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Though institutions for the purposes of study may require above all others tranquillity, yet Cambridge seems to have been doomed to perpetual disquiets.
In the year 1215, during the contentions between King John and his barons, the latter laid waste a great part of Cambridgeshire, and the town of Cambridge itself. In the following year they took the castle with twenty knights who were lodged there."
In the year 1259 there broke out between the scholars and townsmen violent dissensions, which had been long brooding, and which were frequently repeated.
The same year Henry III. and his nobles were involved in a civil war on account of the king's partiality towards his French subjects, who came in swarms into the country the preceding year, at the time it was oppressed with great scarcity. Henry Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon, had seized the Isle of Ely; King Henry led an army to Cambridge; and after fortifying it went to London to oppose Gilbert, Earl of Clarence. During his absence, Hastings having broke into the town of Cambridge, laid great part of it waste. These commotions, must of course, have much disturbed the quiet of the clerks.
The disputes between the scholars and townsmen manifested themselves in the most outrageous form by the former rescuing one of their own order who had committed murder, though they did not originate in that source.
Other contentions also had much distracted this seat of learning very early, viz. first, between the Bishop of Ely and the clergy, and scholars of the university; secondly, between the University and the hospitallers, or those, whom we have mentioned as letting houses to scholars: thirdly, between the University and clerks, who were not scholars : fourthly, among the scholars themselves.
* Caius de Antiq. Cantab. p. 43.
These contentions among the scholars took a most violent turn, by county rivalries, and academical frays; till a south countryman and north countryman, both scholars, having amidst these disputes proceeded from words to blows, all the south countrymen now siding with the disputant of the south country, and the north countrymen with him of the north, the fray soon became general. The chancellor interposed; but academical authority was too weak. He called the townsmen to his aid; but this was throwing oil into the fire; gownsmen fighting with gownsmen, and townsmen intermingling with all: the university and town all was confusion, and gownsmen all up in arms.
Public plunder, burning of records, and every species of horror ensued. The king sent down to Cambridge a delegate to inquire into these disputes, and to have summary justice executed on some delinquents. Sixteen of the townsmen were hanged, others both townsmen and gownsmen fled for asylum to religious houses, or were committed to the town goal. The peace was again restored, though it terminated in many of the scholars retiring to Northampton, and forming themselves into a literary society. This University, however, of Northampton lasted only four years. For in the 45th year of his reign, Henry III. empowered certain mas
• Provision was made against each of these troubles in Henry 3d's reiga. H. MS.
ters and scholars to exercise scholastic discipline at Northampton, as at Oxford and Cambridge, and in the 49th he ordered them all to return'.
Another circumstance, which increased the tumults of the place, was the practice of having tournaments, (hastiludia, avantura, single combats) those fashionable barbarities which characterized the chivalrous ages. They were first contrived by the Gothic and Lombard kings; but introduced into this country by the Saxons or Nor
Richard I. appointed five places for these barbarous military legalities. For when duly licensed, these combats determined causes criminal as well as civil.b Cambridge seems to have been one; for these amusements, being performed annually, brought together all the idle fashionable brutes (and they were very numerous) in the county to Cambridge; and there was left behind pot only a reckoning of bloodshedding at the time, but of bickerings and tumults, which lasted through the year, Accordingly, Henry III, issued letters patent, which were confirmed in the seventh year of Edward II. that there should be no tournaments within five miles of Cambridge.
But the principal evil under which Cambridge groaned was the swarms of students and monks. The Scotch historian, Major, tells us there were 4, or 5,000 scholars in his time. Caius says there had been twenty hostles, of which seventeen remained in his time. To some of these hostles the monks were accustomed to retire, to study literature: and various other religious houses, exclusively for monastic purposes. Many of these were mere swarms of drones, who had nothing to do but read masses, pray for the dead, and invent legends, and dreams, and lies. They were independent too of the townsmen. The monastery of St. Giles was supported by tithes, strained out of twenty-three villages in the county. Add, too, these people had ecclesiastical liberties, and were exempted from the civil courts. These people were the great weight, and no doubt the townsmen groaned under the burden.. And yet our Cambridge historians, who allude to this circumstance, do not mention it, though indeed it was the principal cause of the tumults of the place, but rather as matter of glory. Better had it been for these times, if, instead of making laws against students settling at Northampton and Stamford, kings had allowed them letters patent for forming academies wherever they pleased.
a Hare's MS. Index, vol. 1. b Sir Robert Cotton's Posthuma, p. 67. • Hare's MS. Index, vol. 1. p. 12,
A Rex. Vicecom. Cantabrigiensi salutem. Quoniam, ut audivimus, plures nominantur Clerici apud Cantabr. qui sub nullius magistri scholarium sunt disciplina, et tuitione, sed potius mentiuntur se esse scholares cum non sunt, ut tutius, et fortius, (visâ ad hoc opportunitate) queant malignari, tibi præcipimus, quod assumptis tecum probis et legalibus hominibus de comitatu tuo, accedas ad villam nostram Cantabrigiam, et per totam villam clamari facias ex parte nostrâ, quod nullus clericus moretur in villa, qui non sit sub disciplina, vel intuitione alicujus magistri scholarium. Et si aliqui tales fuerent in villa illâ, eâ exeunt infra quindecim dies, postquam hoc clamatum fuerit. Et si ultra terminum illum inventi fuerint in eâdem villâ, hujusmodi clerici capiantur, et in prisonam nostram mittantur. Teste meipso apud Oxon. 3 Maii, anno regni nostri 15. Fuller's Hist. of Cambridge,
Literæ Regiæ, quod vicecomes clamari faciat contra clericos dicentes se esse scholares, 15 Henry III. Hare's MS. Index. It appears these clerks, whether in orders, or only considered as students, were not scholars, members of Hostles,
These evils were still further increased by what Dr. Fuller calls, “ Pretenders to Scholarship.” These, too, were considered as religious; but were properly under no scholastic rules : hence they could trespass more covertly, and with less danger. When summoned to appear in the vice-chancellor's court, they pleaded exemption from his authority, as not being scholars: on other occasions, they pleaded to the character both of scholars and clerics, to claim ecclesiastical liberty, or exemption from the civil power.
This description of men, “clercs-no-clercs," as Fuller calls them, formed so great a feature of the character of the place, that I shall copy into the notes the king's order, directed to the sheriff, for suppressing them a.
It appears by a letter of Henry, that the disputes between the hospitallers and scholastics related to the impositions, which they put on the scholars, in letting their houses: in consequence of which, as the letter states, the scholars were meditating to leave the place. It was to remedy this, that two masters of the university, and two townsmen, probos" et legales homines, had been appointed taxors. Other causes also increased the irritation.
The domineering insolence of the clerks and monks, together with the disturbances between the scholars and townsmen, which had existed in different forms, and in different periods, for a course of years, opened the door for those great privileges, granted to the university from the time of Henry III. for here the current of our academical history begins to run regular and clear. These privileges were obtained under the plea of more ancient
a See p. 64.