Category Archives: Richard I

A Surfeit of Lampreys: A Surfeit of Success: 12th Century England

Exactly 877 years ago today, on 1st December 1135, King Henry I died, allegedly from over indulging himself on lampreys (one of favourite meals). His ‘surfeit of lampreys’ caused an acute intestinal reaction (possibly food poisoning) that led to a speedy end. Death from such an outwardly ludicrous cause was a somewhat inglorious conclusion to an illustrious reign. This year, 2012, marks the centenary of the birth of Charles Dickens; and Henry’s premature death is the sort of ‘comical’ demise one associates with some of the characters penned by that celebrated 19th century author. Such a judgement might be a little harsh. Over the past year, I hope that my monthly Blogs on Henry I’s reign have demonstrated his great success as Ruler of England (and Normandy) between 1100 and 1135. Indeed, such were Henry I’s achievements that the monks of Peterborough Abbey declared on Henry’s death: “He was a good man, and people were in great awe of him. No one dared injure another in his time. He made peace for man and beast.” [EHD, Volume II, page 209] Such an assessment, coming from the compilers of The Anglo/Saxon Chronicle, is praise indeed.                                                                                                                                     Over the past two years, 2011 and 2012, my monthly Blogs have analysed the reigns of King Henry I (1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (1154 to 1189). In analysing these two distinguished monarchs, I have also, from time to time, inevitably touched on the reigns of Stephen, Richard I and John. That is, my blogs have in effect covered the whole of the 12th century, so I think it is thus very fitting for me to conclude this December 2012 Blog by analysing and assessing the twelfth century as a whole.

(A) The Achievements of 12th Century England

There were, of course, setbacks to progress in the 12th century, notably the breakdown of government in Stephen’s reign (1135 to 1154). The Third Crusade of 1189 to 1192, right at the end of the 12th century, also caused tension and problems. Yet, overall, the 12th century witnessed gains to English Society.

(1) Economic Growth.

The 12th century was a period of marked economic growth. There was investment in agriculture, transport, and general building. According to John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, the volume of currency in circulation in England  greatly increased in the 12th century; from roughly £25,000 to £37,500  around the time of King Henry I’s accession (1100), to about  £250,000 at the time of King John’s accession in 1199 [Hatcher & Bailey, ‘Modelling the Middle Ages’, OUP, (2001), page 138]. This increase in currency circulation probably reflected the increasing proliferation of markets in 12th century England. The population of England also doubled in the 12th century, from roughly 1.5 million in 1100 to about 3 million in 1200 (and these figures might be even higher). Nor did this population increase imply a lessening of GDP per head. In fact, according to Hatcher & Bailey, real GDP per head might well have increased in the 12th century [Hatcher & Bailey, page 159].

(2) General Social and Political Progress for Specific Groups

In a perhaps generalised way, the condition and status of certain groups in English Society did appear to improve in the 12th century; even if these improvements were not uniform throughout the century. For example, beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the rights of widows were increasingly protected throughout the 12th century. In fact, on one level, the 12th century was a period of political advance for women. Several notable female rulers played vital roles in 12th political life in England: Queen Edith Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne, The Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Jewish minority in Angevin England also seemed to prosper for most of the 12th century (with the obvious exception of the 1190 Pogroms). The Jewish population in Angevin England increased to a maximum total of 5,000 by 1200, and this population increase was accompanied by a geographical spread throughout England. Up to a point, positive central government activity by English Kings helped this Jewish expansion (see my September 2011 Blog for details).

(3) Development of English Common Law

This was the greatest single achievement of 12th century England.

Beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the 12th century saw a continual series of ground-breaking measures that collectively  established the Common Law in England (and Wales): one of the glories of European Civilisation:-

  • Leges Henrici Primi (1115) This measure designated serious crime, and enshrined the principle of Appeal. See my October 2012 Blog.
  • Assize of Clarendon (1166) This measure dealt with the criminal law, including the rights of the principal law officers. See my February 2011 Blog
  • Inquest of Sheriffs (1170) This measure enshrined the supremacy of the government over the law officers. See my March 2011 Blog.
  • Assizes of Novel Disseism & Mort d’Ancestor (c.1176) These were major innovations in civil law, dealing with rights of property. See my October 2011 Blog.
  • The General Eyre (1194) As part of the 1194 General Eyre (General Tour of Inspection by the King’s Justices), Justicar Hubert Walter ordered that, in each English shire, three knights and a clerk should act as ‘Keepers of the Pleas of the Crown’. This meant that they would be responsible for collecting and retaining evidence for criminal cases that would then be heard by the King’s Justices. This vital measure is the origin of the modern Coroner System. Note that the 12th century law officers (sheriffs) were not included as ‘Keepers of the Pleas’. Even now, our modern police force is not directly linked to the Coroner’s Court.

It is a remarkable record of legal progress, and the principles of 12th century Common Law still greatly influence English-speaking nations today: the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. Nor have I included all the 12th century Common Law Edicts. The Jury System was written into the above Assizes. A measure of the greatness of the English Legal System in the 12th century is to contrast it with the legal structure of early 19th century England (supposedly a more ‘civilised’ era). By 1800, the English Legal System had become so convoluted (if not corrupt), that a ridiculous total of 200 crimes carried the death penalty (many of them being trivial offences). In contrast, the 12th century saw the death penalty confined to about six offences (Pleas of the Crown).  The 18th Century still conjures up an image of refined gentility, with its classical architecture, polished manners, and baroque music; yet it was also the age of the notorious (and nefarious) ‘Black Act’ of 1723. That legally abominable Act of Parliament introduced the Death Penalty in Britain for over 50 criminal offences, many of them utterly trivial (such as destroying fish ponds while disguised). It goes without saying that such a legally bizarre measure as the 1723 Black Act, would have been inconceivable in the more civilised 12th century.

(B) Final Conclusion

I began this final Blog on King Henry I by suggesting that perhaps his strange demise had overtones of a Charles Dickens novel. In retrospect, I think that Anthony Trollope would be a more appropriate author, especially when viewing the 12th century as a whole.

In the ending of the final novel of his famous Barset Series (‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’); Anthony Trollope writes: “And now, if the reader will allow me to seize him affectionately by the arm, we will together take our last farewell of Barset.” To paraphrase that celebrated author, ‘We will together take our last farewell of 12th century England.’

Like Anthony Trollope’s Barset Novels, the 12th Century was filled with a host of distinguished dramatis personae:-

  • Renowned Fighting Monarchs, such as King Richard the Lionheart of England (reigned 1189 to 1199), and King William the Lion of Scotland (reigned 1165 to 1214).
  • Illustrious Female Rulers, such as Edith Matilda (Queen Consort of England 1100 to 1118) and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen Consort of France, 1137 to 1152 and Queen Consort of England, 1154 to 1189).
  • Exceptionally talented administrators, such as Justicar Bishop Roger of Salisbury (de facto Justicar c.1110 to c.1125) and Archbishop Hubert Walter (Chief Justicar of England, 1193 to 1198).
  • Leading Financiers, such as Aaron of Lincoln (lived from 1125 to 1186).
  • Profound Philosophers, such as Archbishop Anselm (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093 to 1109). Anselm was the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God.
  • Talented Welsh Princes, such as Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth. He was known as The Lord Rhys (Yr Argwydd Rhys). King Henry II made him Justicar of Deheubarth in 1171.
  • Gifted young persons whose lives were sadly (and prematurely) ended, such as Prince William the Adelin (lived from1103 to 1120). Prince William was Henry I’s son and heir; he tragically died in the White Ship Disaster of 1120.
  • Flawed Icons, such as Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury between 1162 and 1170).
  • Villains, such as Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who died in 1144. He was the original ‘robber baron’, who took advantage of the breakdown of law and order in King Stephen’s reign to ransack Cambridgeshire and the Fens in 1144. Towards the end of the 12th century, Richard Malebisse took advantage of the anti-Semitic hysteria generated by the Third Crusade to play the leading role in the massacre of the York Jewish Community in 1190.
  • Exceptionally talented monarchs, such as King Henry I (reigned 1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (reigned 1154 to 1189).The latter king is probably the greatest monarch ever to reign in England.

