University of Aberdeen | Attraction Guides | History Hit

University of Aberdeen

Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom

Sarah Roller

13 May 2021
Image Credit: Julian Popov / Shutterstock

About University of Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen was founded in 1495, making it the 5th oldest university in the English-speaking world, and one of Scotland’s ancient universities. It consistently ranks as one of the top 20 universities in the UK.

History of the University of Aberdeen

It’s thought the See of Aberdeen had a centre of learning attached to it since the mid 12th century, but it was only formally founded by Papal Bull in February 1494, following a request from King James IV of Scotland to Pope Alexander VI – the main motive for this request was said to be his desire to correct the ignorance of the people in northern Scotland so that they could better fill clerical offices.

The new university, originally called ‘The University and King’s College of Aberdeen’, was a collegiate foundation modelled on the University of Paris, and was primarily originally intended to be a law school. In 1497, the university established the first chair of medicine in the English-speaking world.

In 1593, the 5th Earl of Marischal founded a rival –  Marischal College – in the commercial heart of the city. More integrated with city life, the two colleges clashed both in the courts and in brawls – attempts at mergers were frequent but unproductive for the most part. A brief attempt to keep the two colleges unified happened during the interregnum under Oliver Cromwell, but this fell apart again after the Restoration. The union was only actually formally completed in 1860, which also created a new medical school for Marischal College.

By 1892, all faculties were able to admit women, and two years later, a group of 20 women matriculated at the university. The quadrangle at Marischal College was finished in 1906 and opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. These were some of the most extravagant celebrations held by the city, including banquets, fireworks and the bestowing of hundreds of honorary degrees to figures across the world.

Throughout the 20th century both King’s and Marischal Colleges continued to expand, with new buildings in both traditional and contemporary brutalist styles.

The University of Aberdeen today

The university’s campus is spread across the city: Marischal College is close to the city centre, whilst King’s is further north. King’s College is very much still in use – the Chapel and Museum are open to visitors during the week and are free. Marischal College is not open to the public, but its austere perpendicular Gothic style is worth enjoying from the outside.

Getting to the University of Aberdeen

Marischal College is accessible from Queen Street or Broad Street – buses stop on both. The main body of the campus, including King’s College, is accessed via College Bounds or King Street – it’s about 20 minutes walk from Marischal College and the city centre. Parking is relatively plentiful as are buses.