History, Oxford

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  • Me and my gown
    Me and my gown
    by King_Golo
  • Coutts Entrance
    Coutts Entrance
    by Ginaravens
  • King_Golo's Profile Photo

    Town vs Gown

    by King_Golo Updated Apr 15, 2010

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Me and my gown

    Favorite thing: Oxford is best known for its colleges, its academic life and achievements since the 13th century. On the other hand, there has always been life outside the high walls of the colleges. This "tip" attempts to provide some background knowledge about the quarrels between town and gown.

    The first colleges of Oxford were founded in the middle of the 13th century. It is not exactly clear which college was the first, but Merton, University College and Balliol claim to be number one. One could say that ever since quarrels were normal between town and gown. The colleges had several privileges that ensured them a strong autonomy - for instance, they were not subject to civil law, but to clerical law. This was soon exercised by the chancellor of the university, who was not always acting fairly, but often arbitrarily. The worst argument happened roughly 650 years ago on February 10, 1355. On that day, students and fellows were having a drink at Swyndlestock Tavern (opposite Carfax Tower). They complained that the wine was no good - which was something that the landlord did not want to hear. He is alleged to have responded with "stubborn and saucy language" which caused a student to throw his jar at him. Immediately, a fight broke out. The townsmen rang the bells of Carfax Tower to summon others for help with the insubordinate academics. But also the members of the university rang bells to gather their "forces". Most men were equipped with bows and arrows, and soon the whole town centre had been turned into a battlefield. Two days later, after the arrival of roughly 2,000 men from the countryside who fought against academics, the Swyndlestock battle ended. 63 scholars were dead. (Apparently, no one counted the dead on the town side, or perhaps academics are not capable to shoot arrows...) The punishment was severe: The townsmen had to pay a silver penny for every dead scholar every year - for 500 years in a row! Moreover, they had to swear an oath to observe the university's principles from then on. Only in 1825 - 30 years before the official end of the punishment - the symbolic payment was stopped. And another 130 years later, on the 600th anniversary of the riots, both groups officially made peace: The mayor of Oxford became an honorary doctor of the university, the vice-chancellor honorary citizen of Oxford.

    Nowadays, town and gown seem to get along much better. Nonetheless, the differences still exist - and quite many non-academic people do not understand the fuzz that is made about Oxford University.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel

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  • Ginaravens's Profile Photo

    Once we were England's Capital City!

    by Ginaravens Written Feb 12, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Coutts Entrance

    Favorite thing: Oxford is such a tiny City, the oldest buliding is a 12th Century Saxon Tower in Cornmarket, and for a short while Oxford bumped London & became the capital city. This was during the reign of Charles II when the Plague was at its worst. Charles moved the seat of power to a "safe" city from where he temporarily ruled.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

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