Are the University of Cambridge and its colleges peculiars? The university has always claimed independence from episcopal authority for itself and its colleges. A struggle was resolved in 1434 by a tribunal set up by the Pope, in which the Prior of the monastery of Barnwell heard both sides and decided that the University and its colleges were to be exempt from the supervision of the Archbishop of Canterbury and of the Bishop of Ely, in whose diocese the University was situated. This became known as the Barnwell Process. It established the University and it colleges as peculiars defined as having an Ordinary other than the diocesan bishop. Colleges founded later but before the Reformation claimed the same privileges. At the Reformation, the authority of the Pope was replaced by that of the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the privileges that the University and its colleges enjoyed continued to apply. Post-Reformation foundations of colleges tended to claim the same exemptions from episcopal jurisdiction, but without documented evidence. This article argues that the continued acceptance by the Bishop of Ely of the University and its colleges as extra-diocesan confirms them to be peculiars within the legal definition.
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