Two documents mark the birth of Leiden University.
The charter establishing Leiden University was only drawn up after the University’s inauguration on 8 February 1575. Despite this, the date given on the document is 6 January of that same year. To grant the University legal status, the document bears a red wax seal with the likeness of the ruling authority, in this instance Lord of the Netherlands, Philip II of Spain. The charter is also signed with his name, and not, as is sometimes believed, with the name of Prince William of Orange. However, it was on William of Orange’s advice to the State of Holland that the charter came about.
The Leiden University charter is the oldest such charter in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in Europe. Not all of the centuries-old universities – Bologna, Oxford or Cambridge, for instance – have such a charter. Some have based their existence on a different type of document, for example a licentia ubique docendi (the licence to teach at every university).
The statutes, signed by William of Orange, describe matters such as the form of governance at the University.
See the documents close up
The charter has been drawn up in Dutch, and the statutes in Dutch and Latin. The elegant handwriting, with a salutation in large curlicued letters, is difficult to decipher for anyone who is not versed in reading old manuscripts. Dr Philipp Molhuysen, curator of manuscripts at Leiden University Library between 1897 and 1913, produced transcriptions of both documents and published them in Bronnen tot de geschiedenis der Leidsche universiteit 1574-1811.