Database of Irish students at Leuven University, 1548-1797

Leuven University was founded at the initiative of the city authorities and the local chapter of Saint Peter’s church. In 1425 they gained the support of the Duke of Brabant and on 9 December 1425 Pope Martin V issued the bull Sapientiae immarcescibilis by which the Leuven studium generale was established. Originally the university has four faculties: canon law, civil law, medicine and arts. In 1432 Pope Eugene IV added a faculty of theology. From its foundation, the University of Leuven attracted students from the British Isles, and particularly from Scotland. While there were large numbers of Scottish and English students there already from the early fifteenth century, Irish students started attending only from 1548 onwards. A number of factors made the Low Countries attractive to Irish students: proximity, the regular presence there of the Irish regiments and the climate. Leuven’s also had a reputation as a Catholic reform stronghold: Leuven theologians were among the first to condemn Luther’s works and doctrine. They also conceived the instruments of the Counter Reform among them the first Catholic Confession of Faith (1544) and the first Index of Forbidden Books (1546; 1549) They also took part in the Council of Trent and contributed to the definition of Catholic doctrine. Leuven was also attractive to the Irish because of its proximity to Brussels and the office of the (inter)nuncio, who was traditionally responsible for affairs on the Irish mission. The Brussels (inter)nuncio played an active role in the life of the Irish students at Leuven University. He kept himself informed about the state of Ireland and Irishmen at the University by using Irish informants like Thomas Stapleton, who later became professor at the Law Faculty.

If one does not take into account the odd case of David de Hybernia of the diocese of Ross, who matriculated on 29 August 1479, the first recorded Irish student in Leuven was Guilielmus, filius Thomae Threhesse de Hybernia, pauper, Castrensis, who matriculated 29 August 1548. As previously mentioned, the matriculation register for the second half of the sixteenth century is lost, with a gap from 1568 to 1616 for almost all documents of the central administration of the university. Thus the study of the patterns of Irish attendance at Leuven seemed to be condemned forever to the realm of speculation. However, recent research by the author has revealed that the promotions to Magister Artium (MA), and the results of the general concursus or final exam, which concluded the obligatory, propedeutic study at the arts Faculty, were noted down for the period 1572-1643 in the Acta Facultatis Artium. These records are kept at the Royal or State Archives in Leuven. Using these lists, one can reconstruct a major part of the lost fifth book, the Liber Quintus of the Matriculation Registers, covering the period 1568-1616. The author recently examined these MA promotion lists and discovered 31 Irish names. This demonstrated that Irish attendance patterns at Leuven University was largely the result of individual initiative until the early seventeenth century. The Irish came in dribs and drabs until the Irish Pastoral College, founded in 1624, became properly established and endowed with the first of over 30 scholarship foundations.

Up to 1797, 1,171 Irish (secular) students stayed at Leuven, which counted no fewer than four Irish Colleges within its town walls: three religious houses and one College for pastoral or secular students. All were incorporated in the University. Two out of the three religious Colleges were the most important missionary houses of their Order. The reputation of the Irish Franciscan College of St. Anthony of Padua (1606/7-1822; 1925-2001) is well known. Also the Irish Dominican College at Leuven (1624/6-1797) was soon the most important among the three Dominican Continental houses (Lisbon, 1615 and Rome, 1677). The Irish Discalced Carmelites also maintained a college, but little is known of its existence, apart from an undated Roman report (c. 1732). The purpose of the present article is to draft a list of those who came to study in Leuven University and to present data concerning their sojourn, course of studies and degrees granted. The information presented here can be compared with material on the Leuven Dominicans by Hugh Fenning OP. The other orders are still awaiting their historian.

The names of nearly 1200 Irish students attending Leuven University from 1548 to 1797 are currently known. These include lay students, secular clergy and also some regular clergy, who first matriculated in the University as seculars and only later entered one of the religious orders. In 1944, Brendan Jennings OFM published an annotated list of some 676 Irish names of students who matriculated at the University of Leuven, 1548-1794. His list was incomplete as he could not consult the fifth and eight volumes of the Libri Intitulatorum (Leuven university matriculation registers). The fifth volume, covering the years 1569-1616, was already lost in the early seventeenth century. The contents of the eighth volume (1683-1734), also missing, can be reconstructed, using the accounts of the university receptor. The fifth volume has been partially reconstructed by Peter Vandermeersch using the registers of the bedell of the Faculty of Theology. By using the names listed in the Acta Facultatis Artium the name of the arts students contained in the fifth volume can also be reconstructed, at least for theology students. Rodd Lyall has done this for English, Scottish and Irish students. At the Royal Library, Brussels, there is a list in 24 folios, compiled by J.L. Bax, entitled Hiberni promoti in Artes (c. 1820). This was used by Canon P. Power for his list of Waterford students at Louvain. Among the many Irish promovendi, Bax includes two Londinenses, who are not listed here.

The list presented here has been constructed from university matriculation books, other university archival material and published sources. By using as many sources as were available and by recording not only matriculation, but also data on scholarships, degrees, ordinations and further career, the present database is comparable with that composed by L.W.B. Brockliss and P. Ferté for Irish students in the universities of Paris and Toulouse. Unlike the Paris-Toulouse list, which is organised according to diocese, the present list is set out chronologically. Supplementary indexes of names and places are provided. The present list contains double the number of names published by Jennings and provides more information on subsequent careers.

