This Day in Jewish History |

1189: Richard I Is Crowned and London's Jews Are Massacred

When King Richard the Lionheart was crowned, Jewish dignitaries who brought him gifts were stripped, whipped and banished from the court. This snowballed into a large-scale pogrom.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Richard the Lionheart's tomb at Fontevraud.
Richard the Lionheart's tomb at Fontevraud.Credit: Wikipedia
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

This day in Jewish history starts with a moment in English history – it was on this day, September 3, 1189, that Richard I was crowned King of England and inadvertently triggered a pogrom of English Jewry.

Richard's coronation was bad news for the Jews of England, who were barred from the ceremony, as were women. Jewish dignitaries who dared to defy the decree and showed up bearing gifts for the new monarch were stripped, whipped and banished from the court.

As they fled, rumors spread in London that the new king detested "infidels" and meant to kill them all, and a pogrom ensued. The Jews of London were plundered and murdered, their houses were burned down and some were baptized against their will. The mayhem that night spread to wealthy Christian households too, but nobody was ever held accountable.

As reports of the slaughter circulated, attacks on Jews spread to other English cities: some months later, on March 16, 1190, at the urging of their rabbi Yomtov of Joigney, some 500 Jews in York killed their families and selves rather than be forcibly converted or massacred by mobs. And indeed a handful of survivors surrendered to crusaders but were killed.

Better known as Richard the Lionheart and bearing a host of titles, the king actually ruled from July 6, 1189 until his death 10 years later, in 1199. He gained his name as a warrior from his youth, after taking command of an army and putting down rebellions against his father, King Henry II, at age 16. Though it bears noting that he himself had rebelled against his father, not once but twice.

Richard the Lionheart didn't actually live in England, let alone London. He also didn't actually speak much English, it appears. He dwelled in the Duchy of Aquitane in southwest France. But his famed heart lay in other lands entirely.

Richard was to become the leading commander of the Third Crusade after following in the path of his father, Henry II, and "taking the cross" in 1187, two years before his coronation. He allied with King Philip II of France – an alliance apparently based on mutual suspicion that if one was absent, the other would launch war on his land. He set off for the Holy Land in April 1191.

Though Richard all but emptied the kitty in pursuit of his aim, and did score victories against the Muslim armies headed by Saladin, including the capture of Acre, and though the kings vowed to retake Jerusalem from the Saracens – that was an ambition that was to go unfulfilled. In fact Richard himself was captured, by forces loyal to Henry VI, Emperor of Germany, on his way back from the Holy Land: he was only freed after ransom was paid.

Richard the Lionheart died on April 6, 1199 of gangrene caused by an arrow wound suffered while defending a castle in Limousin, France against rebels against his regime. One of his last acts was to forgive the boy who had shot the fatal arrow.

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