewelyn Morgan who has edited the Brazen Nose since Volume 47 (2012-2013) – he took over from Revd Graeme Richardson. He has produced a record full of interesting news and articles which we all look forward to receiving (and I say this not only because he has accepted some of my material). He is in a long line of great Editors of this magazine. This is especially commendable given his other duties for College including serving as Vice Principal and continuing as Fellow in Classics. We wish him a long and happy retirement from the role as Editor.

I also welcome on board as Editor from the next Edition Dr Simon Palfrey one of our Fellows in English.

I am pleased to say that William James and Philip Goulder will reprise their excellent Principals Conversation on covid on 17 March at 5 30 and this time will be joined by Ellie Barnes.

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