The story

In England, how many Jews died during the persecutions of the crusades during 1190-1200?


As is well known Steven Runciman, a British historian known for his work on the Middle Ages, definitively clarified what the Holy War had been: "The Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost".

However I'm not interested in generic discussions or debates on this matter, but I want only to know precise notices about the massacre of Jews in England during 1190-1200.

In "God's War: A New History of the Crusades" Christopher Tyerman wrote:

[… ] during the recruitment for the third crusade in England in 1190 were attack on the Jews especially vulnerable with the king's campaign for funds, his approaching departure and immediate financial requirements of the crusader who converged in English town ports and main roads in the early months of the year. In Lent 1190, bands of English crusaders, some motivated by a misguided notion of serving God and the cross, began looting Jewish property in commercial centers such as King's Lynn and Stamford. The violence reached a ghastly climax at York in mid march Well-connected local crusaders led a concerted attack on the Jewish community that culminated in a mass suicide and massacre at the royal castle, now Clifford's Tower, after which, revealingly, the bloodstained crusaders went to York Minster to destroy the Jews' bond of credit stored there.

Questions are: How many Jews died during these persecutions? In England, was the Jewish population drastically reduced when these persecutions ended?


To be honest, this is a question that can be answered with a quick look at Wikipedia, which appears reasonably well sourced, and probably as reliable as any answer you will receive here.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_England#Persecution_and_expulsion

To summarise Wikipedia… there were an estimated 3000 Jews in England in 1278. 500 died at York in 1290, 300 died in London in 1279. The source for the London massacre of 1289 (Roger of Howden) does not mention a number, but it seems to have been a major incident in which many houses were burned down in the belief that the king had ordered the massacre.

Here's the page for Vol 3 of Howden's chronicle giving the account of the London massacre:

A translation of the Latin can be found here: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/hoveden1189b.asp

So if we estimate 500 dead at York, 300 dead in London in 1278, conservatively 100 at London in 1289, and perhaps another 100 dead in various other events, we could make a rough estimate of perhaps 33% of English Jews killed in the decades before the expulsion in 1290.

Of course your question was "In England, was the Jewish population drastically reduced when these persecutions ended?" The answer is 'yes' because 100% of remaining Jews were removed from England by expulsion in 1290. However if you mean how many were killed during the persecutions, then between 20% and 40% looks like a realistic figure.


Most accounts do not state any numbers, but commonly report that by far the largest number of deaths was at York, where about 500 are known to have been killed. The places and numbers include the following:

York 500
Norwich 100
Bury St. Edmunds 57
London ?
Stamford ?
Lynn ?
Lincoln ?

If we count 100 at each place where the number is not known, it comes to around 1000 total.


The persecution of Jews in medieval England

The view from Clifford’s Tower, the remains of a stone keep, shaped like a four-leafed clover, offers an enviable panorama of the whole city of York. The Minster dominates the skyline on one side of the tower, although the huge spire of the nearer St Mary’s Church also makes its presence felt on another side, the river Ouse winds away to the west. On a clear day, it is possible to glimpse the moors in the distance. Such views are certainly worth clambering up all the steps.

At the foot of the tower, a memorial plaque reminds visitors that this landmark is tainted by tragedy. On the night of Friday 16 March 1190 around 150 Jewish men and women were trapped in the tower by a violent mob and, the plaque reads, “chose to die at each other’s hands rather than renounce their faith”. The daffodils that bloom on the grassy mound every spring, their petals resembling the Star of David, are another memorial to the massacre, one of the worst pogroms in medieval England.

There remain few other vestiges of this dark chapter in York’s history – unsurprisingly, as construction of the stone tower we see today did not begin until 1245. The original tower was a timber motte-and-bailey structure erected by William I following the Norman conquest, along with another across the river on Baile Hill. William almost immediately had to replace both buildings after they were burned as part of the northern rebellions to his rule, to which he responded with his savage campaign of 1069–70, the Harrying of the North.

It was shortly afterwards that the first recorded Jews came to England. William himself invited them from Rouen to help nurture trade with France and, more importantly, to serve as moneylenders, an activity discouraged by the church at this time. Their arrival proved invaluable to the crown coffers and Jewish communities soon flourished in most of the principal cities of England.

“The new arrivals moved beyond London and into many English towns,” says Sethina Watson, senior lecturer in medieval history at the University of York. “The spread was slow at first, but there were communities in Norwich and Cambridge by the 1140s.”

Mounting anti-Semitism

York’s Jewish community emerged in the late 12th century, shortly before the massacre, when Jews from Lincoln chose to settle in the city. Jews were not confined to a specific area of York, but assimilated.

“Jewish people lived and worked alongside Christians, and there was a degree of social interaction between the two communities,” says Watson. “They were, however, still considered as ‘different’, as they observed distinctive customs and likely spoke French (much like the new upper class), while the most successful lived in the finest houses”.

Such was their importance to the economy that all Jews were considered property of the crown and as ‘the king’s Jews’, they were afforded special protections and rights. Yet because Jewish security was part of a claim of royal ownership, it was subject to the whims of individual monarchs, who needed money to fund their administrations and wars. “The Crown levied higher taxes on Jewish communities, which could become crippling and might be extorted. In the 13th century, King John imprisoned and even executed wealthy Jews to ensure that huge tallages [a form of tax] would be paid into the crown coffers,” explains Watson.

Jewish communities were vulnerable, then, and conditions worsened for them as anti-Semitism took root in the 12th century. Jews were now loathed – partly out of envy at the wealth accrued by Jewish moneylenders or resentment at being in debt to them – and they emerged as targets for religious zealousness. With religious wars being launched against Muslims in the Middle East, non-Christians could now be deemed enemies – whether Muslims in the Holy Land or a Jewish neighbour.

“Jews in England were spared the violence seen in Germany and France during the first and second crusades,” says Watson, “but they would have been aware of it and had to live with the fear that they, too, may be subject to similar levels of violence and hate. In England, Jews were confronted with a new type of persecution: the blood libel.”

Unfounded accusations spread that Jews were conspiring to murder children and use their blood to make the unleavened bread that formed a part of their Passover rituals. This became a powerful tool for anti-Jewish preaching and a catalyst for violence and even murder.

The York massacre of 1190 happened at a time of especially heightened tension and aggression. At the coronation of Richard I on 3 September 1189, hundreds of Jews travelled to London to pay homage to the king, only to be forbidden entry to the banquet and flogged. Among them were Benedict and Josce, two of York’s wealthiest and most powerful Jews. The celebrating crowds in the streets of Westminster turned riotous and Benedict, who had been forcibly baptised into the Christian faith during attacks on the Jewry of London, was badly wounded. He recanted the Christian faith the next day but later died of his injuries.

Richard I responded to the violence by issuing a decree stating all Jews were under his protection and not to be harmed. But by the end of 1189, he had left on the third crusade and a spurious rumour circulated in his absence that Richard himself had ordered the attacks on Jews. Fuelled by the supposed permission of the king, anti-Jewish pogroms broke out in towns across England.

When fire raged through York in March 1190, there were some in the city who immediately took advantage of the confusion and the simmering anti-Semitism. The city was struggling with a vacuum in authority, having long been without an archbishop and having recently lost its sheriff. Under cover of the fire, four local lords, all indebted to Jewish moneylenders, incited a mob to invade the home of Benedict and kill his widow and sons before turning on the rest of York’s Jewish community.

Trapped in the tower

Josce led survivors of the attack to the apparent safety of York Castle – soon some 150 people had taken refuge in Clifford’s Tower. There they stayed for several days, besieged by the still-growing mob and the armed men who had been called in when the Jews shut out the constable of the tower. There was no way out and the group was running out of food and water.

On the night of 16 March – Shabbat HaGadol, the ‘great sabbath’ before Passover – the renowned Rabbi Yom Tov urged the trapped Jews to die by their own hands rather than face the brutality or false conversions awaiting them outside the tower. It fell to the men to slit the throats of their families before killing themselves. Before the killings began, they also set fire to their valuables and the tower. Some lived through the night and walked out in the hopes of being spared, only to be slaughtered. Historian Barrie Dobson, who published a definitive work on the massacre, called it “the most notorious anti-Jewish atrocity” in English history.

“The event became genocidal: step by step the Christian forces, or at least their leaders, began to seek an end to the Jewish community,” says Watson. “In later decades, violent riots, such as that in London in 1262, claimed more bodies. But there remains something peculiarly chilling about the York massacre. It can’t be attributed to an eruption or a riot, a world turned upside down. It took place over days there was deliberation behind the actions”. In a sign of this, the mob eventually left Clifford’s Tower and went to the Minster where they burned the records of any debts to the Jews.

“The crown’s response was swift. Royal agents were dispatched, inquests solicited testimony and ascribed guilt, fines were levied and names listed in the pipe rolls. The response was systematic and must have been intimidating theatre.”

News of the massacre travelled with equal swiftness and it was immortalised by Jewish and Christian writers alike. But, as Watson puts it: “The Christian world moved on even the perpetrators continued with their lives.”

