This anti-semitic attack in Norwich makes me want to tell a story of the Jews of Norfolk. By way of background, the first synagogue in Norwich dates back to 1087. This is a story of both hatred and decency. Of English antisemitism. This is the story of William of Norwich. 1/8
William of Norwich, born in February 1132, was an English boy, a tanner, who was offered a job in the kitchens of the Archdeacon of Norwich. But he never made it. For the twelve-year-old’s body was found in Mousehold Heath, part of Thorpe Wood, outside Norwich. 2/8
Locals blamed Jews for his murder with his aunt claiming to have seen him enter a house belonging to a Jew. It was demanded that members of the Jewish community attend the ecclesiastical court and submit to a trial by ordeal - basically trial by torture. It was a tense time 3/8
Luckily for the Jews, the local sheriff, John de Chesney, told locals the ecclesiastical court had no jurisdiction over Jews. When a mob formed, he took the Jews into protection in the castle. After the situation had calmed down, they returned to their homes 4/8
The story of William of Norwich is the first recorded blood libel in England. An account by the Jew-hating monk Thomas of Monmouth - in which he called Jews our enemies' - helped spread the falsehood, inflaming antisemitic sentiments in England 5/8
The Norfolk incident was followed by similar accusations in Gloucester (1168), Bury St Edmunds (1181) and Bristol (1183). In 1189, the Jewish deputation attending the coronation of Richard the Lionheart was attacked by the crowd. Massacres of Jews at London and York followed 6/8
In March 1190 150 Jews were attacked in York and then massacred when they took refuge in the royal castle, with some committing suicide rather than being taken by the mob. At least 17 Jews were thrown in a well in Norwich. Eventually Jews were expelled from England in 1290 7/8
Who knows who daubed the synagogue in graffiti. But it’s a chance to remind ourselves that Jews have been part of Norfolk since medieval times. They have been persecuted by locals but also saved by locals. The history of Norfolk’s Jews is intimately linked to British Jewry 8/8

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