Richard The Lionheart’s Coronation Led To Violence Against Jews, A Plague That Continues Today
Lionized by Robin Hood, Richard I didn’t promote hate of Jews but did nothing to stop it. Were dead Jewish children recently unearthed in England among the victims? The real tragedy: Discrimination is once again on the rise.
By Alex Ben Block
Sunday September 3, 2022, is the 933rd anniversary of the coronation of Richard The Lionheart as the King of England. While it marked the beginning of the reign of the ruler celebrated in the Robin Hood myth as a savior of the common people, it led to attacks on innocent Jews, something to ponder even now as anti-Semitism in America, and worldwide, reaches unprecedented levels.
His ascension after the long reign of his father Henry II, the King remembered in our era from the 1968 movie, “The Lion In Winter,” marks one of the darkest days in the history of the Jewish people.
In real life, on that day, a group of Jews came to Richard’s palace in London to present gifts and wish him well, although no Jews, or women for that matter, were invited for the big event.
The Jews, all leaders of their community, never reached Richard. A rowdy crowd of Christians outside his castle mistakenly believed Richard hated Jews, and assaulted the well-meaning dignitaries - beating them, stripping them, whipping them, killing some and driving all of them away.
That wasn’t enough for the crowd, however, which continued through the city killing Jews at random, burning Jewish homes, and stealing whatever the Jews owned. Even some Christian homes were attacked in riots that night and for days after. One reason the crowd was on edge was the on-going efforts of the church to fire up the populace to build support for the Crusades, raising religious fervor.
Those anti-Semitic riots in London were not the end of it. The mere rumor King Richard hated Jews led to pogroms all over England resulting in the murder, beating and robbing of many more members of the Jewish minority. For instance, a year later, after Richard left for the Third Crusade, more than 500 Jews were murdered (or committed suicide to avoid being captured or forced to convert to Christianity) as a result of anti-Semitic riots in York, England.
King Richard reportedly did not hate Jews, and in fact had turned to Jews for money and support for his endless wars.
“Richard was furious because the Jews were under his special protection – not because he was unusually tolerant but because, like all kings of the time, he regarded them as a source of revenue,” wrote John Gillingham, in the 1978 British book, “Richard The Lionheart.”
However, special he considered them, Richard never made any public statement about what happened to the Jews that bloody night, or in the days and weeks after, letting the bloodletting continue.
While this all took place nearly a millennium ago, I had cause recently to be reminded about it. One reason is because Anti-Semitism in America is at a record level, up 34 percent in the past year, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in 12 months, according to the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League). That is the highest number of attacks on Jews in America since the ADL began tracking incidents in 1979. And it is not much better in the rest of the world where religious fanaticism and Middle Eastern oil money are used to ferment hatred against the tiny Jewish minority that has contributed to so much to mankind from medicine to literature to diplomacy and beyond.
What got me thinking about it was that after all these centuries DNA analysis had been used to solve what the article called the “mystery of bodies found at the bottom of a medieval well," according to CNN.
In 2004, while breaking ground for a shopping mall in Norwich, England, construction workers found the human remains of 17 bodies in a well dating back at least 800 years.
“The identity of the remains of the six adults and 11 children and why they ended up in the medieval well had long vexed archaeologists,” reported CNN. “Unlike other mass burials where skeletons are uniformly arranged, the bodies were oddly positioned and mixed -- likely caused by being thrown head first shortly after their deaths.”
Using new DNA technology, they discovered that four of the six people were related – including three sisters, the youngest of whom was five or ten-years-old.
“Further analysis of the genetic material suggested that all six were ‘almost certainly’ Ashkenazi Jews,” reports CNN.
Their murder took place somewhere between 1161 and 1216, the scientists believe. The murder of Jews for the crime of trying to celebrate King Richard took place beginning in 1789, so it is quite possible the innocent children in that well were victims of the Christian crowd celebrating the Lionheart.