Forgotten history

York’s Jewish community had been eradicated, but it recovered with surprising speed and was active again by the first decade of the 13th century.

Across England, though, hostility and persecution against the Jewish population intensified. Jews were taxed even more heavily faced ongoing accusations concerning the blood libel were imprisoned and murdered and Jews’ property and synagogues were damaged or confiscated. By the middle of the 13th century, every Jewish person over the age of seven was forced to wear an identifying badge on their clothes – usually yellow or white and depicting the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Laws restricted where Jews could live and their movements, and their influence as financiers dwindled. In 1275, after Edward I passed the Statute of the Jewry, they were prohibited from lending money altogether. Many were forced to resort to illegal coin clipping – trimming the edges of coins to melt down and make new coins. The number of Jews arrested rose dramatically, with more than 250 executed at the Tower of London in 1278. Many Jews chose to leave England in the hope of establishing lives elsewhere.

“Local expulsions had been happening for half a century but in July 1290, just over a century after the York massacre, Edward I expelled all Jews from England,” says Watson. Between 4,000 and 16,000 fled before the deadline of 1 November, and the few who remained had to convert or hide their true identity. Their formal readmission wasn’t until 1656.

York is a city shaped by many cultures and ethnic groups, yet it is striking to think about how much of the Jewish experience has been lost. Even here, on the site of a horrific pogrom, little evidence remains. Except, that is, for the plaque from 1978 and the poignant sight of the mound turned yellow by daffodils.

Sethina Watson is senior lecturer in medieval history at the University of York and co-editor of Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190 (2013). Words: Jonny Wilkes, freelance writer.

Jewish history: 3 more places to explore

Bevis Marks Synagogue, London

Where Jews have worshipped for 300 years

London boasted the largest Jewish community in medieval England, and its only Jewish cemetery until 1177. Bevis Marks Synagogue in Cheapside was built much later, in 1701, but has held regular services since, making it Britain’s oldest synagogue in continuous use. Inside is a spectacular Classical-style ark containing the Torah scrolls, and seven striking hanging brass candelabra.

Manchester Jewish Museum, Manchester

Where a synagogue became a museum

This building, completed in 1874, was formerly a synagogue for Spanish and Portuguese Jews, or Sephardim, who had been expelled from their countries and came to Britain. It is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Manchester and now serves as a museum about Jewish settlement in the area and the community over the last 200 years.

Princes Road Synagogue, Liverpool

Where synagogue architecture bloomed in spectacular fashion

Its size, splendour and lavish interior is why Princes Road Synagogue is considered one of the finest examples of Moorish Revival architectural style in Britain. Consecrated in 1874, it was designed by brothers William James and George Ashdown Audsley and can seat more than 800 people.


What happened during the Holocaust?

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah - which means "destruction" in Hebrew - is a genocide that was carried out largely during World War II, as Jews were targeted among other groups.

The Romani people, ethnic Poles, Soviet citizens, Soviet prisoners of war, political opponents, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses were also killed.

Any group which did not match the behaviour of the prescribed norms was targeted and subjected, often to torture and death.

The atrocity largely took place between 1941 and 1945, but the initial persecution started in 1933.

Concentration and extermination camps were commonplace under the Nazi regime, with Auschwitz among the largest and most iconic.

At that particular camp, an estimated 1.1 million people were killed - including 960,000 Jews - most commonly in gas chambers, starvation or disease.

There were early warning signs of this atrocity, when constitutions like the Nuremberg Laws were passed shortly after Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933.

These laws were aimed at excluding Jews and other minority groups from society, including segregation.

Violence towards these groups grew as further rules were enforced upon them, before the Night of the Broken Glass - Kristallnacht - saw attacks take place over an evening in November 1938.

Thousands of Jewish shops and synagogues were attacked and destroyed, while it ramped up additional rules as they were barred from most occupations.

The invasion of Poland in 1939 began the devastation that has since come to be known, with more than 42,000 camps and detention sites being set up.


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1190: Pogrom in York wipes out Jewish community

Richard's coronation was bad news for the Jews of England, who were barred from the ceremony, as were women. Jewish dignitaries who dared to defy the decree and showed up bearing gifts for the new monarch were stripped, whipped and banished from the court.

As they fled, rumors spread in London that the new king detested "infidels" and meant to kill them all, and a pogrom ensued. The Jews of London were plundered and murdered, their houses were burned down and some were baptized against their will. The mayhem that night spread to wealthy Christian households too, but nobody was ever held accountable.

As reports of the slaughter circulated, attacks on Jews spread to other English cities: some months later, on March 16, 1190, at the urging of their rabbi Yomtov of Joigney, some 500 Jews in York killed their families and selves rather than be forcibly converted or massacred by mobs. And indeed a handful of survivors surrendered to crusaders but were killed.

Better known as Richard the Lionheart and bearing a host of titles, the king actually ruled from July 6, 1189 until his death 10 years later, in 1199. He gained his name as a warrior from his youth, after taking command of an army and putting down rebellions against his father, King Henry II, at age 16. Though it bears noting that he himself had rebelled against his father, not once but twice.

Richard the Lionheart didn't actually live in England, let alone London. He also didn't actually speak much English, it appears. He dwelled in the Duchy of Aquitane in southwest France. But his famed heart lay in other lands entirely.

Richard was to become the leading commander of the Third Crusade after following in the path of his father, Henry II, and "taking the cross" in 1187, two years before his coronation. He allied with King Philip II of France – an alliance apparently based on mutual suspicion that if one was absent, the other would launch war on his land. He set off for the Holy Land in April 1191.

Though Richard all but emptied the kitty in pursuit of his aim, and did score victories against the Muslim armies headed by Saladin, including the capture of Acre, and though the kings vowed to retake Jerusalem from the Saracens – that was an ambition that was to go unfulfilled. In fact Richard himself was captured, by forces loyal to Henry VI, Emperor of Germany, on his way back from the Holy Land: he was only freed after ransom was paid.

Richard the Lionheart died on April 6, 1199 of gangrene caused by an arrow wound suffered while defending a castle in Limousin, France against rebels against his regime. One of his last acts was to forgive the boy who had shot the fatal arrow.


The Pogroms of 1189 and 1190

When Jewish persecution is discussed by historians, the Holocaust is almost always mentioned. The Holocaust eradicated 6 million Jews, reducing Europe’s pre-war Jewish population of 9.5 million in 1933 to 3.5 million in 1945. While the Holocaust possesses obvious historical significance and an incomparable impact on world Jewry, a series of events that occurred centuries before in medieval England are often overlooked by contemporary historians.

From 1189 to 1190, the anti-Jewish pogroms in London, York, and numerous other cities and towns displayed cruelty and barbarity never before seen by English Jews. Indeed, these acts of violence distinguished themselves as some of the worst atrocities committed against European Jews in the Middle Ages. If this is true, then what drove the English, who hadn’t previously committed acts of violence against the Jews, to kill their neighbours?

In order to understand the reason why the pogroms of 1189 and 1190 occurred, the early history of the Jews in England must be explained. Prior to 1066, no Jews were recorded living in the kingdom. However, during the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror brought England’s first Jews from Rouen, France. According to the Domesday Book, William wanted the government’s dues to be paid in coin, not by kind, and he saw the Jews as a nation of people who could supply him and the kingdom with coin. Therefore, William the Conqueror viewed the Jews as an important financial asset, one which could fund the kingdom’s ventures.


William I Penny

Following the arrival of the first Jews in England, they were not treated poorly by the English. King Henry I (r. 1100 – 1135) permitted all English Jews to travel freely without the burden of tolls or customs, the right to be tried by their peers in a court of law, and the right to swear on the Torah, among other liberties. Henry also declared a Jew’s oath to be worth that of 12 Christians, which showed the favour with which he treated England’s Jewry. However, during the reigns of King Stephen (r. 1135 – 1154) and Empress Matilda (r. 1141 – 1148), English Jews began to face more hostility from their Christian neighbors. Religious fervor fueled by the Crusades swept through England, causing many Christians to feel enmity towards the Jews. The first blood libel cases were reported in England during the 12th century and massacres of Jews almost broke out. Fortunately, King Stephen intervened to quell these violent outbursts and Jewish lives were spared.


The stone-built Jews House in Lincoln

During the reign of King Henry II (r. 1154 – 1189), English Jews prospered economically, with Aaron of Lincoln, a Jewish financier, becoming one of the richest men in all of England. Jews were able to build themselves houses of stone, a material which was usually reserved for palaces. Jews and Christians lived side by side, and clergymen from both religions often met together and debated theological issues. By the end of Henry II’s reign, however, increasing Jewish financial success had incurred the anger of the English aristocracy, and a rising desire to crusade among the kingdom’s populace proved to be deadly for England’s Jews.


