Monday, February 23, 2009

A Bit of History and Other Things

A thousand years ago this year a horde of Vikings led by Sweyn Forkbeard torched the city of Oxford to the ground as retribution for the ethnic cleansing of Danes ordered by King Ethelred the Unready of England (Needless to say, he was termed unready because of his rather stupid orders that brought destruction to his own kingdom).

About a hundred years later Oxford began to be considered a center of higher learning of some reputation, with literally thousands of students even in those early times. But violence was never far away with blood often flowing in the streets one way or the other.

Exactly eight hundred years ago this year, the situation became so bad that the university had to suspend all studies. Here is a short history of the conflict of that year (from here)

“ An Oxford clerk kills a woman—accidentally, as it is afterwards said. But the culprit flees. The town authorities search the dwelling wherein he lodged, and, in his absence, arrest two or three of his companions, who are perfectly innocent of the offence, if such it be. King John, however, is in the middle of his famous quarrel with the pope, and is ready to wreak his vengeance on any clerk. On the king’s instructions, the innocent prisoners are hanged. In combined fear and indignation, the Oxford masters proclaim a suspension of studies; and the scholars scatter.”

The university was reinstated five years later, but conflict between town and gown continued on and off, with riots occurring into the late 1800s.

There is a rather vocal band of history minded Oxonians that feel like we should re-enact the torching of the city (See here). For my money though, I’d rather see a re-enactment of the scholars fleeing the city. It happens between terms anyway.

A few minor updates:

* Congratulations to Fiona Burnell, who was indeed awarded the All-Souls fellowship (that is rather a big deal).

* My replacement bed is scheduled to be delivered tomorrow – I’m preparing myself for three more hours with a screwdriver, cursing the name of the bed company.

Added: I finally have a bed. About $!@%# time. I bought the thing on January 10th.

* I've discovered that Philip Pullman lives somewhere within a few blocks of me. One of my friends at Somerville just "happened" to have dinner with him this weekend. This will be one of my objectives.

* My webpage at Oxford finally went live here. It is horribly ugly and has a bunch of typos too. But it took two months for me to get anything up at all, so I'm not too eager to try to fix it.

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