In the words of Anthony Trollope, “To them all I now say farewell” (except Geoffrey de Mandeville and Richard Malebisse); but it is certainly not a case of farewell to my Angevinman Blog! In 2013, I hope to take a chronological  leap of 250 years into the mid-fifteenth century. The delights of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ await me and, hopefully, my readers.

Have a Happy Advent and Christmas!


Leave a comment

Filed under 12th Century England, 1723 Black Act, Aaron of Lincoln, Angevins, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Anselm, Anthony Trollope, Archbishop Hubert Walter, British Exchequer, British Kings and Queens, British taxation, Civil law in the UK, Criminal Law, Duke Robert of Normandy, Economic Growth, English Common Law, English Economy, Famous women, Feminism, Finance, Henry I, Henry II, History, Medieval battles, Medieval government, Medieval History, Medieval Normandy, Medieval pipe rolls, Military History, Mort d'Ancestor, Norman Kings, Normandy, Novel Disseisin, Queen Matilda, Rhys ap Gruffudd, Richard I, Robert Curthose, Wales, White Ship disaster, William the Lion

Twilight of the Gods: The End of Henry II, King of England and Angevin Emperor 1154 to 1189

In the mid 1170s, King Henry II seemed to be at the height of his power. He had triumphed over his adversaries in the Great Revolt of 1173 to 1174. His legal reforms continued apace: between 1176 (the year of the Assize of Mort d’Ancestor) and his death in 1189, there were no fewer than eight judicial peregrinations of his justices in eyre. The generally effective Ranulf de Glanvill was appointed justicar in 1180.However, in reality, there were ominous portents in the 1180s, that were ultimately to threaten Henry’s authority.

  • Chief among these harbingers was the continued opposition of Henry’s sons, especially Richard. The death of two of Henry II’s sons in the 1180s, Henry the Younger (1183), and Geoffrey (1186), strengthened Richard’s position. Not only was he ruler of Aquitaine in his own right; but after 1183, he was Henry’s heir. Emboldened, Richard now demanded that Henry recognise him as heir to Normandy & Anjou, as well as heir to England. Fearing that Richard would become too powerful, Henry refused these demands. As in the father/son quarrels that preceded the Great Revolt of 1173 to 1174, Henry II was probably too rigid; but Richard then upped the stakes by allying with the King of France against his own father, Henry II.
  • Richard’s alliance with France represented a greater threat to Henry than the similar agreement of 1173/1174. The reason was that Henry’s enemy of 1173/1174, King Louis VII, had died in 1180. He had been succeeded as King of France by his fifteen-year-old son Philip Augustus. Philip was the superior of his father: he was intelligent, calculating, and in all ways a Machiavellian ruler, bent on the destruction of the Angevin Empire. Too late, Henry underestimated the power of this unholy alliance of Philip and Richard. In November 1188, Philip deliberately challenged Henry by recognising Richard as heir to the Angevin lands. In 1189, Richard & Philip launched a joint assault on Henry’s French lands, symbolically driving Henry from Le Mans (his birthplace) in May 1189. Worse was then to follow. Enfeebled by increasing poor health, Henry’s morale had been hit by the desertion of his erstwhile supporters (including his son John). In July 1189, Henry was forced to accept humiliating peace terms from Philip & Richard. By then, the strain of governing his Angevin dominions for 35 years finally took its toll. Henry retreated to Anjou, where he had grown up as a boy. He died at Chinon on July 6th 1189. A few days later the Gotterdammerung was completed when Henry’s corpse was ferried down the River Vienne for burial by the nuns at Fontevraud Abbey near Anjou. About twenty years later, his remains were joined there with the corpse of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine: hero and heroine at last re-united in death.

