Massacre of Jews at York
We British sometimes have a complacent view of our history, content to use words with modern resonance like tolerance as if they have always applied. But there are many shameful episodes in our past, some of the most horrific being the pogroms against the Jews in England during the 12th century. When Richard the Lionheart was crowned a false rumour that he had ordered a massacre of Jews sparked attacks on the Jewish area of London ; another occurred at Stamford on March 7 1190; and on March 18 violence in Bury St Edmunds saw 57 Jews murdered. But the worst incident happened in York, culminating on March 16.
It appears that a fire in York was blamed on the Jews living there, by that time quite a community. The foremost figure in that community, Baruch, had been killed six months previously. His house was the first target of the mob which killed his family and their guests, then looted their goods. The remaining Jews in York sought safety in the castle, in Clifford’s Tower , where the warden, aware they were under the protection of the king (ironically being an important source of finance for the crusades ), took them in. They were besieged for several days, and eventually when a fire made their continued resistance impossible, and threatened with forced conversion, most took their own lives. The remainder were promised baptism and survival, but were butchered as they left their stronghold.
The main cause of the atrocity in which 150 were slaughtered was not religious: the mob’s leader Richard Malebisse afterwards burned documents found at the castle and the cathedral detailing his considerable debts to the Jewish moneylenders.
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