King's College, Aberdeen

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King's College King's College, Aberdeen (4315559621).jpg
King's College

King's College in Old Aberdeen, Scotland, the full title of which is The University and King's College of Aberdeen (Collegium Regium Abredonense), is a formerly independent university founded in 1495 and now an integral part of the University of Aberdeen. Its historic buildings are the centrepiece of the University of Aberdeen's Old Aberdeen campus, often known as the King's or King's College campus.

Old Aberdeen human settlement in United Kingdom

Old Aberdeen is part of the city of Aberdeen in Scotland. Old Aberdeen was originally a separate burgh, which was erected into a burgh of barony on 26 December 1489. It was incorporated into adjacent Aberdeen by Act of Parliament in 1891. It retains the status of a community council area.

Scotland Country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain, with a border with England to the southeast, and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

University of Aberdeen university in Aberdeen, United Kingdom

The University of Aberdeen is a public research university in Aberdeen, Scotland. It is an ancient university founded in 1495 when William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen and Chancellor of Scotland, petitioned Pope Alexander VI on behalf of James IV, King of Scots to establish King's College, making it Scotland's third-oldest university and the fifth-oldest in the English-speaking world. Today, Aberdeen is consistently ranked among the top 200 universities in the world and is ranked within the top 30 universities in the United Kingdom. In the 2019 Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings, Aberdeen was ranked 31st in the world for impact on society. Aberdeen was also named the 2019 Scottish University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide.


The focal point of the college, as well as its oldest building, is the late 15th century King's College Chapel. A number of other historic buildings remain, with others being subject to renovation and rebuilding in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the early 20th century, a great deal of expansion saw the university buildings increase around the historic college buildings. In the later 20th century, the university expanded dramatically in size, dominating Old Aberdeen and expanding out from the High Street with a number of modern buildings.


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King's College quad

King's College was the first university in Aberdeen, the third in Scotland and the fifth in the British Isles. In 1495, William Elphinstone, the relatively newly appointed Bishop of Aberdeen, petitioned Pope Alexander VI on behalf of King James IV to create the facility to cure the ignorance he had witnessed within his parish and in the north generally. A papal bull was issued in February 1495 (1494 in the calendar of the day) founding the university; a royal charter later that year recognised Aberdeen's status as equal to that of Scotland's two existing universities at Glasgow and St Andrews. As a former professor at the University of Paris, Elphinstone modelled the university very much on the continental European tradition. Hector Boece, a fellow professor at Paris, was awarded the status of first principal of the new institution.

Aberdeen City and council area in Scotland

Aberdeen is a city in northeast Scotland. It is Scotland's third most populous city, one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas and the United Kingdom's 39th most populous built-up area, with an official population estimate of 196,670 for the city of Aberdeen and 228,800 for the local council area.

British Isles Group of islands in northwest Europe

The British Isles are a group of islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Hebrides and over six thousand smaller isles. They have a total area of about 315,159 km2 and a combined population of almost 72 million, and include two sovereign states, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The islands of Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark, and their neighbouring smaller islands, are sometimes also taken to be part of the British Isles, even though, as islands off the coast of France, they do not form part of the archipelago.

William Elphinstone Roman Catholic bishop

William Elphinstone was a Scottish statesman, Bishop of Aberdeen and founder of the University of Aberdeen.

It would not be until 1509, with the issuance of a charter by Elphinstone, that university life at King's truly began. Construction of the chapel began in 1498; it was consecrated in 1509 and dedicated to St Mary. By 1514, the university had some forty-two members in the form of both staff and students. [1]

Following the Reformation, King's College was purged of its Roman Catholic staff but remained largely resistant to change in its methods. George Keith, the fifth Earl Marischal, however was a moderniser within the college and supportive of the reforming ideas of Peter Ramus. [1] In April 1593 Keith founded a second university in the city, Marischal College. Initially, Marischal offered the principal of King's College a role in selecting its academics, however this was refused by the authorities of King's – cited as the first blow in a future rivalry.

