Thursday, 24 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 24 November

I am grateful to Mr Christopher Johnson for this superb OTD post. Johnson co-authored "Steep, Strait and High: Ancient Houses of Central Lincoln" with Stanley Jones (I have previously reviewed that volume). He is currently working on a full length study of the Lincoln Jewry, which is still in the research stage. 

Blood libel accusations in Lincoln 1255: the aftermath

24 November

The saga of the death of the boy Hugh in Lincoln is in several respects a well-documented episode in the history of the medieval Jewish community there. I should qualify that statement by referring it to the quantity rather than quality of the evidence from the public records, chronicles and later ballads. It has been examined several times by more recent historians, notably Sir Francis Hill[1], Gavin Langmuir[2], and more recently Professor David Carpenter[3]. There are however various aspects of the case that scream out for review, but for the purposes of this short piece I will introduce into evidence an entry from the Close Rolls[4] concerning the houses and chattels of those Jews of Lincoln who were hung and suffered confiscation as a result.

By this point in November 1255 the immediate dust had settled: Henry III paid a brief visit to Lincoln in the first week of October to agree the results of John of Lexington’s enquiry into the boy’s death. The King had been in Northumberland on family business, and had originally hoped to get back to London for the feast of St Edward the Confessor, but was delayed and therefore had not fully thought out the consequences of his actions in this case. During his brief stay in Lincoln he authorised the hanging of 18 Jews (Jacob just outside the city, and the others in London), and the transportation of a further 92 Jewish suspects to the Tower of London[5]. Justice was swift, but none too sure in all of this, and it is a not very strange coincidence that the chief suspect, ‘Copin’, whose admission of guilt had been extracted no doubt by torture, was in fact the wealthiest of the Lincoln Jews, Jacob son of Leo[6]; several of the others hung for the alleged offence were also leading members of the community.

Cash was therefore a strong motive, and it seems would assist the King in three ways: for one thing the chattels, i.e. book debts and personal wealth of those convicted would go to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to whom the King had already assigned the Jews and their chattels on a nationwide basis. Henry needed to pay for his various military excursions. Secondly, part of this (£172 8s 2d) would actually go to the Queen for her gold[7], which took precedence over Richard’s needs. Thirdly the King stood to gain personally from the sale of the Jewish properties, which under the terms of this Close Roll entry[8] would revert to the King.

The dirty work in all of this was hereby delegated to the Sheriff of Lincoln, with the assistance of the Mayor and Bailiffs of the city; the chirographers and their clerk would also have to get busy, by removing the necessary financial documents from the archa in their care[9].

The properties of those who were hung were duly appraised and in most cases sold. A few went to local people of note; one of these was the house of Josce of Colchester, situated on the corner of Micklegate and Brancegate (mod. High Street and Grantham Street), later to form part of the nice timber-framed hostelry we know as the Cardinal’s Hat[10]. Several other properties were kept handy to reward people who needed rewarding: not John of Lexington, however, as he was in disfavour (and that is certainly another story), but surprisingly a Jew who had previously been working for the Earl of Cornwall, a certain Hagin, son of Master Mosse. Two of the better houses were reserved for the use of the Earl, and another for Herman, the King’s assistant[11].


Just a quick note from me after Chris' excellent piece: In case you missed it yesterday, I'm running a competition with a copy of Kati Ihnat's new book, Mother of Mercy, Bane of Jews. For details see the previous blog entry.

[1] JWF Hill, Medieval Lincoln (CUP 1948),224 ff
[2] G Langmuir, ‘The Knight’s Tale of Young Hugh of Lincoln’ in Speculum 47 (1972)
[3] D Carpenter, ‘Crucifixion and Conversion: King Henry III and the Jews in 1255’ , Fine of the Month for January and February 2010,, accessed 9 April 2015
[4] Calendar of Close Rolls 1254-1256,241
[5] Ibid.,142,145
[6] C.Johnson and S.Jones, Steep, Strait and High: Ancient Houses of Central Lincoln, (Lincoln Record Society Occasional Publication 1: Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, 2016),56,62
[7] Calendar of Patent Rolls 1247-1258,451-2
[8] CClR 1254-1256,241
[9] ibid.,142,145,394
[10] Dean and Chapter A.1.10 (Welbourn Cartulary), no.50; Johnson and Jones op.cit.,128
[11] Calendar of Charter Rolls 1226-1257,460; CClR 1254-1256,285,311

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