And here an end. Below is the last installment of my "Stories of Blood" project, this on the invention of the ritual murder accusation and its relation to its time and place of origin. This section of the project seems to me the most outdated, and that's a good thing: much fine work has been done on William of Norwich since 2004. See especially the recent English translation by Miri Rubin (Penguin Books 2014), her new transcription of the Latin original, E. M. Rose's The Murder of William of Norwich (which I reviewed in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (2016): 410-11), and Heather Blurton's "The Language of the Liturgy in the Life and Miracles of William of Norwich" (Speculum 2015).
Earlier posts in the "Stories of Blood" series:
Stories of Blood 1: Real and Recent Blood (this post has the project background)
Stories of Blood 2: The Blood of Race
Stories of Blood 3: Histories of Blood
Stories of Blood 4: Impure Blood
Stories of Blood 5: City of Catastrophes
PDF of Bibliography
PDF of Bibliography
The Flow of Blood in Norwich
For the kings of England who ruled in the wake of his revision of insular history, Geoffrey of Monmouth had provided a politically useful text. Not least among the political benefits of the History of the Kings of Britain was its ability to feed regnal ambitions of annexing more of the island to their realm. Geoffrey's depiction of a primordial, pan-insular orbit of power was to assist in attempting to make an England out of Britain, in attempting to substitute a small and increasingly consolidated part of the island for its vast, dispersed, and heterogeneous whole. To know that Britannia in its entirety had once been ruled by empire-hungry monarchs uncannily similar to the two Williams, the two Henrys, and even (in his more ambitious moments) Stephen was reassuring, uniting present and past in unbroken semblance. As Henry II and the kings who followed were to discover, Geoffrey's text could also buttress a contemporary royal appetite for expansion through the weight of ancient precedent. Such fortifying potential helps account for the text's authority and wide popularity, as well as for its translation into English and French. Geoffrey of Monmouth had bestowed upon a nation, perhaps unwittingly, the mythology that would one day allow it both to consolidate its interior and extend its borders.
Though much of the action in the History unfolds in Wales, London is not neglected. The current seat of monarchal power had, according to Geoffrey, been founded as a capital by no less a figure than Brutus himself, the warrior-king who first brought civilization to the island. As Troia Nova, "New Troy," the city on the banks of the Thames was given a gloriously classical pedigree. Geoffrey carefully described the corruption of the city's name over the long ages into Trinovantum, a word familiar from Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War. As the centuries progressed, Geoffrey notes, the city's title mutated from Kaerlud to Kaerlundein to English London and thence (as its apparent culmination) to the Norman French Lundres. London's name may change in Geoffrey's text, but the place remains throughout the History of the Kings of Britain a settlement of mythic importance.
Such resplendent legends became the very stuff of civic pride. London developed by no later than the fifteenth century the tradition of parading the giants defeated by Brutus at his arrival on the island. Eventually effigies of these monsters were installed in Guildhall itself. Yet epic battles against primal enemies and stories of illustrious founding fathers were all well and good when one happened to be a Londoner, a locale that could be metonymically substituted for the English nation itself. Vexingly, Geoffrey's text provided scant material for fostering local community if one happened to dwell in some other English city, perhaps a place of dense population and thriving industry but a location wholly ignored in the chronicles of Brutus and his progeny. What good, for example, was the History of the Kings of Britain to the thousands who inhabited Norwich, a city that merits not a single acknowledgement of existence in Geoffrey of Monmouth's work? By the late sixteenth century Norwich chroniclers, desperate to attach their hometown to some deeper history, were dreaming that their city's Norman castle had been built by the ancient Britons and refortified by Julius Caesar.[i] Such imaginative revisions of history were a long time in coming, however. Intent on he was on imaging an alternative history for the island that would center around the Britons rather than the English, Geoffrey simply had not provided sufficient materials for the construction of provincial English solitaries.
Second perhaps only to London in size, Norwich -- unlike the nation's capital -- had been shattered by the conquest, an architectural and social reordering still palpable as the twelfth century progressed.[ii] By the middle of the century, the city was finally restabilizing after its drastic reconfiguring, slowly congealing into an urban collective desiring to envision its own community. Given the lingering scars of its history, however, this process of civic unification was destined to be fraught. If a harmonious Norwich was going to emerge from its devastating past, from a history that included the seizure and destruction of its ancient buildings, the dispersal of its indigenous community, and the institution of enduring social bifurcations based upon forced subjugation and differences in race, then the city was going to have to find a coherence-giving mythology of its own. Unlike London, it could not look to find the materials for the construction of a new civic unity in the national mythology originated by Geoffrey of Monmouth, for his work imagined an island centered around London and various cities in Wales. It offered nothing to adopt for local use.
A few decades after Geoffrey of Monmouth completed his History of the Kings of Britain, another cleric who likewise christened himself Monemutensis ("of Monmouth") produced a text similarly obsessed with race, blood, history, community, and monsters.[iii] Thomas of Monmouth composed the Vita et passio sancti Willelmi martyris Norwicensis (known in English as the Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich) while attached to the Benedictine priory supporting Norwich cathedral. Whereas Geoffrey of Monmouth dedicated his History to powerful nobles of international renown (Robert of Gloucester, Waleran of Meulan), Thomas of Monmouth addresses his Vita to William Turbo, the Bishop of Norwich who had previously been a member of the cathedral's monastery.[iv] Whereas Geoffrey's epochal narrative was preoccupied with nations and empires, Thomas aimed this remarkable saint's life at a purely local community. The work has been the subject of much penetrating scholarship over the years, most of it attempting to determine whether Thomas was the inventor of the blood libel, the myth that Jews murder Christians for ritualistic purposes.[v] John M. McCulloh has meticulously demonstrated that Thomas was recording a mythology blossoming around a Norwich boy supposedly murdered at Jewish hands, a mythology so potent that it could be deployed a few years after William's death in northern France and the Rhineland (places intimately connected to Norwich through trade routes) in support of violence against Jews. Anti-Jewish sentiment was certainly an international phenomenon in the Middle Ages. Yet these stories told about the murdered William were also disseminated to achieve local ambitions.
Having delineated the traumatic effect of conquest on Norwich in the previous chapter, I would now like to excavate from Thomas's Life of St William some of the tenacious effects of postcoloniality visible in the city at the time of the boy's death in 1144, and suggest that the martyr becomes in Thomas's narrative integral to the imagining of a new civic community. Thomas's text records, albeit in polemic form, beliefs circulating within and therefore of some importance to the city to which both he and the boy belonged.[vi] In promulgating a narrative centered upon a Jewish desire to shed innocent Christian blood, Thomas attempted to give authoritative form to a story that could bring into unity a city long divided by its history. Though several contemporary sources allude to the supposed martyrdom of William, only Thomas of Monmouth narrated the boy's death in any detail. He is also the only source to provide an account of secret Jewish rites occurring in the city and of the sanguinary flows that were supposed to have accompanied them.[vii] My reading of the events in Norwich, stressing local context over master narratives, owes an obvious debt to David Nirenberg's work. At the same time, it bears in mind a caveat advanced by Susan Reynolds several decades ago: to understand a community like a town in light only of its origins, or to proceed as if its contours and content were unchanging, is to obscure the vitality of the lived experience of space, of the shifting conditions under which the terms defining community change.[viii] Like Gavin I. Langmuir and other scholars of the ritual murder accusation, I will examine Thomas's fascination with Jews and blood. Yet it is my contention that in recording a lurid story that a group of Jews living in Norwich had crucified a young boy, a story that transformed his fellow French speaking inhabitants of the town into homicidal monsters, Thomas, like Geoffrey of Monmouth, was narrativizing a new poetics of race. This time Norman and English difference was not to be undergirded via historical support, as in the History of the Kings of Britain, but rendered beside the point through a monster whose crimson-soaked hands carried the ocular proof of Norwich's shared and exclusionary flow of blood.
"About suffering they were never wrong, / The Old Masters."
Brueghel's The Fall of Icarus is a visually overwhelming painting: aquamarine expanses of ocean, luminous hills and trees, a world alive with oxen, plowmen, shepherds. The young boy with failed wings plummets to his watery death in a crowded foreground, legs barely visible above engulfing waves. A ship continues its oblivious voyage, a farmer tends his fields, the sun radiates indifferent gold. Transforming Brueghel's painting into poetry, W. H. Auden observed in "Musée des Beaux Arts" that such deaths occur with a diurnal weariness:
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not especially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood. [ix]
The tragedy of Icarus's fall is that nothing changes in its wake, for none bear lasting witness to its horror and loss. Under what conditions might the demise of a child "who did not especially want it to happen" -- a small death, a sad death, below the notice of any but a grieving few -- how might such a death be transformed into an event that has the potential through commemoration to call into being new kinds of community? How might the spectacular passing of an ordinary boy become invested with the fears and hopes of a divided multitude, rendering them for the first time a unity? For that is exactly what was attempted in Norwich in the years following 1144, when a twelve year old apprentice named William was tortured and slain by unknown hands, his corpse abandoned in the woods. His family tried desperately to ensure that he would not, like Brueghel's Icarus, slip into silent oblivion. They found unlikely allies in the great cathedral that stood as a lasting monument to the Norman reconfiguration of the city. According to the Vita of this unlikely saint, the sanctification of the murdered boy enabled the coming into being of a new solidarity for a city long divided by the ambivalent, enduring legacy of the events instigated by William of Normandy eighty years earlier: differences and segregations of ethnicity, class, language, urban geography, history, allegiance, sexuality. The flow of blood that emanated from St. William, first English martyr to the suddenly murderous Jews, tells an intriguing story about the local dynamics of how community was reimagined in the long wake of the conquest.
Thomas's sensational story begins not just with a corpse, but with the most troubling kind of cadaver: the body of a child, a boy whose bruised and punctured flesh proclaimed the tortures to which he had been subjected before his death. Such was the discovery made on March 24, 1144, when the holy woman Legarda and a forester named Henry de Sprowston made their separate way through Thorpe Wood, the dense expanse of trees and brush just outside of urban Norwich. According to Thomas, both travelers came across the body of a twelve-year-old male who, dead for several days, had been hastily dumped beneath the trees, "dressed in his jacket and shoes, his head shaved, and punctured with countless stabs."[x] Legarda and her companions watched as ravens attempted to devour what they thought was an unanticipated woodland snack, but the body proved invulnerable to beak and claw. Convinced that she had witnessed a miracle, Legarda returned home "rejoicing" (gratulabunda) , and seems never to have mentioned her discovery to anyone else.[xi] Henry de Sprowston later happened by the same spot in his travels through the forest. He immediately noted not only the numerous wounds upon the corpse, but also that someone had placed in the boy's mouth a wooden "device of torture" (ligneum tormentum, in reality a teasel, a device for raising a nap on cloth). Anxious to be home for Easter, Henry likewise continued on his way. The body meanwhile caused a "strange excitement" throughout the city (1.12). Members of the community ("especially the boys and the young men") wandered into the trees to gaze upon the signs of abuse on the dead flesh. On Easter Monday, Henry returned and buried the body beneath the tree on which it had at one point been hanging. All present at the interment agreed that they could smell divine flowers, the odor of sanctity. The child was eventually identified as a boy named William, an apprentice leatherworker (pelliparia) who had vanished some days earlier.
William disappeared during Holy Week at the hands of a mysterious stranger. Claiming to be the cook of William, the archdeacon of Norwich, this man of unknown identity appeared at the boy's mother's door and offered William a job in archdeacon's household. Even though William's mother did not believe this imposter who begged to "make away" with her boy (rogat ille, sed ut perdat …Ille se archidiaconi coquum asserit; illa uero nequaquam credit, 1.4) she allowed him to take her son after a payment of silver -- just like, William's biographer is quick to point out, Jesus was betrayed through monetary exchange. According to a young girl sent by William's aunt to spy on this mysterious coquus, the boy was brought to the house of a prominent Jew to whom (we later learn) at least one prominent citizen of the town was deeply indebted. A few days later, William's abused body is discovered in the woods. In modern times we would not hesitate to blame the gruesome murder upon a pedophile or serial killer. Norwich in the twelfth century had no such ready construct, no prefabricated answer to the (ultimately inexplicable) mystery of why the boy should have died so horribly. Perhaps not surprisingly, the monster deployed to make sense of this senseless act was the Jew. In surveying the flourishing of the belief that Jews routinely desecrated the Eucharistic host, Miri Rubin writes that whereas host represents Christian community, the Jews "carried difference in their bodies, in their rejection of Christian truths, in their palpable mundane otherness."[xii] Rubin examines a pernicious narrative that emerged toward the end of the thirteenth century. In mid twelfth-century England, however, much of the mythology of ethical, bodily and cultural deviance that would be so well established by the close of the European Middle Ages had yet to be attached to the Jews.[xiii] Not yet notorious well poisoners or spreaders of the plague, Jews had also yet to be accused of forcibly circumcising or cannibalizing Christians. Nor had it yet been "discovered" that the key ingredient for matzo was innocent blood. The bodies of Jews need not be represented with hooked noses, large ears, horns, or a tail; the decrees of the third and fourth Lateran Councils that Jews wear distinguishing clothes were still decades away. No claim had yet been advanced that Jewish men bled once a month like women, sanguinary proof of their difference from Christian somatic normalcy.[xiv] Although the accusation that Jews murdered children as part of their religious rituals had been made previously, the last time such a story circulated was in a narrative from seven centuries previous, a text unknown in twelfth-century Britain.[xv]
On the other hand, as John McCulloh has pointed out, when the Jews arrived in Norwich (probably in the early 1130s) negative expectations concerning them were already in circulation.[xvi] Herbert de Losinga once concluded a Christmas sermon with a story in which a Jewish father, enraged that his son has received communion at a church, hurls the boy into an oven. The tale is meant to convey the triumphant power of the Virgin, who keeps the child safe from harm until the Christians arrive to rescue him. Yet the narrative also makes a monster out of his father, who would rather incinerate his son alive than lose him to conversion. His punishment, along with any of his coreligionists who refuse baptism at the hands of an angry Christian mob, is to be hurled into the furnace himself, "a most just vengeance on the heads of the Jews."[xvii] Another of Herbert's sermons, this time for Palm Sunday, spoke of Jewish malignity, perfidy, and deicide. It highlights Jesus's rebuke of Jewish money-changers in the Temple, and emphasizes Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion.[xviii]
An apparent absence of ingrained or inherited malice towards Jews, moreover, ought not to be overplayed. Some scholars of the events in Norwich have implied that because no massacre followed directly from the charge of Jewish culpability in William's death, hatred of Jews and the desire for their destruction are incidental or even unimportant in the Vita composed by Thomas, and that the work cannot be placed in the history of antisemitism. Yet violence need not claim bodies before its force matters, nor must violence always take physical form. It can be enacted through law, through segregation in space, through enforced economic disparity, even through narrative. The representational violence of Herbert's sermons must surely be connected to the engendering of ill-will towards the Jewish immigrants in the city. It is also worth keeping in mind that when the Empress and claimant to the throne Matilda held her Easter court in Oxford in 1141, she extorted money from the town's Jews to finance her martial ambitions. After Stephen took the town from her by siege, he mandated several more of these punishing monetary transactions and threatened to burn the houses of Jews who failed to comply.[xix] That the king did not in fact incinerate the Oxford Jews inside their domiciles does not render the episode nonviolent. Stephen's extravagant threat may well have been resonating in Norwich a few years later when the accusation was being made against the Jews there.
Yet in the end we do not have any documentary evidence that the Jewish newcomers to Norwich were initially greeted with any special animus. When an important Jew of the city is summoned to the woods outside Norwich where he will meet his death at the hands of the men of Simon de Novers, he rides a horse and carries a sword but brings no retinue, a sign of the relative safety he perceived when traveling among Christians. Perhaps the absence of strong anti-Jewish feeling is why when William's uncle, Godwin Sturt, proclaims at a diocesan synod that the Jews must have been responsible for his nephew's death, the accusation fails at first to arouse much outrage. While some citizens are sympathetic to Godwin, none are impassioned enough to commit those crimes which within a few decades will inevitably follow such allegations: the forced conversion or murder of Jews, the ransacking and destruction of their homes. Promoted mainly by Godwin and attracting only weak support from the city's bishop, William’s incipient cult seems destined to become an early version of the sanctity which was attached abortively to John of Hampton, a participant in the plunder of Stamford's Jewish domiciles in 1190. According to William of Newburgh, John was subsequently murdered by a greedy accomplice and his body abandoned. When signs and dreams convinced the local people that the corpse was sacred, the local clergy attempted to profit from the veneration, but Bishop Hugh of Lincoln squelched the burgeoning movement. Enthusiasm for the unlikely "martyr" quickly ebbed.[xx] More innocent but no less unlikely a candidate for sanctification, William of Norwich was likewise buried and -- despite the efforts of some supporters -- the memory of his murder receded from public consciousness.
Thomas arrived on the scene around 1150, a monk attached to the cathedral priory. For unknown reasons he took an immediate interest in the dead boy and quickly became an ardent lobbyist for his saintliness. His eventual reward was to be appointed the new saint's sacrist, responsible for the maintenance and continued honor of his tomb.[xxi] Several years after the events which he purports to describe, Thomas composed a narrative of William's suffering, death, and posthumous miracles, supposedly based upon eyewitness accounts.[xxii] Thomas arrived in Norwich at a particularly opportune time for the revival of Godwin's accusation. Servants of Simon de Novers had murdered a man named in the Latin text "Deus-adiuuet" (probably an imprecise translation of the Hebrew name Eleazar), the richest Jew in the city and a moneylender to whom their lordly master was deeply indebted. William Turbe, the cathedral's third bishop and the man from whom Simon held his land, announced that no enquiry should proceed into the murder until the Jews were first brought to justice for William's death.[xxiii] The city found itself sundered along ecclesiastical, regnal, and civic lines as the case was passionately argued and eventually brought before the king, who in typical fashion left it unresolved by postponing judgment sine die (2.14). Thomas seems to have been living in Norwich within perhaps a year of these events and would therefore have found himself a new resident in an uneasy milieu.