Contemporary assessments of King Henry II

It is reassuring to know that contemporary chroniclers tried to give a balanced assessment of Henry II, pointing out his vices as well as his virtues. However, what is impressive about contemporary opinion is their unanimous view on Henry II’s desires for peace. William of Newburgh writing in the mid 1190s after Henry’s death, stated that, “in his exalted position in the state he was most diligent in defending and promoting the peace of the realm.” Later on, William of Newburgh repeated his assertion of Henry’s desires for peace, “he abhorred bloodshed and the sacrifice of men’s lives.” Significantly, William of Newburgh’s views were echoed by a ‘foreign’ chronicler, Gerald of Wales, also writing in the mid 1190s. Gerald wrote, “Strenuous in warfare, he was very prudent in civil life. But always he dreaded the doubtful arbitrament of war, and with supreme wisdom, in accordance with the ancient comic poet, he essayed every method before resorting to arms.” If for no other reason, Henry II’s commitment to a general peace policy throughout the Angevin Empire would earn him our high regard.

Present –Day assessments of King Henry II.

  • I have deliberately selected today, Saturday 10th December 2011, for my final assessment of King Henry II. The reason is that exactly 75 years ago, on 10th December 1936, King Edward VII abdicated the British throne; essentially the result of his refusal to forego his relationship with Mrs. Simpson.  By so doing, King Edward VII gravely weakened the position of the monarchy in the UK. The contrast between Edward VII’s irresponsible attitude as monarch and King Henry II’s sense of duty as King is profound.
  • About ten years ago, in 2002, the BBC conducted a famous Poll of the ‘100 Greatest Britons’, voted for by the general public. Twelve ‘reigning’ monarchs/princes featured in the Top 100. Interestingly seven of these twelve monarchs were medieval kings or princes (over 50% of the total), they were: King Alfred the Great, Prince Owain Glyndwr, King Henry V, King Robert the Bruce, King Richard III, King Edward I, and, yes, King Henry II. Henry II may have only figured at Number 90; but it is still impressive that he made the Top 100 List at all. For too long, Henry’s reputation has been marred by the Becket affair (see my blog of 30th December 2010 – ‘Henry II and Archbishop Becket’). For too long, King Henry II has been a classic example of Mark Antony’s famous dictum: ‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.’ [Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2]
  • Perhaps the real worth of King Henry II is now becoming more appreciated by British people – even if Henry was beaten into 90th place by Britons such as  Johnny Rotten (87th – I like to think that Henry would have seen the amusing side to this vote).


I think that best summary of King Henry II is given by Professor David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at Kings College, London, and author of the excellent study of medieval Britain: ‘The Struggle for Mastery’ (Penguin,2003). On page 244 of his book, Professor Carpenter summarises Henry II’s achievements as ruler: “Here also was a king with a real sense of care for his kingdom, who had restored its mutilated frontiers, recovered the rights of the crown, restored peace and order and built the common law.”

When listening to Wagner’s opera, ‘Gotterdammerung’, especially Siegfried’s ‘Rhine Journey’ and ‘Funeral March’, I see Henry II embodying the role of Siegfried. I hope you have found parts of this year’s blog absorbing. In 2012, I hope to analyse the reign of Henry II’s grandfather, King Henry I, who runs Henry II fairly close in the monarchical stakes.

We shall see.

In the meantime, enjoy the Christmas and New Year celebrations. In fact, why not follow medieval tradition, and celebrate the whole Twelve Nights of festivities!

