– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

exhibition archive – Early Admissions Register

A number of our small online exhibitions are moving from the website to this blog. We will be using the website mostly for presenting large chunks of text that needs reading, such as collection catalogues. Blogs are more flexible and better for bite-size presentations, and tend to display images better as well. We hope you enjoy these little blasts from the past!


This exhibition was originally a Document of the Week in Michaelmas Term 2005. It features Balliol’s Admissions Register for 1636 – 1682. This is the earliest surviving register of admissions; Balliol is singularly unfortunate among the ancient foundations to retain none of its medieval administrative records. It is not known when or how they were disposed of, or indeed of what they consisted exactly , but certainly by the time the noted antiquarian scholar Andrew Clark came to transcribe the Annual Lists ca. 1910, only records from 1520 onwards were still available to him. He was allowed to remove the registers from Balliol premises and the earliest ones, sadly, never came back. A cautionary tale for archivists… However, the early title deeds (relating to properties formerly owned by the College), some of which predate the foundation of the college, are still safely in the Archives.

The earliest surviving administrative record series are: Latin Register of College Meeting Minutes from 1514, Bursars’ Computi from 1568, Battels from 1576, Buttery Books from 1598, Registers of admissions and degrees from 1638, and Bursars’ Final Account Books from 1672.


Transcript of a page from the Admissions Register 1632 – 1682

Catalogus Nominum Cognominum et conditionum

1636 Termino Sancti Michaelis
Novem’ 17 Horatius Moore Admissus est Socio-communarius

Termino Sancti Hillarii
Febru’ 4 Richardus Brooks Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Bradshaw
Martij 4 Johannes Harris Admissus est communarius

1637 Termino Paschalis
Aprilis 12 Thomas Rode Admissus est Socio-communarius
22o Franciscus Nashion Admissus est communarius
23o Franciscus Boughey Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Oakely
May 10 Johannes Evelyn Admissus est Socio-commensalis
17 Johannes Robinson Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Coop

Termino Trinitatis
Iunii 6 Robertus Feilding Admissus est communarius
16 Gulielmus Winbowe Admissus est communarius
23o Johannes Clarke Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Prowse
23o Rogerus Frith Admissus est communarius
Iulii 6 Johannes Crafford Admissus est Socio- communarius
11 David Boall Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Harris
12 Georgius Shorter Admissus est communarius
14 Nicholaus Frost Admissus est communarius

1637 Termino Michaelis
August’ 22 o Johannes St Berbe Admissus est Socio-commensalis
Gulielmus Mose Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Savage
Octobr’ 6 Antonius Fido Admissus est communarius
14 o Humphridus Vernon Admissus est communarius
21 o Robertus Stratton Admissus est communarius
24 Joseph Stringer Admissus est communarius
Nicholaus Levett Admissus est communarius
Petrus Mousall Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Frymnell
Novem’ 15 Robertus Roe Admissus est communarius
29 Rowland Whitehall Admissus est communarius

Termino Hillarij
Janu’r 24 Johannes Reeve Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Merest
Febr’s 9 Johannes Davis Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Oakly
28 Adamus Acton Admissus est communarius
Martij 16 Thomas Jones Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Boughton
17 Samuell Hickman Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Collegij
30 Robertus Lawrence Admissus est communarius
Eduardus Edwards Admissus est communarius

1638 Termino Paschalis
Aprill 7 o Franciscus Sing Admissus est communarius
9 Johannes Ballard Admissus est communarius


Balliol’s earliest extant admissions register (catalogus) records only the dates, forenames (nominum), surnames (cognominum) and College status (conditionum) for each student for 1632 – 1654; after Hilary Term 1654 (p.11), a better friend to the family historian records each student’s father’s name, parish and/or town and county. The register is normally in the hand of the Master of the time, or that of a Fellow acting as Vicegerent.

As was usual in any type of formal document, all forenames (except David!) have been latinized, while surnames have not. Students were admitted to the college throughout the year; in addition to the Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity terms we still use today, the register includes an Easter Term (Termino Paschalis) and the Long Vacation (Vacatione Magna, Magna Vacatione, Longa Vacatione), which is also occasionally referred to as Termino Comitiorum (‘Elections Term’). The dates covered by these terms can vary considerably from year to year; in 1667 July and August come under the Trinity Term heading, but in 1668 July admissions are listed ‘In Magna Vacatione.’ Hilary Term is referred to as Quadragesima Term in some periods.

Fellows and Scholars were ‘on the foundation’, i.e.the college endowments paid for their study and maintenance. Terms used to define the status of other, fee-paying, students were many and varied, including Fellow-Commoner (Socio-Communarius, Socio-Commensalis), Commoner (Communarius, Commensalis), Batteler (Battellarius) and Servitor (Inserviturus); these defined, more or less clearly, the different levels of privilege, fees and labour required from each.