Coronation of Richard I

The catalyst for the anti-Jewish violence in 1189 and 1190 was the coronation of King Richard I on September 3, 1189. In addition to Richard’s Christian subjects, many prominent English Jews arrived at Westminster Abbey to pay homage to their new king. However, many Christian Englishmen harbored superstitions against Jews being present at such a holy occasion, and the Jewish attendees were flogged and thrown out of the banquet following the coronation. After the incident at Westminster Abbey, a rumor spread that Richard had ordered the English to kill the Jews. Christians attacked the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Old Jewry, setting the Jews’ stone houses on fire at night and killing those who tried to escape. When news of the slaughter reached King Richard, he was outraged, but only managed to punish a few of the assailants because of their large numbers.

When Richard left on the Third Crusade, the Jews of the village of King’s Lynn attacked a Jew who converted to Christianity. A mob of seafarers rose up against Lynn’s Jews, burned down their houses, and killed many. Similar attacks occurred in the towns of Colchester, Thetford, Ospringe, and Lincoln. While their houses were ransacked, the Jews of Lincoln managed to save themselves by taking refuge in the city’s castle. On March 7, 1190, attacks in Stamford, Lincolnshire killed many Jews, and on March 18, 57 Jews were massacred in Bury St. Edmonds. However, the bloodiest of the pogroms took place from the 16th to the 17th of March in the city of York, staining its history forever.

The York Pogrom was, like the other instances of anti-Jewish violence before it, caused by the religious fervor of the Crusades. However, local noblemen Richard Malebisse, William Percy, Marmeduke Darell, and Philip de Fauconberg saw the pogrom as an opportunity to erase the large amount of debt they owed to Jewish moneylenders. The pogrom began when a mob burned the house of Benedict of York, a Jewish moneylender who died during the London pogrom, and killed his widow and children. York’s remaining Jews sought refuge in the town’s castle to escape the mob and convinced the castle’s warden to let them inside. However, when the warden requested to re-enter the castle, the frightened Jews refused, and local militiamen and noblemen besieged the castle. The anger of the English was fueled by the death of a monk, who was crushed by a stone when he approached the castle.


An internal view of Clifford’s Tower, York

The trapped Jews were distraught, and knew that they would either die at the hands of the Christians, starve to death, or save themselves by converting to Christianity. Their religious leader, Rabbi Yom Tov of Joigny, decreed that they should kill themselves rather than convert. Josce, the political leader of York’s Jews, began by killing his wife Anna and their two children. The father of every family followed this pattern, killing his wife and children before himself. Finally, Josce was slain by Rabbi Yom Tov, who then killed himself. The castle was set on fire to prevent Jewish bodies from being mutilated by the Christians, and many Jews perished in the flames. Those who did not follow Yom Tov’s orders surrendered to the Christians the following morning and were promptly massacred. After the massacre, Malebisse and the other nobles burned the debt records held in York’s Minister, ensuring that they would never pay back their Jewish financiers. At the end of the pogrom, 150 Jews were killed, and York’s entire Jewish community was eradicated.

The pogroms of 1189 and 1190 were catastrophic for England’s Jewish community. Vandalism, arson and massacres showed English Jews that the tolerance of their Christian neighbours was a thing of the past. The zeal of the Crusades stirred up a fanatical religiosity among the English populace, a sensation that drove people to commit atrocities in the name of Christ. Ultimately, the pogroms of 1189 and 1190 stand as cautionary tales of the dangers of religious extremism for if we fail to promote understanding between ourselves and those we consider to be different, violence will surely follow.


Trapped in the Tower

Inside the tower, trust between the Jews and the keeper broke down, and when he left the tower on other business, they refused to allow him back in. They had now challenged the king’s authority, and troops joined the mob outside, where they were pelted with stones from the castle walls by the besieged Jews.

Friday 16 March coincided with Shabbat Hagadol, the ‘Great Sabbath’ before the Jewish festival of Pesach or Passover. According to several accounts, the Jews realised that they could not hold out against their attackers, and rather than waiting to be killed or forcibly baptised, decided to meet death together. The father of each family killed his wife and children, before taking his own life.

Just before their deaths, they also set fire to the possessions they had brought with them this fire consumed the timber tower. It is not clear how many Jews were present – estimates range from 20 to 40 families, and a later account in Hebrew suggests about 150 people.

Image © Historic England (illustration by Peter Dunn)


In England, how many Jews died during the persecutions of the crusades during 1190-1200? - History

Crusaders had many motives for taking the cross, but it is fair to say that crusades to the Holy Land were characterized by the enthusiasm of participants about becoming soldiers of Christ to reconquer for Christendom the land that Jesus Christ had inhabited as a human being. It is hardly surprising, then, that such a movement should have had grave repercussions for the Jews of Europe when crusades were preached and crusading armies gathered before departing for the East.

The call to crusade by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095 was far more successful than anyone could have envisaged. Besides the princely armies, bands of unofficial armies gathered in northeastern France, Lotharingia, Flanders, and the Rhineland. These armies constituted what are commonly called the popular, or People&rsquos Crusades because they included poor men and women and undisciplined children, although many of their leaders, such as Emicho, count of Flonheim, were far from lowly in status, while many participants were men of military skill and experience. These armies left for the Holy Land in spring and early summer 1096, before the departure of the princely armies in August, choosing a land route to the East that took them through cities along the Rhine and Moselle that contained flourishing Jewish communities. Their encounters with these Jewish communities resulted in the first well-documented major attack on Jews by Christians in medieval Europe (excluding the persecutions in seventh-century Visigothic Spain). The chronicler Guibert of Nogent (d. c. 1125) writes about an attack on the Jews of Rouen, and Hebrew material relates that northern French Jewry sent warning letters to the Jews of Mainz about the impending danger. It seems that the Jews in Germany were able to meet any demands early French crusaders made on them for supplies. In the Rhineland, deaths started occurring when German crusaders together with burgesses attacked the Jews Speyer is portrayed as the first scene of trouble, but the disorganized nature of the attack made it relatively easy for Bishop John to come to the aid of the Jews, and only a few Jews died.

Crusaders murdering Jewish citizens.

It is important to emphasize that murdering Jews or forcing them to convert ran against official church law. Accord ing to St. Augustine of Hippo&rsquos maxim of Testimonium ver- itatis (witness to the truth), Jews were granted a place in Christian society in order to function as witnesses to the truth of Christianity. They were seen as the bearers of the books of the Hebrew Bible, which contained the prophecies concerning the birth, life, and Passion of Christ. Nor were episcopal leaders of towns keen to risk public disorder by accommodating hordes of crusaders. The archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne and the bishop of Worms all tried to protect the Jews of their cities from harm, and, in many cases, Christian neighbors initially offered help, too. Yet as the weeks went by, help from the burgesses seems to have diminished, and many joined the crusaders in their attacks on Jews when skirmishes claimed Christian casualties, bishops seemed unable or unwilling to restrain the crowds. In Worms the attacks by crusaders, burgesses, and inhabitants of surrounding villages seem to have been more organized. Jews who chose to stay at home were murdered or forcibly baptized those who had taken refuge in the bishop&rsquos palace were besieged and eventually overcome many chose to slaughter themselves and their children in sanctification of God&rsquos name (Heb. kiddush ha-Shem).

The Jews of Mainz were subjected to concentrated attack by Emicho of Flonheim, supported by burgesses who had opened the city gates to his forces on 27 May 1096. Emicho first besieged the palace of Archbishop Ruothard where many Jews had taken refuge, and after their armed resistance failed, many Jews martyred themselves. Those who had fled to the palace of the burgrave met a similar fate. The Jews of Cologne were sent by Archbishop Hermann III to seven surrounding villages for safety, but during June they were hunted down by crusaders. Trier had been visited by Peter the Hermit and his army in April 1096. The Jews there successfully bribed him to go on his way without harming them, but after his departure the townspeople turned on them. When in June the attackers were joined by burgesses from other towns who had travelled to Trier to attend a market, Archbishop Engilbert was not strong enough to protect the Jews, who were forcibly baptized. Jews were also forcibly converted in Metz and Regensburg. In the wake of the crusade Emperor Henry IV (1056-1106) allowed Jews who had been forcibly baptized to revert to Judaism. His leniency in this matter was, in fact, contrary to canon law although forced baptism was prohibited, anyone who had been baptized was considered to be a Christian.

That far fewer Jews died during the Second Crusade (1147-1149) was partly due to the timely intervention of the Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, who stopped the inflammatory anti-Jewish preaching of the Cistercian monk Ralph. Reminding his audience of the Augustinian principle, Bernard stressed that Jews should not be harmed because, unlike the Muslims, they had not attacked Christendom. In addition, Bernard expressed the fear that if there were fewer Jews, the numbers of Christian usurers would increase. Bernard used the word judaize for the concept of lending money on interest. In his bull Quantum praedecessores (1145), Pope Eugenius III had legislated that crusaders should not be charged interest on their loans by Christian moneylenders. Encouraged by Bernard, King Louis VII of France probably extended this rule to Jewish loans as well, causing great financial hardship to the Jews involved. Besides incidental local attacks on Jews, twenty-two Jews are reported to have been killed in Würzburg in February 1147 after they had been accused of having murdered a Christian found in the River Main. The crusaders began to venerate the Christian as a martyr.