After Æthelmær, the last English bishop of East Anglia, was deposed in 1070, the bishops who followed were royally appointed Normans lacking in local connections. Herfast, condemned by Archbishop Lanfranc as unlearned and fond of vulgar jests, moved the epsicopal seat to Thetford and reigned until 1084; William de Bellofago quietly followed and was bishop until 1090.[xxiv] The first two bishops to reign from Norwich cathedral, the monk and simoniac Herbert and the former royal chaplain Eborard (or Everard, as it is sometimes written), were likewise recipients of the seat through monarchical fiat. The aftermath of William's murder mainly unfolds during the episcopacy of William Turbe, a Norman monk from the cathedral priory who – much against the wishes of Sheriff John de Chesney, the local agent of the throne – was the first bishop to be elected by his fellow monks rather than nominated by the king. Bishop William was, unlike the men who preceded and followed him in office, neither a well-connected aristocrat nor a royal administrator. He had been trained by and spent almost his entire life in the Norwich monastery and cathedral. The canonization effort, in other words, unfolds at time of unprecedented autonomy, unity, and local focus for the cathedral and its monks. In the last chapter we witnessed Herbert haranguing his monks for not dedicating themselves to the building of the cathedral with the same enthusiasm that he felt. His successor Eborard was a secular priest possessed of a courtly background, a penchant for nepotism, and a disregard for chastity. He likewise often had great difficulty exacting obedience from his monks. Bishop Eborard resigned his episcopate in 1145 to retire to France. It is not known if he was forced from his seat, perhaps by Stephen himself, but the resignation of a bishop was a rare and extremely serious matter. That his follower in office, the monk William Turbe, could be chosen by internal consensus and that his election was allowed to stand by the king is likewise extraordinary. Just two years earlier while prior, Turbe had proven himself a vociferous critic of royal prerogative by opposing Sheriff John and the justices over the prosecution of the Jews for William's murder.[xxv] Yet Turbe's election was allowed to stand, allowing the cathedral community a more provincial character than it had previously possessed. William Turbe had probably entered the monastery as child oblate.[xxvi] He seems to have been from boyhood a protégé of Herbert himself, and is probably the addressee of several of that bishop's letters. He rose through the monastery's offices, a sign of the regard his brethren had for him. Steeped from childhood in the world of the cathedral and its close, a longtime denizen of Norwich who lacked the courtly background of his predecessors, Turbe was well positioned to quell any tension that might in the past have strained relations between bishop and priory.
"In the Tempest that was Stephen's Reign"
The death of William and the attempt to render him a saint unfold during what was for all of England an especially turbulent time, an era during which any progress that had been made in uniting a racially bifurcated England into a harmonious whole began to come undone. The author of the Gesta Stephani, loyal as he was to the crown, realized that during Stephen's reign long-buried traumas were being, quite literally, exhumed. When the rebel Geoffrey Talbot attacks the royal troops at Hereford, he drives the priests from the cathedral church and renders the ecclesiastical structure "a haunt of war and blood." In order to construct a defensive rampart for his forces Talbot disinters a graveyard:
The townsmen were uttering cries of lamentation ... the earth of their kinsfolk's graveyard was being heaped up to form a defensive rampart and they could see, cruel sight, the bodies of parents and relations, some half-rotten, some quite lately buried, pitilessly dragged from the depths (1.53)
As even to his staunchest defenders had to admit, Stephen's years as king were not a time when the buried dead could slumber in peace. The incident at Hereford is symbolically potent, a reminder that the even when the past seems laid to rest, present perturbations can revivify its pain. When civil war erupted between Stephen and the Empress Matilda, England was forcefully reminded of the strife that had disturbed its own history not all that long before. A realm that had seemed solid was faced once more with its fragility.
Ea tempestate qua Regis Stephani florebat regnum, immo iusticia languente degenerabat ... The words of description that Thomas of Monmouth utilizes to set the historical context for the events he describes in the vita say it all. "In the time [tempestate] when the reign of King Stephen was flourishing, or rather, in the decline of justice, was languishing" (2.10). Tempestas is a Latin noun that can innocuously designate "time" or "season," but also carries the meaning of "tempest, storm" as well as "disturbance, calamity." It is clear that Thomas means to play on all these possibilities to describe the unsettled nature of the kingdom.[xxvii] The transformations and consolidations of William, William Rufus and Henry having come to an end, Thomas narrates events that unfold during Stephen's troubled kingship (1135-54), infamous among historians medieval and contemporary for its social turbulence.[xxviii] Stephen was the nephew of Henry I and had taken the throne on his uncle's death. His hopes dashed by the sinking of the White Ship and subsequent failure to produce a son in his second marriage, Henry had designated as heir his daughter, Matilda. Considering that so many magnates swore in 1126 to accept her as their future ruler, the fact that she would be England's first reigning queen did not apparently pose an insurmountable obstacle to her ascent. What became a problem, however, was that Matilda took as her second husband Geoffrey, the young duke of Anjou. The Angevins had long been enemies of the Normans. Perhaps dissatisfaction with Matilda's husband is what enabled Stephen to win such widespread support when he appeared in England at his uncle's death to seek the crown. Despite the fact that Stephen had been anointed as king by the archbishop of Canterbury, however, Matilda and her allies were not going to cede him the throne. With the help of her half brother Robert of Gloucester (Henry's powerful but illegitimate son, one of the dedicatees of Geoffrey's History of the Kings of Britain), Matilda determined to seize the realm by force. Her disembarkation in England in 1139 precipitated nine years of unrest.
The violence that erupted in Stephen's reign amounted to the first civil war of long duration that had ever occurred England. The fierce contention over succession breathed new life into historical traumas that had seemed peacefully interred. The same questions of origin, history, and community that had faced the realm in the wake of the conquest were reawakened. The ethnic tensions so evident two generations earlier resurfaced. Osbert of Clare could write in a life of Edward the Confessor completed in 1138 that the native English (innati Angli) were still suffering from the events that unfolded after Edward's death, while the Liber Eliensis contains a reference to a plot to seize the kingdom for the English and ruin the French.[xxix] Perhaps Orderic Vitalis had this conspiracy in mind when he noted that in 1137 the king was told of a plan "to kill all the Normans on a fixed day and hand over the government of the kingdom to the Scots" (Ecclesiastical History 6.494). Yet despite Orderic's polarized description, Stephen's reign did not see a return to the bifurcated society engendered by William's subjugation of the English. Seven decades of intermarriage and acculturation were not easily reversed. Both Matilda and Stephen, moreover, counted among their partisans men of both English and Norman descent. Because the English fought on both sides during the civil war, the contemporary turmoil engendered not a return to clear-cut racial binarisms (English versus Normans) but endemic anxiety over the future of national community. In the words of John Gillingham, during Stephen's reign England's slow transformation into a united, "culturally homogenous island" -- a process complicated but by no means arrested by the Norman conquest -- was "to be halted, in some senses reversed, and in others profoundly transformed."[xxx] The past that had at last been settled, the present that had seemed secure, and the clear future that had seemed self-evident were now muddled. No province of England was immune to a perturbation that was as psychological and social as it was visceral and violent.
Norfolk was no exception. The city of Norwich found itself the site of a major siege during the war. According to Henry of Huntingdon, the royal castle was seized by Hugh Bigod, the future earl of Norfolk who was destined to be in frequent revolt against Stephen. When the king arrived with his army to retake the fortification, Hugh released his prize only with great reluctance: "So already the madness of the Normans," Henry wrote, "was beginning to spread, in faithlessness and treachery."[xxxi] A version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, composed at the monastery in nearby Peterborough, contains an extended visualization of the civil war's toll in human suffering and lives. In an entry dated 1137 but actually composed perhaps two decades later, the author condenses events that unfolded over a span of years to convey that, in retrospect, the reign of Stephen had amounted to an unraveling of the kingdom's cohesion. Rebels against the monarch's authority, the chronicle, notes
oppressed the wretched people of the country severely with their castle-building. When the castles were built, they filled them with devils and wicked men. Then, both by day and night they took those people that they thought had any goods – men and women – and put them in prison and tortured them with indescribable torture to extort gold and silver – for no martyrs were ever tortured as they were. They were hung by their thumbs or by the head, and corselets were hung on their feet. Knotted ropes were put round their heads and twisted till they penetrated to the brains. They put them in prisons where there were adders and snakes and toads, and killed them like that. Some they put in a 'torture-chamber' [crucet-hus]– that is in a chest that was short, narrow, and shallow, and they put sharp stones in it and pressed the man so that he had all his limbs broken. In many of the castles there was a 'noose-and-trap' – consisting of chains of such a kind that two or three men had enough to do to carry one. It was so made that it was fastened to a beam, and they used to put a sharp iron around the man's throat and his neck, so that he could not in any direction either sit or lie or sleep, but had to carry all that iron. Many thousands were killed by starvation.
I have neither the ability nor the power to tell the horrors nor all the torments they inflicted upon wretched people in this country; and that lasted nineteen years while Stephen was king, and it was always going from bad to worse.[xxxii]
For ne uuæren næure nan martyrs swa pined alse hi wæron. I have quoted the entry at some length, but it continues for many more lines in a similar vein, an ever-dilating chronicle of rapine, sacrilege, murder, anarchy. Violence against the bodies of the people is paralleled by violence against the land itself.[xxxiii] Populous villages become empty; cultivated ground reverts to waste. Time seems to be spinning backwards as signs of humanity recede from the landscape, evidence of humaneness vanishes from the country's powerful. The entry for 1137 terminates with the following:
Now we wish to describe to some extent what happened in king Stephen's time. In his time, the Jews of Norwich [Iudeus of Noruuic] bought a Christian child before Easter and tortured him with all the torture that our Lord was tortured with; and on Good Friday hanged him upon a cross on account of our Lord, and then buried him. They expected it would be concealed, but our Lord made it plain that he was a holy martyr, and the monks took him and buried him with ceremony in the monastery, and through our Lord he has worked wonderful and varied miracles, and he is called St. William [hatte he Sanct Willelm].
William died, of course, in 1144 rather than 1137. Yet the author of this portion of the chronicle apparently places the murder here because he sees a link between the English men and women who were tortured "as no martyrs were ever tortured" and this boy tormented and slain by Jews (the same Old English verb, pined, is used to describe the pains endured by the suffering English, the martyrs, and William). Saintly William serves as the perfect body with which to close the narrative of the civil war because, once "buried with ceremony in the monastery," he offers the possibility of at last transcending dividedness and tumult. The chronicler has also perhaps not failed to notice the similarity between the tortures endured by the populace during the war and those endured by the apprentice leatherworker turned innocent stand-in for Christ: the knotted cord twisted about suffering heads, suspension upon beams, and perhaps the crucifixion reference implicit in the strange torture called the crucet-hus.[xxxiv] William is described by Thomas as a victim of the Jews. For the Peterborough chronicler, he is by association a victim of the wars waged by Stephen, Matilda, and the great magnates of the realm against each other.[xxxv] William is, in other words, a figure for a national community that has been torn apart but endures.
The vita composed by Thomas has its own uncanny similarities with narrations of the troubles during Stephen's reign such as those in the Peterborough Chronicle. One of the few miracles to receive an extended treatment by Thomas unfolds in the same horrifying space envisioned in such gruesome detail by the chronicle, a castle dungeon. In the preceding chapter I cited the opening line from a poem provided by the Peterborough Chronicle as part of an obituary for William I: "Castelas he let wyrcean," "He had castles built." These structures are in the text powerful symbols of the sea-change in island politics brought about by the Normans. As civil war tears the kingdom apart, castles once again rise to the oppress the earme men in the entry for 1087, uurecce men in 1137. The latter entry is the one that brings us inside one of these structures, where we witness innocents crushed by rocks, strung on chains, miserably imprisoned. The Peterborough Chronicle makes clear that England has been returned to the worst days of the conquest, when the kingdom was so deeply divided that it seemed it would never again cohere. Likewise, having earlier brought us inside a Jew's house where rather similar tortures were being blasphemously performed, Thomas later conveys us to a dank prison where a group of captives find themselves in a scene rather similar to that imagined in the Peterborough Chronicle:
There was, then, a woman of Brandney (Bardney?) named Wimarc, who in the time of Stephen, when the days were evil, was given as a hostage at Gainsborough for her husband who had been taken by pirates. In his stead she was committed to prison with three other women and one man, and there she remained for long. These people, after long enduring miserably cold, hunger, stench, and attacks of toads, began to plan in concert the death of their gaoler (6.13)
The captives squeeze the venom from one of the prison's toads (bufones [the Peterborough Chronicle calls them pades] were held to be as poisonous as adders) and mix it with the gaoler's drink. Suspecting treachery, he forces them to imbibe first. All but Wimarc immediately perish. As a result of the toxin her flesh swells to the point where her skin almost tears. Even after exiting the prison, for the next seven years she is possessed of the body not of a human being but of "some portentous new monster."[xxxvi] A pilgrimage to William's shrine at "a solemn feast-day, when according to custom a great throng of people had assembled at the blessed martyr's tomb" brings her instant relief. She vomits the toad's venom over the pavement in front of the tomb ("there was enough of it to fill a vessel of the largest size") and is restored to her formerly slim shape. The poisons of the past having been disgorged, Wimarc can cease to be a monster and settle back into the moderate contours of her newly restored body.
Contemporary events may also be what provokes Thomas to make so much of the association of Candlemas with the cult of William. The boy was born, we are told, on this feast day commemorating the purification of Mary (Vita 1.2). Perhaps not coincidentally, Candlemas was a day infamously attached to Stephen. On that date in 1141, against much advice to the contrary, the king had decided to initiate disastrous hostilities at Lincoln, a campaign that would culminate in his capture and imprisonment. Henry of Huntingdon, Orderic Vitalis, and the Gesta Stephani record that as the bishop gave Stephen a burning candle to carry into mass that morning, the candle shattered and the flame was snuffed out – a portent, it was thought, of impending catastrophes.[xxxvii] For anyone who knew this story (and it was obviously widely disseminated), the association of William with the Feast of the Purification and the burning of candles must have been a reminder of the bad days of the civil war, now laid to rest at the martyr's peaceful tomb. The tortured child transformed into a beautific saint offered an attractive embodiment of strife previously endured and now, perhaps, to be transcended. William's corpse was, after all, discovered in the spring of 1144, five years into the civil war initiated when Matilda appeared at Arundel in September of 1139. Add to the recent social unrest endured by the region Elisabeth van Houts' observation that the trauma of the conquest was felt most acutely after a time lag of several generations, as a psychic blow that took years to manifest itself symptomatically in the writing of history as a kind of working-through its personal and institutional legacies.[xxxviii] Such widespread uncertainty seems to have given both urgency and momentum to the desire to imagine England as a harmonious, integrated realm. Thus the multiple crises which erupted during Stephen's reign -- the contested crown, civil war, a bloody Welsh resurgence and Scottish invasions into England, the rekindling of old worries about the inclusiveness of the English nation -- appear to have assisted in the emergence during the middle of the century of what one influential historian of the period describes as "a new sense of national identity after the traumas of the Norman conquest."[xxxix] The discovery of William's body occurred at a time when the fabric of political life was shifting, uncertain. Norfolk in general tended to be securely royalist, with its sheriff John de Chesney supporting Stephen, but the bishop sided with Matilda, while Earl Hugh Bigod pledged himself to one side and then another, avoiding secure alliance.[xl] The duress of civil war had, further, been joined by devastating famines in 1150 and 1151, with thousands dead of hunger and disease throughout England.[xli]
William's cult begins to burgeon once Henry of Anjou, son of the Empress Matilda, has been accepted as successor to a Stephen who had unexpectedly found himself heirless. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Thomas appears to have composed the first six books of his Vita shortly after Stephen died in 1154, a period when the future of the realm looks increasingly more settled and prolonged domestic tranquility a very real possibility.[xlii] The time was right, it seems, for sorting out the new rules of exactly who is to belong to this emergent community.
Of the Wondrous Sign in the Wax
I too had prayers that needed answering. An ox so ill with fever it wouldn't move from the straw. A son so prodigal he didn't return home in three days. A daughter pretending to be sick when any ass could see she was pregnant. I took all the beeswax I saved for winter and cut it into three. A big one for the Holy Trinity, the power of the cathedral. A small piece for Saint Faith, at my parish church. A little share for little Saint William, murdered by the Jews.
I forgot to make the candles. The wax sat in my chest for weeks, until Godric asked me to the mass for Saint Faith. How could I say no? I grabbed a piece of wax and cut into its sticky whiteness with a knife. My friend, here was the miracle: the wax began to bleed. Thick red drops sprang from each cut, glistened on my hand, dripped upon the table. I knew right away that I had done wrong. This candle I was fashioning for Saint Faith I had promised to Saint William, martyr born of blood.[xliii]
Blood in Norwich
The Life of Saint William of Norwich affords an extraordinary glimpse into the local dynamics through which some of these new possibilities for community proceeded. Though the narrative rhetorically embraces a national audience, speaking of an all-encompassing Anglia and an undifferentiated, totalized Angli nostri ("our own Englishmen," I.Prologue), Thomas's text is an intended catalyst for struggles over communitas specific to Norwicensem prouintiam ("the parts about Norwich," 1.1). The Vita, in other words, is not necessarily or even likely a truthful record of the events that occurred following William's death. It is instead a transformation into narrative of the supposed circumstances surrounding the event, envisioning a fractured and disharmonious urban collective as united and enduring. These local and comparatively modest ambitions of the cult of St William therefore make it different in kind from the veneration of most other English, and particularly East Anglian, saints. James Campbell has demonstrated that the cults of the pre-conquest English saints were politically useful for their power to unify the nation beneath the authority of the king, since they served as "nodes and links in a network which connected royal power to local piety over most of England."[xliv] Thomas realizes that few saints are universal to the church, and so in presenting his argument for the sanctity of the murdered William he invokes the king and martyr Edmund and the confessor Cuthbert (2.1). These utterly English saints typify the national veneration of which Campbell speaks, a worship that – as Hugh M. Thomas has recently stressed – "acted as a vehicle for the survival of Englishness" after the conquest.[xlv]
Yet William's cult demonstrates that revered bodies could become "nodal points" for communalizations profoundly uninterested in monarchs, epochal histories, and nations. My use of the adjective "local" to examine the relation between William and his fellow citizens of Norwich, moreover, should not obscure the fact that seemingly circumscribed communities like an urban collectivity are not necessarily any less internationally minded than, for example, nation-states.[xlvi] The impression of Norwich that develops from the Vita is at once provincial (minimal rhetoric connects the city to the kingdom) and global (the text demonstrates repeatedly that Norwich maintained important ties to the continent through trade and through its own citizenry, including the Jews).
