March 16, 1190 – Massacre of Jews in York, England

What could be a better warm-up to a Christian crusade to the Holy Land than a massacre of Jews? Or so it was thought…

On this day in history, a wave of anti-Semitic riots by a mob of clergy, barons, and crusaders waiting to follow King Richard the Lion-Heart to the Holy Land culminated in the massacre of an estimated 150 Jews – the entire Jewish community of York – who had taken refuge in the royal castle. Seeing no way out to safety most of the Jews chose to commit suicide in the keep.

Some Jews accepted the option of renouncing their faith and converting to Christianity, but those who left the keep for this purpose were butchered anyway.

Anti-Jewish feeling was common at the time, but pogroms “inspired” by the crusade were also seen as a convenient way to eliminate debts to Jewish moneylenders. The local gentry had borrowed heavily from them and could not repay their debts. In fact, after the massacre they burned the records of their debts on the floor of the cathedral, and looted the homes of the Jews they had killed.

Clifford's Tower today, rebuilt in the 13th century after being destroyed twice. In 1190 it was a wooden building.

Clifford’s Tower today, rebuilt in the 13th century after being destroyed twice. In 1190 it was a wooden building.

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