The University of Oxford, one of the oldest universities in the world, has a long history of conflicts between its students and the local townspeople. These tensions were exacerbated by economic, social, and jurisdictional issues, leading to a turbulent relationship between the two groups.
The events leading to the Battle of Saint Scholastica Day began on February 10, 1355, which was the feast day of Saint Scholastica. Two students, Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield, were drinking in a local tavern called the Swindlestock Tavern. A disagreement broke out with the taverner, John Croidon, over the quality of the wine. The altercation escalated quickly, with the students throwing their drinks in the taverner’s face.
Word of the incident spread rapidly, igniting pre-existing tensions. The students, backed by their scholars, rallied against the townspeople, while the latter grouped together to defend themselves.
- Day 1 (February 10): The initial skirmish at the tavern escalated into a riot, with both sides attacking each other using sticks, stones, and other improvised weapons.
- Day 2 (February 11): The violence continued to escalate. The mayor of Oxford called for the townspeople to arm themselves, leading to even more brutal clashes.
- Day 3 (February 12): The rioting spread, with both students and townspeople attacking each other. Authorities tried to intervene but were unable to control the situation.
- Day 4 (February 13): The townspeople attacked the university, leading to further loss of life and damage.
- Day 5 (February 14): The rioting finally came to an end, leaving behind significant casualties and destruction.
Casualties and Aftermath
The clashes resulted in around sixty-three scholars and perhaps thirty townspeople dead, with many more injured. The property damage was extensive.
In the aftermath, the townspeople were held responsible for the violence. A special charter was issued, granting the university more control over the town and subjecting the townspeople to various humiliating penances. Every year thereafter, on February 10, the mayor and bailiffs had to attend a Mass for those killed and pay a fine of one penny for each scholar who had died.
The Battle of Saint Scholastica Day is a somber reminder of the deep-seated animosities that once existed between academic institutions and the towns in which they resided. It also reflects broader societal tensions of the time, such as class struggles and the conflict between secular and ecclesiastical authorities.
The events of those fateful days in 1355 continue to be remembered and studied, as they mark a significant episode in the history of both Oxford town and its university. The consequences of the riot lingered for centuries, shaping the relationship between town and gown, and are emblematic of the complexities and challenges of coexistence between different communities within a single urban space.