I’m not about tomorrow so I upload this short piece today. I’m not sure whether this format is going to go down like a lead balloon or prove successful so please do let me know what you think and, if the latter proves to be the case, I might replicate it for the anniversary of the Expulsion (1 November). This is a whistle stop tour of the events of 3-4 September and is by no mean exhaustive so if anybody wants to add anything, then you’re more than welcome.
The anointing of a new monarch is, in any historical epoch, a time for celebration and jubilation. In the case of Richard I’s coronation, however, the event has also become infamous within English history on account of the fact that it was accompanied by a massacre. Now it’s fair to say that not all coronations go according to plan. For example, when William, duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England on 25 December 1066 ‘the guards were so jumpy that the shouted acclamations with the abbey caused a panic and the burning of neighbouring houses, because a rebellion was feared’ (Bates: 2004). This was surpassed by the coronation of Richard I, however, because, having issued orders that women and Jews were not to attend the festivities, trouble broke out when some Jews were found in the crowd trying to approach Westminster. This trouble quickly developed into a massacre which was described by one contemporary, Richard of Devizes, as a ‘holocaust’ (holocaustum) (Devizes: 1838, p. 5). It is not entirely clear what happened, but it would appear that some individual Jews were caught up in the crowd that inevitably moved towards the festivities at Westminster and somebody, having heard Richard’s prohibition on Jews attending, began to attack them. Thereafter, a mob mentality took over and the mob moved on to attack the Jewish community itself, seeking booty as much as blood. It appears that when the mob was unable to break into some Jewish houses they made use of fire to gain entry – never a good idea in a medieval city – though the sources do not permit us to guess how many Jews might have died. In fairness to Richard when he learned of the attacks he dispatched Ranulf de Glanville to break up the mob but, to quote my A-Level history notes, ‘this was about as effective as a chocolate teapot’. In reality, Glanville had little choice but to wait for the mob to burn itself out, something which did not happen between late afternoon on 3 September and the morning of the following day. The crowd was far too big for any kind of justice to be handed out, though in the final injustice of the events three Christians were hanged for crimes committed against other Christians.
For me the saddest part of this narrative comes not in the form of a general survey of events but by looking at one individual. Two of the leading Jews of York – Benedict and Josce – made the trip to London in order to secure the Crown’s support once more. Having been caught up in the massacre, however, Benedict was seized and was presumably given the option of conversion or death. Having already been wounded he chose the former and became an apostate. Shortly thereafter on 4 September he was taken before the new king and Archbishop Baldwin. During that audience he renounced Christianity (no mean feat in front of Richard I and the archbishop of Canterbury) and Archbishop Baldwin, according to Roger of Howden, said ‘Since he does not wish to be a Christian let him be the Devil’s man’ (Jacobs: 1893, p. 106). It is worth noting at this point that whilst the Church forbade forced conversions, if such an event happened then there was no way to revert. Subsequently, Benedict began the journey back to York but died at Northampton and on account of his apostasy the Jewish community would not bury him in their cemetery, nor would the Christians bury him in their cemetery because he had renounced the new religion.
David Bates, ‘William I’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29448?docPos=4 accessed on 2 Sept. 2016.
Chronicon Ricardi Divisiensis de Rebus Gestis Ricardi Primi Regis Angliae, ed. Joesph Stephenson (London, 1838).
The Jews of Angevin England, ed. Joseph Jacobs (London, 1893).