Term Paper: Civilization in the High Middle

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[. . .] This came to a head in 1355, when discontent between the town and the university came to a head on 10th February with the St. Scholastica's Day Riot.

A student is said to have thrown a bottle of wine at the innkeeper of a Carfax tavern, and a fight broke out. While citizens of the town were stopped by the bells of St. Martin's, the University scholars and students fled to the safety of St. Mary's Church. A three-day battle broke out between the townspeople and the University people, during which sixty three people were killed, and many more injured. As a result of this horrific riot, the Mayor of Oxford was imprisoned and the University's powers over the town increased. Since that date, on every St. Scholastica's Day, the Mayor of Oxford and his corporation have paraded to a service at St. Mary's Church, to symbolize the current peace between 'town' and 'gown'.

The University has always claimed itself as other to the town of Oxford, and as 'other' to other universities around Europe (during the Middle Ages) and around the world (subsequently). This is part of the grandeur of scholarship that is undertaken at the institution, and its sense of belief in itself as something beyond the normal, beyond the average.

Were the scholars and students of the University of Oxford a model of behavior for society during the High Middle Ages?

From its inception, Oxford University was definitely a model of academic behavior. Documents from the mid-1350s show that other, longer established, universities (such as Bologna) began, during this period, to refuse entry to students unless they had a Bachelors degree in Theology from Oxford University. Such was the University of Oxford's academic reputation, even from its early days.

Early on, Oxford became a center for lively debate and had achieved eminence - far above every other seat of learning in Europe - and it had won the praise of popes, kings, and also scholars Europe-wide - for its age, its curriculum of studies, its doctrines and its openness to all. Edward III paid tribute to the University in 1355, for what he said was 'the University of Oxford's invaluable contribution to learning'. Edward III also praised greatly the services that the State were given by the many Oxford graduates who held positions of power within his country.

The scholars of the University were not always 'model' in their behavior, although perhaps this is what one should expect of a good scholar, and also of a good University (that they accept 'thinking outside of the box'). The University of Oxford has attracted its fair share of controversy over the years, the Middle Ages being little different: John Wyclif, a Master of Balliol in the 14th century campaigned - against the wishes of the Pope and his advisors - for a translation of the Bible into the vernacular.

In terms of the University of Oxford vs. The town of Oxford, the University in many ways claimed its moral superiority, and during the Middle Ages, many times, the Chancellor of the University claimed ancient jurisdiction over the morals of the Oxford inhabitants, something that was clearly defined in a statute in 1350.

The terms and content of the statute transformed the university's growing concern with its 'physical circumstances into a wide jurisdiction over the terms of trade, conditions of labor, morals and public peace of the town and its suburbs; and it is almost fair to describe the subsequent economic role of the townsmen, both in their own and the university's eyes as purveyors of goods and services to the scholars' (Catto, 1992). The University of Oxford, thus, assumed the role of moral arbiter for the town of Oxford and its people, enacting University legislation to confirm these powers.

Yet, the University of Oxford itself was not morally-incorruptible. When Oxford was hit by the plague, during 1348-1350, it is said that the colleges kept country houses, to which the scholars could escape, to evade the black death. The residents of the town, however, had no such outlet, and had to suffer the consequences of the spread of the plague. As such, the population of the town fell, and the colleges took advantage of the deaths of many people in the town by buying the properties left vacant by the dead from the plague, and therefore expanding their holding of property within the town (nowadays, Oxford University, and colleges within the University, own most of the center of Oxford, and also much land outside).

In conclusion, from its inception, the University of Oxford had a well-defined purpose, a well-defined sociological set of norms that allowed its scholars the freedom to concentrate on the thing that bought them to the University: their studies, their research. This in turn led to the many great successes it had during the Middle Ages in scholarship, and also in terms of influence over a country, and its people, and more locally, a town and its people. The University of Oxford was central to the development of early scholarship during Medieval times in Britain, and was therefore also a world leader in scholarship, at the forefront of its research for most of period covered in this paper, from its inception to the end of the fourteenth century. That the University of Oxford is still going strong today is a testament to the power of the social norms and rules that were set in place during this period, the power of those norms of behavior and that sense of community engendered by them to encourage its scholars to strive for the best they can, for as long as they can, for themselves, but also for the institution, and for their place in its long and eminent history.

Bibliography

Brodrick, G.C. (1900). A History of Oxford University. London: Longman.

Catto, J.I. et al. (1992). The History of the University of Oxford. Volume II: late Medieval Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Green, V.H.H. (1974). A History of Oxford University.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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