Leave a comment

Filed under 100 top Britons poll (BBC), Angevins, Becket, British Kings and Queens, English Common Law, Famous women, Henry I, Henry II, History, King John, Kings of France, Medieval History, Philip II of France, Richard I, Wagner

Michaelmas or Rosh Hashanah? The Jewish Community in Angevin England: 1154 to 1216

Thursday 29th September  2011 marks a rare combination of two major religious festivals: it is both the Christian Feast-Day of Saint Michael and all Angels; and also the Jewish Festival of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). The Benedictus liturgy for Michaelmas Day goes as follows:-

“There was silence in heaven while the dragon waged war;

And Michael and his angels fought against him, and won the victory.”

Some medieval chroniclers, notably William of Newburgh, would doubtless identify ‘the dragon’ as the Jews of Angevin England, in his eyes constantly undermining the Church’s authority and influence among the people. In his generally favourable character assessment of King Henry II, William of Newburgh criticised Henry because he “gave undue encouragement”…. to …”that perfidious nation and enemy of Christians, the Jews.” [English Historical Documents, Volume II, page 402].

It would be a mistake to regard William of Newburgh’s anti-semitic views as being typical of the Angevin kings’ attitudes and policies towards their Jewish subjects in England. In fact, on the whole, the Angevin kings followed policies of enlightened self-interest towards the Jews of England, which in turn helped the Jewish Community of Angevin England to thrive and prosper between 1154 and 1216. Their successors were to be very different.

The Expansion of the Jewish Community in Angevin England (1154-1216).

  • As is well known, Jewish immigration into England began after the Norman Conquest, essentially as an off-shoot of the Rouen Community in Normandy: but it was a slow process, and by the 1140s, there still appeared to be no Jewish settlement in England outside of London. There then occurred a remarkable expansion of the Jewish Community in Angevin England, such that by about 1200, at the start of John’s reign, the Jewish population in Angevin England had increased to 5,000. Not only did the Jewish population increase appreciably, but it spread throughout England. Nonetheless, even at its height in 1200, the Jewish population constituted a mere 0.125% of the total population of Angevin England, then possibly as high as 4 million. This is far less than the percentages of main ethnic minorities in 21st century United Kingdom. The 2001 Census gives the following data for the main ethnic minorities in the UK:-

Indian background, 1,053,411 (1.8%);

Pakistani background, 747,285 (1.3%);

Afro/Caribbean background, 565,876 (1%).

  • In 1159, Henry II levied a tax (donum) on the English Jewish Community, which revealed that Jewish settlements in London still remained the main centre of the Jewish population in England; but that Jewish settlements had also spread to Eastern England (Cambridge, Thetford, Norwich and Lincoln). This geographical expansion of Jewish settlements continued apace In Angevin England during the next thirty-five years. In 1194, as one of his financial expedients to pay King Richard I’s enormous ransom, Chief Justicar Archbishop Hubert Walter levied a tax on the English Jewish Community, ‘The Capitula Iudeorum’. The receipt roll of Jewish contributions to this tax indicates the spread of the Jewish settlement in Angevin England between 1159 and 1194. Jewish settlements had spread northwards to York, southwards to Canterbury and Winchester, and westwards to Hereford and Exeter by the middle of Richard I’s reign; significantly linked to cathedral cities.
  • This expansion of English Jewry led to several notable English Jews emerging in Angevin England. Jurnet of Norwich and Aaron of Lincoln emerged as notable players on the English Political Stage in the second half of the 12th century: based on their extensive loans both to Henry II and his Tenants-in-Chief (lay and spiritual). At his death in 1186, Aaron of Lincoln was owed the fabulous sum of £15,000, by 430 persons. This colossal sum probably represented 7% of the entire total of currency in circulation at that time in Angevin England. It is no wonder that at his death, the Angevin monarchs had to set up a special division of the Exchequer just to manage it, naturally called ‘Aaron’s Exchequer.’ Bankers such as Aaron of Lincoln literally oiled the wheels of the Angevin economy: they were indispensible to it.

Why did the Jewish Community expand and prosper under the Angevin Kings?