Scottish Reformation religious and political movement that established the Church of Scotland

The Scottish Reformation was the process by which Scotland broke with the Papacy and developed a predominantly Calvinist national Kirk (church), which was strongly Presbyterian in outlook. It was part of the wider European Protestant Reformation that took place from the sixteenth century.

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal British politician

George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal was a Scottish nobleman and Earl Marischal. He succeeded as earl on 7 October 1581, upon the death of his grandfather, William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal.

The title of Earl Marischal was created in the peerage of Scotland for William Keith, the Great Marischal of Scotland.

In common with Marischal, King's College supported the Jacobite cause and following the defeat of the 1715 rising both were largely purged of their academics and officials.

Jacobitism political ideology

Jacobitism is the name of the political movement in Great Britain and Ireland that aims to restore the House of Stuart to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The movement is named after Jacobus, the Latin form of James.

College buildings

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New Building, King's College

The building work on the main buildings of the college began in April 1500 [2] on marshy land, supported by large oak beams. The chapel is topped with an imperial crown, i.e. a closed crown, which appears to make a claim to imperial status for the Scottish monarchy. The original was lost in a storm in 1633, and the present crown is a recreation. King's College chapel retains more medieval woodwork than any other Scottish church, including the choir stalls and screen.

Imperial crown

An Imperial Crown is a crown used for the coronation of emperors.

The Cromwell Tower was a building built during the 1650s-60s during the period of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, although finished after Charles II had been reinstalled as King. It was used for accommodation and had an ornate turret at its top. It continues its function as an observatory to this day. [3]

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Elphinstone Hall

The 1930 construction of the Elphinstone Hall effectively created a two-quadrangle arrangement, connected to the original King's buildings. The Hall's front faces outwards, with its lawn effectively creating a central open space now bordered on the other sides by Old Aberdeen's High Street and the New Building ("New King's"), constructed in 1913.

King's College is now within the university's main Old Aberdeen campus and retains its original and historic quadrangle which houses a large conference centre and the university's chapel. Elphinstone Hall is used for functions, dining, and examinations. The rear of King's College is now used as a sports pavilion. Notably the old college buildings now provide a focal point to the wider university campus. While small in comparison with some of the newer constructions and areas, the building maintains a great deal of importance.

King's College Chapel

King's College Chapel is the main chapel used by the University of Aberdeen. Forming the north side of the original quadrangle of King's College, construction of the chapel began in 1498 and ended with the consecration of the building in 1509. [4] The most notable architectural feature of the Chapel is its Crown Tower, which has become an icon of the university as a whole. [5] The chapel is dedicated to the Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Nativity, [6] [7] yet also commemorates a number of Scottish and British monarchs, as well as the patrons and founders of the university. The name particularly recalls the College's main patron, King James IV of Scotland. [8]

Particularly notable within the chapel are the choir stalls and rood screen, which date back to around 1509. These form the most complete mediaeval church interior in Scotland. [9] Since 1928, the antechapel has been used as the university's war memorial: five hundred and twenty-four students of the university are commemorated on its walls, having fallen in the First and Second World Wars. [10]

Bishop Elphinstone, the College's founder, and Hector Boece, its first Principal, were buried at the foot of the chancel, although a larger tomb to Elphinstone is located outside the college. [8] However, a later renovation of the chapel found the Bishop's body to be missing, its ultimate fate unknown. The design of the chapel, as well as its date of construction, were designed to evoke Solomon's Temple. [8]

The King's College Centre

The King's College Conference Centre is a conference and events space within the King's College building, established in 1991 within the former university library, yet maintaining many of the original features of the buildings. The conference centre housed the Scottish Parliament between 28 and 30 May 2002 whilst the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland took over its usual annual residence at New College, Edinburgh (the assembly hall of which it had lent the Scottish Parliament during the time of the construction of the new parliament building in Holyrood). During this time, the parliament was addressed by Her Majesty, the Queen as part of her Golden Jubilee tour of the United Kingdom.

