Now, I’ve only been to Oxford once, but during that trip I gleaned that there was a bit of tension between the students and the so-called ‘townies’. Even on the most difficult days, however, it probably hasn’t resulted in bloodshed with an actual honest-to-god body count, except on February 10, 1355, when the St. Scholastica Day riot exploded.

I’m guessing there had been some problems before this, but the incident that kicked the whole thing off was two students being dissatisfied with their beer at a local tavern (oh, college students!) They complained to the taverner, John Croiden, who yelled right back, and before long the students were throwing their drinks in his face and beating the crap out of him.

Naturally, the mayor was annoyed at the lawlessness and insisted the chancellor of the university, John Charlton, arrest the students. Charlton, for some bizarre reason (I guess he hated that tavern too) refused to do so, and furthermore failed to do much to stop two hundred students from rising up in defense of their jerky classmates. A full-scale riot broke out between the students and the townsfolk, and after the dust settled (two days later!) 63 students and around 30 locals were dead. The students were defeated. Sort of.

Later, a special charter was created that found in favor of the university (seriously, how bad was that taverner’s beer?). On February 10 every year thereafter, the mayor and councilors had to march through the streets bareheaded and pay the university a fine of one penny for every scholar killed. This practice ended in 1825, when the mayor finally put his foot down and refused to take part. The town and university finally officially buried the hatchet 600 years after the riot, when the mayor was given an honorary degree and the vice chancellor was made an honorary freeman at a commemoration of the events on February 10, 1955.

Towns and universities in Europe clearly have very long memories.

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