It is difficult to provide precise definitions for the various terms describing student status, as they changed over time and were not uniformly set out in different colleges’ statutes. In many cases throughout college administration, colleges may use different terms for the same status or office, and conversely may use a term common to other colleges for quite different statuses or offices (e.g. ‘Demy’ at Magdalen, ‘Student’ at Christ Church):

  • Commoner (Commensalis or Communarius): an undergraduate who paid fees, referred to as an ‘external’, someone ‘not on the foundation’. The term does not denote social class but comes from the Latin ‘commensalis’, ‘sharing a table/meal’. (Some universities still call their dining facilities ‘commons’. ‘Commons’ can also refer to a meal, or a person’s portion of a meal, e.g. ‘short commons’)
  • Fellow-Commoner (Socio-commensalis or Socio-communarius) : Also Gentleman-Commoner, a class of student formally instituted at Balliol in 1610; wealthy students could pay higher fees and receive more social privileges than Commoners, although they followed the same course of study. ‘Socius’ was the word for a Fellow, a senior member of the College (or Society).
  • Servitor (Serviens/Inserviturus): Poorer students could pay reduced admission fees and caution money in return for working in College, e.g. serving at table. A Servitor might be admitted to serve a specified Fellow.
  • Batteler (Battellarius): Between Servitors and Commoners in terms of fees, but the chores required of them are not clear.
  • Admissus/Receptus est in famulus/familitium Domini/Magistri X’: Admitted/Received into the service of [a Fellow]. The use of ‘don’ as ‘fellow or tutor of a college’ comes from the Latin ‘dominus’. Fellows had undergraduate places more or less in their personal gift (i.e. nepotism).
  • Scholar: Generic term for an undergraduate who has received a scholarship, whether from College funds or a named foundation. Scholars and Commoners wear different academic gowns.
  • Exhibitioner: OED definition 3.b) ‘A fixed sum given for a term of years from the funds of a school, college, or university, generally upon the result of a competitive examination.’ Exhibitions at Balliol tend to come from named funds, e.g. the Snell and Warner Exhibitions.
  • Domus Scholar: An undergraduate who has received a scholarship from college funds (domus, ‘the house’); also called ‘on the foundation’.

Degrees list


The early admissions registers record other information as well; for instance, this page, toward the back of the book, is in a section listing Balliolenses presented for degrees Hilary Term 1653/4 – Michaelmas Term 1656.

Here are the first few entries transcribed – they are very formulaic so you’ll get the idea (X was presented for the degree of BA/MA). You can see the month and day dates for the second column, in the middle. A few entries give personal information about the graduand, and the grammar of ‘presented for the degree of Master of Arts’ varies slightly. The ‘presentation’ was quite literal and personal – see the chapter on Degrees in Oxford University Ceremonies (1935).

Column 1
Termino Hilarii 1653/4
Thomas Reynolds presentatus est ad gradum Baccalaureati in Artibus
Eduardus Best} praesentati fuerunt ad
Samuell Filer} gradum Magistri in Artibus
Robertus Cutler praesentus est ad gradum Baccalaureati in Artibus
Termino Paschalis 1654
Ambrosius Atfeild praesentatus est ad gradum Magistri in Artibus

17th century fees


This tatty-looking page from the inside front cover of the admissions register is actually an extremely useful record: a table of fees payable (Foeda solvenda) when students first arrived (in Primam Admissione). It is divided according to which level of student had to pay how much to whom; the amounts are expressed in £/s/d. The categories of fees include College fees, Bursarial fees and caution money as well as a separate fee for admission to the Fellows’ Garden (available only to Fellow-Commoners) and money paid to the cook, the gardener, the librarian etc.


Socio-Communarius Communarius & Schol’ Dom’ Battellarius Servienti’
Pro Admissione ad Hortum (for access to the garden) 01.00.00 00. 00. 00.
Domo (College fee) 00.05.00 00.05.00 00.02.06 00.01.06
Bursario (to the Bursar) 00.05.10 00.05.10 00.02.10 00.01.06
Registri (registration fee, literally to be entered in the register, as above)  00.10.00  00.05.00  00.02.06  00.01.06
Pro Vasc’ Arg’ (toward college silver) 05.. ad min 00.05.00 00.02.06 00.
Obsonato’ (manciple, quartermaster,
in charge of purchasing food and other provisions)
00.02.06 00.01.06 ..01.00 00.01.00
Promo (butler, or what we might now call Hall steward) 00.02.06 00.01.06 ..01.00 ..01.00
Coquo (cook) ..02.06 00.01.06 ..01.00 ..01.00
Sub-promo (sub-butler) ..02.06  ..01.06 ..00.06  ..00.06
Sub-coquo (assistant cook) 01.06 ..01.06 ..00.06 ..00.06
Janitori (porter – not cleaner!) 01.06 ..01.00 ..00.06 ..00.06
Hortulano (gardener) …01.06.x
Bibliothecae (library) …10.00.x 00.06.00 X 00.02.06 X
Bibliothecario (librarian) …02.06.x 00.01.06 X 00.01.00 X 00.01.00 X
Pragmatico Pro obligat’ (a kind of guarantee or bond) …02.06.x 00.02.06 X
Cautio (Caution money – i.e. damage deposit) 10.00.00 07.00.00 05.0.00 04.00.00

It’s not clear to me what Pragmatico pro obligat’ would have been exactly – will update if I discover more. Sometimes posting the question is the best way to find the answer.

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