This Day in Jewish History / August 27

The blood libel against Jews, a tragic staple throughout history, received a royal validation when King Henry III of England accepted the claims of the mother of a young boy found dead on this day in 1255.

This day in 1255 is said to be the date of death of the 8- or 9-year-old boy who became known as Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln. Hugh disappeared, according to his mother Beatrice, after playing with Jewish children in his town in east-central England. Hugh’s body was eventually found in a well, and Beatrice’s accusations led to the arrest of a local Jew named Copin, who in exchange for his life, confessed that he and a number of other Jews in the vicinity had tortured and crucified Hugh in a ritual killing. Copin was nonetheless executed for the crime, on the orders of King Henry III, who took a keen personal interest in the case and had his steward, John of Lexington, oversee Copin’s interrogation. This was the first time that a European monarch accepted blood libel charges against a Jew, and Copin was the first Jew put to death in England on a charge of ritual murder.

Henry had a financial interest, as well as a religious one. Earlier that year, the king had sold the right to levy a tax on the kingdom’s Jews to his brother, Richard Earl of Cornwall. Henry retained, however, the right to expropriate the estate of any Jews convicted of serious crimes. Nearly 100 Jews were arrested as part of the blood libel and imprisoned in the Tower of London.  Twenty of them were eventually executed and their possessions forfeited to the crown. 

News swiftly spread that blood from Hugh’s body had cured a local woman of her blindness. This, and other miracles attributed to the boy, led to Hugh’s quick elevation to popular sainthood, though he was never officially canonized in the Church (Little Saint Hugh is not to be confused with Saint Hugh of Lincoln, the city’s late bishop, who was sainted in 1220.)