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Magdalen College
Magdalen College New Quad and Founders Tower, Oxford, UK - Diliff.jpg
New Quad and Founders Tower
Magdalen College Oxford Coat Of Arms (Motto).svg
Blazon: Lozengy ermine and sable, on a chief of the second three lilies argent slipped and seeded or
University Oxford
Location Longwall Street and High Street
Coordinates 51°45′09″N 1°14′49″W / 51.752374°N 1.247077°W / 51.752374; -1.247077
Full name The College of St Mary Magdalen in the University of Oxford
Latin name Collegium Beatae Mariae Magdalenae
Motto Floreat Magdalena
Established 1458; 565 years ago (1458)
Named for Mary Magdalene
Sister college Magdalene College, Cambridge
President Dinah Rose QC
Undergraduates 390 (2018)
Postgraduates 178 (2018)
Boat club Magdalen College Boat Club
Magdalen College, Oxford is located in Oxford city centre
Magdalen College, Oxford
Location in Oxford city centre

Magdalen College ( MAWD-lin) is a constituent college of the University of Oxford. It was founded in 1458 by William of Waynflete. Today, it is the fourth wealthiest college, with a financial endowment of £332.1 million as of 2019 and one of the strongest academically, setting the record for the highest Norrington Score in 2010 and topping the table twice since then. It is home to several of the university's distinguished chairs, including the Agnelli-Serena Professorship, the Sherardian Professorship, and the four Waynflete Professorships.

The large, square Magdalen Tower is an Oxford landmark, and it is a tradition, dating to the days of Henry VII, that the college choir sings from the top of it at 6 a.m. on May Morning. The college stands next to the River Cherwell and the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. Within its grounds are a deer park and Addison's Walk.

Notable members



Joseph Addison, for whom Addison's walk is named, was a Fellow of Magdalen during the 17th century. He is known for his play Cato, a Tragedy based on the life of Cato the Younger at the end of the Roman Republic. Popular with the American Founding Fathers, the play may have served as a literary inspiration for the American Revolution.

The 19th-century poet, playwright, and aesthete Oscar Wilde read Greats at Magdalen from 1874 to 1878. During this time, he won the university's Newdigate Prize and graduated with a double first. After his time at Magdalen, he became famous for his works including the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and the play The Importance of Being Earnest.

Wilde began an affair in 1891 with Alfred Douglas, who was then himself a student at Magdalen. The disapproval of Douglas's father over Wilde's relationship with his son led to Wilde's prosecution and conviction in 1895 for "gross indecency", that is to say, homosexual behaviour, and a sentence to two years' hard labour. Wilde described "the two great turning-points in my life were when my father sent me to Oxford, and when society sent me to prison". After his release from prison, Wilde moved to France and spent the last three years of his life in poverty. He was posthumously pardoned in 2017 under Turing's Law.

The prolific author Sir Compton Mackenzie OBE, who wrote over one hundred novels, plays, and biographies, read modern history at Magdalen. He is known for his fiction, including Sinister Street—which features St. Mary's College, Oxford as a stand-in for Magdalen—and Monarch of the Glen. Compton Mackenzie co-founded the Scottish National Party and was knighted in 1952.

C. S. Lewis, writer and alumnus of University College, was a Fellow and English tutor at Magdalen for 29 years, from 1925 to 1954. Lewis was one of the Inklings, an informal writing society that also included J. R. R. Tolkien and would meet in Lewis's rooms at Magdalen. Under Lewis's tutelage was the future Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman. Though Betjeman failed the maths portion of the entrance exams, he was offered a place to read English on the strength of his poetry, which had impressed the President of Magdalen and former Professor of Poetry Sir Thomas Herbert Warren. Lewis and Betjeman had a difficult relationship and Betjeman struggled academically. Betjeman left having failed to obtain a degree in 1928, but was made a doctor of letters by the university in 1974.

Seamus Heaney, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, was a Fellow of Magdalen from 1989 to 1994.


Katie Mitchell, 2016
Director Katie Mitchell

The director Peter Brook CBE is both an alumnus and honorary Fellow of Magdalen. He was described in 2008 as "our greatest living theatre director". Fellow director Katie Mitchell OBE read English at Magdalen, and is known for her collaborations with Martin Crimp. In 2017, she received the President's Medal of the British Academy for her work in contemporary theatre and opera, and she has been described as British theatre's "king in exile".


