Back to England - V

Tom Tower, the Entrance to Christ Church College, Oxford, England (LEO Design)


Perhaps the most famous college at Oxford—with one of the largest financial endowments—is Christ Church College.  Its founding began with Cardinal Wolsey who began building Cardinal College in 1525.  Thomas Wolsey, a Catholic priest and cardinal, was extremely powerful—sometimes referred to as Alter Rex ("The Other King").  As cardinal, he was the highest ecclesiastical authority in England (that is, until Henry VIII, his benefactor, took that position for himself).  As England's Lord High Chancellor, he was the most important advisor to the king.  And Wolsey's fingers seemed to be in every pie: managing religious matters, reforming the tax and judicial systems, collecting art, and driving one of England's biggest building booms in its history (unsurpassed by most British kings).  As a churchman with ties to Rome, Wolsey was well-positioned to bring the energy of the Italian Renaissance to his contemporary England.

Henry VIII—who was notorious for elevating and then dashing (or killing) his favorites—liked Wolsey's modest background (he was the son of a butcher).  Henry's suspicion of the aristocracy allowed Wolsey to negotiate a great deal of power and influence in court.  As a "henchman" of sorts for Henry, Wolsey was richly rewarded.

But Wolsey was not a model prelate.  He had a long term mistress resulting in (at least) two children.  He also accumulated vast wealth which generated much derision.

Cardinal Wolsey was tasked with negotiating Henry VIII's annulment from his first wife (of six), Queen Catherine of Aragon, Spain.  Wolsey's failure to accomplish this assignment was declared treason by the king.  Wolsey was summoned to appear, to defend himself of the charges and probably to be executed.  Wolsey died enroute to London in 1530.

With Wolsey gone—and Henry VIII declared as "the Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England"—the college was renamed Henry VIII college in 1532.  In 1546, the school took its final (and current) name: Christ Church College.


Entrance to the Christ Church College Meadows and Garden, Oxford, England (LEO Design)


The campus comprises 175 acres which includes a wonderful garden and meadows which are open to the public (the meadow's entrance is shown in the photo immediately above). Christ Church's many significant buildings have been used as film locations including the Harry Potter films.  Today, the school is visited by more than half a million tourist-visitors a year.

The Tom Tower, designed by master architect Christopher Wren, is the main entrance of the school (shown above in the top photo).  During the English Civil War, the school's Great Dining Hall was pressed into service as the seat of Parliament under Charles I (who was executed in 1649).  Even today, Christ Church students are expected to have dinner in the hall.  There are two "seatings" each night, one informal and one formal—at which diners must wear their formal scholar's gowns and grace is read in Latin.

Although the student body is small (numbering 661 students in 2022), the college has provided many famous alumni including King Edward VII (after whom the Edwardian Era is named), writers Lewis Carrol and W.H. Auden, Prime Ministers William Gladstone and Anthony Eden, philosopher John Locke, William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) and the Winklevoss Twins (who claim to have invented FaceBook).


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248