A refreshingly recalcitrant boy in life, a rascal, the murdered William was transformed by Thomas and other supporters into the purest of saints, the first of many child martyrs imagined to be lost to Jewish torture. Thomas admits from the start William's improbable sanctity. When glimpsed in heaven William appears as "a boy as it were of twelve years old, reclining upon a golden footstool. His raiment was whiter than snow, and his face brighter than the sun, and upon his head their shown a golden crown, studded everywhere with precious stones" (2.4).[xlvii] This transfiguration into blinding purity and stunning opulence seems to come as quite a shock to many who actually knew William. Chief among those skeptical of the boy's supposed miracles, Thomas writes, are the residents of Norwich who remember William as puerulum pauperculum pannosum ("a poor, ragged little lad"). Twelve years old and living on his own, William is no puerulus ("little boy"); the diminutive seems to be hurled here simply to convey contempt. Perhaps as a result of familial poverty, William was training for a profession generally scorned because of the sheer nastiness of the materials with which one worked: "this poor neglected little fellow [was] picking up a precarious livelihood at his tanner's business" (2.8). William seems to have possessed an adolescent's attraction to outsiders. His uncle, Godwin Sturt, and Wulward, the man with whom William lives, warn him not to associate with the Jews. Being a twelve year old boy, he promptly does just that, and the Jews return the affection by giving him extra business. Transforming this amicable relationship into homicide does not, Thomas knows, have textual precedent. Nor have the elaborate tortures to which the Jews supposedly submit William been previously enacted on anyone but Christ. Thomas must therefore constantly acknowledge his subject matter's evident unlikeliness. "If some things introduced in this book should seem to any improbable (Si quis uero aliqua in libello presenti non uerisimilia interserta reppererit)," Thomas writes defensively, "let him therefore not account me guilty of falsehood" (1, prologue). William's sanctity was far from self-evident to many members of the Norwich community, even to many members of Thomas's own monastic community. For that reason the Vita is less an accurate recordation of historical events than an extended argument in defense of the boy's saintliness, an account that envisions a community of believers partly in order to bring that community into being.[xlviii]
The proof of the murder rests in the text upon dreams, miracles, supernatural endorsements, and eyewitness accounts. No less an authority than Bishop Herbert de Losinga himself appears to the author to provide a founder's benediction for the boy's burgeoning cult, as if the cathedral had been built in anticipation of this newly arrived saint.[xlix] A Christian maid is discovered who worked for the Jews, and she announces that she peered through a crack in a door and watched as they gagged their young victim, pierced him with thorns, bound him with rope and nails to a cross-like structure, punctured his side all the way to the heart.[l] In a culminating moment that entangles the Norwich murder in an international conspiracy against Christians, a converted Jew from Cambridge named Theobald confides to Thomas that once a year a Jewish tribunal in Narbonne decides which of their far-flung communities will shed Christian blood.[li] In 1144 the charge falls upon the Jews of Norwich, who obediently enact a ritual supposed to hasten their dispersed people's return to the Holy Land:
Theobald, who was once a Jew, and afterwards a monk … verily told us that that in the ancient writings of his fathers it was written that the Jews, without shedding of human blood, could never obtain their freedom, nor could they ever return to their fatherland. Hence it was laid down by them in ancient times that every year they must sacrifice a Christian in some part of the world to the Most High God in scorn and contempt of Christ … as it was because of Christ's death that they had been sent from their own country, and were in exile as slaves in a foreign land. Wherefore the chief men and Rabbis of the Jews who dwell in Spain assemble together at Narbonne … and they cast lots for all the countries which the Jews inhabit; and whatever country the lots fall upon, its metropolis has to carry out the same method with the other towns and cities … Now in that year in which we know that William, God's glorious martyr, was slain, it happened that the lot fell upon the Norwich Jews, and all the synagogues in England signified, by letter or by message, their consent (2.11)
This worldwide conspiracy removes the Jews from the local community by placing their controlling cabal in a distant Elsewhere, transnationalizing them to render them interlopers, as exiles who are ontologically excluded from the urbs Norwicensis.[lii] That the enduring unity and enmity of the Jews is made known by a convert is not insignificant. As Stephen Kruger has documented, Jews who became Christians were imagined as ambivalent figures: "uncertainty [remained] about whether religious conversion truly transformed bodies, cleansing them of their impurities, repairing their imperfections … The convert remains somehow different, still of another people, gens, race than the Christian society to which he is assimilated."[liii] Anxieties about the fragility of Christian self-identity might also be projected upon converted Jews. If a Jew were transmutable into a Christian, might Christians be susceptible to becoming something else, something that would sow further division in a world desperate for a vision of unified Christianitas?[liv] To find Theobald, ab hoste conuerso ("a converted enemy," as if iudeus and hostis were synonyms), assisting the promulgation of William's cult makes a certain amount of sense, too, given England's postcolonial experience that the line demarcating one gens or hostis from another might, to the advantage of one group, be rendered over time thin and traversable, allowing Franci a transmutation into Angli. Indeed, religious conversion (never separable from racial conversion, since creed and race were so closely linked) was destined to loom even larger in Norwich's civic history as a flashpoint for social tension. As chapter one explored, deadly violence against the Jews would erupt in the aftermath of a supposed forced circumcision in 1230, when the five-year-old boy Odard whose father had apparently converted to Christianity was found crying by the river, announcing that he was a Jew named Jurnepin. The repercussions lasted for years, with houses burned, belongings pillaged or confiscated, and some Jews eventually hanged.
Theobald's narrative of the Narbonne tribunal renders the Jews eternal outsiders whose very existence poses a bodily threat to Christians. As the gory demand of the cabal demonstrates, further, Thomas is particularly fascinated throughout his text with sanguineous efflux. His Jews are characterized by desires that Thomas labels innatus, "inborn," and chief among these seems to be a hunger for Christian blood. They are frequently labeled by Thomas christianicidae iudei and sanguinis innocentis effusores, "Christian-slaying Jews" and "shedders of innocent blood" (1 prologue; 1.16). William as a result is repeatedly described as "crowned with the blood of glorious martyrdom" (gloriosi sanguine martyrii laureatus, 1.5). His birth is presaged by a dream in which his mother takes into her womb a fish with fins "red and as it were dabbled with blood" (piscis... pinnas utrimque rubicundas et tanquam sanguine aspersas habebat, 1.1). In 1144 Passover and Easter overlapped, so that while the Christians were contemplating the suffering, death, and redemptive blood of their messiah, the Jews -- just as Jesus himself had done, at this very time -- are commemorating a sanguinary sign that once saved their firstborn from death. Returning from the synagogue on Wednesday, 22 March, the Jews of Norwich slay William as if the murder were part of their observation of Pesach (1.5).[lv] While William is eating a meal, they approach him from behind, hold him immobile, and insert into his mouth a wooden gag, the teasel that will one day be removed from his cadaver. A tightly drawn cord secures the gag and ensures that no scream will leave his mouth. A rope braided with knots is secured around his head, a makeshift crown of thorns. They shave his hair and perform a version of the scourging of Christ, stabbing repeatedly "with countless thorn-points" so that "blood came horribly from the wounds" (inlictisque uulneribus miserabiliter cruentant). To the physical tortures are added jeers and mockery. The spectacle culminates in a savage crucifixion:
Ita ergo christiani nominis aduersariis <tali ma>lignitatis spiritu circa puerum debachantibus aliqui eis interfuerunt qui in dominice passionis obprobrium crucis illum adiudicarunt patibulo. Factumque est ac si dicerent: Quemadmodum Christum morte turpissima condempnauimus, et christianum pariter condempnemus, ut dominum ac seruum pari plectentes pena improperii eius penam quam nobis asscribunt in ipsos retorqueamus. (1.5)
And thus, while these enemies of the Christian name were rioting in the spirit of malignity around the boy, some of those present adjudged him to be fixed to a cross in mockery of the Lord's passion, as though they would say, 'Even as we condemned the Christ to a shameful death, so let us also condemn the Christian, so that, uniting the Lord and his servant in a like punishment, we may retort upon themselves the pain of that reproach which they impute to us.'
The boy is bound to a cross-like structure of beams in the house, an architecture that (Thomas assures us) still bore the marks of its employ many years later when he himself entered the house to examine the sanctified timber. William's right hand and foot are tied to these beams, while his left members are transfixed by nails.[lvi]
Thomas imagines a world in which the passing of a millennium has failed to bring much change. In having the Jews re-enact the passion of Christ at the very time of year when the Christians of Norwich are commemorating the same ancient drama in their churches and cathedral, Thomas imagines that, although a thousand years separate the death of Christ from the martyrdom of William, both Christians and Jews remain locked in an unchanging enmity. The antisemitic sentiment that the Jews as a people bear a blood guilt for the death of Christ has a long history that begins, intentionally or not, in the gospels. A Jewish crowd absolves Pontius Pilate of his role in the crucifixion of Jesus by declaring "His blood be upon us and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). Thomas will repeat this very line in the Vita to condemn all Jews as culpable of deicide (2.15), broadening its scope to include those who, like Sheriff John de Chesney, sympathize with Jews. As the controversy over Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ has made clear, this ancient charge has yet to disappear. In Thomas's narrative, however, the Jews progress from slayers of Christ to slayers of Christians. The same malignity which caused them to murder the founder of the religion that now accounts them a minority continues to inhabit their souls, causing them to re-enact the passion on the most innocent members of the community. Their reasoning is especially perverse -- "'so that we may retort upon themselves the pain of that reproach which they impute to us'" – as if the crucifixion of William were payback against the Christians for the pain that they endure at the Christian taunt that they are primal crucifiers. Despite the fact that the city, the England, the Britain, and most of the Europe that Thomas inhabits is overwhelming and securely Christian, the unfolding of the passion drama in Norwich effectively transforms the Christian community into the fragile and endangered band of the faithful that they were in their earliest days, a nostalgic reimagining of the present that allows the history behind the formation of Herbert's cathedral, the priory in which Thomas writes, and all the other ecclesiastical power so evident in the city to simply vanish. As potential victims of a savage torture that unfolds not only in the vellum pages of the Bible but in the very bodies of the contemporary community, the Christians of Norwich as united as they are imperiled.
The Jews finally end the boy's life by adopting the role of the Roman soldier Longinus, inflicting a Christ-like uulnus acerbum on William's left side, a wound reaching to the boy's heart. As they puncture his crucified flesh, blood emanates in streams, "running down from all parts of his body" (et quoniam per totum corpus plurimi sanguinis defluebant riui, 1.5). Hot water must be brought to close his wounds and stop the spreading red stain from traveling through the house. As if the scene were not horrible enough in its first iteration, Thomas returns to it again in his second book. Here the crucifixion is vividly renarrated through the eyes of a maid who happens to be spying on the Jews through a chink in the door. The episode culminates as the torturers frantically pour more and more water upon the boy's grievous wounds, unable to close the openings in the flesh and staunch the sanguinary flow (2.9).
A binding substance that, at least symbolically, cannot thereafter be washed away, this Christian blood henceforth stains their Jewish hands, manus cruentae (1.5, 2.12). A double-edged adjective, cruentus means both "spotted with blood, ensanguined" and "delighting in blood, bloodthirsty": Thomas's dual signification for the Jews themselves. The special power of William's blood to stain red whatever person or object to which it adheres is emphasized in the excessive rhetoric describing the creation of his saint's stole, "dyed [red] with the rosy blood of martyrdom" (roseo martyrii sanguine rubricauit, 2.2). This reddening power continues in his miracles, the first of which is the production of a red rose on his grave during winter (2.3) and the rubification of a pale man named Lewin, who was about to die of an unknown sickness (Alternatis uero uicibus nunc pallidus et interdum apparebat rubicundus, 2.4). Later miracles include the cure of a swineherd's wife who, like the biblical woman who touched the cloak of Jesus, is "freed from a bloody flux" (a sanguinis profluuio liberata, 4.4) and the restoration of a sacrist experiencing a bloody genital flow, which the editors of the Vita describe only as "unsavoury" and leave untranslated (3.13). The sanguinary efflux associated with the saint finds its most vivid postmortem depiction, however, when thirty-two days after his death William's body is exhumed from its resting place at the city's margins to rebury within the boundaries of the cathedral precinct, in the monk's own cemetery. The nostrils of the corpse pour forth recens sanguis, "fresh blood":
But what was more wonderful still, while they were washing his face, fresh blood suddenly issued from his nostrils, so that the company of those present were amazed. As the blood kept flowing drop by drop, they who were helping at the service caught it in napkins … While the blood was flowing, so strange a fragrance of exceeding sweetness greeted their nostrils, that the very perfume evidently gave them to understand the Giver of all sweetness had in truth been present for the honouring of the holy body (1.18)
Accompanying the streaming blood is for a second time fragrant evidence of the boy's sanctity. This recens sanguis also allows the creation of multiple sanguinary relics, red-stained cloths to disseminate William's blood further into the community.
To understand what is at stake in the emanation of all this Christian blood, we need only recall the devastating reconfiguration of Norwich in the wake of its acquisition by the Normans, and the divisions that consequently marked the city. Hugh M. Thomas has recently labeled the towns of post-conquest England "crucibles of assimilation," since it is within their walls that a mixed population would have found themselves in constant contact.[lvii] Yet as the preceding chapter demonstrated, a town like Norwich might be so radically reconfigured by the Normans that racial segregation could long endure, inhibiting the process of exchange and acculturation that Thomas describes. In the years immediately following the conquest, the rift between French settlers and English natives in many towns was acute. Domesday, for example, records the bitter lament of the English burgesses at Shrewsbury that they were being economically devastated by the fact that their French counterparts were exempt from paying the danegeld. The "new castle boroughs" (as James Tait called them) were eventually assimilated "to the model of their English neighbors," and yet the process was slow, leaving scars and lasting inequalities.[lviii] John Gillingham has argued that within seventy years of 1066 the gulf between the Norman French and the native English which had once seemed insurmountable ceased to be a source of what he labels "national or ethnic tension."[lix] It might be objected that this imagined unity was perhaps true of cultural elites, but that blunt differences of class and status divided this deeply hierarchical society and that regional, civic, urban, or parochial identities might in many instances mark the outer boundary of a shared and quotidian sense of community, leaving little room for or interest in big designators like the nation.[lx] Thomas of Monmouth's text portrays a Norwich in which the possibility of imagining a community of the realm, a homogenous patria, is of little practical import, where the pulls of nationalism seem barely to penetrate an intense localism.[lxi] Even if those who had once been Normanni or Franci and Anglo-Scandinavian Englisc can now be gathered beneath the collective descriptor Angli, the residents of the city and its environs continue to find themselves segregated socially, economically, and to a degree linguistically by the tenacious effects of the conquest "accomplished" in the previous century. In the course of narrating the life of the saint and his own struggles to foster a cult, Thomas alludes repeatedly to the disparities entrenched within the city's population, differences which consistently function as racial divisions. The English of Anglo-Scandinavian descent in the Vita are comparatively poorer and of lower social status. They do not live in the Norman-created urban center; they do not have the same access to structures of ecclesiastical and civic power, especially cathedral and castle; and in general they do not appear to speak either the prestige language of the wealthiest members of the city or (except perhaps for the priests) the official language of ecclesiastical and governmental administration.
William is a local boy, the son of two English (judging from their names, non Norman-descended) parents. His family seems to have lived in or near Norwich for some time. His mother's family is clearly part of the fabric of provincial and parochial community, especially in their recurring role as parish priests. Elviva's father, Wlward, is described as presbitero famoso quidem illius temporis uiro ("a priest, a man very famous in his time" 1.1). His special skill is the interpretation of dreams, a talent he puts to good use when his daughter beholds a ruddy fish that portends the birth of her son. Wlward's plurimam exponendarum uisionum ("great experience in the expounding of visions") comes, it can be assumed, from the service he provides to his parishioners. Elviva's sister, meanwhile, is married to Godwin Sturt, a priest who seems to have been a well established local leader and voice for the community; it is Sturt, after all, who makes the formal accusation against the Jews at a synod, and it is Sturt who is later seen administering the parochial version of William's cult. Given the familial state of Godwin and Wlward, and if other incidental details provided by the Vita are to be taken seriously, twelfth century Norwich was a city racially divided not just in its architecture and topography but even in its clergy. William's grandfather, his uncle, and his maternal relation Edwin of Taverham were secular priests who -- like many provincial English lower clergy at this time -- were married and had children.[lxii] As C. N. L. Brooke has observed, the enforcement of clerical celibacy among the English clergy was at this time creating "a devastating social revolution ... with many victims," destined to produce "broken homes and personal tragedies."[lxiii] It would also have likely engendered a fair amount of hostility between married secular priests and the monastic communities who were demanding that they be emulated. Wlward, Godwin Sturt, and Sturt's son Alexander the deacon were attached first and primarily to the local parish system and the predominantly English communities centered around their churches. The chasm that could divide English-speaking parish priests from their francophone superiors is best illustrated in an incident from the vita of Wulfric of Haselbury. The hermit grants a previously mute man the power to speak in both English and French. Wulfric's servant, a priest by the resonantly English name of Brictric, complains bitterly at the miracle: "'I've served you for years, all for nothing. You've never enabled me to speak French, and when I come before the bishop and the archdeacon I have to stand dumb as any mute."[lxiv] Wulfric died in 1154, a year of which Frank Barlow observed "the bishops and the majority of the abbots were of French ancestry, the lower clergy of Anglo-Danish."[lxv] Wulfric's vita was composed around 1185, suggesting just how long this division in language, origin, and access to power endured.
