The College was founded in 1352 by members of two Cambridge guilds, the Guild of Corpus Christi and the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was primarily intended to train priests. It bears the distinction of being the only college in Oxford or Cambridge to have been founded by local citizens. The earliest building used by the College was the 14th century Old Court, which still stands. The adjacent parish church of St. Benet, whose living (the right to appoint its priest) belonged to the College, served as the chapel, until Corpus acquired its own chapel, for lectures as well as prayers, in 1577.
The first of a series of scholarships was endowed to the College in 1489 by Elizabeth, duchess of Norfolk, in memory of her sister, Eleanor. Its greatest benefactor was the one time Corpus undergraduate and later Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, who was Master 1544-53, and entrusted his manuscripts and printed books to the college in 1574.
The Old Court remained the main part of the college until the construction of New Court in the 1820s. The latter was designed by William Wilkins, who had recently completed major works at Downing, King's, and Trinity. It was completed in 1827, at the expense, sadly, of the old chapel, which was replaced by a new one opposite the main entrance of the court. The library to house Matthew Parker's collection forms the upper floor of one side of New Court, opposite the Hall. The manuscripts are still kept and consulted in this nineteenth century space.
The College continues today its work of education and high-level research. It is one of the smallest in Cambridge, admitting about 85 undergraduates each year in subjects ranging from Anglo-Saxon to Zoology, but nonetheless came just sixth in the 2006 college rankings It has around 60 fellows, and there is also a thriving post-graduate community at Leckhampton, a College site near to the University Library.