“During the Middle Ages blood libels were directed against Jews in many parts of Europe,” writes the Wikipedia. “The believers of these accusations reasoned that the Jews, having crucified Jesus, continued to thirst for pure and innocent blood and satisfied their thirst at the expense of innocent Christian children.”
Beyond being celebrated in Robin Hood, Richard is remembered as a very successful soldier. What is less known is that he hardly spent any time in England and did not actually speak much if any English. His native tongue was French.
His reign lasted only ten years, during most of which he was away in the “Holy Land” fighting the third Crusade. Then for several years after having been captured on his way home by the army of Henry VI, Emperor of Germany, whom he had ridiculed and embarrassed while leading the Crusaders. he was in a prison. Richard was later freed after his mother, Queen Eleanor, led a successful effort to raise a huge ransom, a good portion of which came from a heavy tax put on the Jews in England, among others.
The Lionheart never really married, although there was a bogus short-lived marriage in Cyprus on his way to the Crusades; and he was betrothed to a French princess, who he refused to wed, apparently because while she was being held in England waiting for Richard she became a mistress to his father, Henry II.
Richard’s reluctance to marry may also have had to do to his being gay, or at least bisexual, which he was by numerous accounts. In those days being gay was not celebrated openly.
The Lionheart died in 1199 when long after a battle had ended, on a late-night patrol around a castle in Limousin, in southwest France that he and his troops were besieging, a random cross-bowman shot him in the neck with an arrow. He died later of gangrene from the wound. However, before he expired, he found time to forgive the young man who shot the arrow.
He never found time to say he was sorry about what happened to the Jews in his name. One of his successors about a hundred years after his death finally forcibly expelled all of the Jews from England, over religious prejudice and resentment that the hard-working people did well economically when many of the less motivated Brits did not fare as well.
England was not alone. Over the next three hundred years Jews were also forced out of France (14th century), Germany 14th century), Portugal (15th. century), and elsewhere. The Jews were not allowed back into England until sometime in the mid 17th Century.
Those exiled from western Europe were largely forced by the thousands to travel to what was called the Pale of Settlement, encompassing countries like Poland, Lithuania and part of Ukraine.
“Life in the Pale for many was economically bleak,” writes Wikipedia. “Most people relied on small service or artisan work that could not support the number of inhabitants.”
Many emigrated seeking a better like and others did survive. Many of those lived only long enough to be slaughtered in the 1940s by the Nazi’s and their local collaborators.
After World War II, when the UN created the state of Israel, it seemed as if the Jews would finally have acceptance. Instead, wars followed and more recently growth of Moslem emigration to Europe, especially England, and France, among several countries, has again made the plight of peace-loving Jews difficult.
Even in America, as the ADL statistics show, it is a frightening time. Although Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, and have made significant contributions, the stink of anti-Semitism is in the air once again.
It came to the surface in the U.S. notably under Trump, who gave signals that set off White nationalists, and others, to legitimize their hatred. That includes American Nazi’s, many armed, who marched in the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. The demonstrators famously chanted, "Jews will not replace us," a lie that dates back hundreds of years in anti-Jewish history.
So, the bodies of those innocent men, women and children that have laid rotting deep in a well for over 800 years in the United Kingdom, are not simply sins of a long-forgotten era. They are a reminder that the ugly history of irrational prejudice continues to add new chapters.
As President Biden has said, with people like Trump giving a wink and a nod to those who would subvert and pervert our democratic society, the war against prejudice - against Jews, Asian Americans, African Americans, American Indians, the LGBT+ community, the handicapped and anyone else who is different – has again found legitimacy and continues.
There will be no Lionheart who will ride to the rescue. It is up to each and every one of us to insist that every person is judged by what they do, say and how they act, not by their religion, skin color, national origin or sexual preference. It is up to us to vote in leaders who want inclusion in our society for all, not division that plays on fear.
This is a real battle that will go on far beyond our lifetime. Our responsibility is to make sure in how we live and how we vote that we build a better world.