Medieval murder mystery – the answer


Richard the Lionheart, , being anointed during...
Richard the Lionheart, , being anointed during his coronation in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted a photo of a medieval fort over the weekend and asked if any of you knew what terrible deed was committed there.  Opus Anglicanum was quick off the draw and said, correctly, that a great number of Jews were killed there.  And I’m afraid to say it’s true.

Clifford’s Tower sits atop an impressive man-made hill and overlooked the city of York – allowing its Norman overlords to maintain control.  In the year 1190, a new king – Richard the Lionheart – was the ruler of England. His accession to the throne was marked by a wave of anti-Semitic riots that culminated in the massacre of 150 Jews within Clifford’s Tower.

They had taken refuge there as a mob sought to drag them out – men, women and children – to be killed on the spot.  So what on earth was going on?  Basically, the crusades had unleashed a frenzy of hatred against perceived heretics – Muslims in the east and Jews closer to home.  The Jewish community had also been protected by the Norman kings and their position as bankers to the nobility was deemed useful. But money lending has never been an endearing profession and Jewish communities in Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln came under sustained attack.

King Richard, for his part, had not allowed prominent and wealthy Jews to attend his coronation banquet – an ominous sign.  And York’s leading Jewish merchant, Benedict, had been mortally wounded during riots in Westminster.  His own house in York was looted.

Those behind these actions tended to be clients of Jewish money lenders who saw a murderous opportunity to cancel their debts. We know the names of the nobles in York who goaded the mob on: Richard Malebisse, William Percy, Marmeduke Darrel and Phillip de Fauconberg. They no doubt delighted as the Jews were trapped in Clifford’s Tower and then, in a grisly turn of events, began to commit mass suicide – fathers killing their children and wives first. Those Jews who did not take their own lives were slaughtered by the mob.

In response to all this, King Richard the Lionheart felt obliged to fine the city of York but no individuals were punished and frankly, many probably joined the monarch on his long crusades to the Holy Land.  Here are my photos of Clifford’s Tower.

Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower

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