In this article Roger Dahood transcribes and translates the thirteenth century poem Hugo de Lincolnia complete with an introduction which examines the history of the poem and the literary context within which the poem was written as well as considering the literary elements which form the poem.
Arguably the most famous blood libel case which occurred in medieval England was that of Little St. Hugh of Lincoln – so called in order to differentiate him from St. Hugh of Lincoln, a bishop of the diocese. In the plethora of discussions of this case there has been a tendency to put the emphasis on the chronicle or governmental accounts of the narrative. However, for me, one of outstanding sources relating to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry generally, and this case specifically, is an (roughly) contemporaneous poem written in the Norman-French. Previously, this text has been largely inaccessible to historians of medieval Anglo-Jewry, but thanks to this new transcription and translation by Roger Dahood, it is now more accessible than ever. In this article, he not only provides the text of Hugo de Lincolnia but also provides the context of the archival and publication history of the text. In addition, Dahood, very much informed by a literary perspective, provides a discussion of the composition of the poem, including the rhyming styles of the poem. In terms of the poem itself, Dahood (rightly) establishes that this contains a level of detail concerning the city of Lincoln which is unsurpassed in the chronicle accounts, and this detail is evident throughout the poem. For me, there are two important stanzas which speak to the heart of Christian-Jewish relations during this period:
The king gave his true promise thus: | “By God’s pity! If it is such | As you [Hugh’s mother] have said, | The Jews will die without mercy!
And if you have lied | About the Jews concerning such a crime, | By St. Edward, have no doubt | the same fate will befall you.
In other words, the blood libel accusation could not simply be levied in this instance against the ‘King’s Jews’ and the same evidentiary standards applied in this instance as would any other (indeed the stakes were considerably higher, proportionate to the crime). I shall leave my comments on the content at that so as not to ruin the poem for readers.
The major problems that I have with this article stem from the fact that Dahood was not writing from a medieval Anglo-Jewish perspective but rather for students of Chaucer, so as to provide the context for that famous final stanza of Chaucer’s Prioresses Tale which reads ‘O Hugh of Lincoln, likewise murdered so | by cursed Jews, as is notorious | …’ (Chaucer: 2003, p. 176). The impact of this upon the text is that there is remarkably little effort to contextualise this poem within the context of the other chronicle accounts or governmental records. Fortunately, the implications of this are mitigated by a recent article by David Carpenter which was formed by a discussion of all of the literary accounts and the governmental records (Carpenter: 2012). Despite the irritating nature of this approach for me personally, this does not inhibit the reading of the poem itself, and indeed the case of Little St. Hugh has been written about so often that there are many places from which you can garner the original information (including the original sources which is my preferred location!).
David Carpenter, ‘Crucifixion and Conversion: King Henry III and the Jews in 1255’, in Susanne Jenks et. al. (eds.), Laws, Lawyers and Texts: Studies in Medieval Legal History in Honour of Paul Brand (Turnhout: 2012), pp. 129-148.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, ed. and trans. Nevill Coghill (London: 1951, rpt. 2003).