As components of the diocese the parishes owed their ultimate obedience to the Norman-built cathedral with its celibate monks. Thomas calls the cathedral matrem ecclesiam Norwicensem, "the Mother Church of Norwich" 1.6), a status that had been confirmed by Pope Honorius II in 1126.[lxvi] The cathedral's founder, Herbert de Losinga, had been careful to emphasize English-Norman continuity, literally transferring the English seat of the bishopric. Herbert took the ancient stone of the English episcopal throne at Elmham and had it installed at the head of an apse, behind the high altar.[lxvii] In the north transept, just above the doorway leading to the episcopal palace, was placed a large statue of a bishop. This effigy is likely St Felix, the missionary who converted the East Angles to Christianity in the country's youth. By placing Felix above the entranceway that served as the bishop's private entrance to the cathedral, Herbert again appears to have been stressing the continuity between the pre- and post-conquest seat. Yet despite these attempts at symbolically interweaving English and Norman ecclesiastical structures, a combination of history, race and sexuality separated the parishes from the cathedral to which they now owed allegiance.
Æthelmær, last English bishop of East Anglia, had a wife. He presided over his see from Elmham, a community of secular priests who may or may not have taken celibacy seriously; they were not monks, and English priests frequently were, like Bishop Æthelmær, married. The founder of the cathedral at Norwich was something altogether different. By blood as well as culturally, Herbert de Losinga was a Norman. He was possessed of a monastic background, having previously risen to the office of prior at the Norman monastery of Fécamp, the foundation at which he had also passed his youth. A renowned and wealthy monastery, Fécamp was also in possession of the Precious Blood, supposedly harvested from the nails that bound Jesus to his cross.[lxviii] Herbert was appointed bishop during a time of accelerating clerical reform. The celibacy of parish priests was being increasingly announced as desirable, not only because chastity was thought an inherent good but because priests without children could not expect to pass their benefices along to inheritors. By ensuring that the upper echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy were overseeing the staffing of more diocesan offices, the parochial system was becoming more subordinated to the local episcopacy. Herbert reigned over his vast see from a cathedral seat maintained by a community of celibate Benedictines, a community modeled on Herbert's beloved Fécamp. The cathedral assemblage, staffed by monks and enamored of monastic ideals, was a world away from that inhabited by the secular priests who maintained the local parish system, priests who might have devotional reasons to eschew wealth, worldly involvement, and sexual activity but who had not taken vows promising any of these things. Thus we see in the course of the narrative one parish priest who has established himself as a reliable interpreter of dreams (William's grandfather Wlward), and another who raises livestock and trades in modest miracles worked from his nephew's relics (Godwin Sturt). Differences in sexuality between cathedral and parish were, however, likely to be the most visible of these racialized, ecclesiastical divisions. When, thirty-two years after Æthelmær had been forced from his bishopric, the Council of Westminster attempted to eliminate clerical marriage (1102), Herbert had to complain from a practical standpoint that should the married clergy be dismissed, the parish churches of Norwich would have no one left to serve them.[lxix] Considering the frequent mention in the Life of St William of priests and their children, a text written at least half a century after the promulgation of these clerical reforms, Herbert was in no way exaggerating .
Thomas never speaks about his own family history, but the fact that he uses the descriptor Monemutensis and is attached to a Benedictine priory suggests that, unlike William, he was not of native English descent. Given that Monmouth was an important Norman settlement on the Welsh border where many Bretons also lived, Thomas was probably of Norman, Welsh, Breton or mixed extraction. Like Henry of Huntingdon, William of Malmesbury, and (undoubtedly) Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas was presumably French-speaking. He consistently notes that whenever William restores speech to supplicants with unambiguously English names, the language that bursts forth from their mended mouth is their mother tongue of English, an observation that would be unnecessary if Thomas and the recipients of William's power always shared the same language.[lxx] Thomas was likely to have been born into social advantage, since, historically, the Benedictines in England drew members and sponsorship from the Norman baronage, resulting in a francophone orientation.[lxxi] Thus among Thomas's fellow monks of Norwich named in the Life of Saint William are Peter Peverell and Richard de Ferrariis, members of distinguished Norman families.[lxxii] Because the insular Benedictines were so intimately connected to the political elite, the order possessed a wealth that allowed them to become powerfully influential in narrating the story of the English nation. As Andrew Galloway has noted, the Benedictines were integral to the emergence of post-conquest historiography because they "possessed the fullest resources for archival and literary collection, manuscript reproduction, and the gathering of news from the constant stream of guests that their substantial and often well-positioned abbeys drew."[lxxiii] Although three or four decades separated their writing, Thomas of Monmouth and William of Malmesbury were brothers in the same order. They both benefited from the renewed prestige that the Normans bestowed upon the Benedictines, as well as access to an educational apparatus capable of forming learned writers disseminating their work. Thomas is seldom seen as participating in the twelfth-century flourishing of history writing, a blossoming that also includes the Benedictine monks Orderic Vitalis, Eadmer of Canterbury, and John of Worcester. Yet it could be argued that Thomas differed from these writers not in the desires that motivated his composition but in the more circumscribed ambitions of his text. It cannot be coincidence that most of the famous twelfth-century historians were also hagiographers. Their histories formed a communal past for the nation, their accounts of saints' cults a past for the local communities in which they dwelled.
Unlike his secular counterparts in the indigenous parochial system, Thomas was, as a monk, under a vow of celibacy. Post-conquest England witnessed a boom in monasticism, perhaps a tenfold increase from 1066 to 1200.[lxxiv] Stephen's reign saw an especial acceleration of this trend: there were twice as many monasteries in 1154 than there had been twenty years earlier.[lxxv] With their communal but cloistered style of living, their vow of obedience, and more than anything their "queer" commitment to chastity, these clergy posed numerous challenges to native systems of inherited benefices and parish-based churches. This proliferating commitment to celibacy no doubt furthered on a quotidian level the gender crisis precipitated by the Gregorian reform. Priests and monks who define themselves through their continence will necessarily have a different relation to women than priests who are married.[lxxvi] Although founded by a monastic, Herbert de Losinga, Norwich cathedral came under secular control when Eborard succeeded. The episcopacy of William Turbe, a member of the Benedictine convent attached to the cathedral, saw its second tenure by a monk, this time with deeply local connections, and a return to the monastic ideals that so differentiated the cathedral's priory from the diocesan priests. Norwich was in short a city possessed of a heterogeneous, segregated, and far from harmonious population, even in its clergy. Mutual assimilation was no doubt producing an increasingly hybrid urban culture, but in the years following William's death the city was still composed of a privileged minority of former aliens living alongside a majority population who could not fail to notice that racial differences in status and prestige may have lessened over the years but continued everywhere to be visible.
A third ethnic group existed precariously within this uncertain mixture, a group both alien and alienated, a people who sought neither assimilation nor homogeneity. Within the powerful Norman minority was a more tenuous Francophone community, the Ashkenazic Jews who had begun to make permanent settlements in England only in the days of Conqueror, beginning in London. Having followed the international trade routes which linked Norwich to their communities in Normandy and the lower Rhineland, these Jewish immigrants had been resident in the city for no more than a decade when the events narrated by Thomas occurred.[lxxvii] Although the Norwich Jews lived among the Christians rather than in a separate Jewry, according to V. D. Lipman's extensive research their habitations were for the most part located in what Domesday hadcalled the novus burgus, the French borough of Mancroft, founded in the shadow of the castle:
To the south and south-east of the market place lived most, though not all, the Jews of medieval Norwich. They lived between the castle and market … Thus they were in the midst of the most populous part of the city; and near to the centres of royal and civic authority … It is noticeable that these groups of houses are all near the new market place in the new 'French' settlement and that they are also within easy reach of the castle, which was the headquarters of the representative of royal authority specially charged with the oversight and protection of the Jews, and which also served as a refuge for them in times of disturbance.[lxxviii]
The Jewish community was at once marginal and central: small in number, nonparticipants in many of the rituals that bound Christians to each other, but as moneylenders the lifeblood of Norwich's commercial prosperity.[lxxix] They were geographical and economic intimates with the people of Norwich, especially with the Franci de Norwic with whom they shared a language and in many cases an origin (most English Jews prior to 1154 arrived from Normandy).
Although they must have known some English and perhaps Latin simply to conduct business, French was the vernacular of the Jews, a domestic and conversational tongue spoken to each other and with Christians of the upper classes. Thus Gerald of Wales writes of a clever Jew who was amused that an archdeacon was named Peche ("sin") and that his jurisdiction stretches from Malplace ("Evil Street") to Malpas ("Evil Pass"). The joke is apparent only to someone who, like Gerald and the Jew, speaks French. Because French was their domestic language, English Jews tended to bear francophone names, often translations of their Hebrew appellations. Contemporary Jewish literacy consisted of facility in Hebrew, sometimes in Latin, and invariably in French.[lxxx] Norwich's cathedral, castle, and new borough might be inhabited by people of Norman heritage who conducted many of their interactions en français, but these residents of the city likely thought of themselves as English. The Jews, on the other hand, were a dispersed French-speaking community that continued to cultivate ties with their relations on the continent, especially Rouen. At a time when the kingdom of England was literally becoming more insular (Normandy was temporarily lost during Stephen's reign), the Jews maintained their strong connections to the continent, especially to Rouen, making them an international group resident within a dwindled national community.[lxxxi]
Unlike the French-descended Christian newcomers, the Jews were a people set forever apart. Whereas for most citizens of Norwich the centers of community were the local church and the city's cathedral, the Jews attended their synagogue and did not participate in the ritual calendar that gave the Christian year its structure. The long solemnity of Lent and Easter, the festivity of Christmas, the multiplicity of feast days that called the city to communal prayer, celebration, or repentance meant nothing to a people who still awaited their messiah and who could not believe in the sacred magic of the saints. Few as they were, the Jews formed a national community more than a local one -- evidenced, for example, by the fact that they sent their dead to London to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.[lxxxii] They enjoyed royal protections not available to local citizens; they continued to speak French in an environment that was becoming increasingly dominated by English; even their households were different, Jewish women more fully participating in domestic governance and even public business than Christian women ever did.[lxxxiii] The Jews seemed ultimately to be alieni of a different order, disturbingly uninterested in or incapable of the assimilation into Englishness that their neighbors in the new burgh of Norwich were undergoing.
Linguistic, religious, and cultural otherness -- differences, that is, in race -- rendered the Jews easy targets for animus and anxiety that endured in the wake of the city's profound social, structural, architectural transformation. As the first Jewish settlers arrived in Norwich, the replacement of the wooden fortification of the Norman castle with a stone keep had been recently accomplished. The cathedral church, monastic buildings, and bishop's palace were likewise nearing completion or had just been finished.[lxxxiv] Jurnet, Norwich's wealthiest moneylender, had a stone house built for his family in the 1170s and employed the same masons who had previously toiled on some of the cathedral buildings. Emily Rose speculates that this house was meant to replace the wooden domicile in which William had supposedly been crucified, allowing Jurnet to tear the now notorious building down.[lxxxv] In the decade following William's death this house was perhaps on its way to becoming an unofficial pilgrimage site where observers hoped to spot the boy's blood on the infamous timbers. Regardless, Jewish homes in the new borough's marketplace would have served as a constant visual reminder of the shift in the city's economic and social gravity. This transferal of power would have accelerated after the Jews arrived in the 1130s, catalyzing further mercantile and monetary activity. Norwich's Jewish population appeared, in other words, just in time to embody every Norman transformation wrought upon the fabric of English Norwich. Perhaps that is why when the supposed messenger arrives to offer the boy William a position in the archdeacon's kitchen, his mother cannot tell whether the man who leads away her son is a Christian or a Jew (Vita 1.4). In her English eyes and to her English ears, all the francophone residents of the new borough -- whether attached to the cathedral or practicing an alien faith -- are foreigners. As much as their difference in creed, it must have been the Jews' lingering Frenchness combined with their extraordinarily high level of per capita wealth that triggered historical resentments having much to do with the lingering memory of the effects of the conquest.[lxxxvi]
The first public declaration that the murder of little William had been accomplished by Jews, it should be noted, is made by townspeople of ethnic English descent, specifically by William's mother Elviva (upon learning of the death of her son, she races through the streets of Norwich, screaming out their guilt, 1.15) and his uncle Godwin (who formally accuses the Jews of the crime during a diocesan synod about two weeks after Easter, 1.16). Godwin's wife Leviva sends her daughter to follow the "cook" and William to Eleazer's house (1.5); William's brother Robert was entrusted with "the business of carrying out the accusation against the Jews" (2.10). As Godwin's words of denunciation make clear in front of Bishop Eborard, the crime reverses the terms envisioned by William's long ago institution of the murdrum fine. This murder, Godwin declares, is an outrage committed against communem omnium christianorum ,"the whole of the Christian community" (1.16), against the solidarity that William Turbo will later call nos christiani, "we Christians" (2.14). Bishop William is arguing before King Stephen for Jewish guilt, and like Godwin at the synod he imagines that the murdrum offense has been inflicted by a racial minority upon a majority, an urban collective imagined as both coherent and imperiled, or coherent because imperiled.
Such unifying rhetoric has in the world of Thomas's narration its intended effect. Eborard immediately summons the Jews to an accounting in front of his synod. The Jews in turn reply through the sheriff that in the absence of the king they need "make no answer to the such inventions of the Christians," indicating why both Norman and English descended residents of the city might have reason to dislike them. Unlike other citizens of Norwich, the Jews were not subject to local authorities, not even the bishop. "We are thy Jews" (Nos iudei tui sumus 2.14), Thomas imagines them declaring to King Stephen as they remind the rest of Norwich that, since they are royal property, they are a race set apart from civic and ecclesiastical jurisdiction and therefore a people over whom the city has no direct power.[lxxxvii] Thus when the Jews refuse to undergo the ordeal demanded by Godwin Sturt and Bishop Eborard, they take refuge in the Norman castle and confidently await the arrival of a royal edict to assure their security. The galling separateness of the Jews from local community is referenced repeatedly, and is intimately related to Thomas's representation of them as a people living a precariousness existence in Norwich, a city to which they do not and cannot belong. When the guilty Jews gather to debate how best to dispose of William's body, one of their leaders points out that they cannot fling the corpse into a cesspool or bury it in a basement because they do not own houses and may, at any moment, "be forced for some reason to leave these premises and go elsewhere" (1.6). They are made to wonder aloud if genus nostrum ab Anglie partibus funditus extermininabitur ("our race will be utterly driven out from all parts of England") -- or, even more ominously, rapiemur ad mortem, dabimur in exterminium, "we shall be delivered to our deaths, we will be exterminated" (1.6). Thomas's point is clear: if Norwich is a permanent community forged from former Franci et Angli, it is one in which the Jews in their leased houses lack the possibility of a future.[lxxxviii]
William of Malmesbury complained that Norman historians had excessively lauded William I, while the English "out of national hatred" saw nothing but actions worthy of reproach during the Conqueror's reign. Because his father was a Norman and his mother English, William insisted that the commingled blood which flowed through his veins would allow him to bring both perspectives together, creating a middle space between nationalistic or racialist extremes (Deeds of the Kings of the English, 3 preface). As we saw in the second chapter, William attenuated the historical trauma evidenced by continued Norman/English difference by transforming his mixed blood into the possibility of a hybrid subjectivity, the precondition to a shared sense of national community. Other writers of mixed ethnicity -- Henry of Huntingdon, Orderic Vitalis, and Gerald of Wales -- adopted similar strategies in their writing. Thomas's text works rather differently. English and Norman blood does not intermingle and harmonize in a single body, but the sanguinary flow that stains a Jewish household in Norwich and then continues to ebb throughout private, civic and ecclesiastical space does create new unities, new subjectivities, new possibilities for community. Perhaps an associate of Geoffrey of Monmouth, at any rate as obsessed by race and origin as the author of the History of the Kings of Britain, Thomas of Monmouth maps in his text not just the tensions but the possible alliances among Norwich's diverse population as they fight over sacralizing the body of dead William. Godwin's oral accusation is amplified, validated and textualized by Thomas, creating a moment of civic unity in which the divisions which fragment the city are suddenly overcome. Norwich becomes simply communitas omnium christianorum, the community of all Christians (Godwin's formulation as ventriloquized by Thomas, 1.16). Like the aboriginal monsters through which Geoffrey of Monmouth solved the problem of "To whom belongs Britain?" the Jews temporarily alleviate the twelfth century racial crisis by displacing anxieties about its irresolvability. The Jews, as non-Christian others who are clearly not English, allow through their monsterization the emergence of a new civic totality. Through the Jew who was at once blood-stained and blood-loving (cruentus), former Anglo-Normans and Anglo-Saxons catalyze a tentative harmony, communalized by their not being Jewish. As these two populations lose their racial distinctiveness, moreover, the Jews become all the more immutably set in their denigrated identity, uersutissima iudeorum gens et auarissima, "that most crafty and avaricious race, the Jews" (2.14).
Medieval imaginings of race include a fascination with blood, especially that of excluded groups who, once identified and alienated, allow the coming into being of purified, dominating identities like Christian and English.[lxxxix] Race, as we have seen earlier in this book, tends most visibly to be possessed by the ostracized. Thomas and the other sanctifiers of William's blood discover in a horrific murder the chance to transcend racial differences that have long hindered the forming of a local unity. Dead William, an English boy christened with a Norman name, slain by Jewish malice, is transformed by the Vita into blood that flows and washes away epistemological uncertainties, into blood that cleanses not just the trauma of finding a child brutally murdered, but also the trauma of the conquest initiating a postcolonial era with repercussions that continued to be palpable for a century.
