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Academic Dress on John Speeds Maps

by Alex Kerr The maps of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire in John Speeds celebrated atlas, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, published in 1611/12, each include figures in academic dress. The two on the Oxfordshire map (1605) are in fact in Cambridge dress and reappear on the Cambridgeshire map (1610) where they properly belong. They are joined by two other figures.

Oxfordshire (1605)

Cambridgeshire (1610)

The colouring of the dress on the maps is arbitrary: the contemporary painters had little idea of the appropriate colours, which naturally depend in any case on correct identification of the robes. And modern colourists of the old maps do no better.

Alex Kerr 2013

John Baker in his 1984 article The Dress of the Cambridge Proctors in Costume recognised that the figures on the right were a DD and a proctor in Congregation dress. The DD wears an open-sleeved black gown. Over this he has the scarlet cope, which is still worn, now open down the front, by the Cambridge vice-chancellor when admitting to degrees. The proctors black mantle later shrank to become the cape-like ruff, still part of the Cambridge proctorial dress.

DD in Congregation (Vice-Chancellor) - Proctor

The two figures on the left may represent a Cambridge regent MA and a doctor in a lay faculty (LLD or MD) in Congregation dress. The MA (like the proctor) is still wearing the open-sleeved gown that would be replaced a few years later by the bag-sleeved undress gown that we associate with MA dress today. The lay doctors gown has coat-style sleeves, one of several acceptable patterns at this time. Over this he wears a cappa, scarlet like the DDs, with armholes above the elbows and redundant sleeves or pendants trimmed with a bar of fur hanging behind the arms. This garment went out of use in the early 19th century.

Regent MA Lay doctor in Congregation

Alex Kerr 2013

It seems likely that Speed intended to illustrate the corporate identity of Cambridge University by four representative senior figures: a regent master, a lay doctor, a DD doubling as vice-chancellor, and a proctor. The doctors are bearded and wear the neck ruff still fashionable for professional gentlemen of mature years. The MA and the proctor are younger, clean-shaven and wear the turn-down collar known as a falling band, preferred by the younger generation at this time. All four wear a square cap, which seems to have soft corners, as we would expect at this date. This evolved into the stiff mortar-board only a couple of decades later. The bunches of hair on the sides of the head look anachronistic to me and I wonder whether in the original sketches these were meant to be the side pieces often found on the skull part of the cap covering the upper part of the ear, before wigs became fashionable. All four have hoods lined with fur. Fur rather than silk still seems to have been usual at this time for masters and doctors in full dress and for doctors in Congregation dress or (at Oxford) Convocation dress. (In the previous century silk had been permitted as an alternative to fur only for summer use.) By the later 17th century silk had replaced fur for masters and doctors, in practice if not in the regulations, except - as it happens - on Cambridge doctors Congregation dress and the Oxford proctors hood, where fur remains to this day. There is every reason to think these drawings are pretty accurate, even though they are simple sketches added to the maps as decoration. For our purpose they are in fact valuable evidence of academic dress in the first decade of the 17th century, when there are few portraits, engravings and other pictorial material to go on.

This is a summary of an illustrated talk given at the Burgon Societys Spring Conference in London in April 2013. For information about the Burgon Society visit

Alex Kerr 2013