Thursday, December 27, 2012

The St. Scholastica Day Riot

[DailyMedieval is on semi-hiatus for the holidays, and I am re-cycling some older posts.]

The St. Scholastica Day Riot was one of the most famous altercations in the history of Oxford, England.
Perhaps the most famous instance of Town vs. Gown took place on February 10, 1355, in Oxford. Two students (Roger de Chesterfield & Walter Spryngeheuse) complained about the ale at the Swyndlestock Tavern (located at the southwest corner of the intersection called Carfax). The argument led to the students flinging their drinks in the face of the tavern keeper and beating him. When the mayor of Oxford asked the university chancellor to punish the students (all students fell under the jurisdiction of the university, not the town), and the chancellor refused, a mob of students decided to attack the mayor and town. The town called for help from the surrounding countryside, and attacked the university. The resulting riot lasted two days and killed (supposedly) 63 students and 30 townspeople. [from DailyMedieval, May 18, 2012]
Appealing to the Crown did not help the town. The king held the university in high esteem, apparently, and supported its right to its own governance. The town was not allowed to prosecute students or staff of the university.

For the town's part in the conflict, its penance was for the mayor and council members to march bare-headed through the streets annually on February 10th. Moreover, each year the town was to pay a fine of 1 penny for each scholar killed. The fine of 5 shillings and threepence was paid annually until 1825. The Swindlestock Tavern itself had not existed for over a hundred years by that time. On the 600th anniversary of the Riot, a ceremony was held in which the mayor was given an honorary degree and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford was made an Honorary Freeman of Oxford, putting (they hoped) the Town vs. Gown rivalry to rest once and for all.

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