Wednesday, 10 February 2021

the riot between town and gown on saint scholastica’s day

A dispute over some supposed subpar wine served in an Oxford tavern erupted into a violent and deadly unrest on this day in 1355 with some thirty townspeople and sixty students and professors dead by the end, testing the protected status of the benefit of the clergy and authentica habita—that is, the rules, rights and privileges of universities in medieval Europe, institutions that enforced a trial by one’s peers with punishment for infractions far less severe than in civil courts, which the was the jurisdiction of the ordinary public, and carceral facilities.

The bar brawl quickly escalated with armed gangs coming into the countryside to aid the townsfolk in overcoming the university, with king and commission (oyer and terminer) siding with the institution of higher learning, placing religious interdict on the town and an annual penance payable each year on the anniversary—Saint Scholastica’s Feast Day, the fifth century Italian nun who founded the Benedictine order and whose patronage includes reading, quizzes and book fairs, which was kept until 1825. On the six hundredth anniversary in 1955, with an act of reconciliation, the mayor was given an honourary degree from Oxford and the university chancellor was bestowed with the freedom of the city—equivalent to being given the key.