On This Day - 20th June

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Oxford University

The 20th of June 1214

Academia came to Oxford as early as the reign of William Rufus , possibly earlier, though no university as such existed at that time or for years afterwards. The growth of the university was more organic than organised: scholars attached to religious institutions boarded in Oxford; halls where they could live together developed, and from these colleges of sorts came into being.

The institution became significant for the town (which it was until the mid-16th century), its numbers given a boost when Henry II prevented English scholars from studying at the University of Paris. In 1209 town-and-gown tensions boiled over, nearly ending the university before it had formally become such: a student was accused of rape; though he escaped two or three of his friends were hanged by a mob. En masse the scholars fled, some ending up in Cambridge where they established an eventual rival university.

Oxford apparently suffered economically and in terms of prestige by losing its students. Cardinal Nicholas (alternatively Niccolo, or Niccola) de Romanis, the papal legate who arrived in England in 1213 to resolve a long-running dispute about the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury , was asked by the townspeople to intervene and facilitate the return of the students. He did so, formalising the situation to boot: on June 20 1214 a charter was given to the University of Oxford: among its provisions were that a Chancellor should be appointed (by the Bishop of Lincoln ) as its titular head; and that the scholars should have their own court.

The students returned, and Oxford became one of the world's great scholarly centres. But tensions with the town never died — the deadly St Scholastica's Day beer riots in 1355 the most obvious example.

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