That the forced reconfiguration of Norwich continued to haunt the imagination of its English citizens as Thomas composed the Vita is perhaps seen best in an uncanny vision granted to Liviva, the wife of Godwin Sturt. A few days before her nephew is found dead, she dreams that she is standing in the market created by the town's Norman resettlers and inhabited by even newer francophone immigrants. In a Latin narration which achieves the claustrophobia of a nightmare in its jarring repetitions, Liviva describes how Jews pour from their nearby houses and dismember her:
Ecce mihi forte existenti in media fori platea, subito iudei undique accurrunt, accurruntes fugientem circumueniunt, circumuentam comprehendunt. Comprehense uero mihi, crux (sc. crus) dextrum fuste confractum et de reliquo corporis auellere et confestim transfugientes illud secum uidebantur asportare. (1.14)
"Lo!, as I was standing in the High Street of the Market Place, suddenly the Jews came upon me running up from all sides, and they surrounded me as I fled and they seized me. And as they held me they broke my right leg with a club and they tore it away from the rest of my body, and running off with all speed it seemed that they were carrying it away with them."[xc]
Locating the dream's unfolding in the Norman marketplace and centering its action upon the ripping apart of a Christian body by the Jews who live and conduct their business there ensure that the vision becomes something more than a private fantasy shared in confidence between husband and wife. The fact that Thomas renders the dream a rhetorically complex addition to his own argument (his Latin is really at its best here, suffocating and oneiric) invests the dream with an important, community-directed meaning.[xci] Liviva's body, torn asunder by rapacious hands in the heart of the Norwich's new borough, horrifically figures the rifts and fragmentations (ethnic, civic, economic) left in the wake of conquest and revivified during the turbulence of Stephen's reign. The Jews at the heart of this symbolic geography, avidly wrenching a limb from a Christian's body, eager to kidnap and sacrifice an innocent member of Norwich's integral corpus Christianum, conveniently enflesh all those differences which, once expelled, might allow the violent history behind the formation of that very geography to be forgotten, and all the dismembering divisions which it brought about to be transcended.
Thomas answers Liviva's vision of bodily disaggregation and blunts the trauma it conveys through the community that he envisions forming around William's corpse. The martyred boy's sacred blood (which, as Liviva makes clear, is the shared blood of the Christians of Norwich) brings about a necessary suture, conjoining temporarily the French-descended and the Anglo-Scandinavian descended English, bringing together the clerics and the laity, monks and priests, the celibate and the married, the privileged and the impoverished, the women and the men. First the clergy and people (cleri plebisque) who carry William's cadaver from the woods for interment in the cathedral monastery's cemetery are met by "so vast a concourse of the common people ... that you would have thought very few had stayed behind in the city" (1.18). Then as the sacred body is laid to rest in its new grave,
Cum psalmis et laudibus preit processionaliter fratrum couentus; egregius uero martir in cimiterio interiori subsequitur tumulandus. Impletur cimiterium milibus hominum alio de latere per portam introeuntium et intrantibus uix loci iam sufficiebat capacitas. Hinc monachi et clerus cum psalmodie laudibus celebres celebrabant exequias: inde laici cum maximo assistebant gaudio. Qui uero aderant, quamquam cultu uel sexu forent dispares, erant tamen singuli ad perspiciendum unanimitate conformes (1.19)
The glorious martyr was taken into the inner cemetery to be laid in his tomb, the whole convent of the brethren going before in a procession with psalms and praises. The cemetery was filled by thousands of men who entered by the gate on the other side, and the area was hardly large enough for those who kept coming in. On the one side were the clergy and monks who were celebrating the exequies with songs of praise, on the other were the laity who were taking their part with exceeding joy. But though they who were present differed in grade and in sex, they were all of one mind in wishing to see the sight.
A fragrant and effulgent climax to the first book of the Vita, this interment provides a satisfying moment of transcendence in which nightmares of bodily loss, unavenged corpses, murdered young men who do not rest easy, and histories of violence yet to be forgotten are finally laid to rest. Thomas's narration transforms a hagiographical commonplace (the adventus of saint's relics for burial) into a culminating moment of civic unity.[xcii] As William's body is lowered into the sacred ground, buried with him in Thomas's utopian rendering are the disparities sundering the city. The only important differences now find their embodiment in the Jews and in those Christians who announce a Jew-like nature by sympathizing with them. The punishment of a "Jewish" refusal by a Christian to participate in the civic solidarity of William's cult finds its most memorable -- and bloodiest -- expression in the death of Sheriff John de Chesney, the representative of the king who repeatedly gave the Jews shelter in the castle whenever the citizens of Norwich united in their desire to massacre them. Immediately upon first protecting the Jews, John suffers an "internal haemorrhage" (per posteriora eius sanguis guttatim profluere inchoauit, 2.15).[xciii] For two years his blood flows incessantly, but John continues in his obstinacy until, "exhausted by the incessant flow of this blood, his strength and his blood alike failing him," he dies miserably. Thomas notes tartly: "Adeoque diuina circa eum claruit ultio, ut reuera cum iudeis dicere et ipse possit: Sanguis innocens super nos et super filios nostros" ("And so clearly was the vengeance of God shown in this case that he might in very truth say with the Jews, "Let the innocent blood be upon us and upon our children," 2.15).
Sheriff John is the only truly national figure to play a significant role in the Vita. His surname de Caineto means "from Caen," the site in Normandy that was the source for the stone of cathedral and castle keep. John's father Robert had preceded him as sheriff, while Robert's father Walter had been in the service of William Malet, renowned companion of the Conqueror.[xciv] Sheriff John, frequently recorded as being in attendance upon King Stephen, carried prestigious blood, and was a living reminder of the victory at Hastings. Yet this representative of royal interests, an embodiment of what Thomas calls regi regiisue ministris (perhaps best translated as "king and castle," where the latter is the castle-assemblage and its attendant officials, 1.16), simply gets in the way of the local unity-making mechanisms engendered by the veneration of St. William, a veneration efficacious for the surmounting of Norwich's postconquest dividedness The vast majority of the visitors to William's shrine recorded by Thomas were, after all, city residents. Ronald Finucane emphasizes the local aspect of William's miracles:
Most of William's miracles were reported by local folk. More than half (57%) of his recorded pilgrims (94% located) lived less than ten miles from the shrine, and two thirds of these came from the city of Norwich itself. After ten miles or so there was a sharp decline in pilgrims' villages. This decline continued until, at a distance of about fifty miles, very few individuals felt sufficient thaumaturgic radiation from the child's bones to experience a cure or to undergo a pilgrimage to seek one.[xcv]
In a final symbolic gesture, Thomas emphasizes that the sheriff who had abstained from local community by protecting the Jews died as he was desperately trying to reach Norwich from London. In the Latin of the Vita this city is given the same grandiose name attached to it by Geoffrey of Monmouth: Trinovantum. Sheriff John's spectacularly painful death as he races homeward from New Troy suggests that the community solidifying in Norwich around William's cult has no room for extravagantly national mythologies that would account for the founding of London, that would provide a pedigree for and unity to the patria.
Whereas Sheriff John's anguish and the murder of Eleazar figure blood intolerable to Norwich's commonality, the gush of William's Christian blood -- viscous blood, binding blood -- erases those distinctions that divided the city. These are not simply Norman versus Saxon racial differences, with the Ivanhoe connotations such a hoary binary might conjure. True, William has parents with unambiguously English names, Elviva (that is, Ælfgifu) and Wenstan.[xcvi] His priestly uncle bears what is possibly the most resonantly Anglo-Scandinavian of all possible names for the time: Godwin was, after all, the appellation of the infamous Earl of Wessex who rose to power during the reign of Cnut, energetically Anglicized the Norman-leaning court of Edward the Confessor, and fathered Harold, William of Normandy's coclaimant for the throne in 1066.[xcvii] Godwin's anti-Norman sentiment was legendary, a fact surely not lost on Godwin Sturt's own parents when they named their child. Given that Norwich had until 1066 been a city in which the Godwinsons held land as well as perhaps an urban residence, and given that the Norman construction of castle, borough and cathedral may have aimed at breaking and securing what had been their stronghold, it is not surprising that Godwin Sturt enters Thomas's narrative as an important local figure with a personality as large as his historically loaded name.
Immediately after 1066, a name like William, Robert or Walter would invariably indicate Norman ethnicity, but these "prestige names" were quickly adopted by the English. By the time Herbert de Losinga was bishop of Norwich, two troublesome brothers were residents of his priory. One bore the named Godwin and the other William, a cacophony of French and English eponyms within a single family that indicates the cultural admixture that quickly occurred.[xcviii] Robert, the brother of Saint William, was christened with the second most popular of French names, while the boy martyr himself carries a name so thoroughly Norman that its unprecedented popularity was something of a joke. "William" was originally a Frankish name, bestowed upon the eldest son of a famous Viking (Hrólfr, AKA Rollo, founder of the Norman dynasty) in order to give a veneer of culture to his progeny. The Normans adopted this name with gusto. Robert Bartlett provides a wonderful example of what this astounding proliferation of Williams could bring about: "When Henry the Young King held court in Normandy at Christmas in 1171, the guests supposedly included 110 knights named 'William'. They got together in one room and refused to let anyone in to eat with them unless he were called William!"[xcix] As in Normandy so in England: William was quickly established as the single most popular name in the Middle Ages, adopted as ardently by the lower classes as it was by the aristocracy.
Nor was Norman influence on England limited to the period after the conquest. Edward the Confessor, the second to last "English" king, was the son of Emma of Normandy, spent much of his life in exile on the other side of the channel, and was infamous for appointing Normans to his court.[c] Even Thomas's chosen geographic designator, Monemutensis, places his origin in the ethnically plural Welsh March, a borderland which Michelle Warren aptly describes as a "multiple zone" of "interactive and often improvised identifications."[ci] Mid twelfth-century Norwich was, like postcolonial England itself, irreversibly hybrid. But hybridity is neither happy assimilation nor placid synthesis; it precipitates neither civic nor racial harmony. As Homi Bhabha has pointed out, hybridity marks an overlap of cultural differences, a touching which he describes as irremedially conflictual.[cii] Obscured by the synthetic power of Thomas's text and deflected by the Normanizing of names like Robert and William are some of the intractable differences that the Vita must silently acknowledge, including the power struggle played out among the cathedral, with its entwined local, regional, national, and transnational vectors; local citizens like Godwin Sturt, who think, work and move within a parochial ambit; Norman aristocrats and the citizens of the new burough, with their multiple loyalties; the king's representatives like Sheriff John, faced with their own monarch's fluctuating ability to influence regional dynamics of power. Divisions in Norwich that may be labeled ethnic or racial, moreover, are just as accurately divisions of class, prestige, power.[ciii] Henry of Huntingdon well articulated the overlap between class and race when he wrote that, within twenty years of the conquest, "there was scarcely a noble of English descent in England, but all had been reduced to servitude and it was even disgraceful to be called English."[civ] Yet a suggestive passage composed by Richard Fitz Nigel (c.1130-1198) is frequently cited to back the assertion that the Norman and English achieved something of a racial parity not long thereafter. When in his Dialogus de Scaccario he considers the murdrum fine instituted by William to discourage the "conquered English" (Anglicis subactis) from ambushing and secretly killing the "mistrusted and hated Normans" (suspectam et exosam Normannorum gentem) -- evidently a common crime in the wake of the conquest -- Richard ponders whether the death of a contemporary Englishman "like that of a Norman" (mors Anglici sicut Normanni) should result in the same fine. More than a century of Norman hegemony having now elapsed, Richard can assert that the Normans and English have so intermarried that they have become indistinguishable. Yet the harmonizing description contains an important qualifier, often omitted in scholarly references to Richard's assertion:
Iam cohabitantibus Anglicus et Normannis et alterutrum uxores ducentibus uel nubentibus, sic permixte sunt nationes ut uix decerni possit hodie, de liberis loquor, quis Anglicus quis Normannus sit genere; exceptis dumtaxat ascriptitiis qui uillani dicuntur, quibus non est liberum, obstantibus dominis suis, a sui status conditione discedere. Ea propter pene quicunque si hodie occisus reperitur, ut murdrum punitur, exceptis hiis de quibus certa sunt ut diximus seruilis conditionis indicia. [cv]
Nowadays, when English and Normans live close together and marry and give in marriage to each other, the nations are so mixed that it can scarcely be decided (I mean in the case of freemen) who is of English birth and who of Norman; except, of course, the villeins, who cannot alter their condition without the leave of their masters. For that reason whoever is found slain nowadays, the murder-fine is exacted, except in cases where there is definite proof of the servile condition of the victim.(54)
Some of the realm may have become permixte, mainly through Norman men taking English wives and concubines, but servile class is for Richard an immediate marker of unalloyed Englishness.[cvi] Social class and race continue to be inextricable, with pure Englishness and enduring servility synonymous. The example of Norwich, further, demonstrates that it is not just the lowest classes (villeins) who are relatively poor and unambiguously English.
Whether they are farmers, parish clerics, or an apprentice skinner aspiring to the upward mobility of a cook's assistant, the indigence of William's family is continually underscored in Thomas's text.[cvii] After an initial description of William's family as moderately well off dwellers in the rustic area surrounding the city, their poverty is mentioned repeatedly. This reduction in circumstances perhaps resulted from the death of William's father, since he is never mentioned in the text after his son's birth. William's status as pauperculus (later pauper et neglectus) suggests why his mother apprenticed him to the master leatherworker Wulward, at whose Norwich residence William lodges. The family's indigence also helps to explain why his mother would have so quickly accepted payment from a mysterious stranger to take him away to more rewarding employment in the archdeacon's household. That William's family dwells at the bucolic margins of Norwich (rus) and is moved to the city (urbs) to become an apprentice likewise suggests an attempt to trade rural poverty for a more lucrative urban life.
Before his disappearance William was learning the craft of the pelliparia, leatherworker. As Maryanne Kowaleski points out, leather was the plastic of its day, the ubiquitous and malleable substance from which were manufactured the quotidian items of medieval life: belts, gloves, hats, shoes, bottles, saddles, scabbards, armor, books, toys.[cviii] Skinners, tanners and other leatherworkers were professions integral to the local economy, the bridge between the countryside and the city. But they were also "notorious offenders in matters of public hygiene," mainly because the materials they required generated noxious odors and wastes.[cix] Working with hides, skins, and the chemicals used to cure them was perceived as typically English, at least by Gerald of Wales, probably because of its utter lack of prestige. Gerald wrote disdainfully in a text completed c.1200 that the English, "the most worthless people under heaven" and "slaves of the Normans," were typically relegated to the dirty work of plowmen, shepherds, cleaners of sewers, and skinners.[cx] The offensive smells and water pollution engendered by the leather trade ensured that it was practiced at the margins of cities, a geographical fact that nicely spatializes Gerald's social commentary.[cxi]
In seizing the opportunity to leave behind his dirty life as a pelliparia, William was hoping to abandon an impoverished English world for a milieu invented by the Normans. The cook claims to be attached to the household of the archdeacon of Norwich. The position of archdeacon was a Norman innovation to the English ecclesiastical system, introduced by bishops who found themselves overwhelmed by episcopal responsibilities. The oculi episcopi, archdeacons assisted in the efficient administration of their sees, and were especially active in the oversight and discipline of diocesan priests.[cxii] An archdeacon was therefore a person of great local power. Their households were notoriously opulent and offered access, as Thomas makes clear, to multa commoda ("many advantages," 1.4). Given that archdeacons were also the primary policemen of clerical celibacy, William and his mother were also potentially rejecting the English world of married priests to which they were so closely related.[cxiii] Inclusion in the archdeacon's world would give William the chance to move from the literal and figurative margins of town to its center, to belong to the community that supported the majestic cathedral of stone. Here too might be his chance to mingle with the dwellers of Mancroft, the prosperous new burgh of Norwich that so obviously enjoyed a standard of living higher than that of the city's other quarters. Even when their habitation was a priory in which they were bound by a vow of poverty, the residents of the cathedral close lived surrounded by a splendor that must have been impressive to an English boy who had been raised at the outskirts of the city, a boy whose extensive familial experience of the church had been of modest parish structures staffed by the members of the social class to which he belonged, the English free peasantry.[cxiv]
In the mid twelfth century, most abbots and bishops were of French ancestry, while the priests at the lower end of the ecclesiastical hierarchy were English.[cxv] The monasteries would have held a mixed population of French- and English-descended monks, typically led by a French abbot. William probably saw in the promises of the supposed cook his chance to enter a world offering far greater access to prestige and prosperity, a world very different from what he was experiencing at his leatherworking and from what he glimpsed in the life of his priestly uncle. To become a cook's apprentice and a member of the archdeacon's household was to have the doors of promise and possibility thrown open. It was at the same time the chance to blunt the supposed roughness of an English upbringing with an acquirable patina of French refinement. Little did he know that this assimilation into the world of the cathedral was in fact going to take place, but not until it was recognized that his cadaver could provide the majestic cathedral with a lucrative relic.[cxvi] As the "insolent" Jews, confident of royal protection through Sheriff John, declare to the Christians: "You ought to be very much obliged to us, for we have made a saint and martyr for you ... Aye! We have done for you what you could not do yourselves" (2.11). The Jews make clear the commercial implications of venerating William: should the city unite in the worship of the martyr, Norwich cathedral will have the relics that will allow it to compete with nearby but independent Benedictine foundation at Bury St Edmunds, enriched by its possession of the body of king Edmund, martyred by the Danes in 870.[cxvii] The successive translations of the dead English boy into places of increasing prestige within the Norman ecclesiastical precinct was a perhaps more successful version of Bishop Herbert's erecting a statue of the revered Felix, missionary to the East Angles, within his new episcopal church.[cxviii] Arriving not long after the cathedral had been completed, the relics of Saint William might – like those English saints initially held in contempt by Norman ecclesiasts but eventually adopted as a useful means for engendering community -- bridge native English and imported French worlds, might mend at last the broken chain of Norwich's history.
