Childhood, youth, and education
Sayers, an only child, was born on 13 June 1893, at the Headmaster's House, Brewer Street, Oxford, the daughter of Helen Mary Leigh and her husband, the Rev. Henry Sayers. Her mother was a daughter of Frederick Leigh, a solicitor whose family roots were an old landed gentry family in the Isle of Wight, and had herself been born at "The Chestnuts", Millbrook, Hampshire. Her father, originally from Littlehampton, West Sussex, was a chaplain of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and headmaster of the Cathedral Choir School.
When Sayers was six, her father started teaching her Latin. She grew up in the tiny village of Bluntisham-cum-Earith in Huntingdonshire after her father was given the living (benefice) there as rector. The church graveyard next to the elegant Regency-style rectory features the surnames of several characters from her mystery The Nine Tailors. She was inspired by her father's restoration of the Bluntisham church bells in 1910.The nearby River Great Ouse and the Fens invite comparison with the book's vivid description of a massive flood around the village.
From 1909 Sayers was educated at the Godolphin School, a boarding school in Salisbury. Her father later moved to the simpler living of Christchurch, in Cambridgeshire.
In 1912, Sayers won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where she studied modern languages and medieval literature and was taught by Mildred Pope. She graduated with first-class honours in 1915. Women were not awarded degrees at that time, but Sayers was among the first to receive a degree when the position changed a few years later; in 1920 she graduated as an MA. Her experience of Oxford academic life eventually inspired her penultimate Peter Wimsey novel, Gaudy Night.