In the run-up to the Third Crusade (1189-1192), Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa curtailed anti-Jewish violence in the Rhineland. But great loss of life occurred in England, where the crusades had so far not exacted Jewish casualties. Anti- Jewish riots accompanied the coronation of King Richard I in September 1189 in London. In the absence of the king, who was preparing to go on crusade, the riots spread to Norwich, King&rsquos Lynn, Bury St. Edmunds, Stamford, Lincoln, and York. In March 1190 the Jews of York took refuge in the city&rsquos castle, but through a series of misunderstandings lost the support of local royal officials and were attacked by the sheriff and his knights. The inhabitants of York joined in the attack and soon took over. As the castle burned, most of the Jews took their own lives in sanctification of God&rsquos name, while those escaping the castle were butchered. Immediately following the carnage, the rioters destroyed evidence of all debts to Jews, which was kept in York Minster. During later crusades, major incidents of physical violence against Jews were by and large prevented by those in authority. An exception is the Second Shepherds&rsquo Crusade (1320), which caused many casualties in the Jewish communities of France to the south of the Loire. Many Jews were also forcibly converted.

Why did crusaders persecute Jews? The Hebrew material together with the evidence of Guibert of Nogent says plainly that crusaders in 1096 wondered why they should march to Jerusalem to wreak vengeance on the Muslims when so many Jews lived in their midst, whom they considered guilty of crucifying Jesus Christ. They decided they should avenge themselves on the Jews before doing anything else. The chronicler known as Annalisto Saxo echoes this in the midtwelfth century. Indeed the call to crusade was permeated with calls to avenge Christ for all the dishonors heaped upon him by the Muslims. These calls echoed contemporary views concerning vendettas and family honor. It seems that the call for vengeance was all too easily transferred from Muslims to Jews. Economic reasons were also given for the persecutions. Greed is often mentioned, as, for example, by the German chronicler Albert of Aachen in the context of the First Crusade. The Hebrew First Crusade sources dwell on this theme, reporting that the Jews tried to bribe their way to safety and also that crusaders preyed on Jewish goods. The role of greed must reflect to a large extent the simple fact that the bands of the popular crusade had started their march to Jerusalem before the harvest of 1096. Even more than other crusading armies, they were dependent on alms, extortion, or plunder for their survival. Perhaps it was felt right that Jews, who were considered to be the enemies of Christ, should be made to finance the crusade.

Edict of King Louis VII of France banishing relapsed Jews from the kingdom, 1144-1145. Musee de l&rsquoHistoire de France aux Archives Nationales, Paris, France. (Réunion des Musées Nationaux/ArtResource)

Economic themes increased in importance during the Second and Third Crusades, as crusaders turned more and more to moneylenders to finance their undertaking. As papal strictures dried up the Christian supply of crusading loans, more and more crusaders turned to Jewish finance. By the midtwelfth century ill feeling toward Jewish money lending had already increased. Abbot Peter the Venerable of Cluny wrote a scathing letter in 1146 to Louis VII of France, damning the Jews for their engagement in usury and specifying that they should bear the cost of the crusade. Bernard&rsquos use of the word judaize for lending money on interest exemplifies how, in the minds of some, usury was somehow the special forte of Jews, despite the fact that Christian usurers abounded. All of these factors reflect contemporary tensions caused by a booming economy in areas of Europe unused to rapid and widespread economic growth, coupled with ecclesiastical qualms about the morality of pursuing wealth. For various theological reasons, Jews were identified with greed and were used as scapegoats for unloading feelings of guilt about engaging in a profit economy. There was also a growing tendency in northern Europe to restrict most Jewish economic activity to money lending. By the time of the Third Crusade, Jews were important figures in crusade finance, while the royal government in England closely controlled and supported Jewish money lending. When Richard I ascended the throne, he did not curtail the right of Jewish moneylenders to collect interest on loans to crusaders. The events in York must reflect at least in part how explosive an issue this turned out to be.

Interconnected with different kinds of economic motives and the motive for revenge was the fact that enthusiasm for late eleventh- and twelfth-century crusading seems to have interacted with growing empathy for the figure of Jesus Christ and his mother. Theological tracts, monastic devotional tracts, miracle stories of the Virgin, artistic representations of the suffering Christ, and mystery plays in churches all attest to this trend. These manifestations are part of a society that was in the process of becoming more Christianized, a process that seemed to make it harder and harder to accommodate Jews, who were increasingly identified as Christ- killers. Part and parcel of this trend was the spiritual aspect of crusade preaching, which exhorted Christians to purify their own society so that they could be assured of divine assistance. This need for purification became especially important as crusading became less and less successful.

The persecutions of the Jews in 1096 obviously left their mark on medieval Jewry, but they should not be seen as a watershed in Jewish history. It is not true that after 1096 we can only speak of Jewish decline. On the contrary, the Hebrew sources for the First Crusade reveal a vibrant community fully in touch with its non-Jewish surroundings. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries display enormous advances in Jewish learning and spirituality in Ashkenaz (northern Europe) as well as in Sefarad (southern Europe). Nor is it true that relations between Christians and Jews were unequivocally positive before 1096. The history of medieval Christian-Jewish relations involves a range of complex and ambiguous ideas, which interact with diverse political, socioeconomic, religious, and cultural circumstances at any given time or place. What the persecutions of 1096 do show are early signals of the kinds of problem that could arise when Jews were faced with a Christian movement so replete with anti-Jewish motifs. The persecutions during the Second and Third Crusades reveal the growing importance of economic features, but anti-Jewish crusading violence is only one of the many factors that need to be considered when charting the course of Jewish history in medieval Europe.


The Jews of medieval England

Jewish people first began arriving in England following the Norman Conquest in 1066 and their histories can be traced in the country’s major cities today. Through the story of a bronze cauldron known as the Bodleian Bowl, historian Rebecca Abrams explores the experiences of Jews in medieval England, from prosperity to persecution…

This competition is now closed

Published: February 27, 2019 at 9:00 am

Jewish communities spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean world from the first century AD, but it was not until the 11th century that Jewish people in any significant number began to cross the Channel and settle in England. This magnificent bronze cauldron, from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (pictured below), is intimately bound up with the story of how the Jews first came to England in 1070, and what happened to them during the next 200 years before they were abruptly expelled from the country in 1290.

Known as the Bodleian Bowl, it was discovered at the end of the 17th century in a disused moat in Norfolk, and remained shrouded in mystery for several hundred years. It was bought in 1742 by Dr Richard Rawlinson, who bequeathed it to the University of Oxford on his death in 1755. Standing almost 25cm high and weighing in at a hefty 5kg, the bowl has a long Hebrew inscription encircling the rim and is impressively decorated with hoof-shaped feet, birds, flowers, stags and fleurs-de-lys. The bowl’s value and importance were beyond doubt, but who owned it, what it was for and how it ended up in a Norfolk moat resisted answers for a long time.

The Marquis of Northampton, writing in 1696, thought the bowl “a great mystery” and described it as a “rabbinical porridge pot”, intended by its users to symbolise the biblical pot of manna. Other theories were that it might have been used by rabbis to wash their hands during ritual observance, or to hold water during the preparation of the dead for burial. It is now generally agreed that it was in all likelihood used to collect charitable donations. The Hebrew inscription also puzzled scholars with its tantalising mixture of abbreviations, missing letters and words without clear meaning. A credible translation for the inscription reads:

“This is the gift of Joseph, son of the Holy Rabbi Yechiel, may the memory of the righteous holy one be for a blessing, who answered and asked the congregation as he desired, in order to behold the face of Ariel as it is written in the Law of Jekuthiel, And righteousness delivers from death.”

Property deeds and other documents, which came to light in the 19 th century, revealed that Joseph was a leading member of the Jewish community in Colchester in the 13 th century, and the eldest son of Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, a leading Talmudic scholar in 13 th -century France and head of the renowned Paris yeshiva. Joseph had spent time in prison (we don’t know for what, exactly) and on his release made a vow to emigrate to the Holy Land, an intention he began to realise in around 1257. Before his departure, Joseph put his affairs in order, transferred his property in Stockwell Street, Colchester to his brother Samuel and presented the bowl as a gift to the local Jewish community, possibly to thank them for raising money to help fund his journey. Joseph left England in 1260, either with his father, or possibly after his father’s death, travelling first to France and Greece, then on to Palestine, where he subsequently died. He was buried not far from Haifa in a graveyard at the foot of Mount Carmel, alongside many other eminent rabbis.

The origins of the Jewish community in medieval England

The bowl’s decorative features, its owners and their connections with France reflect the origins of the Jewish community in medieval England, which came originally from Rouen in Normandy. Actively encouraged by William the Conqueror, who was keen to foster trade between the two countries, Norman Jews began arriving in England soon after the Norman Conquest. They spoke a form of medieval French in their daily life and studied Torah with the help of French translations. They also frequently had French names, such as Bonami, Bonafoy, Deulecresse and Joiette. Rabbi Joseph of Colchester was also known by the splendid name of Messire Delicieux.

