SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London sport wrestling competition assault homicide riot Bury St. Edmunds
Subject: A wrestling competition goes awry
Original source: British Library, Add.Ch. 5153
Transcription in: Martin Weinbaum, ed. The London Eyre of 1276, London Record Society, 1976, 32-33.
Original language: Latin (English translation by Weinbaum)
Location: London
Date: 1261


On Sunday before the Nativity of Mary [4 September 1261], Richard de Borham with many other people from London went to a wrestling match at Bermundseye outside the City and there wrestled with the men of the prior of Bermundseye; a quarrel arose between them and Richard and his companions chased the prior's men into the priory; then came a monk called Arnulf and other monks from the priory who entered a solar above the gate and threw stones at Richard and his companions; Arnulf the monk threw a stone upon Richard and crushed him so that he quickly died.


It seems that wrestling competitions were commonplace, and perhaps initially among approved sports, being martial in bent or at least a demonstration of combatitiveness. In towns, wrestling was perhaps one of the most popular competitive sports not involving teams. Fitzstephen mentions the matches as a typical pastime on summer holy days. However, the roughness of the contests and their attraction for gambling on outcomes brought wrestling into disfavour with the Church. Furthermore they excited crowd emotions in a disruptive manner that in modern times is more associated with soccer matches.

It is mostly when matters got out of hand that we hear of wrestling bouts. At a time not much beyond that of Fitzstephen, Jocelin de Brakelond mentions what were perhaps Christmastide wrestling matches between the townsmen of Bury St. Edmunds and the abbey's men, which broke down into a free-for-all. Roger de Wendover tells how, on St. James Day in 1222, several teams representing the citizens of London and residents of the various suburbs held a wrestling competition that resulted in the steward of Westminster Abbey, a member of one of the losing teams, seeking revenge via a return challenge on St. Peter's day. That second bout likewise disintegrated into a general brawl.



Now part of Greater London, in the Middle Ages Bermondsey was a village just south-east of the city, across the Thames.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: December 4, 2010 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2010