What Made Oxford’s Medieval Students So Murderous?
The Middle Ages were a perilous time to be a student at the University of Oxford. Surprisingly, historical records reveal that these medieval students were three times more likely to commit murder or be brutally murdered compared to the general population. Unraveling the reasons behind such violence is a fascinating journey into the darker aspects of Oxford’s past.
Before delving into the factors that contributed to the high murder rates among Oxford’s medieval students, it is important to understand the historical context in which these events occurred. The University of Oxford was established in the 12th century and was one of the earliest universities in Europe. However, it is crucial to note that during this time, universities were not the peaceful institutions we know today. Instead, they were fiercely competitive and often beset by conflicts.
Factors Contributing to the Murderous Tendencies
Several key factors can help shed light on why Oxford’s medieval students were predisposed to violence:
- Social Tensions: The University of Oxford was a melting pot of students from various backgrounds. Wealthy aristocrats mingled with commoners, creating an environment ripe for social tensions. These disparities in social status often led to conflicts and violence.
- Rivalries: A strong sense of competition existed between students, both academically and socially. Fierce rivalries between colleges and faculties fueled animosity, which sometimes escalated into violent confrontations.
- Outsiders and Locals: Oxford was not solely inhabited by students. It was also home to locals and outsiders who often clashed with the student population. These clashes could turn deadly, especially when fueled by alcohol and a sense of territoriality.
- Poor Policing: Law enforcement and regulations during the medieval period were significantly weaker than today. This lack of effective policing allowed violent disputes to escalate without intervention, resulting in higher murder rates.
- Society’s Perceptions of Students: Medieval scholars were often seen as troublemakers. The perception that students were rebellious and disruptive individuals may have contributed to a cycle of violence as conflicts escalated among themselves or with the local community.
Exploring the Historical Records
Uncovering the details behind these violent episodes can be challenging due to the limited nature of historical records. However, records such as the Oxfordshire Coroner’s Rolls provide glimpses into the crimes committed by medieval students. These records document cases of murder, assault, and even instances of students turning on each other.
One notable case involved two students named Richard de Brackendale and Nicholas de Wells. In the year 1355, these two scholars engaged in a duel with daggers, which resulted in Brackendale murdering Wells. The motives behind these violent episodes may vary, but they often revolved around issues of honor, rivalry, or personal disputes.
Oxford’s medieval students were ensnared in a web of social tensions, rivalries, and the wider dynamics of society at that time. The pressure, competition, and lack of effective policing led to an environment where violence could easily erupt. While it is easy to romanticize the Middle Ages, it is crucial to remember that it was a brutal era, and universities were not immune to the darker aspects of human nature.
As we reflect on the violent tendencies of Oxford’s past, it is a stark reminder of how far we have come in creating safe and secure academic institutions today.