All Souls College, Oxford

All Souls College (official name: College of the Souls of All the Faithful Departed[4]) is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. Unique to All Souls, all of its members automatically become fellows (i.e. full members of the college's governing body). It has no undergraduate members, but each year recent graduate and postgraduate students at Oxford are eligible to apply for examination fellowships through a competitive examination (once described as "the hardest exam in the world") and, for the several shortlisted after the examinations, an interview.[5][6][7]

All Souls College
Blazon: Or, a chevron between three cinquefoils gules (arms of Henry Chichele)
LocationHigh Street, Oxford
Coordinates51.753279°N 1.253041°W / 51.753279; -1.253041
Full nameCollege of the souls of all the faithful departed
Latin nameCollegium Omnium Animarum Fidelium defunctorum de Oxon.[1]
Named forFeast of All Souls
Sister collegeTrinity Hall, Cambridge
WardenSir John Vickers
Postgraduates8 (2017)[2]
Endowment£420.2 million (2018)[3]
Location in Oxford city centre

All Souls is one of the wealthiest colleges in Oxford, with a financial endowment of £420.2 million (2018).[3] However, since the college's principal source of revenue is its endowment, as of 2007 it only ranked 19th among Oxford colleges in total income.[8] All Souls is a registered charity under English law.[9]

The college is located on the north side of the High Street adjoining Radcliffe Square to the west. To the east is The Queen's College with Hertford College to the north.

The current warden (head of the college) is Sir John Vickers, a graduate of Oriel College, Oxford.


The college was founded by Henry VI of England and Henry Chichele (fellow of New College and Archbishop of Canterbury), in 1438, to commemorate the victims of the Hundred Years' War.[10] The Statutes provided for a warden and forty fellows; all to take Holy Orders: 24 to study arts, philosophy and theology; and 16 to study civil or canon law. The college's Codrington Library was completed in 1751 through the bequest in 1710 of Christopher Codrington, a wealthy slave and plantation owner from Barbados, who attended Oxford and later became colonial governor of the Leeward Islands.

Today the college is primarily a graduate research institution, with no undergraduate members. All Souls did formerly have undergraduates: Robert Hovenden (Warden of the college from 1571 to 1614) introduced undergraduates to provide the fellows with servientes (household servants), but this was abandoned by the end of the Commonwealth. Four Bible Clerks remained on the foundation until 1924.[11]

For over five hundred years All Souls College admitted only men; women were first allowed to join the college as fellows in 1979,[12] the same year as many other previously all-male colleges in the university.[13]

Buildings and architecture

Codrington Library

The All Souls Library (formally known as the Codrington Library) was founded through a bequest from Christopher Codrington (1668–1710), a fellow of the college. Christopher Codrington bequeathed books worth £6,000, in addition to £10,000 in currency. This bequest allowed the library to be built and endowed. Christopher Codrington was born in Barbados, and amassed his fortune from his sugar plantation in the West Indies.[14] The library was completed in 1751, and has been in continuous use since then. The modern library comprises some 185,000 items, about a third of which were published before 1800. The collections are particularly strong in law and history (especially military history).[15]


Built between 1438 and 1442, the chapel remained largely unchanged until the Commonwealth. Oxford, having been a largely Royalist stronghold, suffered under the Puritans' wrath. The 42 misericords date from the Chapel's building, and show a resemblance to the misericords at Higham Ferrers. Both may have been carved by Richard Tyllock.

Christopher Wren was a fellow from 1653, and in 1658 produced a sundial for the college. This was originally placed on the south wall of the Chapel, until it was moved to the quadrangle (above the central entrance to the Codrington Library) in 1877. During the 1660s a screen was installed in the Chapel, which was based on a design by Wren. However, this screen needed to be rebuilt by 1713. By the mid-19th century the Chapel was in great need of renovation, and so the current structure is heavily influenced by Victorian design ideals.

All services at the chapel are according to the Book of Common Prayer; the King James Bible is also used rather than more modern translations.[16]


Examination fellowships

In the three years following the award of their bachelor's degrees, students graduating from Oxford and current Oxford postgraduate students having graduated elsewhere[17] are eligible to apply for examination fellowships (sometimes informally referred to as "prize fellowships") of seven years each. While tutors may advise their students to sit for the All Souls examination fellowship, the examination is open to anybody who fulfils the eligibility criteria and the college does not issue invitations to candidates to sit.[18] Every year in early March, the college hosts an open evening for women, offering women interested in the examination fellowship an opportunity to find out more about the exam process and to meet members of the college.[19]

Each year several dozen candidates typically sit the examination.[6][20] Two examination fellows are usually elected each year, although the college has awarded a single place or three places in some years, and on rare occasions made no award.[21]

The competition, offered since 1878[22] and open to women since 1979,[6] is held over two days in late September, with two papers of three hours each per day. It has been described in the past as "the hardest exam in the world".