For the next century, Jews flourished in England, forming settled communities in many towns and cities, including Norwich, Oxford, Hull, Lincoln and York. Highly literate and numerate, especially compared to the general population of medieval England, their opportunities for employment were nevertheless very restricted, but they played a vital part in the economic life of the country as financiers and moneylenders, the main occupations they were permitted to practise and which were forbidden to Christians.

One of the oldest Jewish communities in England was in Oxford, where Jews had begun to settle as early as 1075. Over the next two centuries they grew steadily in number, wealth and influence, owning some impressive stone properties in and around Great Jewry St (now St Aldate’s.) At its peak, between 1170 and 1220, the medieval Jewish population of Oxford consisted of around 100 people in a city of about 2,000, and owned perhaps as many as 100 to 150 properties. The graceful vaulted stone ceilings of one of these medieval Jewish homes has survived to this day and can be viewed in the current Town Hall. Archaeological excavations in 2015 from the old Jewish quarter included vessels that had been used for smelting metals, supporting theories that the Oxford Jewish community was involved in both the procurement of bullion for the Royal Mint and the actual production of coins. Earlier excavations revealed that houses in the Jewish quarter were connected by underground passageways, possibly designed for the safe traffic of money to and from the castle mint.

Jewish landlords and property owners also played a significant role in the establishment of the university. Merton College, one of the earliest colleges in Oxford, was established in the 1260s with the help of a wealthy local Jew named Jacob of Oxford, who was instrumental in the purchase and even the purpose-built designs of some of the buildings. Balliol College and Christ Church were also endowed with properties that were originally owned by the city’s medieval Jews. Cash-strapped students, meanwhile, would often pawn their books to local Jewish moneylenders in order to fund their drinking sprees and other expenses. In 1244, so many books were held in pawn that a riot broke out. The chancellor of Oxford, Robert Grosseteste, banned all further contact between Jewish pawnbrokers and the students, and set up a university-run loan chest, called St Frideswide Chest, to enable students to borrow money without jeopardising their studies.

As private tutors, local Jews also assisted the university’s students and scholars in their study of Hebrew texts. The Franciscan philosopher Roger Bacon (c1220–92), who spent many years of his life in Oxford, not only wrote with genuine admiration about Jews, but was an excellent Hebraist and, in all likelihood, was personally acquainted with members of the Jewish community and may have worked with respected Jewish scholars, such as Jacob of Oxford. One unnamed Christian deacon, who was taking Hebrew lessons with an Oxford Jew in the early 13 th century, fell so in love with his tutor’s daughter that he had himself circumcised and converted to Judaism in order to marry her, for which on 17 April 1222, he was found guilty of apostasy and burnt at the stake at Osney Abbey.

The relationship between Christian Hebraists and Jewish scholars appears in several cases to have been a close one in the 12 th and 13 th centuries, with evidence of English Christians, such as Herbert of Bosham (c1120–94) and Ralph Niger (1140s–c1199), studying Hebrew texts and working with Jewish scholars for assistance with their study of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Bible) and the Vulgate (Latin Bible). A number of medieval manuscripts have survived in which the Hebrew text of the Bible has been painstakingly translated, with the Latin written word for word above the Hebrew in places to create a bilingual edition, enabling the two versions to be directly compared.

Taxed by the monarchy

Jews in medieval England were legally the personal property of the king and came under royal protection. As wards of the crown, they had the freedom of the king’s highways and, as royally protected financiers, they participated to some degree in court affairs. But they were also subject to heavy taxation. At the end of the 12th century, the Jewish community made up less than 0.25 per cent of the English population, but was providing 8 per cent of the total income of the royal treasury. During the 12th and 13th century, extra taxes levied on the Jewish community, as well as assets confiscated from wealthy individuals, helped to fund the Christian crusades and the construction and expansion of many of England’s finest churches and cathedrals, among them Norwich Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London.

As long as the Jews had money (and no competition from other moneylenders), they were a valuable source of income and could rely on royal protection. But the medieval Jewish community was exceptionally vulnerable to the caprices of individual monarchs. The battling royal cousins Matilda and Stephen repeatedly imposed exorbitant additional taxes called tallages on the Jews, in part to fund their internecine civil war. Richard I (reigned 118999) not only used the Jews to finance his 1189 crusade, but also forced them to pay the enormous sum needed for his ransom when he blundered into captivity on his way home.

In Richard’s absence, his brother John taxed the Jews relentlessly, and took this practice to a new level when he in turn became king. Having bankrupted the country with his disastrous campaign against the French, in 1210 John imposed crushing taxes on his only remaining source of funds: his Jewish wards. Punishments for non-payment included confiscation of goods and property, severe fines, and collective imprisonment. Entire communities of men, women and children, young and old, were locked up on numerous occasions. Desperate to keep his rebellious barons on side, the king allowed them to plunder whatever Jewish assets they pleased. Under John’s son Henry III (r 121672) and grandson Edward I (reigned 12721307), the situation deteriorated still further.

The rise of anti-Jewish hostility

Fuelled by zeal for the crusades and resentment of the Jews’ special status and presumed wealth, physical assaults on Jews escalated from the middle of the 12 th century. As moneylenders, Jews were despised and came to be hated by the very people who relied upon their services. In 1190, a violent riot erupted against the Jews of York, and the entire Jewish community was forced to take refuge in the castle, where they eventually committed suicide en masse rather than fall into the hands of the murderous townsmen. Other attacks took place in London, Norwich and King’s Lynn. Around this time a new papal decree obliged Jews across Europe to wear an identifying badge to distinguish them from other citizens. In England, it was ordained that “every Jew shall wear on the front of his dress tablets or patches of cloth four inches long by two inches wide, of some colour other than that of the rest of his garment”. This usually took the form of a white or yellow badge signifying the two tablets of Moses.

The most pernicious form of anti-Jewish hostility in medieval England was the blood libel, the accusation that Jews were murdering Christian children as part of their Passover rituals. The allegation was made for the first time in 1144 in Norwich, then home to one of the oldest and richest Jewish communities in England, after the mutilated body of a young man called William was found in woodland near the city. No evidence was found to connect Jews to William’s death, nor were any Jews in Norwich found guilty of the crime. But six years later, in 1149, the allegation was resurrected during the trial of a Christian knight called Sir Simon de Novers. Newly returned from the Second Crusade and deeply in debt, de Novers was accused of murdering a local Jewish banker to whom he owed money.

In itself, the murder of a Jew in medieval England was hardly ground-breaking news, but as Jews were chattels of the king, the crime had to be prosecuted. As there was the clear evidence that de Novers had arranged the murder, the outcome of the trial was generally assumed to be a done deal. What turned the case into a high-profile spectacle was the defence mounted at the trial by Bishop William Turbe on the knight’s behalf. The bishop’s audacious line of argument was that, “we Christians should not have to answer in this manner to the accusation of the Jews, unless they are first cleared of the death of our Christian boy, of which they are themselves known to have been previously accused and have not yet been purged”. In other words, Simon de Novers should not be punished for killing a Jew until the Jews had been collectively punished for killing William.

In the event, no ruling was reached, the case was adjourned, and the guilty knight walked free. However in 1150, Thomas of Monmouth, a young monk at Norwich Cathedral, decided to make a martyr of William. In his book, The Life and Passion of William of Norwich, Thomas presented the Jews not just as William’s killers (despite not a shred of evidence to support this assertion) but as insatiable for Christian blood in general. The myth of the blood libel rapidly took hold in Christian imagination from then on. Whenever a Christian child died accidentally or in some unexplained manner, the Jews were likely to find themselves accused. This resulted in massacres in Bury St Edmunds in 1181, Bristol in 1183, Winchester in 1192, London in 1244 and Lincoln in 1255. In the French town of Blois in 1170 it was the excuse for executing 30 entirely innocent Jews, 17 of them women, some pregnant, others holding young children in their arms, all burned to death in the building where they had been locked.

Poverty and despair

By the time Rabbi Joseph left Colchester in 1260, the Jewish community in England was sunk in poverty and despair. The ban on Christian usury had recently been lifted, Jews were facing stiff competition from non-Jewish moneylenders, and the beleaguered crown had less reason to stick its neck out to defend them. Stripped of their assets, the Jews were deprived of the means to earn a livelihood and increasingly afraid for their personal safety. Between 1263 and 1267, the combined forces of England’s barons and gentry (the two groups most indebted to moneylenders) attacked one English Jewish community after another, murdering many of their inhabitants under the guise of waging war on the crown. In addition, they put huge pressure on the king to introduce increasingly oppressive restrictions on the Jews. In 1269 new laws were passed forbidding Jews from owning land or property other than their own homes or those rented to other Jews, and confiscating all their assets when they died. Jewish children were no longer allowed to inherit from their parents and, from 1275 on, Jews were banned from lending money.

The end was now in sight. With almost no way to earn a living, some resorted in desperation to illegal options. In 1278, 293 Jews were found guilty of coin-clipping and hanged at the Tower of London. A heart-rending poem, written by Rabbi Meir of Norwich, expresses the dreadful plight of the Jewish community at this time:

Forced away from where we dwelt

We go like cattle to the slaughter

A slayer stands above us all.

