The Story Behind The 1355 Riot Between Oxford Students And Townspeople

Confrontations and rivalries between college students and locals is something that anyone who has lived on or near a campus knows a lot about. While student vs. townie conflicts are certainly nothing new, it might come as a surprise to learn that some of these battles actually have centuries of history behind them, including the violent outbursts between University of Oxford students and Oxford townsfolk that date back all the way to the Middle Ages, culminating in a massive riot in the 14th century (via Oxford Student).

The origins of the riot on St. Scholastica's  Day are not surprising, given that college students were at the center: a tavern brawl. Two scholars were less than impressed with the quality of wine served at the Swyndolnestok Tavern in early 1355. The spat blew into an assault against the tavern owner, who got Oxford's mayor involved. When the two students were called to be arrested, their fellow scholars took their side and attacked the townspeople who went to gather the offenders. Thus began riots, though the exact events are hard to discern given that most historical accounts are biased one way or the other.

More than 60 scholars were killed

While most modern-day conflicts between townsfolk and college students rarely go above some drunken arguments and maybe a phone call to the police, the feud between the Oxford residents and scholars was much more serious. The scuffle at the gates of the university involved bows and arrows, and although no one was reportedly killed in the first fight, things soon took a deadly turn (via Oxford History).

The Mayor of Oxford rode out to try and get the king's help to quash the violent scholars but it wasn't necessary. Some 2,000 men came in from the surrounding towns and the countryside to defend Oxford, chanting their wishes to slay and smite. Slay and smite they did, breaking into the university halls and killing 62 scholars over two days. King Edward III was not amused with how a bar brawl turned into nearly five-dozen dead students and declared a humiliating ritual on St. Scholastica's Day to be conducted every year by the Oxford townsfolk to honor the slain scholars. This tradition carried on until well into the mid-1800s, and college campus conflicts have become considerably more tame in the centuries since.