February 10, 1355: Another Idiotic Riot!

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A Brief History

On February 10, 1355, Oxford, England, the site of the ultra-prestigious University of Oxford, was the scene of a considerable riot that cost the lives of 63 student/scholars and at least 30 townsfolk. This so-called St. Scholastica Day Riot started in a tavern and ended when the scholars were finally routed by the townies. (History and Headlines currently has 7 articles about riots and will certainly be adding more.)

Digging Deeper

The University of Oxford was founded around 1096, with no specific founding date. It is the oldest university or college in the English-speaking world and is the second oldest university on Earth. (University of Bologna is the oldest, though not by much.) Oxford is the home of the famous Rhodes Scholarship, probably the most prestigious scholarship in the world. Notable Rhodes Scholars include former President Bill Clinton and several other leaders of countries. Also on that esteemed list are Edwin Hubble (astronomer), J. William Fulbright (US Senator), Carl Albert (US Speaker of the House), Dean Rusk (US Secretary of State), General Bernard Rogers (NATO Commander), Admiral Stansfield Turner (US Navy and Director of the CIA), Kris Kristofferson (singer-songwriter-actor), General Peter Dawkins (US Army and Heisman Trophy Winner), Richard Celeste (Governor of Ohio and Director of the Peace Corps), David Souter (US Supreme Court Justice), Bill Bradley (NBA basketball player, US Senator, Presidential candidate), General Wesley Clark (US Army, Commander of NATO, US Presidential candidate), George Stephanopoulos (political coordinator and television news host), Susan Rice (US Ambassador to the UN), Cory Booker (US Senator, Mayor of Newark), Bobby Jindal (Governor of Louisiana, presidential candidate), Rachel Maddow (cable news anchor), and Ronan Farrow (activist, investigative journalist, political advisor). This list of names of course is just a snapshot of the incredibly talented and accomplished people that can claim to have been Rhodes Scholars.

Rhodes House in Oxford, designed by Sir Herbert Baker


Getting back to the riot, the whole thing started in a local tavern (The Swindlestock Tavern) when 2 students complained about their drinks being watered down, an argument that resulted in drinks being thrown in the face of the proprietor. The mayor of Oxford demanded that the Chancellor of the University of Oxford arrest the 2 students, but the chancellor was unable to do so. A couple hundred other students came out in support of their peers and began fighting with the locals, including with deadly weapons (knives, clubs, etc), resulting in many deaths and serious injuries. Locals from the surrounding area rushed to the scene to support their own peers, and outnumbered the students, crying, “”Havac! Havoc! Smyt fast, give gode knocks!” (Remember, this is the Middle Ages, 400 to 1500 AD, and English was a bit different back then!) Of course, there were many more locals than students, and the locals prevailed by greater numbers, finally routing the scholars and ending the riot.

Site of the Swindlestock Tavern, now a Santander Bank


The St. Scholastica Day Riot was not the first such incident and not the end of friction between locals and scholars, as the locals were reminded of the incident every year on St. Scholastica Day when the mayor and his councilors were required to march bareheaded through the town and pay a fine of 1 cent per student killed, a practice that finally ended in 1825 when the current mayor refused to participate. On St. Scholastica Day in 1955 an act of conciliation was made to put the incident to rest, when the Mayor of Oxford was given an honorary degree and the Vice-Chancellor of the University was made an Honorary Freeman.

So now, you ask, who is St. Scholastica? She is a real Roman Catholic and Orthodox saint, said to be the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia. Scholastica is the founder of Benedictine Monasticism, having spent her life as a nun in a convent near Monte Casino, Italy. She lived from 480 to 543 and her Feast Day is February 10.

Saint Scholastica from the San Luca Altarpiece


What other famous university or college riots can you think of? Hard to think of any with this much carnage, but if you do, please tell us about it.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Bell, Daniel A. Oxford. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Morris, James. Oxford. Harcourt, 1965.

 

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.