Category Archives: England

Students at war

During the Second Barons War some of the scholars of the University of Oxford took the side of Simon de Monfort and the baronial rebellion against Henry III. They travelled to Northampton where a new university had been recently founded by scholars fleeing violence between the nations at Cambridge. In 1264 Northampton was besieged by the royal host and during the defence of the walls the scholars fought valiantly and, according to the account of Walter of Guisborough, did a better job than the soldiers and other baronial supporters who defended Northampton:

The clerks of the university of Oxford, which had been transferred to that place at the command of the barons, inflicted more harm upon the men entering and climbing up than the rest of the barons did, with their slings, bows and catapults….[and] they had a standard of their own raised aloft against the king. Angered by this, the king swore that when he got into the city he would hang the lot of them… When peace had been restored to the city, the king gave orders to carry out the sentence he had sworn to execute upon the clerks. And they said to him ‘Heaven forbid you should do this, O King; for the sons of your magnates and other men of your realm have come here with the university. If you have them hanged or beheaded, even your own people, who are now loyal to you, will rise against you, and will not allow the blood of their sons or relatives to be shed if they can help it’. And the king was pacified and his anger against the clerks abated.[1]

What I think is most interesting about this little vignette is that not only should a bunch of supposedly peaceful and scholarly students be taking part in a war and fighting well but that they should have their own standard raised against the king. Battle standards, flags and banners were rare sights during protests and rebellions in England compared to the continent, and that the scholars had their own and fought under it offers the tantalising prospect that there was some level of, at least, quasi-official support for the baronial faction by the university of Oxford whose chancellor at the time of the rebellion, Thomas de Cantilupe, was a prominent figure in the rebellion, and some of the most respected teachers,such as the likes of Adam Marsh, were advisers to Simon de Monfort. 

Whether the section about the scholars telling the King that he dare not kill them was true, I cannot say…but it certainly would not be the most outrageous act committed by medieval students.


[1]From The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough. Vol. 89, Camden  Series (London: Camden Society, 1957) p.190, translation found in Lawrence, C. H., ‘The University of Oxford and the Chronicle of the Barons’ Wars’, The English Historical Review, 95 pp. 99-113.


The earliest recorded case of football hooliganism in England?

In the run up to the Euro 2012 competition we have seen a number of news reports concerning racism and violence in both the Ukraine and Poland, the two host countries. This reminded me of a curious incident I found in the Oxford Coroners Rolls for the year 1303 which is perhaps the earliest incident of football hooliganism reported in England and features both English and Irish students, both nations represented at the Euro2012 competition. 

On the 25th of March 1303 a student of the university in Oxford named Thomas de Sarum found his brother Adam dying in the street. Adam had a wound that reached down the left side of face and neck and another on his shoulder on the same side. An inquest was held before the Coroner and the assembled jurors to ascertain what exactly had happened.  It transpired that the Adam had been playing football with some other English students after vespers in the High Street near to the East Gate. While they were playing they were assailed by Thomas de Keting, Walter de Whit and Willock the garcioof David de Bren all students who had come from Ireland to study in Oxford. William restrained Adam, while Walter de Whit beat him with his fists until Adam fell to the ground unconscious. When he tried to get up Thomas de Keting drew a long knife and struck the two fatal blows to Adams face and shoulder. Despite the severity of the wounds it took Adam almost twenty four hours to die.[1]   

Not long after this event football was banned in England by royal decree because of its disruptive potential. However this deadly altercation between English and Irish students at Oxford was perhaps less to do with football and more concerned with the deep rooted antagonism between the alliances of regional origination, the Nations, at Oxford.  By 1303  the Nations were already banned by the Chancellor for being the cause so much dissension between the scholars assembled in Oxford supposedly for the purpose of studying.  This incident was not the first, nor was it by any means the last, in a long line of violent and bloody conflicts between students of Oxford’s two Nations, the Australes and the Boreales.


[1] Salter, H. E. Records of Medieval Oxford, Coroners’ Inquests, the Walls of Oxford, etc. (Oxford: The Oxford Chronicle Company, 1912) p.11.
[2] Image of a football game infront of the Santa Maria Novella in Florence by Jan van der Straet c.1555