Six months earlier Henry had sold the custody of the Jews to Richard so that he might “disembowel those whom the king had skinned.” The situation did not bode well for the Jewish community when Henry arrived in Lincoln. He no longer had a financial interest in protecting them and the boy’s mother was still in control of public opinion. The king ordered his steward to investigate, a learned man renowned for his understanding of the law. But John of Lexington was also the brother of Henry of Lexington, the bishop, and his investigation involved little more than extracting a confession from Jopin, whose life was guaranteed in return. Henry took issue with the deal and declared that the wretch deserved to be executed many times over. Only one sufficed, as the unfortunate man was dragged behind a horse to a waiting gallows. Nearly a hundred other Jewish men were arrested and sent to the Tower, where 18 were hanged for refusing to submit to trial by an all-Christian jury. The others took their chances and were also condemned, but were later freed, or ransomed, after the intervention of Richard and the Minorite Order.
3 thoughts on “Blood money”
Henry had made it a special mission to convert Jews and took pains to care for those who did. It was a convert who supposedly identified the marks of crucifixion on the body, and perhaps this testimony, together with the extracted confession, helped sway the king. Also working against the Jews was an approaching feast day that Henry never missed. All sorts of dignitaries were coming to London for the occasion. He simply couldn’t afford to linger in Lincoln.
Whether Henry realized it or not, he became the first ruler to officially affirm the whole superstition of blood libel. The case was still well known enough a hundred years later for Chaucer to include it in his Canterbury Tales.
In this case, blood libel really meant blood money. The Christian rivals of the Jews in the usury business were certainly not sorry to see them bundled off to the Tower. Henry, now more in need of money than ever, was fully aware that the property of the condemned would revert to his exchequer. And then there was the shrine erected for little Hugh. The money collected there from pilgrims was apparently enough for church officials to begin the final phase of construction on Lincoln Cathedral.