On 18 July 1290, just 30 years after Joseph had left for the Holy Land, Edward I issued an edict expelling the entire Jewish population from the country in return for a huge grant from his knights and barons of 150,000 marks to support his war against the Scots. Any Jew remaining in the country after All Saints’ Day (1 November) of that year did so on pain of death. Between 4,000 and 16,000 Jews fled to the continent. Many returned to northern France or moved to countries such as Poland, where Jews were still legally protected. A small number remained, either by converting to Christianity or concealing their identity and religion. England was the first European country to expel its Jewish population but in the following centuries France, Spain, Portugal and others would follow suit.

In the space of just two centuries, the Jewish community in medieval England arrived, thrived and was systematically demolished. Encouraged to come to the country, they were then despicably abused, exploited as cash cows by the crown, mercilessly stripped of everything they had worked so hard to create, and finally forced from the towns and cities they had come to regard as home. For the next 350 years, Jews were officially banned from England.

A small number remained in the country, however, either as crypto-Jews or as converts to Christianity. Small communities of Spanish and Portuguese conversos in London and Bristol were tolerated by both Henry VIII and Edward VI. Many of the foreign musicians in the Tudor and Elizabethan court, notably the Lupos and Bassanos, were most probably also originally or covertly Jewish. In 1655, the position of Jews in England was transformed when Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel of Amsterdam delivered his famous petition to the Council of State, requesting their readmission. Oliver Cromwell supported the petition and established that no actual law forbade readmission, thus paving the way for Jews to return to the country.

The frantic exodus that must have followed the king’s edict in July 1290 may explain how the Bodleian Bowl found its way to the bottom of a moat in Norfolk. Perhaps it was dropped by accident during the fear-fuelled dash for the coast. Or perhaps it was intentionally hidden in the moat, in the hope it might be retrieved at some point in the future. Whatever the answer, the Bodleian Bowl is a poignant relic of England’s medieval Jewish community, a reminder of its technical accomplishments, commercial savvy, religious piety and enormous financial contribution to the country. It stands as a symbol of the fluctuating fortunes of the Jews in the Middle Ages, not only in England, but in the medieval diaspora as a whole.

This article is extracted from The Jewish Journey: 4000 years in 22 objects from the Ashmolean Museum by Rebecca Abrams, with a foreword by Simon Schama (published by the Ashmolean Museum, £15.

This article was first published by History Extra in February 2018


A Jew Walks into Buckingham Palace

I could feel the crunch of gravel under my shoes as I trekked through Lower Grosvenor Place towards the front gates of the Palace. Similar to the warm embrace of a foot massage, I let my body surrender to this therapeutic treat. My mind momentarily drifted to the days I’d visit my granny Gertrude, and the winding gravel path in front of her Hampstead flat, lined with clusters of fragrant flowers, carefree butterflies, laboring bees, and singing birds as though I had an appointment for tea with a grand fairy, rather than my granny. Although tea with granny fifty years ago was as delightful as a fairy tale.

And then it suddenly dawned on me that I had arrived at Buckingham Palace for tea with The Queen. These types of tea parties were a tradition that Queen Victoria initiated in the 1860s. So how did Ilana K. Levinsky get an invitation for tea with Her Majesty?

“Come along inside . . .
We’ll see if tea and buns can make the world a better place”
(Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows).

I was not alone, there were thousands of other guests, a sea of pastel fascinators and floral prints, even a few lemons. But I ignored them all. When I received my invitation from the Palace, all I envisioned was The Queen and I sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits, so why let a few other people interfere with such perfect imagery.

Once inside the gates, I stood in front of the Palace—a house of monarchs since the 17 hundreds—and my feet refused to budge. This was not my first encounter with sites of historic significance in England in fact, I had visited castles, churches, and palaces many times before but on this particular occasion the idea that I was a guest at the Palace triggered a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. You see, the treatment of Jews in England throughout its history is not part of the normal discourse England has not really confronted that past. Nowadays, some Jewish history is included in the Tower of London tours and the Church of England did apologize 850 years after the fact for the blood libel of Little Saint Hugh. But you have to understand that today’s anti-Semitism in England has deep-seated roots, otherwise how would you explain thundering chants of “F#ck the Jews, f#ck their mothers, rape their daughters” or an effigy of a grotesque-looking Jew parading along Finchly Road in the latest anti-Israel protest a few weeks ago.

The late Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Sir Jonathan Sacks had said: “German Fascism came and went. Soviet Communism came and went. Anti-Semitism came and stayed” (Robert Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession, Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, p. 62).

Spot the Jew

We were escorted through the Palace, and coasted through long hallways with tall ceilings, countless paintings, and gold-coated furniture until we reached the gardens. My head bobbed up and down and from side to side in an effort to scan every single object in sight, without being too obvious about it. I thought, wow, surrounding me is a backdrop that depicts civility and all-things English: The Queen’s residence and administrative headquarters. But how many people realize that so many important buildings in England were also a testament to Jewish history in Medieval England, structures that have stood the test of time unlike the countless Jewish souls that were buried among brick and mortar, and forever erased from people’s consciousness. These grand architectural sites also serve as a vignette of physical clues that unmask the unique treatment of Jews by their fellow countrymen. Would this close encounter with the Palace trigger the same thoughts in any other Jews who were there sipping tea and hoping for a chance to say “How do you do?” in their best vernacular. It’s difficult to detect Jews these days, so who knows. However, the Fourth Lateren Council of 1215 made it much easier to spot the Jew after Pope Innocent III initiated a new law that required all Jews to wear a tabula (two cloth rectangles that symbolized the tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai). Muslims and heretics were also forced to wear their own distinguishing markings.

Now my focus shifted to the splendor of the emerald green that encompassed the gardens that we were allowed to roam. The fragrance of blooming flowers and shrubs filled the air with the scent of summer, and I was sure that I saw a fairy or two dance among the petals. About an hour later, the military band played the National Anthem and God Save The Queen. The Queen was finally among us! My phone buzzed and although I was warned that Her Majesty disliked phones, I answered the call—most guests had their phones out anyway. “Remember what happened to us twenty-two years ago at the Palace?” said Maya and I chuckled. How could I forget that day when my daughter and I were walking by Buckingham Palace and noticed a gathering outside the gates. We approached the crowd and learned that The Queen was about to inspect the Sandhurst Cadets. Maya was so excited to see a real live queen but when I pointed out the woman wearing green from head to toe, her face soured. “She’s ugly!” said my little one. Oh my goodness, the looks from people within an ear-shot away their glaring eyes poked us like sticks, and we had to slink our way out of there. She was only six years old and thought that all queens must have long hair, flowing gowns, and sparkling crowns. You can’t blame me for her attitude, if anything, blame Disney!

I Beg Your Pardon

“Hello.” A soft, familiar voice tickled my ear but it wasn’t granny, not mine anyway.

“Oh!” I curtsied and casually slipped my phone in my flowery dress pocket. I was surprised that The Queen approached me because I was not preselected for a chat.

She stretched out her hand and said, “How are you?” as though we were old friends.

“I’m fine, thank you—it’s surreal, the whole experience, all lovely—and the garden is certainly a place to sit and reflect.”

“I agree, it’s a lovely lovely day,” said The Queen as she withdrew from me to continue her stop-and-chats with other guests.

The Queen immediately stopped in her tracks—there’s nothing wrong with her hearing. Ugh, I should’ve just kept my mouth shut. Her sapphire eyes smiled at me patiently. Whatever, I’ll go ahead and speak my mind, it’s not as though she can send me to the Tower of London or expel me, I thought.

“Well, you see I look at this palace and everything it represents is the epitome of dignity, remarkable pomp and ceremony and centuries-old traditions. But all this grandeur was made possible because of Jewish contributions to the Crown a thousand years ago.”

The Queen maintained a neutral expression and didn’t say one word, but I had to push didn’t I.

“Unfortunately they were not treated very kindly—their history in this country includes torture, expropriation, extortion, forced conversions, scapegoating of high-profiled individuals, pogroms, restrictive statutes, extra taxes, tallages (royal taxes), and expulsion.”

I wondered what other people said to The Queen, whether it was always fluff and drivel she had probably grown tired of hearing after decades of tea parties, scones, and finger sandwiches.

“I mean, take Licorcia and her husband David of Oxford, it’s their money that built most of Westminster Abbey.”

“You must understand that England had always appreciated the Jews’ contribution. It was the reason we afforded them special protection,” said The Queen.

“I doubt that Licorcia Benedict felt very protected when she and her infant son were sent to the Tower of London shortly after her husband’s death in 1244. While there, King Henry III seized all of her late husband’s property—their home at St. Aldates was transformed into the Royal House of Converts, and he used their money to rebuild the Abbey and create the shrine of Edward the Confessor. The beautiful, ornate Cosmati mosaic pavement was paid for by Licorcia and David of Oxford. This is where royals are crowned!”

I could not believe I said this to The Queen. I expected two of her guards to grab me by the arms, drag me across the pristine grass, and banish me from the Palace for life. So, imagine my surprise when things turned out differently, almost in a dreamlike sequence.

“I can assure you that kings and queens do not always act on their own volition,” she explained.

