People You Probably Didn't Know Were Oxford University Alumni. Image courtesy of Sheng P. via Flickr Commons.

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Top 10 People You Probably Didn’t Know Were Oxford University Alumni

People You Probably Didn't Know Were Oxford University Alumni. Image courtesy of Sheng P. via Flickr Commons.

From medieval times to today, Oxford has had its fair share of famous alumni. Some of them, you have not known were graduates of this institution. For example, were you aware that both Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Sir Thomas Moore learned and taught in Oxford? So did Erasmus and Edmond Hallet. Let’s see who else attended and how well they did while they were in university!

Oxford Alumni

13th and 14th Centuries

Roger Bacon

Roger Bacon was a medieval English philosopher and Franciscan friar. He was also one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method. Bacon studied at Oxford and became a Master in the University, lecturing on Aristotle. He was recorded speaking before the king at Oxford in 1233.

John Wyclif (Wycliffe)

John Wyclif (or Wycliffe) was an English scholastic philosopher, biblical translator, Catholic priest, and theologian. He was also a seminary professor at the University of Oxford, where we know he was around 1345. He was in the city during St Scholastica Day riot, when sixty-three Oxford students were and a number of townspeople got killed.  

Other Oxford alumni of the 13th and 14th centuries:

  • Simon Bredon, mathematician
  • Thomas Bradwardine, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Duns Scotus, philosopher and theologian
  • William of Ockham, philosopher and theologian

Oxford Alumni

15th and 16th Centuries

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

Thomas Wolsey was a statesman and Catholic bishop. He was one of the last English churchmen that played a dominant role in the nation’s political life. He attended Ipswich School and Magdalen College and studied theology at Magdalen College, Oxford. He graduated at age of 15, a fact that earned him the nickname ‘Boy Bachelor’. 


Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, or Erasmus, was a philosopher and theologian born in the Netherlands. He’s considered one of the greatest scholars of the Renaissance. He was also a Catholic priest and he taught at the University of Oxford. He was particularly interested in the Bible teachings of John Colet, an English educational pioneer. 

Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More was an English lawyer, social philosopher, judge, author, statesman, and humanist of the Renaissance. He served as Lord High Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532. More began his studies at the University of Oxford in 1492, where he received a classical education and became proficient in Greek and Latin. He left Oxford after just two years at the insistence of his father to begin legal training in London. 

Other Oxford alumni of the 15th and 16th centuries:

  • William Tyndale, translator of the Bible
  • Jerome of Prague, Czech religious reformer
  • Cardinal William Allen
  • John Donne, poet
  • Sir Walter Raleigh, explorer
  • Sir Philip Sidney, poet

Oxford Alumni

17th and 18th Centuries

Edmond Halley

Edmond Halley was an English astronomer, mathematician, geophysicist, and meteorologist and the second Astronomer in Britain (after succeeding John Flamsteed in 1720). Halley was granted a master’s degree from Oxford with the help of King Charles II. In November 1703, he was appointed Savilian Professor of Geometry at the University. He also received an honorary degree of doctor of laws in 1710.

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher and is considered one of the founders of modern philosophy. He’s well known for his book “Leviathan”, written in 1651. Hobbes attended Magdalen Hall, the predecessor of Hertford College, Oxford. He studied scholastic logic and mathematics.

Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren was one of the most acclaimed English architects, as well as a renowned astronomer, geometer, and mathematician among others. He was educated in Latin and Aristotelian physics at the University of Oxford around 1650. He was a student at Wadham College

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-irish author, satirist, poet, political pamphleteer and Anglican cleric, remembered for many acclaimed works such as GUlliver’s Travels, A Tale of a Tub, A Modest Porposals, and more. Swift received his M.A. from Hart, Hall, Oxford, in 1692. 

Other Oxford alumni of the 17th and 18th centuries:

  • William Henry Drayton, American revolutionary
  • John Locke, philosopher
  • John Ford, playwright
  • Edward Gibbon, historian
  • William Harvey, scientist who discovered the circulation of the blood
  • Robert Hooke, scientist
  • Dr Samuel Johnson, lexicographer
  • Sir Richard Lovelace, poet
  • James Oglethorpe, founder of the US state of Georgia
  • William Penn, founder of the US state of Pennsylvania
  • Adam Smith, political economist
  • James Smithson, scientist, founder of the Smithsonian Institution
  • Robert Southey, poet   
  • Jethro Tull, agriculturalist and inventor
  • John Wesley, founder of Methodism
  • John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, poet and courtier

Oxford Alumni

19th Century

Oxford alumni of the 19th century:

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)

Lewis Carroll was an English author, mathematician, and poet, well-known for his notable work “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. He attended Westminster School and then the University of Oxford’s Christ Church, his father’s old college. He went into residence in January 1851. 

Eleanor Rathbone

Eleanor Rathborne was a long-timer campaigner for women’s rights and an independent British Member of Parliament. She attended Somerville College at Oxford University. Because the college didn’t have a Classics tutor yet, she took classes such as Roman History, Greek History, and Moral Philosophy in other colleges. 

William Morris

William Morris was a British poet, artist, and textile designer, as well as a conservationist, translator, printer, and social activist linked with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He studied Classics at Oxford University and entered Exeter College in 1852.

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison was an English suffragette and a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was arrested on nine occasions and went on hunger strike seven times. Emily studied at Royal Holloway College, London, and St Hugh’s College, Oxford, later becoming a governess. 

  • Matthew Arnold, poet
  • H H Asquith, British Prime Minister
  • Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor and composer
  • Sir Max Beerbohm, author and cartoonist
  • Gertrude Bell, explorer and archaeologist
  • Hilaire Belloc, author
  • William Beveridge, social reformer and economist
  • John Buchan, author
  • Sir Richard Burton, explorer
  • Edward Burne-Jones, artist
  • Thomas de Quincey, author
  • C B Fry, cricketer
  • William Ewart Gladstone, British Prime Minister
  • Eglantyne Jebb, founder of the Save the Children Fund
  • John Keble, theologian
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins, poet
  • Cardinal John Henry Newman, theologian
  • Sir Robert Peel, British Prime Minister
  • Edward Pusey, theologian
  • Cecil Rhodes, colonial pioneer, founder of the Rhodes Scholarships
  • John Ruskin, author, artist and social reformer
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet
  • Frederick Soddy, Nobel Prize-winning chemist
  • Arnold Toynbee, social philosopher and economist
  • Oscar Wilde, playwright, poet and author

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