St. Scholastica Day Riot: When English People Killed Dozens Over The Taste Of Wine

By | June 4, 2020

test article image
St. Scholastica Day riot. (Howard Davies/Wikimedia Commons)

Don't you hate it when you get all gussied up and head out to a restaurant for a nice evening only to receive poor-quality food and bad service? Maybe you would send the food back, complain to the manager, or even leave a lousy tip. But have you ever thought about taking your glass and smashing it into the server's face? Hopefully not, but if you were an overly entitled Oxford student during the 14th century, you might do just that.

On February 10, 1335, a few Oxford students went to the popular Swindlestock Tavern, where they ordered a round of drinks. However, they were none too impressed with the wine they were served and hurled insults at the owner, John de Croydon, who took offense and insulted the students right back. In a tale as old as alcohol, things escalated quickly, and only moments later, the students began throwing their wine glasses at the owner. Soon, everyone in the bar joined in, and just like that, the drunk and angry mob were scuffling in the streets. This seemingly minor incident would rapidly devolve into a massive outbreak of violence that would leave hundreds injured and more than 90 people dead in an episode known now as the infamous St. Scholastica Day Riot.

test article image
The Tower of the Five Orders, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. (Ozeye/Wikimedia Commons)

Some Context

St. Scholastica, for the record, was an Italian nun who was best known as the sister of the more famous St. Benedict of Nursia, the patron saint of Europe. It's unclear if the holiday itself was the reason for the student's revelry; it's more likely that they just felt like getting drunk.

As violence erupted in the tavern, two distinct groups formed: the townies and the students. Almost every college town local can understand what it's like to deal with the never-ending onslaught of unruly teenagers getting their first taste of unsupervised freedom, but the case of 14th-century Oxford was a little bit different. First of all, the University of Oxford at the time was associated with the immensely powerful Catholic Church, and as England was a Catholic nation, the students had legal privileges that the townsfolk did not. Basically, they couldn't be sued, were rarely arrested, and didn't have to pay most taxes despite their considerable wealth. You can understand the resentment.

Stuff really hit the fan when several students were suspected of murdering a local townswoman. As there was little legal recourse, the townsfolk simply decided to lynch the alleged murderers themselves, prompting several Oxford students to flee in fear and form what is now the University of Cambridge. Some of the townsfolk also had a more general hatred toward the clergy and the high taxes associated with the state's involvement. All of this built-up resentment between the students and the locals resulted in an ordinary pub fight becoming an all-out battle royale.