1209: The Oxford clerks

Add comment December 6th, 2010 Headsman

On an uncertain date speculatively identified with December 6, in either 1208 or (more usually attributed) 1209, the near-riotous townspeople of Oxford hanged two or three student “clerks” at that settlement’s famous university.

About this time, a certain clerk engaged in the liberal arts at Oxford killed a certain woman by accident and when he found that she was dead he decided to flee.

But when the mayor of the city and many others who had gathered found the dead woman they began to search for the killer in his house which he had rented together with three of his fellow clerks.

Not finding the man accused of the deed they seized his three fellow clerks who said they were wholly ignorant of the murder and threw them into prison; then a few days later they were, by order of the King of the English, in contempt of the rights of the church, taken outside the city and hanged.

When the deed had been done, both masters and pupils, to the number of three thousand clerks, left Oxford so that not one remained out of the whole university; they left Oxford empty, some engaging in liberal studies at Cambridge and some at Reading.

The Flowers of History, as translated for the Beeb

This ugly affair rooted in the ancient conflict between university and town caused much of the ancient academy‘s student population to flee town — some proceeding to found Oxford’s rival institution Cambridge. (This pdf short story on the Cambridge site dramatizes events.)


(cc) image from James Gibson.

The conflict between the town and university at Oxford over this bloodletting persisted until 1214 when a Papal legate settled the dispute in favor of the university.

The authors of the hanging were required to carry the bodies to an honorable resting place, and the town was required to host a dinner for poor students once every year — on St. Nicholas‘s day, Dec. 6, which on that basis has become associated with the otherwise never-specified date of the unfortunate clerks’ demise.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Known But To God,Murder,Notably Survived By,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates,Wrongful Executions

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1209: Massacre of Beziers, “kill them all, let God sort them out”

27 comments July 22nd, 2009 Headsman

Today the French town of Beziers remembers the 800th anniversary of the first sack and massacre of the Albigensian Crusade.

Rome was alarmed by the advent in southern France of a mass religious movement, Catharism, with such scandalous doctrines as spirit-body dualism and not giving tons of money to Rome.

Naturally, God said to cut them to pieces.

Beziers was the first town invested by the invading crusader army, left to its fate as the Cathars mustered in Carcassone. Interestingly, this particular city did not so much present that familiar spectacle of Christians killing Christians who thought differently — unless the thought in question was about handing over their neighbors to a throng of land-grabbing nobles.

Part of the Catholic faith did itself honor this day: those Biterrois who refused to abandon to the glories of martyrdom the Cathars in their midst, who are thought to have numbered merely a few hundred. So when the walls fell, it was mostly orthodox Catholics killing orthodox Catholics.

Well, what’s a crusading army with other cities to sack supposed to do?

“Kill them all”

After the fortified city embarrassingly got itself captured within hours by camp followers, Caesar of Heisterbach recorded one of history’s more quotably infamous instances of prayerful deliberation:

When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said to the abbot “Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.” The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied “Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that town were slain.

Or, in glorious Latin:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

And so they did.

And they killed everyone who fled into the church; no cross or altar or crucifix could save them. And these raving beggarly lads, they killed the clergy too, and the women and children. I doubt if one person came out alive … such a slaughter has not been known or consented to, I think, since the time of the Saracens. (William of Tudela, cited in Cathar Castles)

Ten to twenty thousand are thought to have been slain this day — in what proportions Catholic and heretic, only God can say.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Disfavored Minorities,France,God,Heresy,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Language,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Jurisprudence,Power,Put to the Sword,Summary Executions,Women,Wrongful Executions

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