Honorary Degree - Historical Origins and Rationale

Historical Origins and Rationale

The practice dates back to the middle ages, when for various reasons a university might be persuaded, or otherwise see fit, to grant exemption from some or all of the usual statutory requirements for award of a degree. The earliest honorary degree on record was awarded to Lionel Woodville in the late 1470s by the University of Oxford. He later became Bishop of Salisbury.

In the latter part of the 16th century, the granting of honorary degrees became quite common, especially on the occasion of royal visits to Oxford or Cambridge. On the visit of James I to Oxford in 1605, for example, forty-three members of his retinue (fifteen of whom were earls or barons) received the degree of Master of Arts, and the Register of Convocation explicitly states that these were full degrees, carrying the usual privileges (such as voting rights in Convocation and Congregation).

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