Modern campus

The university owns much of the land and buildings on the campus, but others are in private ownership as private houses, shops and businesses. Many of these serve the university community. There are also extensive lawns, trees and large displays of flowers. These green spaces are popular places to sit in summer for students and staff.

The original buildings and High Street form the heart of the modern campus and are still used for teaching, to house academic departments, and other university activities. During the 20th century, the university purchased land around these buildings and constructed new ones to enable expansion. These buildings generally reflect the prevailing architecture of their period. The most recent building is the Sir Duncan Rice Library, completed in 2011.

Related Research Articles

Hector Boece British philosopher

Hector Boece, known in Latin as Hector Boecius or Boethius, was a Scottish philosopher and historian, and the first Principal of King's College in Aberdeen, a predecessor of the University of Aberdeen.

The ancient universities of Scotland are medieval and renaissance universities which continue to exist in the present day. The majority of the ancient universities of the British Isles are located within Scotland, and have a number of distinctive features in common, being governed by a series of measures laid down in the Universities (Scotland) Acts 1858–1966. The Universities (Scotland) Act 1966 uses the term 'older universities' to refer to St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The same act provided for the independence from St Andrews of Dundee, which was then granted a similar form of governance under its royal charter.

Dunnottar Castle ruined castle in Scotland

Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the northeastern coast of Scotland, about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Stonehaven. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th and 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been fortified in the Early Middle Ages. Dunnottar has played a prominent role in the history of Scotland through to the 18th-century Jacobite risings because of its strategic location and defensive strength. Dunnottar is best known as the place where the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish crown jewels, were hidden from Oliver Cromwell's invading army in the 17th century. The property of the Keiths from the 14th century, and the seat of the Earl Marischal, Dunnottar declined after the last Earl forfeited his titles by taking part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. The castle was restored in the 20th century and is now open to the public.

Marischal College

Marischal College is a large granite building on Broad Street in the centre of Aberdeen in north-east Scotland, and since 2011 has acted as the headquarters of Aberdeen City Council. However, the building was constructed for and is on long-term lease from the University of Aberdeen, which still uses parts of the building to house a museum and for ceremonial events. Today, it provides corporate office space and public access to council services, adjacent to the Town House, the city's historic seat of local government. Many Aberdonians consider Marischal College to be an icon of the "Granite City" and to symbolise the zenith of Aberdeen's granite-working industry.

Nicholas West Bishop of Ely

Nicholas West, was an English bishop and diplomatist, born at Putney, and educated at Eton and at King's College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in 1486. He also had periods of study at Oxford and Bologna.

Marischal Museum

Marischal Museum was a museum in Aberdeen, Scotland, specialising in anthropology and artifacts from cultures around the world. Part of the University of Aberdeen, it was situated at Marischal College, a grand neo-gothic building said to be the second-largest granite building in the world, displaying collections owned by the University. The museum is closed to the public, but now operates at the University of Aberdeen’s museum collections centre.

Aberdeen Breviary

The Aberdeen Breviary is a 16th-century Scottish Catholic breviary. It was the first book to be printed in Scotland.

St Andrews Cathedral, Aberdeen Church

St Andrew's Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, is a cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church situated in the Scottish city of Aberdeen. It is the see of the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney who is the Ordinary of the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney.

Education in Aberdeen

Education in Aberdeen, Scotland has a strong tradition with two Universities and Scotland's largest further education college.

Architecture of Aberdeen

The Architecture of Aberdeen, Scotland is known for the use of granite as the principal construction material. The stone, which has been quarried in and around the city, has given Aberdeen the epithet The Granite City, or more romantically, and less commonly used, the Silver City, after the mica in the stone which sparkles in the sun.

Bridge of Dee bridge in Aberdeen, Scotland

The Bridge of Dee or Brig o' Dee is a road bridge over the River Dee in Aberdeen, Scotland. The term is also used for the surrounding area of the city. Dating from 1527, the bridge crosses at what was once the City of Aberdeen's southern boundary. This was the site of a battle in 1639 between the Royalists under Viscount Aboyne and the Covenanters who were led by the Marquess of Montrose and Earl Marischal. This was the only substantial action of the First Bishops' War, and it took place after the peace treaty had already been signed.