Francophile ways might at times equate with prestige for the Christian dwellers in the castle, cathedral, and the French quarter of Mancroft. The same could not be said for the Jews. In the community imagined by Thomas's text, the sanctification of William allows the assimilation of Norwich's diverse population into a single Christianitas at the expense of this second francophone population, the one racial minority living in Britain who (in Marjorie Chibnall's words) were different in kind because they were, "in the conditions of the day, unassimilable."[cxix] After he is crucified, dies, and is reburied, Saint William guarantees that the only citizens of the city who carry racialized blood are "the enemies of the Christian name," the "sanguinis innocentis effusores" ("shedders of innocent blood," 1.16).[cxx] Homicidal monsters, spinners of transnational conspiracies unfathomable in their brutality (conspiracies that ensure that the actions of Jews of Norwich cannot be seen by Thomas' audience as some local deviance, but instead render all Jews everywhere both culpable and intimately connected as a gens, a unified group)[cxxi] -- the Jews with their manus cruentae (hands that are stained with blood, hands that are thirsty for blood), embody the trauma of 1066 and convey it elsewhere, allowing Norman and English alike the possibility of a placid affinity. Their communalized blood endangered by this intimate enemy, these latter groups suddenly find their common and transcendent denominator as Christians of Norwich. Just as their messiah suffered long ago at the hands of deicidal Jews and redeemed a fragmented world, so in the vita Christians witness one of their own submit to the agonies of the biblical Passion and emerge transformed. The martyr William is a diminutive counterpart to the risen Christ, an eternal witness to the fact that the sundered Babel that had been Norwich has been redeemed into wholeness, restored to its long-lost unity. The price to be paid for this emergent harmony, however, is the transformation of the city's Jews into a people arrested in time, as intent on making contemporary blood flow as their forefathers in the gospels were supposed to have been. The monster-Jew, primal foe at the origin of a unified Norwich, future catalysts for a harmonized England.
Admittedly, in my description of what allows the Norwich envisioned in the Vita to realize a new solidarity in the face of its own heterogeneity there are discernible echoes of recent scholarly analysis of the crusades, which likewise gathered an array of conflictual differences under the banner of a unifying Christianity at the expense of a demonized Other known as the Saracen. These transnational endeavors, moreover, saw the massacre of Jews in Europe before the crucesignati voyaged east. The most famous incidents happened during the First Crusade, when Jews living in the Rhineland were killed or chose martyrdom to avoid forced conversion. England would not see similar violence for a century. In 1190 in Norwich, for example, Jewish houses were burned, their contents looted, their occupants murdered by crusaders intent on following King Richard to the Holy Land.[cxxii] Perhaps this link of similarity between the violence attending both the international crusades and the provincial sanctification of William is not surprising, given that in 1147 East Anglians were accompanying Hervey de Glanvil on crusade to Lisbon, where he is recorded as delivering a speech urging unity between Normanni and Angli.[cxxiii] Just as happened during the crusades Jewish blood must in Thomas's text be spilled in order to purge the community of alien content and allow a homogenous collectivity to solidify in the aftermath:
Cum igitur beatissimum puerum et martirem Willelmum … a iudeis occisum fuisse constet, no iniusto dei iuditio factum credimus quod ipsos uelut tam nefandi facinoris reos diuina tam festinanter post patrati flagicii accionem perculerit iusticia, ac uniuersos breui temporis processu celestis exterminauerit siue disperserit uindicta. (2.13)
Since then it is certain … that the most blessed boy and martyr William was slain by the Jews, we believe that it was brought about by the righteous judgement of God that these same men, being guilty of so horrible a crime, suffered so prompt a retribution for such deliberate wickedness, and that the rod of heaven in a brief space of time exterminated them all.
Thus Eleazar, supposed ringleader of the murderous Jews, dies in a bloody ambush, while those who sympathize with the Jews or otherwise act Jewish by refusing participation in William's veneration suffer severe retribution, often by the sanctified puerulus vilis himself, now transmuted into a spirit of vengeance.[cxxiv] The monk Richard, for example, refuses the offering of candles demanded by the saint in a nocturnal vision. William reappears and backhands Richard across his forehead, an excruciating wound that quickly proves fatal (2.5). Prior Elias, hesitant to endorse William's cult with much enthusiasm, does not allow Thomas to adorn the boy's tomb with a carpet and candles. Like Richard, he perishes. Walter, servant of the dean of Norwich, made it his habit to ridicule the burgeoning cult of the martyr; William appears to him in a dream, cudgeling every part of his body, "finally letting him go when he was bruised in every limb" (7.13). "It is dangerous to neglect the young St William," Benedicta Ward observes crisply, "or to be remiss in paying him honour.[cxxv] Jews die; Christians who do not answer saintly William's call to community die; and it would seem that the new kind of belonging being promulgated in the city has its terrifying underside, for its unity arises from an unstinting flow of blood.
Yet even if the vision of community espoused by Thomas seems as suffocating as it is relentless, we should at least take note that, as Thomas himself is forced repeatedly to admit, not every citizen of the town was easily convinced that William was entitled to the cultus spreading under his name. The moment of harmony with which Thomas closes the first book of the Vita does not seem to last very long. The glorious translations of William from the monastic cemetery into the cathedral church, where he is placed beside the high altar and next to Herbert de Losinga's tomb (5.2), and thence – because of the "unwontedly large crowds" (amplius populorum ... turbis) – to his own chapel (6.1), indicate the burgeoning popularity of the saint between 1150 and 1154. The movements of the relics are public performances of unity, enacted by the whole convent of monks and "plurima populorum ... caterua" (a phrase that could be translated blandly as "a very large throng of people" or more classically as "the majority of the community," since populus indicated for the Romans a nation, a collective populace). Yet these translations of the martyr's body are preceded by a dissension-provoking relocation of the corpse to the chapter house (3.1). The second book of the Vita opens with an extended defense of the boy's martyrdom against the "saucy insolence and insolent sauciness" of those who not only deprecate the cult but turn its divine mysteries to ridicule (2.1). Dissension within the monastery over the veneration of William also appears from time to time, with Thomas in book four of the Vita still unable to forgive Prior Elias for having ordered him to remove an unauthorized carpet he had spread over the martyr's resting place in the cathedral (4.1). Enthusiasm for the cult wanes and waxes in spurts as Thomas's narrative unfolds. Just as his new cathedral tomb has begun to radiate healing powers (5.6), moreover, St. William is observed punishing Godwin Sturt for demanding that a poor woman surrender a hen before he will allow her to partake of some healing water which he possesses. This potent fluid is created with the wooden teasel that Godwin took from William's mouth long ago. Clearly the priest is making quite a profit by selling the sanctified water to the local community. His demand for payment incurs the wrath of God and St William, so that very night
every one of his fowls died; and of the whole number, which was large, not one remained; so that for the one which he unjustly demanded he deservedly suffered the loss of many. In the morning on hearing of his mishap, the priest was at once repentant … In fear he vowed that he would never thenceforth seek gains of this kind by conferring spiritual benefits (5.5)
The veneration of William, it seems, has made Godwin rich in livestock. The parish priest's entrepreneurship and the demand for modest miracles among the local population yield an intriguing glimpse at the popular, parochial version of William's veneration and hint at a competition between at least two versions of the cult.[cxxvi] More importantly, the episode betrays Thomas's effort to establish the primacy of the cult centered at the cathedral over that being managed by William's family. A miracle narrated shortly after Godwin's punishment features William appearing to a lady near Lynn and pulling a gold ring from her finger as she sleeps. Because the valuables are to be donated to the shrine at Norwich, the episode illustrates this time not the exploitation of William for financial gain but properly Christian devotion to the martyr (5.7).[cxxvii] An episode which similarly demarcates the "official" cult centered at the cathedral from that associated with William's family occurs a few chapters thereafter, when William extorts a cross from his mother before allowing her to die in peace. The narrative stresses that William remains alive in his tomb, now translated into the cathedral itself ("I have lain for many days on my left side," he declares in a vision, "because I would have the Cross of the Lord [in the cathedral] always before my eyes"), and this uncanny afterlife is located securely beneath the watchful eye of Thomas (5.21).[cxxviii] The Vita records Thomas's attempt to envision, foster, and promulgate a harmonious community, but it also reveals that this unity of which he at times seems so confident was not as monolithic as he desired.
Though all English Jews were to be expelled from the land in 1290, a Jewish community not only endured in Norwich for a century and a half after William's death, but it also fostered under wealthy patrons like the Jurnet family a thriving center for rabbinic scholarship. Norwich even produced an extraordinary poet, Meir ben Elijah, who could declare in the acrostic of a poem on Exodus "I am Meir, son of Rabbi Elijah from the city of Norwich, which is in the land of the Isle, called Angleterre."[cxxix] As Ivan Marcus (among many others) has observed, the Jews experienced a flourishing of their culture similar to what for the Christians has been labeled the "Twelfth-Century Renaissance" -- only for the Jews, this explosion of creativity "was a response to an oppressive challenge" rather than the alchemy of a moment of international community.[cxxx] The murder of the child William in Norwich in 1144 was brutal, but in a way it arrived too early. Some scholars have detected in Thomas's narrative an edge of desperation in the "marketing" of the boy as a saint: "well into the 1160s and 1170s, some thirty years after William's 'murder', Thomas and the monks at Norwich were collecting miracle stories and trying new ways (such as the dedication in 1168 of the 'Chapel of St William in the Wood') to invigorate the cult and make it lucrative."[cxxxi] The events surrounding William's death did not inspire the contagious awe and national fascination to be awakened by the boy martyr Hugh of Lincoln in 1255. Few in number and never in fact capable of posing much of an actual threat to local communities, let alone to national communitas, the Jews were perhaps of greatest ideological use once they had been expelled from the island and transformed, in the wake of 1290, into specters or virtual bodies.[cxxxii] Beginning in the twelfth century, as we have seen, England began to imagine that it was ringed by vast geographies populated with people irremediably different in culture, ethics, and perhaps even blood. At the same time as Norwich was transforming its resident Jews into monsters, writers like William of Malmesbury were transforming the Welsh, Scots, and Irish into bloodthirsty barbarians whose passion was to murder, maim, and enslave English Christians.[cxxxiii] Jews may have temporary provided those others over whose excluded bodies a local or even national collectivity might condense, but the creation of a primitive and ripe for conquest Celtic Fringe was to offer a more enduring invitation to the imagining of a community of the realm, allowing a postcolonial England to transform itself into an insular empire.
The call for vengeance heard from the mouths of Godwin Sturt and Thomas of Monmouth, the demand for blood procalimed from parish church, cathedral, and city street alike goes unheeded. So far as we know, no Jew was killed as a direct result of the murder of the twelve-year-old William. Yet it is worthwhile considering whether real Jewish blood need flow in order to save the Vita from being dismissed as the record of a failed attempt to monsterize the Jews. Would the document feel more sacred if a pogrom or a Jewish choice of martyrdom lay in the history directly behind it? The events, accusations, and animus recorded by Thomas are, by any measure, chilling. Though it would take perhaps four decades for the people of Norwich to bring death to the Jews of the city and conflagration to their dwellings, as they did in 1190, it is difficult to believe that this hostility could be wholly unconnected to the conspiracies, fantasies, and murderous desires found in the Vita. The stories that circulated about William were clearly precedent-setting, for other cases of supposed ritual murder of children by Jews soon followed: Harold of Gloucester (1168), Robert of Bury St Edmunds (1181), Hugh of Lincoln (1255). The latter case saw nineteen Jews hanged for their supposed part in the ritual murder, and royal endorsement to the boy-martyr's burgeoning cult. By the close of the twelfth century anti-Jewish violence was erupting across East Anglia, having been kindled by a riot against some Jews at the coronation of King Richard. By the close of the thirteenth, England would be the first country in Europe that had declared itself Judenrein. Colin Richmond is surely not wrong to write of the "precocity of English anti-Semitism."[cxxxiv]
Even if violence took some years to arrive, the Vita remains the first text in history to imagine that Jews pose a grave and bodily danger to Christians, and the first to record a desire to massacre a Jewish community in revenge. The Life of Saint Thomas of Norwich is punctuated by demands for Jewish blood: "And so the earnestness of their devout fervor was urging all to destroy the Jews, and they would there and then have laid hands upon them" (1.12); "Everybody began to cry out with one voice that all the Jews ought to be utterly destroyed as constant enemies of the Christian name and Christian religion" (1.15); "Because it was not safe for them to remain outside, the Sheriff protected them within the defenses of the Castle" (1.16). Thomas repeatedly labels the Jews "iudei christianicide" ("Christianicide Jews," as in the rubric to 2.13) and makes it clear that the only safe Norwich is one cleansed of its religious, cultural, racial aliens. True, no Jews were massacred as a direct result of the worship of William during the span of years recorded by the Vita. Yet this veneration and the work that promulgated it cannot be held as unconnected to the violence against Jewish communities that was to sweep across East Anglia toward the close of the century, a violence already fully imagined and vociferously expressed in the Vita. Thomas composed a text obsessed with the flow of blood, and it is not likely an exaggeration to say that this text and the cult it promulgated were to trigger many more such flows.
[i] See Alan Carter, "The Anglo-Saxon origins of Norwich" 175. Ian Hannah brings together much of the early modern legendary material in The Heart of East Anglia, 29-31.
[ii] Determining the population and expansiveness of medieval cities and towns is notoriously difficult. Tom Williamson ranks Late Saxon Norwich as second only to London (The Origins of Norfolk 136), and it is well known that Norwich rapidly regained its population and began to expand in the twelfth century. It is perhaps safest to say that Norwich was among the top five largest and most important English cities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
[iii] Jessopp links Geoffrey and Thomas in the introduction to his edition of The Life and Miracles of St William, speculating that Thomas was once attached to Geoffrey as his student (ix) -- an interesting but unprovable notion.
[iv] See the prologue to the Vita for the dedication to Bishop William, and 2.2 for Thomas's statement that he writes at the charge of both bishop and convent.
[v] See Gavin I. Langmuir's seminal article "Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder," as well as his later generalization of some of the claims advanced there in Toward a Definition of Antisemitism (esp. 100-33) and History, Religion, and Antisemitism (esp. 275-305). Langmuir's work has profoundly influenced scholarship on the origins of the blood libel, so that assertions that fantasies of Jewish ritual torture begin with Thomas's text have become a critical commonplace: see Robert J. Stacey, "The Conversion of Jews to Christianity in Thirteenth Century England," 266; James Given, "The Inquisitors of Languedoc and the Medieval Technology of Power," 352; Leah Sinanoglou, "The Christ Child as Sacrifice: A Medieval Tradition and the Corpus Christi Plays," 493. In an important essay John M. McCulloh has argued against locating the origin of the accusation in Thomas himself, presenting evidence that the blood libel was circulating in the community and being carried from Norwich to the continent before Thomas wrote: "Jewish Ritual Murder: William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth, and the Early Dissemination of the Myth." Since Continental evidence suggests that a knowledge of William's death by crucifixion was "well established prior to the translation of his body 1150," McCulloh states that it is "virtually impossible that Thomas of Monmouth could have invented the charge" of ritual murder (732). I am persuaded by McCulloh's careful argument, and therefore trace in my own work the local work which such a "knowledge" of death via crucifixion accomplished in Norwich, especially as that knowledge assumed what Thomas hoped would be its authoritative form, the vita.
[vi] As McCulloh asserts, "Thomas makes the case that belief in the crucifixion [of William] was widespread [in Norwich]. In his description of a visit to the murder scene, he states he knew on the basis of common report (ut fama traditur) the structure of the beam and posts that the Jews supposedly employed in place of a cross" ("Jewish Ritual Murder" 732-33). Thomas, that is, cannot have been a lone or eccentric voice.
[vii] The best critical overview of the scanty medieval sources for the William legend is McCulloh, "Jewish Ritual Murder" 712-716. I am in substantial agreement with McCulloh's suggestion, based upon the pioneering work of Israel J. Yuval, that the ritual murder myth arose in the aftermath of the Ashkenazic Jews' choice of death over forced conversion during the crusader-inflicted persecutions of 1096 ("Jewish Ritual Murder" 699-700, 738-39). This spectacular choice to take one's life al kiddush ha-Shem (in the sanctification of God's name) and the flow of blood which resulted from these actions (invariably these martyrdoms were accomplished by the knife, often with parent's taking their children's lives before their own) resulted in a fascination with Jews and sanguinary ritual. For a good overview of the al kiddush ha-Shem, a contextualization of its medieval Hebrew inscription, and a warning about the dangers of overplaying its existence as an unmediated historical event, see Robert Chazan, God, Humanity, and History and Jeremy Cohen, "A 1096 Complex? Constructing the First Crusade in Jewish Historical Memory, Medieval and Modern." On the memorialization of this violence by Jewish communities, see Susan Einbinder, Beautiful Death.
[viii] An Introduction to the History of Medieval Towns vii-viii.
[ix] W. H. Auden, "Musée des Beaux Arts."
[x] Thomas of Monmouth, Life of St William of Norwich 1.10.
[xi] On Thomas's deliberate patterning of Legarda's discovery on the Easter story, hoping that some of the numinous aura of the paschal celebration would adhere to this inventio, see Monika Otter's thoughtful explication, Inventiones 39. She observes that if in this text Thomas must function as "visionary, inventor, champion, and biographer of the saint all in one," it is because he is striving "to turn into a saint a contemporary whose sanctity was far from universally accepted" (45). Otter also writes cogently on the relation of saints' bodies to the sustenance of community, 34.
[xii] Gentile Tales 1.
[xiii] As R. I. Moore notes, the twelfth century in general witnessed a deterioration of conditions for minorities and marginalized peoples of many kinds: The Formation of a Persecuting Society. The extent to which it signaled a major deterioration of Christian-Jewish relations is being currently debated, but critics like Robert Chazan see the "sanguinary assaults" of 1096 and their repercussions in the twelfth century as of primary importance in transforming the terms of that relationship. See Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade; Medieval Stereotypes and Modern Antisemitism, esp. p.67; and "From the First Crusade to the Second: Evolving Perceptions of the Christian-Jewish Conflict."
[xiv] The most famous medieval English caricature of Jews is possessed by the Public Record Office in london (Exchequer of receipt, Jews' Roll, no. 87). Dating from 1233, the racialized cartoon depicts Isaac of Norwich, Mosse Mokke, and a Jewish woman named Avegaye. For an explication of the scene see Frank Felsenstein, Anti-Semitic Stereotypes 27-29. That the male Jewish body menstruated was argued most influentially by Thomas de Cantimpré. On this strangely gendered figure see Sander L. Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred 74-75; Steven F. Kruger, "The Bodies of the Jews in the Late Middle Ages," 303 and "Becoming Christian, Becoming Male?" 22-26; and Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews149.