  • The expansion of Jewish populations in Angevin England reflected the great economic expansion that occurred in England in the second half of the 12th century. This half-century, 1150-1200, saw investment in towns, roads and bridge-building. Two modern historians, John Hatcher & Mark Bailey, have estimated that at the start of King Henry I’s reign, the amount of currency in circulation in England was no more than between £25,000 and £35,000. Such was the extent of the 12th century economic boom, that a hundred years later, at the beginning of King John’s reign, this total had soared to £250,000. (Hatcher & Bailey: ’Modelling the Middle Ages’ [Oxford 2001], page 138). By default, Jews had to engage in money-lending, so such an expansion in the money supply would obviously have benefitted them.
  • It also seems to be the case that the Jewish Community also benefitted from the policies of the Angevin Kings. In 1177, King Henry II greatly helped the English Jews by granting permission for Jews to have a cemetery outside the walls of every city in England. Not only did this reform indicate a positive attitude towards the Jews; but was also of great practical help to English Jewry, as previously they had had to bury their dead only outside Cripplegate in London. From 1170 onwards, Jews gained increasing access to the royal courts. This culminated in an important judicial eyre at the end of Henry II’s reign, in 1188. The Pipe Rolls indicate that Jews were involved in litigation before the justices in eyre in at least seven counties, including Devon, Kent, and even Northumberland.
  • King Richard I continued his father’s positive approach to his Jewish subjects of England (and Normandy). In March 1190, shortly after his accession, he granted a Charter to the Jews. This charter granted certain rights to the Jews of England and Normandy. For example, Clause Six of this Charter specifically allowed Jews to “go whithersoever they will with all their chattels just like our own goods and let no one keep them or prevent them.” Even so, as the first clause stated, Richard’s Charter of 1190 was essentially only reaffirming rights of the Jews previously endorsed by Henry II: “Just as the Lord King Henry, our father, granted and by his Charter confirmed to the Jews of England and Normandy, namely to reside in our land freely and honourably.”
  • The phrase: ’freely and honourably’ has a fine ring to it. Of course, both Henry II and his son Richard I were mainly acting out of self-interest in granting such concessions to their Jewish subjects. For example, Henry II had increasingly used Jewish moneylenders to finance his government after abandoning the geld tax in 1161/62. But then, all governments partly act out of self-interest. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ best sums up the policies of the Angevin kings to their Jewish subjects: and there is nothing wrong with that.

Anti-Semitism in Angevin England :1154 to 1216.

  • Despite the generally progressive policies of the Angevin monarchs towards their Jewish subjects, anti-semitism certainly existed in England between 1154 and 1216. Up to a point, the existence of anti-semitism in Angevin England can be easily explained. As Professor Bartlett has stated: “It is perhaps not surprising that a small, exclusive and culturally distinctive group, deeply involved in money lending, would stir up hostility on the part of the majority community.” (‘England under the Norman and Angevin Kings,’ [Oxford 2000], page 354.) Xenophobia was not exclusively directed against Jews in Medieval England, as Italians were later to face persecution in England in the Wars of the Roses. Indeed, William of Newburgh’s anti-semitic diatribe probably mainly reflected his general ‘anti-foreigner’ prejudices. According to him, the Irish were: “uncivilised and barbarous in their habits” (EHD, Vol. II, page 367). The French were: “by nature both fierce and arrogant.”(EHD, Vol. II, page 373.). As for the Scots, William of Newburgh was unrestrained in his criticism. They were “savage and cruel” (EHD, Vol. II, page 371); they were “barbarians….to whom no food was too filthy to eat, even that fit only for dogs.” (EHD, Vol. II, page 377). Regarded in this context, perhaps William of Newburgh’s anti-Jewish bigotry can be better understood.
  • Even so, there were undoubtedly outbreaks of anti-semitism in Angevin England. Such outbreaks often took the form of lurid stories of Christians being kidnapped by the Jews for ritual sacrifice. Such dreadful outbursts occurred at Gloucester in 1168, at Bury St. Edmunds in 1181, and at Bristol in 1183. Such lurid fabrications fanned the flames of anti-semitism in Angevin England, and were a disgrace to any civilised country. Even so, such slanderous episodes must be seen against the background of a generally positive period for Angevin Jewry. In any case, the Angevin monarchs took great care to douse the flames of latent anti-semitism in England: it was, after all, in their interests to do so.
  • The real anti-semitic explosion in Angevin England occurred in the first few years of Richard I’s reign. In the early part of 1190, a firestorm of anti-Jewish pogroms swept through Eastern England: King’s Lynn, Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln – reaching its climax in York in March 1190.

