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Examination in mathematics was once compulsory for all undergraduates studying for the Bachelor of Arts degree, the main first degree at Cambridge in both arts and sciences. In the First World War, 13,878 members of the university served and 2,470 were killed.From the time of Isaac Newton in the later 17th century until the mid-19th century, the university maintained an especially strong emphasis on applied mathematics, particularly mathematical physics. Students awarded first-class honours after completing the mathematics Tripos are termed wranglers, and the top student among them is the Senior Wrangler. Hardy, disliked the system, feeling that people were too interested in accumulating marks in exams and not interested in the subject itself. Teaching, and the fees it earned, came almost to a stop and severe financial difficulties followed.

Cambridge's libraries hold a total of around 15 million books, eight million of which are in Cambridge University Library, a legal deposit library.In the year ended 31 July 2016, the university had a total income of £1.64 billion, of which £462 million was from research grants and contracts.East Anglia was the centre of what became the Puritan movement.At Cambridge, it was particularly strong at Emmanuel, St Catharine's Hall, Sidney Sussex and Christ's College. Hodge brought Cambridge into the international mainstream in the 1930s.In medieval times, many colleges were founded so that their members would pray for the souls of the founders, and were often associated with chapels or abbeys.

A change in the colleges' focus occurred in 1536 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.By the late 12th century, the Cambridge region already had a scholarly and ecclesiastical reputation, due to monks from the nearby bishopric church of Ely.However, it was an incident at Oxford which is most likely to have formed the establishment of the university: two Oxford scholars were hanged by the town authorities for the death of a woman, without consulting the ecclesiastical authorities, who would normally take precedence (and pardon the scholars) in such a case, but were at that time in conflict with King John.King Henry VIII ordered the university to disband its Faculty of Canon Law and to stop teaching "scholastic philosophy".In response, colleges changed their curricula away from canon law, and towards the classics, the Bible, and mathematics.The constituency was created by a Royal Charter of 1603 and returned two members of parliament.