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The beautiful city turned murder capital of medieval England by a 'perfect storm'


One of the most respected centres of learning in the Western world has a dark past filled with crime, a study has shown.

Oxford, whose university has produced UK Prime Ministers, Nobel Prizes and even US Presidents, was a catalyst for violence in the Middle Ages.

Digital “Medieval Murder Maps” created by the Institute of Criminology’s Violence Research Centre show crime scenes based on historic coroners’ inquests and investigations.

The analysis listed 354 murder crime scenes in 14th-century England.

And it brought to light the extremely steep homicide rate in Oxford, four to five times higher than that of London and York.

The presence of the university in Oxford may have been a cause rather than a deterrent for crimes.

Professor Manuel Eisner, lead Murder Map investigator and director of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, told CNN: “(Oxford) was the perfect storm for violence.”

Of the 7,000 Oxford residents in medieval times, some 1,500 are believed to have been students.

Their age ranged between 14 and 21, and they were all male. Mr Eisner added: “What it meant for Oxford is lots of young men, and young men can cause problems.”

These youngsters likely had easy access to alcohol and weapons, a mix that helped crime rise in the university town.

Another aspect contributing to the high homicide rate was students grouping together based on their provenance.

The mapping of the murders was carried out through an analysis of coroners’ rolls, which recorded sudden and suspicious deaths as concluded by a jury normally composed of locals.

The rolls normally listed names, events, locations and the value of murder weapons, the centre said.

A whopping 75 per cent of the known killers in Oxford were identified as “clericus”, a term normally used at the time to refer to either a student or a member of the university.

Of the total of victims catalogued by this study, 72 per cent were also of “clericus” background, the research centre said.

The centre also noted that, based on their study, medieval Oxford had a homicide rate of 60 to 75 per 100,000 people – some 50 times higher than the rates in modern English cities.

But Professor Eisner urged not to read too much into the disparity in crime rates between then and now, as people used to die more often due to a lack of emergency services.

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