Category Archives: history

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.


First Post


I would like to introduce myself. My name is Scott Jenkins and I am currently a Ph.D student at Swansea University. My thesis is a study of medieval student crime and violence and I thought I would start this blog to share with you all some of the more interesting (and gruesome) aspects of my research. 

Today I would like to share with you a quote from the Historia Orientalis Et Occidentalis of Jacques de Vitry, or Jacobus de Vitriaco. It concerns students at the University of Paris in the early part of the thirteenth century. Young men travelled from all over Europe to study with the teachers at the great centres of learning such as Bologna, Oxford and Paris. Paris was famed for the study of Theology, but before a student could progress to study in any of the Higher Faculties such as Theology or Law, they must first gain an understanding of the Arts. This meant that there were students at Paris perhaps as young as 14 studying Rhetoric, Grammar and Logic, Music Astronomy, Arithmetic and Geometry. These were known as the Trivium and the Quadrivium respectively. 

By the time students arrived in Paris they would have learned Latin, the language of books and learning. Lectures were given in Latin, and students were expected to speak Latin to one another. This was not simply to show off, or mark them out as different from the townspeople whom they often quarrelled. This was so that they could understand one another. Students came from all over, as the Jacques de Vitry quote testifies, and the myriad languages and dialects that were spoken would have created chaos if there was not a common tongue, a lingua franca, that they all shared. Although, I can’t help but feel perhaps if they didn’t understand one another, relations between medieval students might have been more cordial:

“They affirmed that the English were drunkards and had tails; the sons of France proud, effeminate and carefully adorned like women. They said that the Germans were furious and obscene at their feasts; the Normans, vain and boastful; the Poitevins, traitors and always adventurers. The Burgundians they considered vulgar and stupid. The Bretons were reputed to be fickle and changeable, and were often reproached for the death of Arthur. The Lombards were called avaricious, vicious and cowardly; the Romans, seditious, turbulent and slanderous; the Sicilians, tyrannical and cruel; the inhabitants of Brabant, men of blood, incendiaries, brigands and ravishers; the Flemish, fickle, prodigal, gluttonous, yielding as butter, and slothful. After such insults from words they often came to blows.” [1]

[1] Anglicos potatores & caudatos affirmantes: Francigenas superbos, molles & muliebriter compolitos afferetes: Theutonicos superbundos, & in conuiuijs suis obscenos dicebant: Normanos autem inanes & gloriosos: Pietauos proditores & fortune amicos. Hos autem qui de Burgundia erant, brutos & stultos repubat. Britones autem leues & vagos iudicantes, Arturi morte frequentereis obijciebant. Lombardos auros, malitiosos & imbelles: Romanos seditiosos, violentos & manus rodentes: Siculos tyrannos & crudeles: Brabantios viros sanguinum, incendiarios, rutarios & raptores: Flandrenses superflous, prodigos, & comessationibus deditos & more butyri molles & remissos, appelleabat. Et propter huiusmodi conuitia, de verbis frequenter ad verbera procedebant. Jacobus (de Vitriaco). Historia Orientalis Et Occidentalis. (Duacum: Franc. Moschium, 1597), p.279. Translation of extract provided by Munro, Dana Carelton. The Mediaeval Student: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History. Vol. II:iii (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1895) p.20.