In 1957, the organist and composer Bernard Rose OBE was appointed Magdalen's Informator Choristarum, choir master. Among his students were Harry Christophers CBE, a composer and an artistic director for the Handel and Haydn Society who was an academical clerk and later honorary Fellow at Magdalen; and Dudley Moore CBE, comedic actor and jazz musician, who studied at Magdalen on an organ scholarship.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Baron Lloyd-Webber, composer of musicals including Evita and The Phantom of the Opera, studied history at Magdalen for a term in 1965, before dropping out to pursue music at the Royal Academy of Music. Andrew Lloyd Webber has received a number of awards for his work, including a lifetime achievement Tony Award.


Hormuzd Rassam, the native Assyriologist, studied at Magdalen for 18 months between accompanying archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard on his first and second expeditions. When Layard retired from archaeology, the British Museum appointed Rassam to continue on his own. Rassam made several important discoveries: in 1853 at Nineveh, Rassam discovered the clay tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh; in 1879 he discovered the Cyrus Cylinder in the ruins of Babylon; and in 1880–1881 he uncovered the city of Sippar. He was the first Middle Eastern archaeologist, but his contributions were dismissed by some of his contemporaries and by the end of his life, his name had been removed from plaques and visitor guides at the British Museum. Layard would describe him as "one whose services have never been acknowledged".

The economist A. Michael Spence attended Magdalen on a Rhodes Scholarship, and graduated with a BA in mathematics in 1968. In 2001, he shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on "analyses of markets with asymmetric information". He is an honorary fellow at Magdalen.

Novelist and Spanish anti-fascist Ralph Winston Fox studied modern languages at Magdalen College, where he graduated from in 1922 with a first class honours. Clive was most well known for being the biographer of both Genghis Khan and Vladimir Lenin, and for being killed while fighting against Hitler backed fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

Philosopher A. C. Grayling CBE read for his DPhil at Magdalen, completing his studies in 1981. In 2011, he founded the New College of the Humanities. An analytic philosopher, Grayling is known for his criticism of religion, including in his 2013 book The God Argument, and his arguments for voting reform, as in his 2017 book Democracy and Its Crises.

Niall Ferguson, a well-known historian, also studied at Magdalen.


Peter Brian Medawar
Peter Medawar, Nobel laureate and organ transplant pioneer.

Magdalen counts among its alumni several recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Sir Howard Florey was an Australian pharmacologist who studied at Magdalen on a Rhodes Scholarship, graduating in 1924. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 for the development of penicillin. Sir Peter Medawar CBE read for a BA in zoology at Magdalen, receiving a first, and later for a DPhil, supervised by Florey. His research into tissue grafting and immune rejection led to the discover of acquired immune tolerance and became the basis of organ transplantation. For this work, he shared the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Like Florey before him, Australian neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles also came to Magdalen on a Rhodes Scholarship, where he read for his DPhil. He was taught by an earlier neurophysiologist who received the Nobel in 1932, Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, who held the Waynflete Professorship in Physiology at Magdalen. In 1963 Eccles received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research into synapses. Eccles was also known for his contributions to philosophy, writing on the mind-body problem and becoming an honorary member of the American Philosophical Society.

Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe held the Nuffield Professorship of Clinical Medicine between 2003 and 2006, and is still a supernumerary fellow at Magdalen. He shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the oxygen sensing of cells. Other former Nuffield Professors of Clinical Medicine include Sir David Weatherall, who founded the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in 1989, and Sir John Bell GBE, who is also an alumnus of the college. The current holder of the chair is Richard Cornall, who was appointed in 2019.

Two Fellows of Magdalen have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics: Erwin Schrödinger in 1933, while he was a Fellow; and Anthony James Leggett KBE in 2003, who had been a Fellow from 1963 to 1967.

Due to Magdalen's close relationship with Oxford's Botanic Garden and as the home of the Sherardian Chair of Botany, Magdalen has been associated with many accomplished botanists. Historic Sherardian Professors include John Sibthorp, in whose name the Sibthorpian Professorship of Rural Economy, later known as the Sibthorpian Professorship of Plant Sciences, was founded; and Charles Daubeny, who also held the Aldrichian Chair of Chemistry and founded the Daubeny laboratory. The Sherardian Chair has been held since 2009 by Liam Dolan, who studies the emergence of land plants.

Likewise, many distinguished scientists have held Waynflete Professorships at Magdalen. These include the mathematician J. H. C. Whitehead, who held the Waynflete Professorship of Pure Mathematics between 1947 and 1960. During this time, he was also the president of the London Mathematical Society, which established the Whitehead and Senior Whitehead prizes in his honour. He is remembered for his fundamental contributions to topology. The chair was held from 1984 until he retired in 2006 by Daniel Quillen, who received the Fields Medal for his work in algebraic K-theory. It is currently held by Ben Green.

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