An extract from Culpepper in Oxford:
XFORD WAS A SMALL TOWN in those days, and the sweet infamy of young Alianore nee Aelffaed quickly got about.
. . . . . . . . . A small town, low and wet. There were no dreaming spires, no spires of any sort, no colleges, not even a chimneystack - chimneys had yet to be invented. The smoke of a thousand fires went straight up into a low-smoke-cultured sky untorn by turrets. There was a stumpy business-like Norman palace called Beaumont, where King John had been born (to the sorrow of mankind); and an even more business-like Norman castle. To the south-east of the castle was the city, a muddy island within a city-wall, with a water-filled ditch at its outer foot; beyond the ditch was a frail ribbon of suburbs - the Broad, then called Horsemonger Street - and at once, landscape, woven about with countless branches of Thames and Cherwell. To the south the city abutted the floodplain, and a long causeway called Grandpont (where a hermit in a cell collected alms for the upkeep of the river-crossing) led over reedbeds and mudflats into Berkshire.
. . . . . . . . . Yet Oxford it was already, and one of the glories of Christendom. The University Church, that is to say the University, was plonked, low and foursquare, in the midst of High Street; although of course Alianore and other nice persons knew not to call it the Heye (an English name pur amur Deu!, all English being hopelessly non-U. coe est la verite). It was politely Altus Vicus. Within the church were the lectures and disputations; and all about it stood a warren of tumble-down halls where the students lived, some virtuous and in great want, some not, as is the way. Further along Altus Vicus you came to the bull-ring in Carfax, then the butchers' shambles; and south of that, all the way to the city gate, the Jewry.
. . . . . . . . . From her bow-window Alianore could sometimes hear all at once the bellowing of the baited bull, matins tolling from the low tower of the University, and commercial shrieks from the stalls in Fish Street in terrible English she affected (Oxford is a merry city for affectation) not to understand - not that there was a non-terrible way to speak English. Mon motte, non! Cette Saksons!
. . . . . . . . . She could lean out and watch the clerks scurrying up and down Altus Vicus, white Norbertines, black Austin Canons, and the Gilbertines, who were particular dears, in their white hooded cloaks over their cassocks, and red leather shoes it was so hard to buckle up afterward.
. . . . . . . . . There was nothing like this in Snotingham, and she often told herself she was le plus beneit dame in Angla Terra.
. . . . . . . . . She was a great favourite with the officers of the Castle garrison, with the merchants and moneylenders of the Jewry, but above all with the better sort of student. She was an intellectual little thing, for all her physical toughness, with a magpie mind, well able to attune her pillow-talk. She would chatter pope-baiting to royal officials and ginger prince-fluctuation to the financiers. But with the clerks, who turned grave and bookish in aftermath of pleasure, as is the way, she would debate, Abelard contra Peter Lombard, Quod Eva sola non Adam seducta sit - telling off points of her scented fingers, the prettiest scholastic in the University.

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One of her students, a hulking Northerner called Ralph of Skipsea, would have done far better to wait to be born until after the invention of rugby football. Without rugby his life was haunted with ineffable missingness. He could not understand why everyone else seemed to enjoy what struck him as a void. He had a brutal, thrashing way with syllogisms, and was his master's butt at his Hall.
. . . . . . . . . He consoled himself where he could. Alianore was a favourite of his, he of hers. Nonetheless he was particularly rough; and one October evening when he was with her he particularly let himself go. He was so boisterous she might have stretched a point and exclaimed Desistez amerus! or even (since things were so pressing) Deorling a-hiltan. But she couldn't, she simply couldn't get her breath. When things quieted down he found that beneath his burly throttling hand was not a she but an it.
. . . . . . . . . Ralph, being a clear-headed, selfish young animal, wasted no time on repentance. He hurried back to the house in Fish Street he rented with three fellow clerks, gathered up his clothes and coins, and fled. By the time a thin sunrise was swirling the river-mist, he was at South Gate, which shut off the town from the wide meandering Thames and its causeway, with the famous hermitage half way along it. Ralph stood first on one foot, then on another, waiting nervously for the lauds bell, when the Gate would open.
. . . . . . . . . By the time Alianore's own housemates had found her and raised a cry, he was trotting over Grandpont. Ralph tossed the hermit a whole penny, yet the man sighed sadly, smelling blood, shaking his head at the troublous state of the world.
. . . . . . . . . By the time the Mayor had extracted Ralph's name from the keening harlots, gathered together some sturdy fellows, and surrounded his house, the culprit was past the Hinkseys and well on his way to London, already over his first anxiety. He found himself humming Dunt ki k'eime pur sul sun delit. Wasn't it was a wonderful mild autumn morning? Did not the sun rise between his legs to send an immense shadow streaming behind him? He was calm enough now to turn and look. Yes, back along the road it lay, the black shape, wavering toward Oxford.
. . . . . . . . . Where his three companions were still in their house, innocently asleep. They came to the door in their nightshirts when then posse started banging.
. . . . . . . . . Like most statesmen, the Mayor became in police-mode a stupid as well as an officious man. Alianore had been a popular favourite; therefore the Mayor ordered the three boys to be flung into prison, and sent to the King for instructions.
. . . . . . . . . Unfortunately the message arrived on a beard-tearing day. The King ordered the three hanged outside the walls of Oxford, in defiance of the benefit of clergy, as a way of annoying the Pope.
. . . . . . . . . Whether this gesture was keenly felt in Rome we cannot say. It certainly made an impression in Oxford. Gown was enraged against town; more to the point, town was enraged against gown. For were not all clerks, even the Saxon ones, essentially foreign, bent on betraying England into Continental federation? The war of king against pope, of muddy patriotic persons against selfish denatured literates (destined to be revived eight centuries later, in the days of Brexit) was fought out in the alleys and inns of Oxford. There were cudgellings and throat-cuttings of anyone guilty of a tonsure; and presently the entire University, from Chancellor to meanest clerk, abandoned the place, which was left empty and impoverished.
. . . . . . . . . Many scholars fled to Paris or Italy. But some retired to a certain town in the Fens possessed of a castle. A few years later, when the Oxford citizenry, tiring of poverty, repented and grovelled, when the University graciously returned and study resumed, these Fenland refugees (for whatever reason; unkind to speculate) resolved to stay where they were. Thus slunk into existence the university called Cambridge.
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