College Life Blog

Search all blog posts

King Charles Gate: Advent Doors 2018

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Monday, December 10, 2018

A link between colleges, installed for a king during a time of war - it might not be much to look at, but behind this door is one of Christ Church's most fascinating stories. Constructed from wood dating back over 500 years, and used by Charles I as a means of inconspicuously visiting someone at another college, this gate was there as history was made.

The King Charles gate openDespite being associated with King Charles I (1600-1649), this gate is far older than him. The timber from the gate has been found to date from around 1450, and to be of German and Baltic origin. Even though the door was being made for a king, the fact that the wood it contains is so old suggests that the college either re-used an old door, or just put one together from timber they already had.

During the Civil War, Charles spent a lot of time at Christ Church. He resided in the Deanery for at least half of the time between 1643 and 1645, and parliament was held in the Hall. The college was affected by the king’s residence in other ways, too – his privy council met in the south-west canonry, weddings and funerals of members of the court took place in the Cathedral, and student rooms were occupied by courtiers and military men. Tom Quad, then known as the Great Quadrangle, was used as a parade ground, and there was also a cannon foundry on site.

But there were other practical concerns to consider – mainly, how Charles was to discreetly visit his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, residing a few hundred metres away in the nearby Merton College. In 1642 this gate was installed in the eastern end of the Cathedral garden, leading through to Corpus Christi College, while another gate was installed between Corpus and Merton.

Charles would slip through the Christ Church gate, past Corpus and into Merton to visit Henrietta, who was lodging in rooms in Merton’s Front Quad. These days, members of Christ Church’s academic staff follow Charles’ footsteps through the King Charles Gate every June, when the President and Fellows of Corpus Christi invite our SCR for drinks in the college to celebrate the first meeting of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria as husband and wife on 13th June 1625. And so in its own unique way, this gate continues to serve as a reminder of the regal history that linked some of Oxford’s colleges nearly 400 years ago.