There has been a passing around Oxford since Roman times. However nothing permanent was established until about 700 AD when the hamlet of Oxnaforda became a strategic place between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. After the Norman request the town was fortifies from about 1070. Some of these city walls remain and one of the mounds is still in existence (by the Old Prison)
Origins of the University.
The first evidence of learning in Oxford could be traced back to 720 AD when the local ruler King Didan founded a nunnery for his devout daughter Frideswide. This was built in the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral. This nunnery later dissected but it was taken over by a community of Anglican monks in about 1120. They rebuilt the chapel and dedicated the church to St Frideswide. This was the foundation for Christ Church Cathedral.
By 1167 there were 3 small monastic schools of learning in Oxford, of which the community in Christ Church was one. Around this time of 1167 many English schools were forced to flee the University of Paris. The current King, Henry II encouraged many of these to come to Oxford and continue their studies. The patronage of Henry II was important for the development of Oxford as a seat of learning.
The schools welcomed the traditional curriculam from Paris. All learning was under the Chuch of Rome and all scholars and Masters were in holy orders and used to wear a long black gown. These scholars were not of the nobility but often from humble origins but they played an important role in the administration of the state being the small% of the literate population.
In 1214 Oxford was recognized as a university by the Church and the first Chancellor was appointed. This attracted many scholars to come. These young boisterous schools often created friction and conflict with the local towns people and during this century there were frequently "town versus gown" riots which left a couple of people dead. Because of this many schools moved to other towns such as Cambridge leading to the formation of other universities.
In the 13th Century many masters created halls of residence to protect scholars from local hostility. Also in the 13th century there appeared the first of the University colleges. Colleges were different to the halls of residence because they were not tied to the monastic tradition. In fact many colleges preverted their members from taking monastic vows. This enabled more adventurous teaching than in the monastic halls. The colleges were like a secular response to the monastic halls of residence.
Oxford Colleges were usually founded by rich churchmen who had no offspring to leave their wealth. Thus it was seen as a commendable act to create a college and endow it with wealth. Because of their greater wealth and permanence the colleges flourished and gradually began to overtake and absorb the smaller, more impermanent halls.
The first 3 colleges to be set up were University college, Merton and Balliol. It is much disputed which is the oldest and depends on how you define the foundation of a college. St Edmunds Hall can claim to be the oldest place of teaching have been a medieval hall and later making the transition to a full college. With the establishment of colleges university life became more regulated. It became more common for scholars to live in the same college and be taught by the resident masters.
In the 14th and 15th Century another 7 colleges came into existence including Exeter, Oriel, Queen's, new college, Lincoln, All Souls, and Magdalen.
In the 16th century the most important development was the founding of Christ Church by king Henry VIII. It was founded in 1546 that the turbulence created by the reformation. But with royal approval the University was protected and given a higher profile. Following the clarification the composition of university schools started to change. Instead of monastic novels it was increasing the middle classes who wanted to send their sons to be taught. These gentleman commoners were willing to pay for their tuition. This enabled an increased expansion of the university.