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Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions


The people commemorated in Oxford’s portraits, statues, books, and buildings shape our understanding of the City’s history. Invariably, key figures are represented not once but repeatedly. Cranmer and Campion, Wesley and Newman crop up again and again. But who is not remembered? How might the Reformation have been retold differently in Oxford?

Presbyterian and fierce critic of Archbishop William Laud and King Charles I, William Prynne (1600-1669) was educated at Oriel College in the 1620s. His writings were censored in his life-time, his ears cut off, and his cheeks branded with ‘S. L’ – Seditious Libel. Given all this, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is no trace of Prynne at his alma mater. But, as we have seen, Cardinal William Allen, who was at least as polarising to contemporaries in the late sixteenth century, features on Oriel’s High Street façade. 

Similarly, Robert Persons (1546-1610), Catholic priest, incendiary controversialist and leader of the Jesuit mission to England which cost Campion his life, was a Fellow of Balliol College before his conversion to Catholicism. Despite his significant influence on post-Reformation religious and political history, he too is distinctly absent from Oxford. These are just two examples of eloquent absences from the City’s memory culture, but they suggest how each generation’s values have shaped their understanding of the past – a process that continues today.