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In 1229, a student riot at the University of Parismarker resulted in the deaths of a number of students, and the ensuing "dispersion" or student strike in protest lasted more than two years and led to a number of reforms of the medieval university. The event demonstrates the "town and gown" power struggles between Church, secular leaders and the emerging student class, as well as a lessening of local Church authority over the university, which was placed squarely under direct papal patronage, part of the program to centralize Church structure that had intensified under Innocent III.


The University of Parismarker was one of the first universities in Europe and considered the most prestigious because of its focus on the "Queen" of science, theology. It was founded in the mid 12th century and received its official charter from the Church in 1200. It was run by the Church and students were considered part of the church and thus wore robes and shaved the tops of their heads in tonsure, to signify they were under the protection of the church. Students operated according to the rules and laws of the Church and were not subject to the king's laws or courts. This presented ongoing problems of students abusing the laws of the city, which had no direct recourse for justice and had to appeal to Church courts. Students were often very young, entering the school at age 13 or 14 and staying for 6 to 12 years. Students were from many different regions speaking many different European languages with all defined by their native language of origin (with Latin being the lingua de franca at school). Eventually the Masters were organized into four "nations" comprising the French, the Picards, Normans and a polyglot of nationalities (predominantly English, German, Scandinavian and East European) referred to as “English,” [86591] The overwhelming majority of students were from the elite or aristocratic classes of Europe as the cost of travel and maintenance of a stay at the university, as well as basic tuition, was beyond the reach of the poor.

The riot

In March 1229, on Shrove Tuesday, Paris's pre-Lenten carnival began. This was similar to a Mardi Gras where one wore masks and generally let loose. The students often drank heavily and were rowdy, and in the suburban quarter of Saint Marcel a dispute broke out between a band of students and a tavern proprietor over a bill which led to a physical fight. The students were beaten up and thrown into the streets. The next day, seeking revenge, the students returned in larger numbers armed with wooden clubs, broke into the tavern, beat the offenders and destroyed the establishment. Other shops were damaged in a subsequent riot which spilled into the streets.

Because students had benefit of clergy that exempted them from the jurisdiction of the king's courts, angry complaints were filed with the Pope's courts. The Pope's courts knew that the University tended to be very protective of its students, and fearing to cause a split like that of Cambridge Universitymarker from Oxford, they were trying to approach the matter carefully. But Blanche of Castile, regent of France during the minority of Louis IX, stepped in and demanded retribution. The university authorized the city's police to punish the student rioters. The city guardsmen, known for their rough nature, found a group of students and with an unexpectedly heavy hand, killed several of them. The dead students were later rumored to be innocent of the actual riot.

The strike

The response from the university was to immediately go on strike. Classes were closed and striking students either went to other universities such as Reims, Oxford or Toulouse, returned home or found employment elsewhere. Faculty ceased to teach. An economic strain was placed upon the student quarter of Paris, the Latin Quartermarker, where the lingua franca, Latin, was commonly heard in the streets, and where the needs of the university were a major ingredient in the economy.

After two years of negotiations, Pope Gregory IX, an alumnus of Paris himself, on April 13, 1231 issued the Bull Parens scientiarum, honoring the University as the "Mother of Sciences", which retrospectively has been called the Magna Carta of the University of Paris, because it guaranteed the school independence from local authority, whether ecclesiastical or secular, placing it directly under papal patronage. The threat of suspension of lectures remained an economic lever: masters were authorized to "disperse" the lectures over a wide range of provocations, which ranged from "monstrous injury or offense" to "the right to assess the rents of lodgings".

See also


  1. Rubenstein, Richard E.: "Aristotle’s Children.", page 161. Harvest Books, 2004.
  • Frederic Duncalf, Parallel source problems in medieval history, New York, London : Harper & Brothers, 1912. via Internet Archivemarker. See Chapter IV for background, 18 translated sources and problems related to the strike.
  • Hastings Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, Oxford University Press, 1936.
  • [86592] Fordham University's medieval website.
  • Rubenstein, Richard E.: "Aristotle’s Children.", page 161. Harvest Books, 2004.

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