Skip to content

550 years since the first mention of the University of Tübingen

3 junio 2024
← Back to news
In 2027, the University of Tübingen will celebrate the 550th anniversary of its foundation. However, two new studies, expected to be published this year, reveal that the first mention of the University actually took place three years earlier than originally thought. And that is 1474. 
Photo © Friedhelm Albrecht/University of Tübingen

In the Late Middle Ages, schools of higher learning were usually privileged by the Pope and, in exceptional cases, by the Emperor. This was a prerequisite for these schools to be able to award their graduates a generally recognised degree: the licentia ubique docendi, permission to teach anywhere.

In their studies, historians Robert Gramsch-Stehfest from the University of Jena and Julius Jansen from the University of Tübingen reveal that on May 4, 1474, Count Eberhard V of Württemberg-Urach submitted a letter of petition to Pope Sixtus IV. In this petition, he wrote that he wanted to establish a university in Württemberg, specifically in Tübingen. Count Eberhard the Bearded justified his request by stating that neither his towns nor those of his uncle, Count Ulrich V of Württemberg-Stuttgart, had such a school of higher learning to date.

Church properties to finance the new university

As with many other university foundations, Eberhard's letter to the Pope not only contained the request to obtain the licentia ubique docendi for the university, but also the request to be allowed to rededicate church property to finance the university. In the case of Tübingen, St. Martin's Abbey in Sindelfingen was to serve as the basis for the endowment alongside five parishes. In addition, Eberhard had previously been in Mantua due to his marriage to Barbara Gonzaga and may have had closer contact with his envoy in Rome from there - shorter communication channels were an advantage for a project such as the establishment of the university.

Julius Jansen was now able to prove from the register entry that this first letter of petition of 1474 had already been approved by the Curia. However, the corresponding document was never issued. It is still not known why, also like the reasons that Count Eberhard the Bearded submitted his petition to the Pope, and not to Emperor Frederick III, which would presumably have involved less cost and effort.

A second petition was necessary 

Two years later, in 1476, Eberhard submitted a second letter of petition to the Pope for the privileging of his university. It is unclear whether the Constance diocese dispute played a role in this. What is striking, however, is that Eberhard, as imperial plenipotentiary, was on the side of the imperial candidate in this dispute and thus in conflict with the bishop appointed by the pope. Reconciliation was then reached with the Bishop of Constance – and in the same year, Eberhard and his mother submitted the second, ultimately successful petition.

Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga, the brother of Eberhard's wife, played a decisive role in this reconciliation: he lobbied in Rome to approve the founding of the university. This is not least evidence of the importance of far-reaching family and political networks, including for the founding of a state university in southwest Germany.

Therefore, after the first petition, it took almost three years until the legal establishment of the University of Tübingen and almost three and a half years until the start of lectures, in October 1477. Thus, in 2027, the University of Tübingen will celebrate its 550th anniversary in 2027.

Read the full story of the UT's foundation in the original story, in German.