Tuesday, 20 September 2016

[#51] Anthony Bale, ‘Richard of Devizes and Fictions of Judaism’, Jewish Culture and History, 3 (2000), pp. 55-72.

Just a couple of general note before I start. These blog posts are likely to become less frequent over the next little while as I search for work (I’ve given up on academic / Jewish history related jobs so they’re not likely to increase after I find a job because that will then take up my time) so I would encourage anybody who wants to, to send things to be uploaded to me.

Academic Entry:

A consideration of Richard of Devizes’ ritual murder allegation.

General Entry:

At the risk of sounding like a complete moron (a risk that I seem to take the more I learn about medieval Anglo-Jewry), the ritual murder case in Richard of Devizes’ Chronicon has always baffled me from a historical perspective. I can never get my head around the fact that because there was no body, in this particular case, it should be treated any differently from any of the other cases which did have a body. This is not least because the addition of a body did not make the allegation any more credible. Consequently, it always irritates me when historians approach Richard of Devizes with an air of incredulity that he made up the allegation. In the case of this piece by Anthony Bale, however, no such attempt is made. On the contrary, the essay commences with the important point for the Jews who were being accused in the literature of the period, the allegation was very real. Moreover, Bale elucidates his aim of considering the way in which Richard’s narrative was constructed, rather than simply discussing the implications of the narrative. This article might be divided into two sections: contextualisation and analysis. Towards the beginning of the article, Bale contextualises the manuscripts of Richard’s Chronicon as well as outlining what little we know of Richard himself. Moreover, some general feeling of the text itself is provided, in terms of the route which King Richard adopted on crusade. In the final section of contextualisation, Bale sumerasies the role of the Jews within the narrative of the Chronicon, with particular emphasis not only on the way in which Richard described that event, but also how Winchester was also describe (noting in particular that the violence did not spread to the city). A really interesting point which Bale makes is the way in which time and identity are manipulated at various points so as to fit the narrative but also to justify it. Moreover, the discourse upon the way in which irony was used, and the narrative pertaining to the Jews was fitted into contemporary events is particularly intriguing.

Following on from this, Bale outlines the scant evidence for a Winchester ritual murder case. Whilst I agree with his argument about the importance of the Benedictines, I would not go so far as to say that the previous cases had been particularly successful (though they were undeniably influential). For me, the most fascinating part of this article is found at the end where Bale postulates a connection between Richard’s case and a French narrative written in the early twelfth-century. This is one of the aspects of Bale’s scholarship which I like most, the way in which he traces ideas and concepts rather than just assuming that it popped into existence (for more examples of this see Bale:2006 – particularly the chapter on the ‘Jew of Tewkesbury’). For me an element of this paper which I would have liked to have seen more of is where Bale is discusses the Jew as also having been described as a Frenchman and I would have liked to have seen some kind of discussion as to how these two types of Otherness contrasted and interacted with each other and manifested themselves in the text – particularly in the light of what the French were doing in 1192. Having said that, this is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it!

Work Cited:


Anthony Bale, The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms, 1350-1500 (Cambridge, 2006).

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