“I beg your pardon.” I took a deep breath, unsure of how best to utilize my limited time with Her Majesty without breaking protocol. “William the Conqueror brought the first group of Jews from Normandy in 1066 and settled them in England for one purpose alone—he needed their cash to fulfill his expansive building projects of abbeys, cathedrals, palaces as well as funding his wars. They had international connections, which meant access to cash! But Jews were also considered the property of the Crown and for this reason their position was always tenuous.”

“They were also favored by the Crown,” she said while hugging her pink purse closer to her body. “As wards of the Crown they received the Charter of Liberties—of course, this gave them access to the Tower of London and various castles for their protection in time of need, and mind you, the early monarchs were just as cruel to each other as they were to anyone else.”

Protection Money and the Crown

It took me a minute to collect my thoughts I mean, how does one argue with The Queen? But was she kidding the Jews paid 4000 marks for that contract, not that they had a choice—the Crown’s so called protection was nothing more than a racket, England was the birthplace of the first blood libel, and this twisted, malevolent lie about Jews had brainwashed humanity for millennia. The list of imaginary crimes committed by Jews is as old as the first English penny apparently Jews were a busy lot, they engaged in ritual crucifixion, desecration of the host, black magic, profiting from usury and coin clipping—so it’s no surprise that Christians were warned against fraternizing with this rapacious lot of evil doers.

The belief that Jews engaged in ritual murder of Christian children has never left us—it was just as prevalent when England expelled all of its Jews and remained Jew-free for 300 years. During this time the malevolent Jew was immortalized in famous works of art, literature, poetry, plays, and blown into stained glass windows even during reformation and counter-reformation, and European enlightenment. This type of history helped facilitate stereotypes of money-hungry and bloodthirsty Jews, which then slithered right into the modern era and adapted to a new form of antisemitism—ideological and political Judeophobia. Although we get the mutated brand of antisemitism, it is just as toxic as religious-based antisemitism. Every single time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the forefront of the news, what do you know, the same ancient themes pop up in political cartoons. They are attached to Israeli soldiers and Israeli leaders, and you see this in Egyptian papers as well as European news outlets. In 2003, The Independent newspaper featured a cartoon by Dave Brown of Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a child eater. In spite of complaints that were filed, it went on to receive the Cartoon Society’s “Political Cartoon of the year award.” The award was presented by former Labor Party cabinet minister Clare Short.

This is one of many examples. You then find celebrities such as Mohamed Hadid, his daughter Bella Hadid, and singer Dua Lipa reposting these types of pernicious cartoons, and even after they delete said posts, due to public pressure, no worries, the damage has already been done. And they know this all too well!

But why why why why did I have to raise these grievances with The Queen, and during her annual tea party of all places. Why could I not keep my mouth shut or perhaps just stuff it with some Victoria sponge or a lemon cream tart, and enjoy myself during this once-in-a lifetime occasion. Well, hmmm, not sure but maybe it had something to do with the latest explosion of anti-Semitic rhetoric, and there was that one particular thread on social media that labeled me an unscholarly ethno-racist/ethnic supremacist after I had commented on an article that marginalized the Jews’ experience of the Crusades. These folks bombarded me with comments they argued that the Church had never persecuted Jews and that Jews were a non-entity at that stage, they had long disappeared from the Holy Land. I said that the Crusades were the defining moment in the demise of Jewish-Christian relations because preceding every Crusade there were pogroms against Jews all over Europe. And it was no different when King Richard I joined the Third Crusade to fight against Saladin in the Holy Land (1189), more massacres were inflicted upon the Jews of England and the Continent prior to the invasion of Jerusalem. The whole experience fatigued me. It also depressed me. Why do Jews always find themselves having to prove their history, their existence? Was there not enough proof already? I felt a slow pull on my feet as if they were being sucked into quicksand I read comments about my imaginary Jewish problem and my perennial victimization syndrome.

A lusterless protrusive eye
Stares from the protozoic slime
At a perspective of Canaletto.
The smoky candle end of time
Declines. On the Rialto once
The rats are underneath the piles.
The jew is underneath the lot.
Money in furs. The boatman smiles

(T.S. Elliot, Burbank With Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar, 1920)

Medieval England was a Nightmare for Jews

Ah, okay, is this what The Queen meant when she mentioned protection—was she talking about King Richard’s Coronation Banquet that also resulted in a killing spree. When a group of Jewish leaders arrived at the Abbey to pay their respects to the new King, they were flogged by a slaughterous crowd. The attack extended to the Old Jewry, a predominantly Jewish area in London—some of the lucky ones managed to seek refuge in The Tower of London. These mobs continued to massacre Jews and plunder their property all across the kingdom, reaching King’s Lynn, Colchester, Thetford, Ospringe, and Lincoln. Benedict of York was among the Jews outside the Abbey he was an agent of Aaron of Lincoln who was a community leader and one of the wealthiest Jews in England at the time. Benedict was mortally wounded before his death he was also forced to convert. Killing him meant wiping out all outstanding debts owed by noblemen, priests, knights, common folk, and the Crown. The bloodthirsty mobs eventually descended upon the Jewish community of York, and murdered Benedict’s widow. The rest of the Jews fled to a nearby castle but after running out of food and water, what hope did they have to survive?

They were given an option to leave the castle and convert however that was a lie, and those who succumbed to a baptism were murdered in cold blood. The rest of the Jews made a suicide pact to save themselves from imminent death in the hands of their neighbors, and the ones who preferred to surrender after their coreligionists had died were hunted down and killed anyway. The noblemen of York proceeded to burn every shred of evidence relating to their outstanding debts. Yes, King Richard was angry, and he fined the people of York but no one was imprisoned for the death of 150 Jews and what really bothered him most was the loss of their financial records. He was focused on the Jews’ fortunes, and since they were The King’s personal assets, their wealth belonged to him too. There were many outstanding debts owed to the murdered moneylenders. The outcome of this tragic event was the creation of the Exchequer of the Jewry. The office operated from the Tower of London where all Jewish affairs were taken care of. On the one hand it afforded “protection” for the Jews, but it was also a scheme that allowed the Crown to change the terms of any loan owed to them the Crown could seize anything of theirs at any time. Later when Aaron of Lincoln died, his wealth was so vast that the Crown confiscated the entire ledger of debts owed to him and they created the Saccrium of Aaronis—the Exchequer of Aaron—to steal as much of his money as possible.

If Only the Bishops and Monks had Kept Kosher

The murder of a 12-year-old William of Norwich, England, in 1114, was pinned on an entire Jewish community even though there was no evidence to suggest they had murdered the boy. In due time this lie then launched a sequence of copy-cat accusations against the Jews. When they were blamed for the death of Hugh of Lincoln in 1255, these make-believe tales had ascribed to the Jews the ritual murder of innocent Christian children. Bishops, monks, and preachers incited their followers against the enemy of Christendom these deaths were described as Jewish plots to avenge themselves on Jesus. Their followers believed that Jews had crucified William and Hugh, and all other victims, around Easter time in order to mimic the crucifixion and mock it they drank the children’s blood and reserved some of it for their matzah recipes.

When Hugh was found drowned in a well, Jewish high society were all congregated in Lincoln for a wedding. What a coincidence, and a perfect scenario for anyone with an outstanding debt to Jewish moneylenders. However, this blood libel was elevated to new heights when King Henry III showed up in Lincoln to investigate Hugh’s murder. By taking part in the investigation, he gave the lie the royal seal of approval and thus legitimized the blood libels. These vicious tales were a hit among the English, and like the success of a modern-day television show they scored licensing rights to reproduce the crime in more countries. How quickly these stories gripped the locals and inflamed their incurable hatred of Jews how they cheered when Jews were dragged through the streets and whatever left of their bodies they hanged. The pogroms that followed would wipe out entire Jewish communities that supposedly colluded in the crime. Not only was this a cruel, twisted myth but it just occurred to me that it was also anathema to Jewish laws of kashrut (dietary laws) because they did not drink or eat blood. And if you think, eh, not all Jews kept kosher, new archeological evidence from a recent Oxford dig supports the claim that Jews in Medieval England adhered to a kosher diet. The discovery was made at a latrine and rubbish dump in Oxford’s Jewish quarters. They found a mixture of chicken and goose bones, but no pig or other non-kosher foods. They were also able to determine that meat and milk were not cooked in the same dishes!

The bishops were quick to turn these dead children into martyrs and their shrines became popular pilgrimage destinations. In reality, these men of the cloth were shrewd businessmen who knew how to turn a tragedy into a very profitable business. Every church and monastery wanted their very own child-saint killed by a Jew, and the blood libels encouraged offerings and a steady income. Centuries later these fabricated murders inserted themselves into English and European folklore, where new literature, ballads, poems and nursery rhymes repeated the Jews’ horrific crimes. There are about 30 later chronicles with passages on Hugh’s crucifixion. One popular version was Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale (from Canterbury Tales), albeit a variant of the blood libel, and if you think it’s only stories so who cares—you are only fooling yourself.