At the core of the database are serial university records. The university matriculation registers were examined in their published form. The manuscript registers were not consulted as such, as Jennings had already done this in the 1940s. However, in cases where there was an anomaly in spelling between Jennings’s list or other sources and the published registers, the manuscript registers were rechecked, especially for the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. With regard to the missing eighth volume (1683-1734) of the matriculation registers, the manuscript of the receptor books were randomly checked. When manuscripts are consulted, this is made clear in the references.

The second source used was the record of the promotions in arts. In his footnotes, Jennings refers to some promotions in arts, taken from the articles by Joseph Spelman. These references were checked against the original manuscript lists, originally noted in the Acta Facultatis Artium. These registers run from 24 May 1427 to Oct. 1447; 9 Nov. 1482 to 20 June; 23 June 1508 to 27 Sept. 1511. There is a gap until 1572, as volumes six to eight (1511-1571) are lost. Acta survive for the whole period 1572 to 1791. From 1643 onwards the promotion lists were recorded in separate registers. After 1616 the results of the promotions were published. The printed promotion lists did not always mention the postlineales or those promoti post medium. The Acta were consulted for the period 1572-1643, the Libri Promotionum for the period 1643-1797. These were compared with the printed versions of the promotions. Canon Edmond Reusens had the intention of publishing the promotions in arts for the whole period of the Old University of Leuven (1425-1797), but they were only partially published for the period 1428-1568. There are also manuscript copies of these lists, mostly originating from the Faculty’s paedagogia.

The third source consulted was the Libri Computuum Receptorum Universitatis. These are university accounts books. They list the revenues of particular accounts, for instance those of the University Hall and the Wine Cellar; the also include the dues paid for matriculation, academic acts, admission to the University Council, nominations and others. As the accounts mention the names of the suppositi who paid the dues, these account books are important for Leuven University prosopography: not only do they give the names of the graduandi per (higher) faculty; they give provide the names of the immatriculati and promoti in Artes. The latter were seldom mentioned individually, only the total amount received by the receptor. The list of immatriculati in the receptor accounts and the matriculation registers differ slightly, but the registers of both series for the whole period were not examined. These account books are not complete for the whole period 1425-1797. They run from 21 Dec. 1521 to 24 June 1556. Then, as with the Libri Intitulatorum, there is a major gap from 1556 to 21 Dec. 1621. Almost unbroken series survive to 1797. Here are minor gaps: 24 June 1654 to Dec. 1659; 31 Aug. 1702 to 28 Feb. 1703; Nov. 1789 to 28 Feb. 1790.

A fourth major source are the lists of the students of Holy Trinity College (1658-1797), the Leuven Latin school administered by the Arts Faculty. The Minervalia or Manuale Minervalium are preserved for the period Oct. 1747 to Oct. 1790. Some other lists of this school, including that of books distributed to the laureates, were consulted (1723-91). Account books of the Vaulx College (1592-1657), the predecessor to the Holy Trinity College, were checked for Irish names.
These lists were supplemented with bursary lists of the Great College of the Holy Spirit and the Irish Pastoral College, where most of the Irish clerical students lived. The archives of this last college were lost during the French invasion and occupation, but many reports on the College survive in the Archivio della Congregazione de Propaganda Fide, some of them edited. Some reports, especially from the early seventeenth century, are to be found in the series Nunziatura di Fiandra, calendered by Cathaldus Giblin OFM in the early volumes of Collectanea Hibernica. These reports are often detailed and contain the names of the alumni. A detailed 1754 report on the visitation of the Irish Pastoral college by J.J. Guyaux, president of the Pope’s College and provisor of the Irish College, on request of Patrice de Neny, Royal Commissioner for the Leuven University, is to be found at the State Archives at Brussels. In the same archive there are three bundles concerning the administration of the Thomas Stapleton bursary.

E.H.J Reusens accumulated and published a considerable body of information in his Documents relatifs à l’histoire de l’Université de Louvain. This work is essentially based on the manuscript Historia Universitatis Lovaniensis by J.L. Bax1and refers frequently to the earlier publications by Nicolaus Vernulaeus and Valerius Andreas, already used by Brendan Jennings. He also used the lists by Corcoran and Spelman.

Ordination lists of the bishops of Malines, Antwerp and Ghent were consulted and checked for Irish names. The (inter)nuncio regularly ordained Irish students to the priesthood at Leuven and Brussels, but the archives of the Brussels nunciature are lost.

Brendan Jennings in his Wild Geese in Spanish Flanders published information on the Irish students who acted as chaplains to the Irish and English regiments in the Southern Netherlands. In this connection, the payrolls of the Irish and English regiments were consulted but they yielded little.
The indexes of Collectanea Hibernica and Archivium Hibernicum, Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Repertorium Novum were also consulted. Other Irish and Flemish journals were browsed for Leuven Irish references. The Journal of the Waterford and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society contain articles of Leuven interest: A.O. Redmond’s genealogy of Nicholas French, E. Hogan’s life of Francis O’Hearn and the previously mentioned lists for Waterford students by Power.
The Archdukes Albrecht and Isabella were concerned with the English, Scottish and Irish refugees in the Southern Netherlands. They regularly received begging letters for financial aid, which were often granted. These requests for support are preserved in the State and Audience Papers, which were partially browsed for the years 1607-09 and 1614-17, and 1622-26. A more thorough search would certainly yield more information of Irish interest.
Local diocesan histories and archives, in Ireland as well as in Belgium, would probably certainly yield more information on the post-university career of the students in the list, especially, one suspects, the Archdiocesan Archives of Malines, with regard to Jansenism and Irish affairs.