Elphinstone Hall

Elphinstone Hall is a large hall belonging to the University of Aberdeen, located at their King's College campus in Old Aberdeen. It is a 20th-century building which replaced the "Common Hall" and is named after Bishop William Elphinstone, the founder of the University. An arcade dominates the front of the building, behind which lie a reception area and then the large, wood-panelled hall with hammerbeam roof. Portraits of founding fathers of the university and other key figures from its history line the walls. A related suite of luxurious rooms called the Linklater Rooms run along the arcade, named after writer Eric Linklater, a graduate of the university. The hall has an organ, and the complex includes catering facilities as well as cloakroom facilities. In front of the hall is a large lawn, which is popular with students and staff of the university in summer. In winter, the university places a large Christmas tree on this lawn. The hall is currently the venue for all University of Aberdeen graduation ceremonies.

Alexander Marshall MacKenzie was a Scottish architect responsible for prestigious projects including the headquarters of the Isle of Man Banking Company in Douglas, and Australia House and the Waldorf Hotel in London.

The School of Law at the University of Aberdeen dates back to the University's foundation in 1495. Today, it is one of the largest law schools in Scotland, admitting some two hundred and fifty students each year, as well as over forty international exchange students.

University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel

The University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel is an interfaith chapel at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. It was consecrated on 4 October 1929, and is dedicated to the memory of the former students and staff of the University who lost their lives in the First World War. It is located in the West Quadrangle of the Main Building of the University, and was designed by John James Burnet. The chapel is protected as a category A listed building.

Canon Alexander Galloway 16th-century cleric

Canon Alexander Galloway was a 16th-century cleric from Aberdeen in Scotland. He was not only a Canon of St Machar’s Cathedral, he was a Royal Notary and Diocesan Clerk for James IV and James V of Scotland; vicar of the Parishes of Fordyce, Bothelny, and Kinkell (1516-1552); five times Rector of King’s College – University of Aberdeen; Master of Works on the Bridge of Dee in Aberdeen and for Greyfriars Church in Aberdeen; and Chancellor of the Diocese of Aberdeen. According to Steven Holmes, he was one of the most notable liturgists of his time, designing many fine examples of Sacrament Houses across the North-East of Scotland. He was a friend of and adviser to Hector Boece, the first Principal of the University of Aberdeen, as well as Bishop Elphinstone, Chancellor of Scotland and Gavin Dunbar. He was an avid anti-Reformationist being a friend of Jacobus Latomus and Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus and clerics in the Old University of Leuven. Along with Gavin Dunbar, Galloway designed and had built the western towers of the cathedral and designed the heraldic ceiling, featuring 48 coats of arms in three rows of sixteen. More than anyone else he contributed to the development of the artistry of Scottish Lettering. He has a claim to be what some might call “a Renaissance Man”.


  1. 1 2 "The Noble College- Building on the European Tradition". Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2007.
  2. "Aberdeen Today, The Granite City; Kings College". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 30 July 2007.
  3. "History of the Cromwell Tower Observatory". Archived from the original on 10 June 2007. Retrieved 30 July 2007.
  4. "Building on the European tradition". Archived from the original on 27 February 2007.
  5. "King's College Chapel". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  6. "History | The University of Aberdeen". 5 September 2013. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  7. "The Madonna Plaque". Archived from the original on 4 October 2012.
  8. 1 2 3 "Crowning achievement of Scottish Renaissance". Archived from the original on 9 January 2009.
  9. "The Choir stalls and Rood screen". Archived from the original on 7 February 2006.
  10. "'We will remember them'". Archived from the original on 17 March 2010.

Coordinates: 57°09′50″N2°06′04″W / 57.1639°N 2.1012°W / 57.1639; -2.1012