Oh young Hugh of Lincoln, slain
By cursed Jews, as it is well
For it is but a little while ago,
Pray also for us, we sinful folk
That of his mercy God so merciful
Multiply his great mercy on us
For reverence of his mother Mary

Here we are a thousand years later and Jews have not been able to shake off the myth of the thieving Jew, the money-hungry Jew, the bloodsucking Jew. Funny how Christian society had an ethical aversion for lending money with interest, and usury was legally prohibited by canon law, but that did not include circumventing the law, borrowing from Jews, extorting money from Jews, lying about Jews, and killing Jews.

Since 1959, the site of the shrine of Little Saint Hugh has featured a plaque that explains the trumped up stories of ritual murders of Christian boys by Jews during medieval times. But there are so many other churches . . .

Clipping Nails and Coins

By the year 1210 the Jews’ fate had been sealed and King John’s actions were a catalyst for their financial demise. Early Pipe Rolls show that yearly taxes that Jews were ordered to pay amounted to what the entire nation was charged by the Crown. King Henry III had raised the Jews’ taxes and increased the frequency of taxation. However, under King John’s reign they were required to pay 45,000 pounds when the Crown would usually collect 13,000 pounds of royal income in a year. This type of financial persecution caused devastating hardships from which most people could never fully recover–Jews who were forced to convert had to forfeit all of their wealth to the Crown. By the year 1240 half of the total wealth of Jews had been taxed out of them—estimated at 80,000 pounds—which translates into billions of pounds today. The final blow came in the form of the 1275 Statute of the Jewry, this Machiavellian decree by King Edward I forbade all Jews from lending money with interest and among many new demands, every Jewish boy over 12 had to pay an annual tax of 3 pence.

A few years later many Jews were imprisoned for coin clipping at one stage 300 London Jews were sent to the Tower of London for this crime, though very unlikely that all were guilty of this accusation. Those engaged in coin clipping would use shears to cut off the edges of silver coins then melt the clippings together into silver plates. Coin clipping devalued the currency, but it was not the only contributing factor to the deteriorating state of English coinage English money had been in circulation for over 40 years and looked worn and thus weighed less, which also affected trade. At the end of the day, it was King Edward’s face on each coin and the monetary situation reflected badly on his reign.

Soon enough coin clipping became a crime punishable by death, and London streets filled with hanging corpses. Jews were not the only ones to hang for this crime, but in the end all Jews were accused of coin clipping, regardless of the evidence. Surprise surprise, coin clipping remained a problem until 1696 while there were no Jews in the land, but the movement to renew English currency had mutated into a personal attack on all the Jews of England.

For 225 years, the Jewish community in England had somehow managed to survive and even thrive, but do not confuse the presence of domestic stone homes, a sign of enormous wealth, as a microcosm of the entire Jewish community’s experience. Most Jews were low paid workers who engaged in other fields of work apart from money-lending however, all Jews became identified with usury by the 12 th century. And yet they carried on, even though they could not own land, or leave their children an inheritance, and they were constantly exploited by a demand for higher taxes and frequent tallages. Jewish merchants were systematically expelled from different towns—eventually they were confined to living in a small number of places, they had strict travel restrictions, and limited options for making a living. In order to branch out into other trades they had to belong to a trade guild, but you guessed it, they were not permitted any such membership. Their synagogues had to be lowly buildings and during Christian holidays they were not allowed outside their homes. The Crown used Jews to assess and collect taxes from the local population and this position generated more hate and restatement towards the entire Jewish community. In their final years in England, the numbers of Jews had depleted to 2000 or less, compared to about 4 million Christians and they were still deemed a big threat. Their leaders were dead, and anyone else who survived financial and physical persecution was left destitute and psychologically scared.

Economics in the Face of Religious Convictions

King Edward I hated Jews just as much as his father King Henry III. Jews were told that their banishment was a result of their crimes and the crucifixion of Jesus. The reality was that without steady income, they were of no use to the Crown and coincidentally at that time, Parliament had granted The King the sum of 120,000 pounds. This time, money for the Crown had to be granted through legitimate channels everything depended on the consent of the barons, lords, townsmen and their representatives, all people who would have likely been in debt to Jewish moneylenders. You can begin to see the deal that was struck between The King and Parliament.

The expulsion order on November 1, 1290 allowed Jews 3-4 months to put their affairs in order and head towards the Tower of London before their final departure. How generous of The King, but in spite of the financial consideration behind his decision, I’m left wondering whatever happened to the zealous religious conviction that a life outside of Christ meant that some Jews were to be preserved since they were living witnesses to the triumph of Christian salvation. Their presence was a precondition for Christ’s Second Coming yet King Edward l got rid of all the Jews anyway.

For the next 300 years England remained Jew-free until their readmittance in 1656. England’s expulsion of Jews and the blood libels served as a model for many other countries to mimic and follow thereafter.

We had a kettle we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe

(Rudyard Kipling, Natural Theology).

A Minute Later

“And Licorcia with her infant son, were they saved in the Tower of London?” asked The Queen.

“She survived in the Tower but a few years later she was murdered anyway. Her son was hanged a few years after.”

“Oh dear I was hoping for a good ending.”

The Queen continued on to the Royal Tent and I made no attempt to stop her. I think that she was very generous with her time with me. A few people approached me, intrigued by my lengthy conversation with The Queen. Funny how two minutes with Her Majesty had translated into a “lengthy” period of time.

Finally, it was my turn in front of the long buffet I picked up a porcelain tray and chose a number of cakes and sandwiches that looked absolutely delicious. I had to try a scone with clotted cream and a scoop of The Queen’s favorite Balmoral jam. I took my tea with a splash of milk then balancing both tea cup and small tray, I found myself a little spot on the grass to rest my feet and enjoy the remainder of my afternoon. I took a bite of the scone and my eyes naturally closed as I tried to inhale every bit of flavor.

When I opened them, I was lying in bed. My own bed, far removed from Buckingham Palace—in a house on a hillside in Camarillo, a southern Californian town. My palace. I rubbed my eyes, and leaned back into my pillow. If only the British had drunk tea in Medieval England, maybe they would have been a little kinder to their Jewish countrymen, I thought.


Black Death

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Black Death, pandemic that ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1351, taking a proportionately greater toll of life than any other known epidemic or war up to that time.

How many people died during the Black Death?

It is not known for certain how many people died during the Black Death. About 25 million people are estimated to have died in Europe from the plague between 1347 and 1351.

What caused the Black Death?

The Black Death is believed to have been the result of plague, an infectious fever caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The disease was likely transmitted from rodents to humans by the bite of infected fleas.

Where did the Black Death originate?

The plague that caused the Black Death originated in China in the early to mid-1300s and spread along trade routes westward to the Mediterranean and northern Africa. It reached southern England in 1348 and northern Britain and Scandinavia by 1350.

What were the symptoms of the Black Death?

Yersinia causes three types of plague in humans: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Although there is DNA evidence that Yersinia was present in victims of the Black Death, it is uncertain which form the majority of the infection took. It is likely that all three played some role in the pandemic.

Bubonic plague causes fever, fatigue, shivering, vomiting, headaches, giddiness, intolerance to light, pain in the back and limbs, sleeplessness, apathy, and delirium. It also causes buboes: one or more of the lymph nodes become tender and swollen, usually in the groin or armpits.

Pneumonic plague affects the lungs and causes symptoms similar to those of severe pneumonia: fever, weakness, and shortness of breath. Fluid fills the lungs and can cause death if untreated. Other symptoms may include insomnia, stupor, a staggering gait, speech disorder, and loss of memory.

Septicemic plague is an infection of the blood. Its symptoms include fatigue, fever, and internal bleeding.

How did the Black Death affect Europe?

The effects of the Black Death were many and varied. Trade suffered for a time, and wars were temporarily abandoned. Many labourers died, which devastated families through lost means of survival and caused personal suffering landowners who used labourers as tenant farmers were also affected. The labour shortage caused landowners to substitute wages or money rents in place of labour services in an effort to keep their tenants, which benefited those surviving tenants. Wages for artisans and other workers also increased. Art in the wake of the Black Death became more preoccupied with mortality and the afterlife. Anti-Semitism greatly intensified throughout Europe, as Jews were blamed for the spread of the Black Death, and many Jews were killed by mobs or burned at the stake en masse.

What are other names for the Black Death?

The Black Death has also been called the Great Mortality, a term derived from medieval chronicles’ use of magna mortalitas. This term, along with magna pestilencia (“great pestilence”), was used in the Middle Ages to refer to what we know today as the Black Death as well as to other outbreaks of disease. “Black Plague” is also sometimes used to refer to the Black Death, though it is rarely used in scholarly studies.

The Black Death is widely believed to have been the result of plague, caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Modern genetic analyses indicate that the strain of Y. pestis introduced during the Black Death is ancestral to all extant circulating Y. pestis strains known to cause disease in humans. Hence, the origin of modern plague epidemics lies in the medieval period. Other scientific evidence has indicated that the Black Death may have been viral in origin.


Watch the video: The Crusades and the Jews - Prof. Kenneth Stow. (November 2021).