Two papers (the 'specialist papers') are on a single subject of the candidate's choice; the options are classics, English literature, economics, history, law, philosophy, and politics. Candidates may sit their two specialist papers in different specialist subjects, provided each paper is in one subject only (for example, a candidate might sit one paper in History and one paper in Politics). Candidates who choose Classics have an additional translation examination on a third day.[17]

Two papers (the 'general papers') are on general subjects. For each general examination, candidates choose three questions from a list.[23] Past questions have included:

Before 2010 candidates also faced another examination, a free-form "Essay" on a single, pre-selected word.[5][6][22]

Four to six[20] finalists are invited to a viva voce[21] or oral examination.[17] Previously, these candidates were then invited to dinner with about 75 members of the college. The dinner did not form part of the assessment, but was intended as a reward for those candidates who had reached the latter stages of the selection process. However, the dinner has been discontinued as the college felt candidates worried too often that it was part of the assessment process.

About a dozen examination fellows are at the college at any one time.[6] There are no compulsory teaching or requirements, although examination fellows must pursue a course of study or research at some point within their first two years of fellowship. They can study anything for free at Oxford with room and board.[17] As "Londoners" they can pursue approved non-academic careers[6][17] if desired, with a reduced stipend, as long as they pursue academia on a part-time basis and attend weekend dinners at the college during their first academic year.[20] As of 2011 each examination fellow receives a stipend of £14,842[25] annually for the first two years; the stipend then varies depending on whether the fellow pursues an academic career.[17]

Notable candidates

Until 1979, women were not permitted to put themselves forward for fellowships at All Souls.[12]


Subjects of the "Essay"

Other fellowships

Other categories of fellowship include:

  • Senior research fellows (a renewable seven year appointment)
  • Extraordinary research fellows (elected to conduct research into the college's history)
  • Visiting fellows (academics from other universities, usually elected for a period of one term to one year)
  • Post-doctoral research fellows (a non-renewable five year post open to those who have recently completed doctoral study at a recognised university)
  • Fifty-pound fellows (open only to former fellows no longer holding posts in Oxford)
  • Official fellows (consisting of holders of college posts, such as the Domestic Bursar, Estates Bursar, Chaplain, and Fellow Librarian)
  • Distinguished fellows

There are also a number of professorial fellows who hold their fellowships by virtue of their University post.

Chichele professorships

Fellows of the college include the Chichele professors, who hold statutory professorships at the University of Oxford named in honour of Henry Chichele, a founder of the college. Fellowship of the college has accompanied the award of a Chichele chair since 1870.

Following the work of the 1850 Commission to examine the organisation of the university, the college suppressed ten of its fellowships to create the funds to establish the first two Chichele professorships: The Chichele Professor of International Law and Diplomacy, established in 1859 and first held by Mountague Bernard, and the Chichele Professor of Modern History, first held by Montagu Burrows.

There are currently Chichele Professorships in five different subjects:

Probably the best known former Chichele Professor is Sir Isaiah Berlin. Perhaps the best known former Professor of the History of War was Cyril Falls.

Chichele Lectures

The Chichele Lectures are a prestigious series of lectures formally established in 1912 and sponsored by All Souls College. The lectures were initially restricted to foreign history, but have since been expanded to include law, political theory, economic theory, as well as foreign and British history. Traditionally the lectures were delivered by a single speaker, but it is now common for several speakers to deliver lectures on a common theme.[40]


Every hundred years, and generally on 14 January, there is a commemorative feast after which the fellows parade around the college with flaming torches, singing the Mallard Song and led by a "Lord Mallard" who is carried in a chair, in search of a legendary mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built.[41] During the hunt the Lord Mallard is preceded by a man bearing a pole to which a mallard is tied – originally a live bird, latterly either dead (1901) or carved from wood (2001). The last mallard ceremony was in 2001[42] and the next is due in 2101. The precise origin of the custom is not known, but it dates from at least 1632.[43] A benign parody of this custom has been portrayed as the Unseen University's "Megapode chase" in Sir Terry Prachett's 2009 novel Unseen Academicals.

People associated with All Souls


Past and current fellows of the college have included:



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