In the annals of late-medieval England, Oxford emerged as the epicenter of homicide, notably propelled by the male scholarly populace of its esteemed university, as per recent findings.
This city’s homicide frequency surpassed that of 14th-century London or York by four to fivefold, as illuminated by scholars from the University of Cambridge, who meticulously charted documented instances of medieval England’s lethal altercations.
Professor Manuel Eisner, the distinguished lead investigator behind the Murder Map initiative and head of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, expressed to CNN, “It wasn’t surprising, it was what I expected. I knew from previous publications that Oxford had a very high homicide rate.”
Fueled by the Institute of Criminology’s Violence Research Centre, the Medieval Murder Maps project stands as a digital repository, plotting crime scenes based on age-old coroners’ inquiries and examinations. The original 2018 rendition encompassing London has been not only revised but also expanded to encompass detailed mappings of Oxford and York.
Cumulatively, the endeavor has meticulously documented 354 instances of homicidal scenes in 14th-century England.
Among the identified culprits within the confines of Oxford, a staggering 75% were denoted as “clericus,” a term that, in that epoch, likely encompassed students or members of the university. Similarly, 72% of the unfortunate victims fell under this classification. This historical elucidation is communicated through a press release.
Literature of antiquity concerning university towns prominently features the notion that “all bore a reputation in the Middle Ages for grappling with issues of student tumult, violence, and unruly conduct,” as articulated by Eisner. He appends that this perception, prevalent in its era, finds affirmation within their amassed data.
‘The perfect storm for violence’
During this juncture, Oxford stood as one of the paramount bastions of erudition in the Western world, magnetizing scholars of international repute. The populace of this citadel approximated 7,000 souls, within which it is conjectured that 1,500 comprised the scholarly aspirants.
“(Oxford) was the ideal confluence for the eruption of violence,” Eisner expounds. The student body of Oxford during this epoch was exclusively male, their age demographic predominantly oscillating between 14 and 21.
Eisner postulates further, underscoring that this demographic of young men would have been subject to minimal societal regulation while retaining unfettered access to both intoxicants and weaponry.
“Various elements coalesce, intertwining and giving rise to particular circumstances,” he articulated, noting that students frequently formed cliques based on their places of origin, inadvertently fostering tensions among individuals hailing from disparate regions.
In the process of charting these incidents of fatality, the investigators meticulously scrutinized coroners’ registries, which meticulously chronicled abrupt and dubious demises as ascertained by a jury, predominantly consisting of local denizens. These archives encompassed “names, occurrences, locales, and even the appraisal of instruments of lethality,” as delineated in the communique.
Drawing from their meticulous examination, the cadre approximates that during the late medieval era, the city of Oxford bore witness to a rate of homicide ranging between 60 to 75 per 100,000 inhabitants – an approximation nearly fiftyfold the contemporary incidence in 21st-century urban enclaves of England.
Yet, Eisner counselled against making a direct parallel between then and now.
“In the Middle Ages, the notion of a 999 (911) summons was non-existent. There were no swift-response services, no surgical interventions… or any other modes of addressing wounds,” he elucidated, underscoring that the incidence of mortality surpassed that of contemporary times.