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UK celebrates the life and work of Osma, the first Spaniard to graduate from Oxford

The University of Oxford paid tribute today to Guillermo J. de Osma, the first Spaniard to study at Oxford. This possibility was thanks to the University Examination Law of 1871, which opened access to the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham to non Anglicans. 

The «Osma Day» took place on February 7th 2020, on the centenary of the constitution for the first Spanish scholarship at the University of Oxford. It celebrates the graduation of Guillermo Joaquín de Osma y Scull (Havana, Cuba, 1853 – La Negresse, France, 1922), who went on to become a diplomat, deputy, senator, finance minister, president of the State Council after being the first Spaniard to study at Oxford.

The professor and researcher at the University of Oxford, Marina Pérez de Arcos, emphasised: «It is the first symposium to tribute a Spaniard held here with the active support of the highest university authorities in Oxford.»

Osma Scholarship and Symposium

The list of winners of the Osma scholarship in Oxford is a long and very established list. Among them are professors Alfonso XIII of Oxford, Sir Peter Russell; and prominent academics such as Ronald Hilton, Henry Kamen, Jeremy Lawrence, Anthony Pagden.

Within the centenary celebrations, a one-day symposium about Osma was also held at the Bodleian Library, at University of Oxford with the support of Instituto Cervantes in London. Osma scholars from all generations and countries, including specialists from Spain and the United Kingdom as well as Osma’s descendants congregated to pay tribute to the diplomat, politician, historian and art collector.

The director of Instituto Cervantes in London, Ignacio Peyró, noted: “Spain has a special bond with Oxford and Instituto Cervantes. Through various initiatives, including support for this laudable Osma centenary, we aim to strengthen the links to promote knowledge of the shared past and project it into the future ”.

Osma in Oxford

Osma arrived in Oxford from his native Havana, passing through Paris where he studied at the Sorbonne. His journey culminated in 1920 when British Parliament approved access to English historical universities to non-Anglican students.

His university education was spent at Pembroke College, Oxford, and his alma mater left him with his distinctive and indelible stamp.

Commissioning of the Valencia Institute of Don Juan

Once in Spain, Osma left aside his services to the nation and his political and business activities. Having no offspring and committed with research and Spanish culture and art with his wife, Mrs. Adelaida Crooke y Guzmán, XXIV Countess of Valencia de Don Juan, they founded the Valencia Institute of Don Juan, in 1916.

The patronage of the Institute was formed with personalities as relevant as Don Jacobo, Duke of Alba; Archer M. Huntington, founder of the Hispanic Society of America; Hercules Reed, curator of the British Museum and president of the London Antique Association; Antonio Maura, prime minister and director of the Royal Spanish Academy; and the Spanish Arabist, Miguel Asín Palacios.

The bylaws of the foundation of the Institute that Osma developed allowed the building where their funds are kept to be considered British soil during the Spanish civil war. This way, the Golden Fleece Codex, recently acquired by National Heritage, plus vessels of the Alhambra, a third of the government documents of Felipe II, tapestries and Hispanic-Mudejar fabrics, among many other very valuable works of historical and artistic heritage Spanish that Osma and his wife were treasuring and incorporating into the Institute.

Osma’s legacy, who died ninety-eight years ago today, remains active in his eagerness to break stereotypes and promote ties between Oxford and Spain.

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