Trinity College was founded by Sir Thomas Pope in 1555. A devout catholic with no surviving children, Thomas Pope saw the foundation of an Oxford college as a means of ensuring that he and his family would always be remembered in the prayers offered in the Chapel by the college’s members. He came from a family of small landowners in Oxfordshire, trained as a lawyer, and rose rapidly to prominence under King Henry VIII. As Treasurer of the Court of Augmentations Thomas Pope handled the estates of the monasteries dissolved at the Reformation, and amassed a considerable personal fortune.
Pope was a discreet and trusted privy counsellor of Queen Mary Tudor, and it was from Mary and her husband King Philip of Spain that he received Letters Patent and royal approval for his new foundation. Sir Thomas Pope died in 1559. Although his religious ideals were never fully realised “Queen Elizabeth I had succeeded her sister and England returned to the Protestant faith” nonetheless the memory of his name, like his college, has endured the fluctuating fortunes of over 400 years.
The Founder’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Pope, was a very influential figure in Trinity’s early years. Following her husband’s death, she styled herself the Foundress, and made a number of visits to the young college. Pope’s foundation was for a President, twelve fellows and twelve scholars, all supported by the income from his endowment of lands, and for up to twenty undergraduates, who paid fees for tuition and a daily charge for their accommodation. The Fellows, all men, were required to take Holy Orders and remain unmarried. The college statutes set out rules for a simple monastic life of religious observance and study. The Garden was an informal grove of trees, mainly elms, amongst which the members of the College could walk and relax.