Anyway, some of the discussion on the punt trip earlier lead to me writing this small fragment from a history text, or essay, that an alternative me from that Cambridge might have written.
"The colleges wield power like a mace. We cannot afford to do that, instead we should view power as a knife and make subtle precise strikes with it." This quotation, from Sir Matthew Arrowmere, Keeper of Garratt Hostel, is the only direct record we have of the first meeting of the Hostel Association1. It was recorded in the diary of another academic present, whom we know only as 'T J'2. From the rest of the entry we can see that the Hostel Keepers of the late 15th Century knew their position was quite fragile, and that Arrowmere's words had to be kept in mind if the Hostels were to survive in any form.
The way the University was governed meant that the Colleges together could vote the Hostels down on any issue, and only internal politics within Colleges had stopped any number of Graces which might have sunk the Hostels without trace. As the political situation stood, though, the Hostels could, in a sense, play Kingmaker3. However, if they used this power too openly then they risked uniting the warring factions against themselves, and that could spell ruin at any time.
Their response to the situation was almost inspired. They strengthened ties with the Town, with which they were already closer than the self-supporting Colleges, and individual Hostels sought allegiances with some of the Colleges. The most notable of these agreements being when Garratt Hostel agreed to bankroll Mary Hall's purchase of a strip of land along the backs while neighbouring Clare Hall had their attention on an outbreak of disease within their walls. Since the Master and Fellows of Clare Hall knew nothing about the financial arrangements involved, this had the added advantage of helping to poison the suggestion that the two Colleges4 amalgamated to form a more cohesive institution (and hence a bigger political power).
1Although it had no such formal an identity until 1698.
2These initials appear on the front page of the diary, and are the only evident mark of identification.
3the analogy was not lost on our diarist, whom it would appear was in the affinity of Warwick himself.
4These two colleges had both been founded in the mid 14th century with the aim of training up Canon law specialists to replace those lost in the Black Death. Both still had a large emphasis on law, and would have benefited from an amalgamation, which would have made them the largest College in the city at the time.