Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gonvile, Edmund

GONVILE, EDMUND (d. 1351), founder of Gonville Hall, Cambridge, and of Rushworth College, Norfolk, is described in the commemoration service of Gonville and Caius College as a son of Sir Nicholas Gonvile, but Dr. Bennet has given very strong grounds for regarding the latter as his elder brother, and for holding that he was a son of William de Gonvile, an alien, ‘natus de potestate reg' Francia commorans in Anglia,’ who obtained the manor of Lerling, Norfolk, in or about 1295. Edmund Gonvile first appears as rector of Thelnetham, Suffolk, in 1320, being about the same time steward of William, earl Warren, and of the Earl of Lancaster, who both held large property in that neighbourhood. He was rector of Rushworth in 1326, rector of Terrington St. John in 1342, and commissioner of the marshlands of Norfolk.

His first foundation was at Rushworth in 1342. This was a collegiate church with an endowment (i.e. the rectory and manor of Rushworth) for a master and four fellows. ‘He provides for five priests to be continually resident in one house, to one of whom, as master, he commits the general oversight of his foundation, and also, specially and personally, the spiritual care of the town. … There is no hint of any educational purpose in the original foundation. It was a purely religious foundation’ (Bennet, who gives in extenso the original deed of foundation, in which the statutes are incorporated: this appears to be the earliest complete example of statutes framed for these rural colleges). This college, after having been somewhat altered and largely added to by subsequent benefactions, shared the fate of other religious houses by being suppressed in 1541. It may be remarked that Blomefield mentions (Norf. i. 427) an earlier foundation than this, but assigns no authorities. According to him Gonvile was co-founder, with Earl Warren and the Earl of Lancaster, of the Friars Preachers' House at Thetford.

It is, of course, by his Cambridge foundation, now known as Gonville and Caius College, that Gonvile is most celebrated. In 1348 he obtained from Edward III permission to establish a college in Lurteburgh Lane, now known as Freeschool Lane, on the site afterwards occupied by Corpus Christi College. It was officially called the Hall of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, but was commonly and more familiarly known as Gonville or Gunnell Hall. The statutes which he provided for his foundation are still extant. According to this design his college was to represent the usual course of study included in the ‘Trivium’ and ‘Quadrivium,’ as the basis of an almost exclusively theological training. Each of the fellows was required to have studied, read, and lectured in logic, but on the completion of his course in arts theology was to form the main subject, his studies being also directed with a view to enabling him to keep his acts and dispute with ability in the schools. The unanimous consent of the master and fellows was necessary before he could apply himself to any other faculty. That is, as Mr. Mullinger shows—from whom this statement is taken—Gonvile's first thought was for theology and the training of a learned priesthood. This falls in with what little we can otherwise infer of his character as a pious country clergyman. If this was his intention, however, it was not altogether adhered to. Gonvile died before his foundation could be carried out, and left his work in the hands of William Bateman, bishop of Norwich. It does not, of course, lie within the scope of this notice to trace the fortunes of the college, but it may be remarked that Bateman, besides changing the locality of the college from Freeschool Lane to its present site, made considerable alterations in the statutes, and conformed them more closely to those of his own foundation, Trinity Hall. The alteration was mainly shown in the comparatively greater importance assigned to the study of the civil and canon law as against that of theology. The college retained popularly the name of Gonville Hall until the new charter for the enlarged foundation of Dr. John Caius (1510–1573) [q. v.], granted in 1558. The original patent granted to Gonvile, dated Westminster, 28 Jan. 22 Edward III, is printed in ‘Documents relating to the University and Colleges of Cambridge,’ 1852; as are also the earliest statutes granted to the college by William Bateman [q. v.] bishop of Norwich.

The exact date of Gonvile's death is not known, but it must have been some time in 1351. The last actual mention of him is on 20 March 1350–1, and his successor at Terrington was instituted 18 Oct. 1351. The family became extinct in the male line in the third generation following.

[Mullinger's Hist. of the Univ. of Cambr.; E. K. Bennet's Rushworth College; Proc. of Norf. Archæol. Soc., vol. x.; Willis and Clark's Hist. of the Univ. of Cambr.]

J. V.