In the seventeenth century Leiden, Franeker, Groningen and Utrecht all had a university. Dordrecht, Middelburg, Deventer, ’s-Hertogenbosch and Breda had colleges. In Gelders, four cities fought for the honour of having such an institution: Arnhem, Harderwijk, Zutphen and Nijmegen. In 1600 a college was established in Hardewijk and in 1648 it was granted the position of Gelders University by the government of Gelders. From the start Nijmegen had been against the choice of Hardewijk and in 1654 Nijmegen established its own college.
The opening was celebrated in St. Stevens church on May 3, 1655. At that time the college only had three professors, preacher Guillaume Soudan who taught philosophy, Christophorus Wittichius who taught theology and the lawyer Petrus de Greve who had been lured away from Hardewijk. The college finally became a university on May 3, 1656 when the town doctor, Emmanuel de Mandeville, was appointed to teach medicine and Johannes Schultingius from Duisberg came to teach history and eloquence. The status of university was not granted by all administrative bodies of the region Gelders, but only by the council of the Nijmegen Quarter. This is why the university was known as the ‘Quarter University’.
After becoming a university the college flourished and the number of students gradually grew to approximately seventy. Eighteen lectures were held every week, most in the Commanderie of Sint Jan where the city library was located. Two globes were purchased from the famous Amsterdam publisher Blaeu. The medical practicals were held in the meeting room of the surgeons’ guild, above the arch which leads to St. Stevens churchyard.After 1665 a sequence of events led to the demise of the university. First, the city was terrified by a new plague epidemic, which cost one of the professors his life and led to stagnation in growth. Next Nijmegen suffered from competitive pressures, as in 1670 and 1671 two excellent professors left for Leiden. In 1672 a French invasion caused teaching to come to a complete standstill. After the French left, the university failed to get the financial resources necessary to start up again. So the first University of Nijmegen came to a premature end in 1679.