[xv] This is the infamous story of the Jews of Imestar, Syria, who supposedly tied a boy to a cross as part of a Purim celebration. See Joe Hillaby, 'The Ritual-Child-Murder Accusation" 69 and Gavin Langmuir, "Thomas of Monmouth" 822-26.
[xvi] "Jewish Ritual Murder" 738.
[xvii] The father is also noted for his madness and cruelty (patremque parvuli in amentiam et crudelitatem exasperavit), The Life, Letters, and Sermons of Bishop Herbert de Losinga vol. 2, 30-33.
[xviii] The Life, Letters, and Sermons of Bishop Herbert de Losinga 2, 114-120. McCulloh writes: "In the context of the early twelfth century, these views do not represent extraordinary animosity toward the Jews. Nevertheless, their expression by the pastor of the church of Norwich makes clear why members of both clergy and laity might give heed to a priest who charged the Jews with a heinous crime" ("Jewish Ritual Murder" 738). Miri Rubin examines Herbert's version of "the tale of the Jewish Boy" in Gentile Tales 10.
[xix] These "exchange of pennies" mandated by Matilda and Stephen are not well understood, but certainly involved taking money from the Jews for use in the civil war. See Joe Hillaby, "Jewish Colonisation in the Twelfth Century" 21.
[xx] The inglorious story of John's veneration is narrated by William of Newburgh in his Historia rerum Anglicarum and discussed by Nancy F. Partner in Serious Entertainments 73-74.
[xxi] See 3.12.
[xxii] "If, however, some things introduced in this book should seem to any improbable, let him not therefore account me guilty of falsehood, since I have been careful to set down nothing which I have not seen or which I have not come to the knowledge of by common report, and I offer it for the edification of those who are now alive and those who shall be hereafter" (Prologue). Although Langmuir argues that the Vita was composed in stages, with the first book completed in 1149 or early 1150 ("Thomas of Monmouth" 838-40), McCulloh sees the first six books as a single compositional unit and dates them to no earlier than 1155, just after Stephen's death ("Jewish Ritual Murder" 706-9). Emily Rose has recently argued that these books culminate the flourishing of the cult between 1150 and 1155 ("The Cult of St. William of Norwich" 105). The last two books were added and the Life revised in the 1170s.
[xxiii] Emily Rose places the origin of the ritual murder charge in these legal proceedings, arguing that it was introduced by Bishop William as a "clever legal tactic" that would prevent the prosecution of Simon de Novers on technical grounds ("The Cult of St. William of Norwich"). Though the truth of this assertion is impossible to ascertain, Rose does argue reasonably that Simon was a member of a conquest-era knightly family who had fallen upon hard times, taking out loans from Eleazar to finance participation in the second crusade.
[xxiv] Christopher Harper-Bill gathers the scanty evidence on their careers in his introduction to English Episcopal Acta: Norwich xxvii-xxviii.
[xxv] Turbe secured for the priory a papal decree allowing the priory to elect its bishop thenceforth, but in actual practice this was an extremely difficult right to exercise: "An election free in theory might, however, be something very different in practice, since no king could afford in reality to sacrifice control over the composition of the episcopate" (Christopher Harper-Bill, "The Medieval Church and the Wider World" 287). David Crouch writes of Stephen's withdrawal from elections after 1136 in The Reign of Stephen 300-3.
[xxvi] Christopher Harper-Bill offers that William "Norman by birth ... probably entered the newly-founded cathedral as an oblate" ("Introduction" xxxiii). He was probably therefore schooled at the priory. Colin Richmond observes, "William Turbe, as Dom David Knowles describes him, was 'a man of learning in the monsatic literary tradition.' Being learned in that tradition did not prevent one being bigoted and credulous; quite the opposite" ("Englishness and Medieval Anglo-Jewry" 55).
[xxvii] Thomas will later introduce a miracle with similarly derogatory words about these years: "There was, then, a woman of Brandney called Wimarc, who in the time of Stephen, when the days were evil (regis Stephani temporibus quando dies mali fuerant), was given as a hostage ..." (6.13).
[xxviii] On Stephen's reign and the turmoil that endured through many of his years, see R. H. C. Davis, King Stephen and the collection of essays edited by Edmund King in The Anarchy in King Stephen's Reign. As David Crouch has recently made clear, the supposed chaos of Stephen's reign has often been overplayed (as has the peace that supposedly pre-existed it); see The Reign of King Stephen, especially 1-7, which argues strongly that "anarchy" is far too forceful a word for the era's periodic strife. Yet as canny a ruler as Stephen may have been, his reign saw England's first prolonged civil war, a series of conflicts spread over a long duration. After the conquest most military violence had been occurring at the country's margins, as England expanded into Wales, Scotland and Ireland; in the conflict between Matilda and Stephen, however, armed conflict returned to England's interior.
[xxix] For both these references in their cultural context see Hugh M. Thomas, The English and the Normans 64.
[xxx] John Gillingham, England in the Twelfth Century 97. Gillingham's argument has been implicitly expanded by two scholars who disagree with his thesis that references to "the Normans" at this time indicate only a court faction rather than an enduring racial divide; see Judith A. Green, The Aristocracy of Norman England 435 and Hugh M. Thomas, The English and the Normans 64-65.
[xxxi] "Iam ergo cepit rabies predicta Normannorum periurio et prodicione pullulare." Historia Anglorum4.4. Earl Hugh would be excommunicated by William Turbe, the Bishop of Norwich who presided over the burgeoning of the boy-martyrs cult, in 1166.
[xxxii] Peterborough Chronicle (Anglo-Saxon chronicle version E), trans. Dorothy Whitelock, entry for 1137. Emily Rose examines this passage, the general impact of the civil war, and resonances with the torture of William in "The Cult of St. William" 72-74. Cf. the descriptions of torture in the narrative for 1138, Gesta Stephani 1.29.
[xxxiii] This is Martin B. Shichtman and Laurie A. Finke's observation about the "litany of horrors" in the Peterborough Chronicle, "Profiting from the Past" 2.
[xxxiv] Clarke renders the word crucethur and relates it to Latin cruciator, Peterborough Chronicle p. 107. The word used for William of Norwich's cross is the English noun rode.
[xxxv] As David Crouch has stressed, this was not a war possessed of two well-defined sides, king versus Empress, but a shifting struggle of magnates against their neighbors and each other (The Reign of King Stephen 151, 212).
[xxxvi] "Unde et corpus illud monstruosum horrendum dabat intuentibus spectaculum" (6.13).
[xxxvii] David Crouch gathers the contemporary readings of Stephen's Candlemas catastrophe in The Reign of King Stephen 141.
[xxxviii] I am putting van Houts' thesis in far more psychoanalytic terms than she herself does, but believe I am doing justice to her argument in "The Memory of 1066 in Written and Oral Traditions."
[xxxix] John Gillingham, England in the Twelfth Century 99. Gillingham argues that in the writings of William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon dating from the 1120s, one finds a "lingering remembrance" of the English as a "subject" and "downtrodden" population, "oppressed by French (or Norman) lords." Yet in their later writings this feeling of oppression vanishes: "Now the clear sense in which they felt themselves to be English was in terms of 'we are English and we are members of a ruling elite'" (99). In another essay Gillingham is more specific about the causes of this revivification of the English/Norman divide and its paradoxically communalizing effect. The powerful Waleran of Meulan and his associates carried out a coup in 1139: "as they pushed through their programme of putting English local government into the hands of aristocrats rather than 'bureaucrats,' [they] came to be seen -- and not only by Henry of Huntingdon -- as the Norman faction, an arrogant and snobbish group, conscious of their Frenchness and of their noble chivalry." They were also promulgators of a racialized class divide, in that they saw the English as "social inferiors" and "country bumpkins (pagenses et gregarios)": The English in the Twelfth Century 133, 169.
[xl] On the allegiances of the sheriff and bishop see Emily Rose, "The Cult of St. William" 74. Rose also points out the Bishop Herbert's library was destroyed during the civil war, indirect evidence of unrest within the city limits.
[xli] David Crouch assesses the devastation of the peasantry and the nobility in The Normans 274-5, where he sees the famines as integral to the rethinking of royal strategy for the future of the realm.
[xlii] McColloh advances a convincing argument for the rapid composition of these books shortly after Stephen's death in "Jewish Ritual Murder" 105.
[xliii] Based on a miracle narrated by Thomas at 7.7.
[xliv] "The United Kingdom of England" 39.
[xlv] The English and the Normans 287.
[xlvi] Thus although the great strength of work like Elizabeth Salter's "An Obsession with the Continent" is to place the literature of England into a wide, non-insular context, the problem with assuming that all writing participates in internationalism only at the national level is that it does not allow local-minded texts like Thomas' Vita to be at once regional, international, and uninterested in collectivities as large as the nation. See Salter's English and International: Studies in the Literature, Art and Patronage of Medieval England 1-100.
[xlvii] Cf. the vision of the unnamed girl of Mulbarton in 2.5, where William appears as "a boy of quite incomparable beauty."
[xlviii] Thomas deploys several strategies in his prologue to silence skeptics. He initiates his defense by punning on his own name and status as non-doubting Thomas: "For there are some who, led away by a spirit of perversity, as they refuse to believe those things that are written, so also reject those things that have been testified by very many. Aye! and sneer even at those things which have not been actually seen as if they were inventions, not having as much faith as Thomas retained in his heart, If I see not I will not believe. But in the Lord's words I answer, Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed." (1, prologue; cf. a spectral Bishop Herbert's accusation that he is incredulus Thomas at 3.1). Perhaps following Sulpicius Severus in the Vita Martini, he dehumanizes disbelievers by coding them as dog-like barkers, an expression that by the twelfth century would also evoke Saracens. Next he calls them a genus hominum who, like the Jews, are literalists stubbornly refusing to see the new truth. Lastly he sets himself up as a recoded chosen ("good") Jew, David, and renders his doubters Philistine Goliaths (2.1).
[xlix] A gray-haired Bishop Herbert, Norwicensis ecclesie fundator, appears in two visions: one granted to a virgin of Dunwich who had been plagued by an incubus (2.7), the other to Thomas himself (3.1).
[l] Another eyewitness account is that of Ælward Ded, who on his deathbed relates that he had encountered two Jews bearing a corpse into Thorpe Wood. He had been forced by the sheriff (a royal authority who, of course, had been bribed by the Jews) to keep the story silent (1.7).
[li] As a city with a thriving Jewish population headed by a Nasi (prince) -- a city, that is, in which the Jews exerted real political power and participated in civic community -- Narbonne must have been an especially attractive place for Thomas/Theobald to disparage. On Narbonne and the Jews as a political force, see Kenneth R. Stow, Alienated Minority: The Jews of Medieval Latin Europe 43-45.
[lii] Thomas's collective designation of the community in 2.5.
[liii] "Conversion and Medieval Sexual, Religious, and Racial Categories," 167, 172. Jonathan M. Elukin writes, "From late antiquity on, many Jewish converts never completely escaped the perceived stigma of their Jewishness" ("The Discovery of the Self: Jews and Conversion in the Twelfth Century," 63). On the conversion of English Jews, especially by compulsion, see Stow, Alienated Minority 288-90.
[liv] Michael Uebel proposes a similar mechanism of projection of Christian anxiety onto Saracens in "Unthinking the Monster: Twelfth-Century Responses to Saracen Alterity."
[lv] The aura of chronological precision that Thomas creates through his detailed narrative may, however, be misleading. As McCulloh has shown, a competing tradition placed William's death on Good Friday (24 March), and Thomas himself once implies that is indeed when the boy died, suggesting that "information about William's death independent of Thomas's hagiography circulated at least within a limited geographical area" ("Jewish Ritual Murder" 717).
[lvi] Thomas writes that the Jews use this combination of techniques in case evidence of their handiwork should come to light: "Now the deed was done in this way, lest, if eventually the body were found, it should be discovered from the presence of nail-marks in both hands and feet, that the murderers were Jews and not Christians" (1.5, corrected translation at p. 295).
[lvii] See The English and the Normans 181-99.
[lviii] James Tait, The Medieval English Borough: Studies in its Origins and Constitutional History 105.
[lix] The English in the Twelfth Century 4. A limitation of such a sweeping pronouncement, however, is that it does tend to conflate group and individual identities, rather than allowing for a complex and fluid relationship between collective designators and self-assertion. On the intricacies of mapping social identities in early England, see William O. Frazer's introduction to Social Identity in Early Medieval Britain 1-22.
[lx] See especially Robert W. Barrett, "Writing From the Marches: Cheshire Poetry and Drama, 1195-1645."
[lxi] The useful expression "intense localism" is coined by William Chester Jordan in "'Europe' in the Middle Ages" 73 to capture the tendencies towards self-sufficiency and parochialism that existed in tension with cosmopolitanism in the period 1050-1350.
[lxii] Edwin of Taverham married William's mother's first cousin; his daughter Hathewis is healed by the saint (7.15). Another married priest in the text, Walter of Tivetshall, is not related to William (4.11). Emily Rose also identifies Aelward Ded as a married priest (""Cult of St. William" 140). On married clergy as a persistently English problem, see C. N. L. Brooke, "Gregorian Reform in Action: Clerical Marriage in England, 1050-1200," Medieval Church and Society: Collected Essays 69-99, esp. 78. For an indication of how widespread clerical marriage was before the Conquest, see the references collected under "celibacy" in the index to Frank Barlow, The English Church 1000-1066. Although out of date, the discussion in Edward L. Cutts, Parish Priests and the their People in the Middle Ages in England 258-78 is still useful. The son of a cleric and himself a married archdeacon with several children, Henry of Huntingdon not surprisingly overstates the novelty of Anselm's first reform council (1102), which "forbade wives to the priests of England, something formerly not prohibited"; see Nancy Partner, Serious Entertainments 12-14 and 39-47. Obviously, not all Norman and Norman-appointed clergy were unmarried: Roger Bishop of Salisbury was married; Wulfstan's successor in Worcester, Samson, fathered future bishops of York and Bayeux; Herfast, first Norman bishop of East Anglia, bequeathed his cathedral church of St Mary in Thetford to his sons, who held it in 1086; Eborard, who resigned as bishop of Norwich in 1145, may also have had children. On married Norman bishops see especially the list compiled by C. N. L. Brooke, "Married Men among the English Higher Clergy, 1066-1200." Yet by the middle of the twelfth century a swift and drastic decline in clerical marriage had occurred among the upper clergy. The circumstances in the Norwich described by Thomas are straightforward: celibate clergy in positions of power tended to be Norman-French and affiliated with the cathedral, while the married clergy were secular priests of native English descent and administered the multiplex parish churches.
[lxiii] Medieval Church and Society 70.
[lxiv] Jon of Forde, Wulfric of Haselbury 29; trans. Pauline Matarusso, 54.
[lxv] English Church, 1066-1154 311.
[lxvi] In fact Honorius had confirmed the cathedral's status as mother church of the entire diocese of Norfolk and Suffolk, but as usual Thomas is interested only in the city itself.
[lxvii] James Campbell collects the archeological references and provides a useful illustration in "East Anglian Sees before the Conquest" 9-10. Brian Ayers describes the throne and effigy in Book of Norwich 56. See also Eric Fernie, Architecture of Norman England 146.
[lxviii] The Life and Letters of Herbert de Losinga 56.
[lxix] The collected documents for the Council of Westminster (c. Sept. 29, 1102) are contained in Councils and Synods, with other documents relating to the English Church, ed. D. Whitelock, M. Brett and C. N. L. Brooke, pp. 668-88. Archbishop Anselm's letter to Herbert that contains the reference to married parish clergy may be found on 683-84. Repeated attempts were made to enforce clerical celibacy, but most were eventually abandoned because so energetically resisted. See Loyn, The Norman Conquest 159-60 and M. Brett, The English Church under Henry I 77-79, 219-20. For the effects of newly enforced celibacy upon an archdeacon of mixed Norman-English descent, see Nancy Partner's sensitive treatment of Henry of Huntingdon, Serious Entertainments 11-48.
[lxx] In fact Thomas was most likely trilingual, using French and Latin with his social equals and superiors, English with many of the rest. See the restoration of the son of Colobern and Ansfrida to the boy's loquela materna in 3.16, where Thomas converses with the family about the miracle. See also the restoration of her materna lingua to a dumb girl in 5.16 and of Anglica lingua to a speechless child in 5.17. A man named Godric has a son by the niece of Robert of Wales; the mother may have been French-speaking (and was at least most likely Norman-descended) because when the deformed boy is restored to health he calls out in lingua patria (6.12) to his father.
[lxxi] Ann Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest 133.
[lxxii] See the introduction to The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, xxiii. Richard succeeded Elias as prior. With enthusiastic supporters of William's sanctity now heading both the monastery and the cathedral, the corpse was moved with much pomp from the monk's cemetery to inside the cathedral itself, next to the tomb of Herbert de Losinga. In other words, now that the cathedral-assemblage was united in its desire to promote the cult of William, veneration of the boy reached its acme (5.2). Peter likewise supported the cult ardently. Thomas describes him as a former knight who "had long served King henry and had been numbered among his attendants in the Privy Chamber" (3.6).
[lxxiii] "Writing History in England," 260.
[lxxiv] C. N. L. Brooke, "Gregorian Reform in Action" 79. That these increases further hardened some class disparities by attracting more wellborn men to the newly prestigious upper clergy is suggested on p. 80.
[lxxv] David Crouch, The Reign of King Stephen 312.
[lxxvi] This point is made well by Jo Ann McNamara, "The Herrenfrage: The Restructuring of the Gender System, 1050-1150."
[lxxvii] The newness of the Ashkenazic Jewry in northern Europe is essential to Robert Chazan's work on the contemporary development of "innovative anti-Jewish stereotypes" in Medieval Stereotypes and Modern Antisemitism, quotation at 2. Paul Hyams offers an excellent overview of the Jews of England in which he stresses their two hundred year status as an immigrant community, "The Jewish Minority in Mediaeval England, 1066-1290."
[lxxviii] The Jews of Medieval Norwich 3, 17.
