Saturday, July 29, 2023

When the King's Away

Anti-semitic riots at the coronation of Richard I cannot really be seen as an anomalous event: anti-semitism—even when not overtly practiced as a matter of policy—was always lying just under the surface, waiting to erupt at a moment's notice.

So even though Richard might have preferred that Jews be left alone, and made a formal statement of this, he was not always present in England to make sure his word was adhered to. It wasn't long after his coronation (3 September 1189) that he left England: not only was his heart never in England, having been raised largely in France, but also he had "taken up the Cross," and the Third Crusade was calling. (For Richard, England was mostly a place he could tax to support his military plans.)

Several incidents took place. At Bury St. Edmunds, 57 Jews were killed on 18 March 1190. There were attacks on Jews at Lincoln, Colchester, Thetford, and Ospringe.

A major incident took place in York on the 16th-17th of March, on the Shabbat before Passover. A contingent from York was preparing to join the Crusade, and with Crusading fever so high, sentiment against non-Christians rose to match it. Richard de Malbis owed a large sum of money to the Jew Aaron of Lincoln; he was slow in paying. He used an accidental house fire as an excuse to incite a crowd to attack the home of the recently deceased Benedict of York, an agent of Aaron of Lincoln. This prompted the leader of York's Jews, Josce of York, to ask the keeper of York Castle to provide safety.

Jewish families were allowed refuge in Clifford's Tower, but a mob surrounded it. The constable went out to speak to the mob, but the Jews inside feared to open the doors again and would not let him back in. The constable called for help from the sheriff, who brought his forces to the castle keep.

Rabbi Yom Tov Joigny, a French-born liturgical poet, advised the Jews inside with him to commit suicide rather than be forced to convert to Christianity. The fathers of the families would (and did) kill their wives and children, before handing the knife to Yom Tov, who stabbed them before killing himself. They also set the wooden keep on fire so their bodies could not be desecrated by the mob.

A handful of Jews who did not kill themselves surrendered at dawn the next day, on the promise that they would be unharmed. When they came out, however, they were killed. In all, about 150 died in the Clifford's Tower incident.

With Richard gone, the Chancellor of England, left to maintain order, had to deal with the aftermath. What was that like? Next we will meet William Longchamp.

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