The York Pogrom, 15th/16th March, 1190

  • Excavations of the medieval Jewish burial ground in York, undertaken in the 1980s, have revealed a fairly large Jewish population in York in the later 12th century of between 150 and 250 persons. This thriving community was led by two great financiers, Benedict and Josce, in addition to a well-known scholar, Rabbi Yomtob of Joigny. The York mob, made up of workmen, youths, knights and even clerics, went on the rampage and destroyed Jewish houses in the city on 15th March. The anti-Jewish mob had been whipped up into a mood of religious fervour because of the local preparations for the Third Crusade. This was bad enough; but worse was then to follow.
  • When the Jews of Lincoln and Stamford had been attacked, they had sought refuge in the local castles. The beleaguered Jews of York did the same, and sought refuge in the royal castle of York (Clifford’s Tower). The warden (castellan) of the castle was then absent. On his return, the beleaguered Jews, distrusting the warden’s integrity, refused to admit him to the castle. The warden therefore appealed to the Sheriff of Yorkshire, who called out the local militia of knights to attack the castle. It may well be at this stage that the sheriff was trying to restore law and order, but the mob joined the militia; and the sheriff was unable to discipline the mob, which now even brought up siege machines to storm the castle. Having neither sufficient food nor weapons, some of the Jews inside the castle now accepted self-martyrdom. They preferred to die at the hands of their friends and family, rather than trust to the good intentions of the mob. The rest accepted the besiegers’ offer of Christian baptism, and surrendered, whereupon, they too died; but this time at the hands of the mob. The York massacre was one of the worst atrocities in medieval England.


Why was there this firestorm of anti-semitism in Angevin England in 1190?


  • The Jewish persecutions of 1190 in Angevin England were wholly exceptional in their violence. Like the mob riots that similarly affected English cities in August 2011, they were inexcusable. However, in contrast to the riots of 2011 in England, the riots of 1190 were explicable.
  • The 1190 anti-semitic riots in Angevin England were at least partly the product of religious bigotry inflamed by the Third Crusade. This explosive situation was further fuelled by the government instability of the period September 1189 to June 1190.
  • After his consecration in September 1189, Richard I moved swiftly to join the Third Crusade (leaving England on 11th December 1189). Desperate to finance his participation in the Third Crusade, Richard appointed the wholly unsuitable Hugh de Puiset (Bishop of Durham) as co-justicar. Hugh de Puiset had bribed Richard to obtain the coveted post of co-justicar; but at least Richard also appointed William de Mandeville as the other co-justicar, who would presumably act as check on de Puiset. However, in November 1189, William de Mandedville died, leaving Hugh de Puiset as sole justicar. The result was predictable. Hugh de Puiset now clashed with the Chancellor, William Longchamps, leading to a decline in government efficiency; making it easy for latent anti-semitism to assert itself throughout the country. The final government blunder occurred in the spring of 1191, when both Hugh de Puiset and William Longchamps were in Normandy
  • Local anti-semitic bigots then exploited this instable political situation by fomenting anti-Jewish riots for their own ends (again, similar to the mob riots in England in August 2011). Chief among these bigots was a particularly odious creature, Richard Malebisse of York. His nefarious role in the York Pogrom of March 1190 was certainly influenced by the fact that he had had to borrow heavily from Aaron of Lincoln in 1182.

