The 14th-Century British Riot That Was Started Over Wine

It was February 10, 1355, also known as St. Scholastica Day, one Oxford College student did something we've all wanted to do at least once: he threw a cup of wine at his landlord. Perhaps he was a man of dramatic flair or was stressed about his studies. According to Dark Oxfordshire, the cause of his outburst and what that it would incite was a dispute over the quality of Swindlestock Tavern's wine. Presumably, it was cheap, peasant stuff. The bartender (who is also assumed to be the landlord, since it was 1355 and things were weird like that) was the unfortunate party who took it upon himself to serve the Oxford scholar. It was a task he would probably come to regret.

Things then escalated rather rapidly. It is probably one of the weirdest stories that you've heard in awhile and it's a testament to the fact that some things never change and how things got pretty real in 14th century England.

Day One: 'Hold me back, boys'

Blows were exchanged and almost immediately, the Oxford wine snob's comrades appeared to help him beat up the landlord. Either the wine snob had a lot of friends, everyone just hated the landlord, or these 14th-century scholars just really wanted to pillage because the fight quickly became so rowdy that it spread to a general ruckus in the street.

According to Dark Oxfordshire, the Townies (residents of Oxford, England) and the students of Oxford College had a tense relationship from the beginning (a dynamic anyone who grew up in a college town would probably recognize). In 1349, an economically and socially devastating outbreak of the Black Plague hit the Oxford townspeople hard. Things weren't great before, but after the outbreak, things were became significantly worse. And whose fault was that? "Oxford had been a prosperous market town growing during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries," explained Roderick Robertson, author of the Oxford Theatre in Tudor Time. "...[B]ut its prosperity did not last... In great part it was [thanks to] the growth of the University."

We cannot know exactly why the rule of law broke down on February 10, 1355, but it totally did within just 30 minutes. 

Day Two: Forest people show up, crowd tries to shoot the Chancellor

Once the crowd began rioting, the Chancellor appeared on the scene (via Dark Oxfordshire). Unfortunately, the Chancellor's negotiations did not succeed. He was assailed by arrows and immediately fled. This was definitely not considered a successful intervention.

Eventually, dawn broke and it was a new morning. The crowd had yet to relent and the St. Scholastica riot stretched into its second day (via Today in History). The fury of a mob devoured all in its vicinity; its rage whipping through the streets. As the population of the town thrust swords into one another with whoops of anger weren't enough of a serious social breakdown, more men appeared on the scene. Perhaps they surfaced from the forest like an apparition, gazed upon the gruesome vignettes of contorted faces and slashing swords all tangled into one mortal mass of angry men, and perhaps thought, "This is exactly the kind of thing I want to do with my morning." Regardless, they, too, became entangled in the rioting. 

Day Three: The literal King of England gets involved — In an unbelievable turn of events, the mayor, of the town who was put in jail

According to Today in History, no less than 2,000 men were called on to the scene. Whether or not the landlord suffered, the brawl, now with thousands new participants, caused the death of a student that first day. According to Today in History, the death tally of the St. Scholastica Day riot's second day stood at one. By the end of the third day, the tally of known deaths climbed to approximately 63 or 64 (though according to Dark Oxfordshire, that number was closer to 100 while Oxford Mail reports it to be at over 90).

The maelstrom had devoured Oxford for three February days. The third day of the St. Scholastica Day riot was also its last. By this time, word reached the King of England himself and he deigned to intervene by sending a commission of investigators to visit Oxford and look into whatever situation was going on down there. Someone had to be punished for this riot and the deaths it caused.

The Aftermath of St. Scholastica Day: The mayor and the police department are arrested by the King

Who could possibly be responsible for this plunge into hateful madness? Was this the landlord's fault for serving inferior wine? Was it the winemaker's? How about the scholar who threw his drink at the landlord? Was he the one to first trespass upon the King's peace? Could it be the fighters who killed no less than 63 people over the course of three days for pretty much no discernable reason? Could it be the shire of Oxford itself? Of course not... it couldn't be.

According to the King, the college, and pretty much everyone else (with the exception of the townspeople themselves), this was clearly the fault of the mayor and his bailiffs. Both were arrested, escorted from the town, and thrown in prison. The rioters, for their part, were sentenced to make regular payments and to take mandatory weekly mass (per Dark Oxfordshire).