On this day in history : 10th February 1355 – The St. Scholastica’s Day riot breaks out in Oxford; in three days of mayhem 62 scholars and some 30 local people are killed….

Saint Scholastica, who died in 543, founded a nunnery in Italy….her feast day is the 10th of February…. As it happened on this feast day so the riot in Oxford got its name….

It was a Tuesday; scholars of the University and priests were drinking at the Swindlestock Tavern in the town and had the nerve to complain about the quality of the wine being served…. Landlord John of Barford, who also happened to be Mayor of Oxford at the time, rudely retorted back with ‘stubborn and saucy language’…. Soon wine jugs and quart mugs were being aimed at him – and a full scale pub brawl broke out….

Locals coming to the aid of the Mayor were soon reinforced after the bells of nearby St. Martin’s Church were rung to summon more help…. The students retaliated by rousing their own backup – and pitch battle began….with weapons including bows and arrows….

St Scholastica’s Day riot, as depicted on a 1907 postcard – Public domain

To be fair it wasn’t all about the lousy wine…. There was much anger and frustration within the town…. Trainee priests were furious about the high rents they were being charged and the expensive cost of food and drink….and the townsfolk were fed up with the high jinx behaviour of the University students….

As the battle raged on the Mayor travelled to Woodstock the following day to ask for the help of the King…. Meanwhile some 2,000 men from the surrounding countryside descended on the town to lend their support to the townsfolk – shouting “Slea, slea…. Havock, havock…. Smyth fast, give gode knocks”…. They barged into the University’s academic halls and killed 62 students….

The riot was to last for 3 days, 93 people lost their lives…. Afterwards the rioters were severely punished and King Edward III held the Mayor and his Baliffs responsible for what had happened…. Every year thereafter, on St. Scholastica’s Day, the Mayor and his Baliffs had to attend a special Mass to pray for the souls of those who were killed…. Then they and 62 townsfolk, chosen to represent the dead students, marched to the University’s Church of St. Mary-the-Virgin…. Here waiting for them were the University’s Vice-Chancellor and the church’s vicar, to receive from the Baliffs 62 pence in small silver coins – all as per the King’s orders….

1907 postcard – Public domain

This ceremony was eventually abolished in 1825, when the Mayor of the time refused to participate…. But it took until 1955 – six hundred years after the event – for Parliament to finally rescind King Edward III’s edict….

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