Whilst Cambridge may have existed in Roman times, and grew into a Norman market town (the name of the town mutated from Grentabrige or Cantebrigge (Grantbridge), it is its University that has made it was it is today.
The University was formed 1209 when a group of Oxford scholars moved to the town to escape the violence prevelent in Oxford at the time. But even in these days the University was having problems of discipline (!). Students belonged to no particular body, were not responsible to any person and came and went in an irregular manner. By 1231 Cambridge students were apparently so unruly that Henry III issued a number of writs for the punishment of the disorderly.
It was a solution to these disciplinary problems, thought up by Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely from 1257 to 1286 that was to sow the seeds of todays college system. He placed the scholars (now known as the "scholars of the Bishop of Ely") in two houses next to the Church of St Peter on the Trumpington Road. This became known as "The House of St Peter" and thus gradually the college system began to evolve, and Peterhouse, the first Cambridge college, was born.
In 1318 the University was baptised with a Papal Bull from Pope John XXII. Other colleges followed soon after: Trinity college (originally called Michaelhouse) was founded in 1324 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time, Hervey de Stanton, and Clare college, originally called University Hall, was next in 1326. Pembroke college was founded in 1347 by the wife of the Eearl of Pembroke and the following year, Edward Gonville founded a college of his own which came to be known as Gonville Hall: this was then refounded by Dr John Caius in 1557 to give us Gonville and Caius.
Most colleges were founded by wealthy individuals from the Church, Government or landowners. Corpus Christi, founded in 1352, is unusual in that it is the only college which sprang directly from members of the town. Christopher Marlow, Shakespeare's famous contemporary, was a student at the college and one can still see his rooms in the old court.
King's College founded in the fifteenth century: Henry VI intended it to form part of a double foundation with Eton and in doing this there is some evidence that he was repeating the plan of William of Wykeham, who had founded Winchester and New College, Oxford. Queens' was founded by Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, and later, William IV's wife Elizabeth Woodville became a co-founder (thus Queens' rather than Queen's). This has not unnaturally be described as the first outward symbol of the reconciliation of the houses of York and Lancaster.
Now with 31 colleges, the University has gradually grown in size, stature and influence on the world: its graduates have reached amongst the highest levels in science, the Church, government, and business.