"a young clergy man, who had come from one of the great English universities"
The Divinity School at the University of Oxford, built in 1488
Creative Commons AttributionThe Divinity School at the University of Oxford, built in 1488 - Credit: David Quick

This institution is specified in chapter nine as being the University of Oxford. The oldest English-speaking university in the world and among the best regarded, it dates back to the late eleventh century. That Dimmesdale studied here not only identifies him as a man of subtle intellect but also suggests a possible motivation for his joining the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the years following the Reformation, the University of Oxford was a Catholic-free domain: Calvinists dominated, but Puritans were a continuously-represented body. This changed in 1628 when William Laud was made Chancellor. Having spent his earlier years trying to suppress Puritans within the church, he used his new position to do the same in the university and endeavoured to turn it into a royalist stronghold. Any Puritans attempting to oppose him found themselves facing as bloody a punishment as anything described in The Scarlet Letter.  

Map of Oxford as it appeared in 1578
Public DomainMap of Oxford as it appeared in 1578 - Credit: Ralph Agas