The Early Years
In 1428 Abbot Lytlington of Crowland Abbey near Peterborough was licensed by Letters Patent of King Henry VI to acquire the site to establish a hostel in Cambridge for Benedictine student-monks.
The Benedictines were attracted to having their "Monks' Hostel" north of the river, aiming to distance themselves from the temptations of the town.
The monks chose a location which had been inhabited in prehistoric times, an Iron Age settlement of circular houses has been located close by and parts of a paved Roman road, rubbish pits and coins have been found. A spectacular collection of medieval coins, ‘The Magdalene hoard', was found on the edge of the College site and is now displayed in the Fitzwilliam Museum.
The Benedictine monks began building in the 1470s. John de Wisbech, Abbot of Crowland, planned First Court and completed the Chapel. The Benedictines were only responsible for the communal buildings of their monastic colleges, individual abbeys were invited to provide their own student chambers.
Four local Benedictine abbeys - Crowland, Ely, Ramsey and Walden - each built a staircase (of two storeys), three of them in the south range. As a result of patronage by the family of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, the name of the institution was changed from Monks' Hostel to Buckingham College sometime after 1472. The College suffered an early misfortune when the Duke of Buckingham was executed for treason in 1483.
It was not long before students who were not monks were admitted. Such lay students would have paid rent to the host abbey whose rooms they occupied. Thomas Cranmer, later Archbishop of Canterbury, was appointed a lecturer at Magdalene in 1515.