Friday, March 16, 2007

16 March 1190: the events in York on Shabbat ha-Gadol

Today is the anniversary of the terrible events at York in 1190. I paste below a short summary from the BBC website. The best scholarly discussion is R. B.Dobson, The Jews of Medieval York and the Massacre of March 1190, University of York Borthwick Papers 45 (1974, rev. 1996).

One of the most infamous of the pre-expulsion pogroms took place in York on the site known as Clifford’s Tower. In March 1190, six months after the coronation of King Richard I, the city caught or was set on fire. Under cover of the fire a mob targeted the Jews. The family and friends of the leading Jew called Baruch* were attacked and killed and his wealth looted. He himself had already been killed in an attack at the time of the King’s coronation.

This and the attempted murder of Joseph, another leading member, led the Jews to seek shelter. They naturally looked to Clifford's Tower, the site for two castles built by William the Conqueror after his conquest of England in 1066. Its wooden defences or keep were first burned down during a local rebellion in 1069 before being destroyed for a second time during a siege of Jewish citizens in 1190.

The 1190 massacre stained the city's reputation for many centuries:

  • The warden allowed the Jews to enter and then left them alone (because the Jews were under the direct protection of the king)
  • They feared that the warden would be bribed to betray them so when he returned they refused to admit him
  • The warden complained to the sheriff John Marshall that the Jews cheated him
  • The Sheriff roused the militia and the rest of the townspeople
  • This large gathering beseiged the trapped Jews for some days while preparations were made to storm the castle and force them out to the mercy of the baying mob
  • A fire was started in their refuge, whether by the Jews or their persecutors is uncertain
  • When it became clear that their situation was hopeless many of the Jews took their own lives
  • Husbands killed their wives following the advice of Rabbi Yom Tov* from Joigny in France

On Saturday March 16, 1190 there was a special Sabbath celebration linked to the festival of Passover. As it dawned:

  • The Jews who had survived the terrible night of fire and suicide begged for mercy and offered to convert to Christianity if they were spared
  • They were tricked into leaving but were butchered instead of being allowed baptism
  • The ringleader Richard Malebisse and his accomplices went to the cathedral where they burned documents stored for safekeeping. These specified details of money they owed to the Jews. This, it would seem was the driving force behind the tragedy.
  • Malebisse escaped to Scotland
If you would like to read a bit more about how the events continue to be remembered and struggled over, check out this report of plans to build a shopping mall beside the site and the outrage these plans spurred.
(thank you, N50, for spurring this quick post)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Today I read out that very inscription in a radio recording with RBD. The lettering is much faded now and needs regilding - so my reading faltered in places where the script was almost too faint too see. You will be glad to know that we deliberately recorded it with the voices of children (a school party eating their lunch) in the background.

Thanks for the post.