What was the response of Richard I’s Government to these pogroms?

If Richard’s misgovernment had been partly to blame for the wave of anti-Jewish riots, it took immediate restorative action to remedy the situation:-

  • In May 1190, Chancellor Longchamps arrived in York to try and restore order; which he did with varying levels of success. He imposed swingeing fines on the murderers, and even confiscated lands. Richard of Malebisse had his lands confiscated, but they were later restored to him (though he was then kept on a fairly tight leash by Richard’s government). The York Jewish Community revived.
  • In June 1190, Hugh de Puiset was dismissed as justicar, and William de Longchamps combined this role with his existing position of Chancellor. This expedient was not satisfactory, and real improvement did not occur till the appointment of Archbishop Hubert Walter as justicar in December 1193, a position he held till 1198. In 1194. The whole process of Jewish money lending in the provinces was reformed, to prevent the kind of destruction of records that had taken place in 1190. From now on, the contracting of loans and their repayment was to be confined to seven English towns, and their repayment was to be supervised by designated officials: two Christian, two Jewish, and a clerk of the central justices.

Decline of the English Jewish Community under King Henry III (1216 to 1272


  • In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council, convened by Pope Innocent III, ran to 71 canons. Two of these canons promulgated severely discriminatory measures against European Jews. Canon 67, referring to the “dishonesty of the Jews”, greatly restricted their money lending activities. Canon 68 was probably even harsher. It required Jews to wear distinctive dress in public, thereby establishing a virtual system of apartheid against the Jews.
  • In 1216, with the death of King John, the Angevin Empire had run its course. John’s successor, his son, King Henry III, began to implement anti-Jewish measures in England, building on the initiative of the Fourth Lateran Council.
  • In 1239, his government restricted the taking of interest for only six months, thereby severely curtailing Jewish financial activities (and therefore their livelihood). In the same year, Henry III effectively nullified Richard I’s 1190 Charter of the Jews by confining Jews in their existing place of residence for a year.
  • 1255 was a turning point in the government sanctioned anti-semitism in England. King Henry III personally ordered the execution of 19 Jews in Lincoln on the spurious charge of kidnap and crucifixion of a little Christian boy,
  • By the mid 13th century, government backed discrimination had clearly spiralled into persecution. Faced with this government sponsored anti-semitism, the English Jewish Community greatly declined. By the mid 13th century, the Jewish population in England had declined to between 3,000 and 5,000. By the beginning of King Edward I’s reign (Henry III’s heir), the Jewish population had declined still further to roughly 2,000. The stage had been set for the final expulsion of the English Jewish Community, which occurred in 1290 -a major loss to the English nation.


Seen in retrospect, Angevin England represented a period of progress and expansion for European Jews. If not exactly a ‘Golden Age’ for European Jewry; the Jews still thrived and prospered in England between 1154 and 1216. The Angevin Kings deserve credit for the parts they played in making this cultural blossoming possible. Self-interest may well have been the prime stimulus motivating Henry II, Richard I (and John). Even so, one likes to think that part of the motivation for their generally progressive policies towards their Jewish subjects was a genuine desire to advance the status of Jews throughout the Angevin Empire. The Angevin kings demonstrated that the religious cultures represented by the Festivals of both St. Michael and Rosh Hashanah could  profitably co-exist. In this way, as in others, the Angevin Empire was certainly a ‘Golden Age’ for England.

(If readers wish to learn more about the Jewish Community in Angevin England, I would always recommend the path-breaking work written over fifty years ago by H.G. Richardson: ’The English Jewry under Angevin Kings’, published by Methuen in 1960 – though unfortunately it can be hard to obtain, being out of print.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Angevins, Anglican Saints, British Kings and Queens, Church of England, English Jewry, Henry II, History, Jewish festivals, Jewish History, King John, Medieval History, Richard I, Yorkshire