[lxxix] V. D. Lipman has estimated the size of the Jewish community of Norwich at 100-200, perhaps two percent of the city's total population ("Anatomy of Medieval Anglo-Jewry" 65, 67). "Financiers" might be the more accurate word for those engaged in monetary occupations, since lending and credit activities engaged in by the English Jews included "pawn broking, mortgaging, granting of fee debts, annuities, and the sale of debts" (Robin R. Mundill, "Christian and Jewish Lending patterns" 42). Although such activities were vital to the existence of Jewish communities, and indeed moneylending became central to the Christian representation of Jewishness from the twelfth century onwards, Norwich's Jewish community was large enough that credit could not have been the only occupation in which Jews engaged. Richardson and Lipman document evidence that English Jews were also doctors, teachers, vintners, cheese and fishmongers, servants and assistants to wealthier Jews, traders and pawnbrokers: English Jewry under Angevin Kings 25-27 and The Jews of Medieval Norwich 79-81. Stacey argues that moneylending was not as important to the early Jewish communities in England as trade and foreign exchange: "Jews and Christians in Twelfth-Century England: Some Dynamics of a Changing Relationship" 346.
[lxxx] Robert C. Stacey writes of the origins of the English Jews and their Frenchness in "Jews and Christians in Twelfth-Century England": "French was the language of the Jewish hearth and home in post-conquest England, and seems to have remained so right up until the expulsion in 1290. No doubt most Jews learned some English -- they must have done so, simply to carry on their daily lives and business dealings. But English never seems to have become their primary vernacular language. Jews continued to bear French names, usually translations of the meaning of their Hebrew names. When they wrote in a vernacular language, it was invariably in French" (341). See also Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England, 93-95.
[lxxxi] Paul Hyams stresses the enduring connection of the English Jews with Normandy and beyond in "The Jewish Minority in Mediaeval England" 271-72.
[lxxxii] Thus when the Jew Eleazar is murdered, his body must be sent to London (2.13) -- the only permitted location for a Jewish cemetery until 1177. Norwich had a Jewish cemetery of its own by 1202, since it was vandalized in that year: Lipman, Jews of Medieval Norwich 124-25.
[lxxxiii] R. B. Dobson stresses the "joint marital enterprise" of the contemporary Jews in "A Minority Within a Minority" 28.
[lxxxiv] No exact date for the completion of the cathedral is known, other than that its building was culminated during Eborard's reign (which ended in 1145). Eric Fernie argues that the monastic buildings and episcopal palace were likewise completed by this date in Architecture of Norman England 144.
[lxxxv] See Emily Rose, "The Cult of St. William of Norwich" 41-43. Rose hypothesizes that Jurnet was the son of the Eleazer slain by Simon de Novers's men.
[lxxxvi] Stacey makes this point obliquely: "Linguistically, Jews in medieval England were aliens in a more profound sense than perhaps anywhere else in Europe. In the immediate aftermath of the Norman conquest, the contrast between the French-speaking Jewish newcomers and the English-speaking Christian majority was, of course, an obvious one. At the same time, however, the Jews' status as fellow Francophones tended to unite them, at least in the eyes of the conquered English, with the French-speaking military aristocracy created by the Conquest. Jews in the Anglo-Norman period were thus not so isolated a linguistic minority as they would later become. By the mid-twelfth century, however, English was emerging as the first language of virtually all children raised in England, irrespective of family origins or class." ("Jews and Christians in Twelfth-Century England" 343; on Jewish per capita wealth in England see 342). Ian Short's important article "Patrons and Polyglots: French Literature in Twelfth-Century England" implicitly backs this claim up by arguing that "by the middle of the twelfth century at the very latest the 'Anglo-Normans' (for want of a better term) had not only a passive but an active command of English … Evidence survives from the 1160s that Insular French was sensed to be degenerating, and, from the 1180s, that French had lost its status as a true spoken language and become a second, acquired language. Concomitantly, the so-called 'Anglo-Normans' begin to refer to themselves explicitly as English."
[lxxxvii] The declaration Nos iudei tui sumus, with its second person singular implication of intimacy and subject status, is taken from Thomas's performative imagining of the Jews pleading with Stephen to condemn Simon de Novers for the murder of Eleazar. Thomas identifies what other royal subjects who were under local and ecclesiastical jurisdiction might have found infuriating about the privileges which only the Jews enjoyed: "We are thy tributaries year by year, we are continually necessary to thee in thy necessities, since we are always faithful to thee and by no means useless to thy realm. For thee, thou rulest us leniently and quietly." As Robert C. Stacey has pointed out, however, the problem for the Norwich Jews is that "King Stephen's capacity to protect his Jewish subject in England was at a low ebb in 1146 and 1147, even in those areas of the country Stephen still controlled" "Crusades, Martyrdoms, and the Jews of Norman England, 1096-1190," 235.
[lxxxviii] As John Van Engen suggests, the fact that the Jews considered themselves to be in exile, awaiting a return to Jerusalem, contrasted fundamentally with the Christian idea that Europe was a permanent and God-given home for its (Christian) inhabitants: "Jews and Christians Together in the Twelfth Century," 2.
[lxxxix] Robert Stein similarly links the stabilizing and materializing blood to genealogy in "Making History English" 106. While he does not speak specifically of blood and racial identity, John Gillingham – as noted in the first chapter -- argues that the promulgation of Celtic otherness functioned as an effective precipitator of twelfth-century possibilities for English-Norman unity (The English in the Twelfth Century 3-18 and 41-58). Whereas the position of the Welsh, Scots, and Irish at martial frontiers was, in Gillingham's argument, essential to their ideological utility, the Jews might be seen as an internal version of cultural alterity deployed to bring about community within the patria. See Anne McClintock's discussion of "internal colonization" in "The Angel of Progress" 88 and Sylvia Tomasch's excellent discussion "Postcolonial Chaucer and the Virtual Jew" 250-51. Hugh M. Thomas points out the mixed descent of the perpetrators of violence against Jews in the York massacre of 1190, making a similar argument for the unifying power of hatred towards Jews (The English and the Normans 309).
[xc] Of this scene Robert Chazan writes tersely "Psychoanalytic interpretation of this incident would probably be most interesting" -- a sentiment which in its suggestive understatement perhaps says it all. Medieval Stereotypes and Modern Antisemitism 153.
[xci] It is not controversial, after all, to say that the Vita is a community-directed work rather than a piece solely for private contemplation; every narrative that Thomas adds to it can therefore be seen as both personal (belonging to whoever originates it, in this case Godwin and Liviva) and public (since, once translated and incorporated, it becomes part of the argument for William's sanctity).
[xcii] Thomas, in other words, animates what would otherwise be a merely conventional scene with his own response-eliciting intent. On the creative deployment of hagiographic conventions in twelfth-century saints' lives more generally, see David Townsend, "Anglo-Latin Hagiography and the Norman Transition." Thomas of Monmouth writes within a contemporary efflorescence of hagiographic narratives, but as Townsend underscores, the supposedly "static tradition" that lay behind these lives is in fact subverted by the "adhortive agenda" each contains for its readers: "A saint's life delineates a mock reader whose function it is to draw the text's receptor toward a targeted set of values, attitudes, and affirmations." In sum, "meaning occurs in the reciprocal relation of text and reader" (387-8, 390).
[xciii] On this bloody death as appropriately Jew-like, see Willis Johnson, "The Myth of Jewish Male Menses" 280, 285-86. Johnson writes 'The full implications of the story in which the sheriff is punished when he becomes Jew-like are only evident to one who has a specific notion of what it means to be a Jew. This is a vivid example of the discursive construction of the Jewish body, a body whose true Jewishness is irrespective of parentage" (286).
[xciv] See Jessopp's introduction to the Vita, xxxiii. John's brother William succeeded him as sheriff, and is known to have become heavily indebted to the Norwich Jews (xxxiv).
[xcv] Miracles and Pilgrims 161. See also John R. Shinners, "The Veneration of Saints at Norwich Cathedral" 134.
[xcvi] On Alveva as the Latin transliteration of OE Ælfgifu see Cecily Clark, "Women's Names in Post-Conquest England" 227.
[xcvii] Godwin was, as well, the name of one of King Harold's sons. For a balanced reading of Earl Godwine's considerable achievements in securing both land and popularity, see Robin Fleming, Kings and Lords in Conquest England 53-103, and Frank Barlow, The Godwins: The Rise and Fall of a Noble Dynasty. There is one other Godwin in Thomas's text, Godwin Creme, freed from his irons by William's intercession (6.18).
[xcviii] Herbert addresses a letter about their father to the two brothers: see letter XXVII in The Life and Letters of Herbert de Losinga, 287.
[xcix] Bartlett writes vividly of the English adoption of Norman names in the wake of the conquest, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 538-41; quotation at 540. For an examination of this phenomenon and of the complexities of reading ethnicity from post-conquest names, see Cecily Clark, "Women's Names in Post-Conquest England." Clark remarks that English women's names were replaced much more slowly by continental ones, probably due to a "paucity of ... feminine name-models" (251) -- an indication that the Norman immigration into England was mainly a movement of males.
[c] The material effects of the Confessor's cultural hybridity can perhaps best be seen in the fact that Harold and William, last English and first Norman king, were the first monarchs crowned at Westminster -- a church built by Edward in the Romanesque style inspired by the Norman abbey church of Jumièges. Pro-Norman and Angevin apologists made much of Edward's Norman sympathies, as well as his Norman blood. Aelred of Rievaulx, for example, emphasized the union of England and Normandy in Edward to justify the reign of Henry Plantagenet (whose mother's great-great grandfather was Edmund Ironside). See Vita Edwardi Confessoris et Regis, ed. J.-P. Migne, PL 195:738-9, and Stein's discussion of the text in "The Trouble with Harold" 190-91. Emma of Normandy, incidentally, illustrates well the multi-layered cultural hybridities that characterize the period. She was not only the wife of two kings, one English and one Danish (she was married by Cnut at Æthelred's demise), she was the mother of two as well (Harthacnut [by Cnut] and Edward the Confessor [by Æthelred]). Her Norman name was changed to English Ælfgifu when she married Æthelred. While living in Flanders after the death of Cnut, she even commissioned a pro-Danish contemporary history of England which positioned her as the legitimator of future succession to the throne, the Encomium Emmae Reginae.
[ci] History on the Edge 25. As the chapter on Gerald of Wales emphasized, the Welsh March was inhabited by Normans, Bretons, English, Flemish, and (of course) Welsh, cultures locked in a long negotiation over separatism, assimilation, and alliance. Joe Hillaby points out that William's miracles and vengefulness are fully in the mode of contemporary of Welsh hagiography, comparing him to David and Cadog ("The Ritual-Child-Murder Accusation" 71).
[cii] Location of Culture 113. Medievalists have used various synonyms for Bhabha's "hybridity" in their own analyses. Daniel Donoghue, for example, has persuasively argued for a wide "cultural ambivalence in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England," glossing ambivalence as "a tension pulling in two directions" that preserves opposition rather than neutralizes its force ("La3amon's Ambivalence"537, 558). In her important work on Geoffrey of Monmouth, Patricia Ingham has developed a postcolonial-inflected notion of ambiguitas, which she defines as "inclined to both sides; hybrid" and "wavering, hesitating, uncertain, doubtful, obscure" (Sovereign Fantasies 43).
[ciii] On the intensification of class divisions in the wake of the conquest, see H. R. Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest 333.
[civ] "Nec iam uix aliquis princeps de progenie Anglorum esset in Anglia, sed omnes ad seruitutem et ad merorem redacti essent, ita etiam ut Anglicum uocari esset obprobior" (Historia Anglorum 6.38).
[cv] Dialogus de Scaccario 53. Richard himself seems to have been a product of a Norman-English union. As his name indicates, he was the son of Nigel, a Norman later to become Bishop of Ely, and an English woman. Nigel's brother was called William the Englishman, a sign that their mother's ethnicity mattered. See Charles Johnson's introduction to his edition of the Dialogus de Scaccario, p. xiv, where it is observed that Nigel may well not have been a priest when Richard was conceived. Richard's uncle was Roger, bishop of Salisbury -- likewise the father of children with a woman who was likely English, Matilda of Ramsbury (Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England 209). His mixed family history no doubt accounts for Richard's somewhat utopian vision of an England united in its hybrid, indistinguishable Norman-English blood.
[cvi] It is also worth bearing in mind that, as Hugh M. Thomas notes, Richard's statement about the intermixed state of the English and French "is an expression not of unity but of uncertainty about elite identity" (The English and the Normans 75).
[cvii] On William's poverty as a bar to sanctification (as well as the unlikeliness of the boy's sanctification in general), see McCulloh "Jewish Ritual Murder" 736, esp. n.149.
[cviii] Maryanne Kowaleski, "Town and Country in Late Medieval England: The Hide and Leather Trade" 57.
[cix] Colin Platt groups tanners with butchers and fishmongers as "unsocial crafts" in The English Medieval Town 47.
[cx] Invectiones, ed. W. S. Davies, Y Cymmrodor, xxx (1920) p. 93; cited by Robert Bartlett, Gerald of Wales14.
[cxi] Kowaleski writes of the dirtiness and geographical isolation of tanning in "Town and Country in late Medieval England: the Hide and Leather Trade" 61.
[cxii] According to ChristopherHarper-Bill, because of its immense size Norwich had at least two archdeacons by 1107 and four by 1145 ("Introduction" xxvi). On the office of archdeacon more generally see Nancy Partner, Serious Entertainments 13-14 and 44-45.
[cxiii] Though, of course, even here there are exceptions. See C. N. L. Brooke on Walkelin, an incontinent (though unmarried) archdeacon of Suffolk described in a letter of John of Salisbury (1156), in Medieval Church and Society 90.
[cxiv] On race and the contemporary parish system see Barlow, The English Church 1066-1154 263.
[cxv] Barlow, The English Church, 1066-1154 311; H. R. Loyn, The English Church, 940-1154 96.
[cxvi] Bishop Eborard apparently realizes the potential of the cadaver as a relic and pilgrimage destination when a visiting prior offers to purchase the remains, apparently to display them at his home foundation of Lewes, 1.18.
[cxvii] Another nearby and revenue-generating shrine was that to the royal virgin St Etheldreda, whose uncorrupted body lay at Ely. As Diana Webb points out, the last miracle that Thomas added to the vita (in which a man from Canterbury is miraculously accompanied by saints Thomas Becket and Edmund to Norwich to be cured by William) is concession of these saints' "natural rights to the boy martyr: Thomas his patronage over a Canterbury man, and Edmund his suzerainty within the East Anglian sphere" (Pilgrimage in Medieval England 56).
[cxviii] There is perhaps something desperate about the erection of this statue, in that it must substitute for the real relics Norwich so painfully lacks (Felix's remains were kept at Ramsey).
[cxix] "'Racial' Minorities in the Anglo-Norman Realm," 49-50.
[cxx] On the evolution of the idea that Jews were the enemies of Christians and the murderers of Christ, see Jeremy Cohen, "The Jews as the Killers of Christ in the Latin Tradition, from Augustine to the Friars." Thomas provides the first text to combine both traditions, so that his Jews actually innately desire to kill Christians, christianicidae iudei. Chazan, Medieval Stereotypes, 66, points out that Thomas's depiction of Jewish enmity participates in a twelfth century Christian tendency to represent the Jew as atemporal in his malevolence, "engaged in the same hateful acts as their forefathers more than a thousand years earlier."
[cxxi] Thomas, in otherwise, promulgated a myth of Jewish international conspiracy against Christians in order to render the Jews of Norwich not a local community with their own potential eccentricities but representatives of a worldwide race of people united in their innate malice and murderous intentions. He has the Jews refer to themselves as a unified genus in 1.6, one of the many sections of the text in which the Jews act as a united, undifferentiated group with a transnational homogeneity.
[cxxii] See Robert C. Stacey, "Crusades, Martyrdoms, and the Jews of Norman England" 247.
[cxxiii] De Expugnatione Lyxbonensi 104-111; Gillingham, English in the Twelfth Century 139.
[cxxiv] As noted earlier, Eleazar dies when set upon by the men of a noble indebted to him. His death is gleefully narrated in 2.13.
[cxxv] Benedicta Ward enumerates the vengeance episodes and contextualizes them within the conventions of contemporary hagiography in Miracles and the Medieval Mind 68-69, quotation at 69.
[cxxvi] A few of William's cathedral-sanctioned miracles involve livestock (sick hogs restored to health, 3.20; oxen with plague cured, 3.21), but most involve cures of human beings at the cathedral.
[cxxvii] Thomas, by his own admission, is rather like Godwin in that when William's corpse is transferred to the cathedral, he seizes two teeth that have fallen from the jaw (3.1). The translation of the now decomposed body, incidentally, contrasts with Thomas's earlier insistence that its flesh was resistant to decay, so that at the first and second exhumations the odor of sanctity arises.
[cxxviii] Of this and other episodes of saintly life in death Ben Nilson writes, "Although acknowledged to be both in heaven and virtually omnipresent, a saint was at the same time thought to dwell specially in his or her body, and would rise at the Resurrection wherever it rested" (Cathedral Shrines of Medieval England 4).
[cxxix] Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich 157; Susan Einbinder, "Meir b. Elijah of Norwich." Lipman also points out that several of the most powerful Jews in England -- including Jurnet of Norwich, his son and two grandsons -- were referred to as HaNadib, patron of scholarship ("Anatomy of Medieval Anglo-Jewry" 70).
[cxxx] "The Dynamics of Jewish Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century," 29.
[cxxxi] Anthony Bale, "Fictions of Judaism in England before 1290" 131.
[cxxxii] "Jews disappeared from England in 1290; 'the Jew' did not" (Colin Richmond, "Englishness and Medieval Anglo-Jewry" 56). See Sylvia Tomasch's argument in "Postcolonial Chaucer and the Virtual Jew" and Stephen Kruger, "The Spectral Jew." A related phenomenon is what Jeremy Cohen calls the hermeneutic or theological Jew: Living Letters of the Law 2.
[cxxxiii] I repeat here the central thesis of much of John Gillingham's work. See chapter two.
[cxxxiv] "Englishness and Medieval Anglo-Jewry" 50.