White Horse Tavern, Cambridge

The 'White Horse Tavern' or 'White Horse Inn'[1] was in the 16th century the meeting place in Cambridge for English Protestant reformers who discussed Lutheran ideas. These discussions met as early as 1521.[2] According to the historian Geoffrey Elton the group of university dons who met there were nicknamed 'Little Germany'[3] in reference to their discussions of Luther.


According to Rosenthal, among those who attended these meetings were the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, the future Bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer and the reformers Robert Barnes and Thomas Bilney. The group was not confined to those associated with the reform movement of the next two decades, however, and also included future conservatives like Stephen Gardiner, the future Bishop of Winchester. Others who met at the tavern included Miles Coverdale, Matthew Parker, William Tyndale, Nicholas Shaxton, John Rogers and John Bale.[4]

Cranmer's Attendance

According to MacCulloch,

It was natural that his [Cranmer's] Protestant admirers should later give him respectable evangelical credentials for the 1520s, and that they should provide him with retrospective honorary membership of the famous White Horse Tavern...However we need to treat such well-meaning efforts with scepticism. Thirty years ago Professor C. C. Butterworth pointed out that all subsequent talk of the White Horse circle has been built up from a single reference in Foxe's Book of Martyrs; moreover, Foxe is quite specific about which colleges provided regulars for the group, and Jesus [Cranmer's college] is not among them (neither, for that matter, is Gardiner's Trinity Hall).[5]

Further, Gascoigne observes, "He [Cranmer] seems to have played no part in the White Horse circle...,"[6] but McGrath cautions, "Although it is thought that accounts of the activities and influence of this group may have been somewhat embellished, there is no doubt that Cambridge was an important early centre for discussion of Luther's doctrine of justification by faith."[7]


The tavern was located on the site of King's Lane, to the west of King's Parade.[4] When the King's College screen was extended in 1870, the tavern was demolished, but a Blue Plaque on the college's Chetwynd Court commemorates this.[8]

Further Reading


See also


  1. L. F. Salzman ed. "Friaries: Austin friars, Cambridge" in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely Vol.2 (London: 1948), 187-290
  2. J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558 (OUP, 1991), p. 343.
  3. Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, England under the Tudors: Third Edition (Routledge, 2005), p. 111.
  4. 1 2 Elisabeth Leedham-Green (1996). A Concise History of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. p. 44.
  5. D. MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (Yale: YUP, 1996), 25.
  6. B. Gascoigne, A Brief History of Christianity Rev. Ed. (London: Robinson, 2003), 119
  7. A. McGrath, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, a History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First (London: SPCK, 2007) 108.
  8. King’s Parade / Senate House Hill

Coordinates: 52°12′13″N 0°07′01″W / 52.2037°N 0.1170°W / 52.2037; -0.1170

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