The year 1857 marked the end of an age for the College. It was the year of the Ordinance which followed the activities of the 1850 Royal Commission of enquiry into the University and the subsequent Executive Commission of 1854. This new dispensation swept away the founder's kin and other privileges and also the obligation to take orders. Candidature for fellowships became restricted to those who had either taken a first class in the Schools or won a University prize – a restriction which was to revolutionize the intellectual level of the College within a very few years. The new examination was to be in subjects in the new School of Jurisprudence and Modern History – a specialization reinforced by the suppression of ten fellowships to fund the Chichele Professorships of International Law and Diplomacy (1859) and of Modern History (1862). It became possible for the College to elect to fellowships, without examination, professors or other members of the University 'of eminence', and also Honorary Fellows (William Gladstone and the University Burgess Sir William Heathcote were the first to be so elected in 1858). The marriage prohibition did not apply to the non-examination fellows, and in 1858 Max Müller (Professor of Modern European Languages) became, within a few months of his election, the first married Fellow of All Souls.
The change of tone introduced by the workings of the 1857 Ordinance reinforced an already existing movement towards the 'academicization' of the college. Its examinations, previously perfunctory, became a severe test, and in 1867 its library was opened to all members of the University, an extension to the north of the Great Library (now the Anson Reading Room) being built to accommodate readers who were not members of the College. The specialization of the library in the fields of history and law dates from this period. Other buildings of the College were also given attention. Between 1869 and 1879 the chapel was thoroughly restored in the Gothic style under the direction of Henry Clutton and (from 1873) Sir George Gilbert Scott. As part of the process, new stained-glass windows were installed in the chancel, the fifteenth-century glass in the antechapel (some of it originally in the Old Library) was restored, and the Old Library itself, which had been partitioned into rooms after its books had been transferred to the new Codrington Library (as it was called) in 1750, became a lecture room. In the 1870s there was much soul-searching over the best way in which the College could employ its resources, and the admission of undergraduates (to reinforce the surviving four Bible Clerks) or of Indian Civil Service candidates were two of the proposals which found support. But before these exotic measures could be adopted, the Act of Parliament of 1877, which followed the second University Commission (of 1872), altered the situation radically. The Act appointed Executive Commissioners (two of whom were Fellows of All Souls), who were to draw up new statutes for the colleges in consultation with governing bodies.