‘Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs.’ On the face of it, Matthew Arnold’s elegiac depiction of Oxford University stands up. In the civil war of the 1640s, Charles I made Oxford his home and ran the royalist war effort from his lodgings in Christ Church. After his defeat, Oxford confronted parliamentarian rule with resourceful obstruction. Even when the victorious Puritans had brought in the New Model Army and had forcibly replaced half the dons, they could not supplant the university’s underlying royalism and Anglicanism. At the Restoration, Oxford’s antiquary Anthony Wood recorded that the rejoicing there exceeded that of ‘any place of its bigness’. The loyalties forged by civil war had come to stay. Under the long Whig ascendancy that followed the Revolution of 1688, Oxford was a bastion of high-church Toryism.
With political conservatism, it has often been alleged, there went intellectual reaction and torpor. In 1683, during the national reaction against Whig moves to exclude the future James II from the throne, the university’s vice-chancellor proudly reported to Whitehall that ‘pernicious books’ by Hobbes, Milton and others had