William of Norwich / by Raphael Langham

Paper presented to the Herts and Middlesex branch of the Society in September 2005.
Introduction

On Saturday 25 March 1144, the day before Easter Sunday, the dead body of a boy was found in Thorpe Wood, on the eastern outskirts of Norwich. It appears that it was first discovered by a nun and a peasant who informed a forester called Henry de Sprowston. He went to the spot, examined the body and noticed that there were some wounds and there was a wooden gag in the boy's mouth. The body was only partially dressed just with a jacket and shoes. He sent for the local priest and suggested the body should be buried in the local churchyard. However, as it was Easter eve they decided not to take any action until Easter Monday. So far no great excitement and it would seem no investigation as to the cause of death or who the victim was. Rumours of the discovery of the body reached Norwich and on Easter Sunday a number of boys and young men went to Thorpe wood, presumably to gape. It seems that some recognised the body as that of William a local boy.
On Easter Monday, Henry de Sprowston and his family went to the site and decided to bury the body there - no priest was present. On the Tuesday Godwin Sturt, an uncle of William, together with his son Alexander and William's brother Robert, went to Thorpe Wood and discovered the grave. Godwin Sturt was a priest and thus we learn that in 12th century England Roman catholic priests could marry. His son Alexander was a Deacon. They exhumed the body, identified it as William, and reburied it, this time with due ceremony.
On their return home Godwin told his wife Liviva about their find. She became very agitated, as it would seem that two weeks previously she had had a dream warning her about Jews. The next day her sister Elviva, Williams mother, arrived and on hearing the news ran hysterically through the town screaming that the Jews had killed her son. There was a mixed but rather muted response.
Nothing else seems to have happened until a week or so later when the Synod of the clergy of the diocese met. At the synod, Godwin proclaimed that his nephew had been murdered; he accused the Jews of the deed and demanded justice. At this stage the accusation was murder - not ritual murder and blood was not mentioned.
As we shall see it was only later that the charge of ritual murder or crucifixion was levelled and it is interesting to note that although subsequently there were quite a few such charges against Jews in medieval England, the accusation of using blood for Pesah purposes never occurred. The first blood accusation or libel was about 25 years later in 1171 in Blois in France. There is though a Pesah connection for the Norwich accusation - the first day of Pesah in 1144 was Tuesday 21 March, so that Saturday 25 March when the body was discovered was Shabbat hol hamoed.
.
As a result of Godwin's accusation, the Jews were summoned to appear next day before the synod. They went to see the Sheriff, a man called John de Canaito, and he advised them not to attend the synod. He also reminded the Bishop, Everard, that

ecclesiastical courts had no jurisdiction over Jews. They were deemed the King's property and in the charge of the Sheriff in each town.
Nonetheless the synod issued a second and then a third summons, but there was no answer from the Jews.
The synod then sent a message to the Jews that a peremptory sentence would be passed upon them unless they came at once to answer before the synod. It was clear that this sentence would be death to all Jews. The sheriff and the Jews went to the synod where Godwin repeated his charges. The Jews, advised by the Sheriff, denied the charges and were then asked to submit to trial by ordeal.
Trial by ordeal involves the accused in proving his innocence, not as is now the prosecution proving their case. It is a no win situation. It seems there were two forms of ordeal common in England at that time - by red-hot iron or by boiling water. In the former the accused had to carry a piece of heated iron for a given number of paces and his guilt, or innocence, was decided by the degree of damage remaining when his hand was examined by a judge after three days. In the ordeal by water, the accused had to pick a stone out of a cauldron of boiling water. The time allowed before the iron or stone could be picked up, and the degree of burning which was considered compatible with innocence was uncertain. Since the ecclesiastical authorities would have determined these factors it is unlikely they would have operated in favour of the Jews. It seems clear that the Jews would have no chance of proving their innocence by ordeal, and the Bishop had made it clear that a verdict of guilty would lead to death for all.
Wrangling on this continued all day and the synod was adjourned until the next day. That night all the Jews moved to the castle under the protection of the sheriff. They remained there until the danger had passed. Unfortunately we do not know for how long.
The citizens of Norwich come out of the episode rather well in comparison with subsequent accusations elsewhere. They did not seem to support the allegations when they were first made and, although the Jews had to seek shelter in the castle after the synod, matters calmed down fairly soon and they were able to return to their homes without any further molestation.
There was a visitor at the synod, Dom Aimar who was the Prior of a monastery at Lewes. He saw in this story the makings of a martyr - a Christian boy killed by Jews. He asked for the body, but this was refused. It is possible the Bishop also saw possibilities as on 24 April, a month after the discovery of the body; it was moved from Thorpe Wood to the Monks' cemetery. Subsequently as the cult of William as a boy martyr took off his body was moved again, first to the Chapter house and then to the Cathedral itself.
That was it, but about two years later a Norwich Jew called Eleazar was murdered. It would appear that servants of Sir Simon de Novers who was heavily indebted to him probably killed him. A little time later when the king, I think it was Stephen, was visiting Norwich the Jews came before him and accused de Novers of the crime. Bishop William Turbe of Norwich, who was the leading sponsor of the cult of William of Norwich as a martyr, rallied to the defence of de Novers who was one of his tenants. At first he said that unknown thieves had attacked Eleazar. He then tried to muddy the issue by accusing the Jews, including Eleazar, of responsibility for the death of William and argued that this crime should be punished first. The King decided that the case should come before the Council in London. The Bishop and representatives of the Jews came to London and after consideration the King postponed the whole issue sine die.

There it all might have rested, but in about 1150, Thomas of Monmouth arrived on the scene. His early history is not known nor how or why he came to Norwich presumably from Monmouth. Anyhow he became a monk in the Benedictine Priory in Norwich. There he heard about William and decided to look into the matter. He fancied himself as an amateur sleuth; Hercule Poirot rather than Sherlock Holmes as he seemed to look for evidence from witnesses rather than forensic clues.
He set about his task with great diligence and in due course produced a book, written in Latin, entitled The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich. It disappeared for a number of centuries but the Reverend Dr. Montague Rhodes James discovered a manuscript of it in 1889. Reverend James together with the Reverend Dr. Augustus Jessopp published the book in 1896, in the original Latin with an English translation and an introduction and analysis.

The Background

Let me now give you the background, the evidence, the events leading up to the discovery of the body and a reconstruction of the crime according to Thomas of Monmouth.
William was born on 2 February 1132, his father was a farmer called Wenstan and his mother Elviva, who we have already met. She was in fact the daughter of a priest called Walward so that married priests seem to run in the family as we have already met her sister Liviva who was married to the priest Godwin Sturt. At the age of eight William was apprenticed to a skinner in Norwich. Apparently because of this trade he had frequent dealings with Jews, he often visited them, and they were said to regard him with special favour. His uncle Godwin warned him against them and a man called Wulward with whom he lived supported this warning. It is possible that Wulward was his grandfather as the name is almost identical to that of Elviva's father. But Thomas' book is silent on this.
On Monday 20 March 1144, William (then twelve) called on his mother with a man who said that he was the cook of the Archdeacon of Norwich and wanted to offer William a place in the Archdeacon's kitchen provided he entered service at once. Thomas mentions that this man may have been a Jew or a Christian. William's mother was reluctant to agree but on payment of three shilling she did and William went off with the man.
The next day (Tuesday) the man and William visited William's aunt, Liviva. After they left the house Liviva told her daughter to follow them and she saw them go into the house of a Jew. William was never seen alive again.
Thomas' reconstruction is that William was received kindly by the Jews at first, but after the synagogue prayers on Wednesday (it was the second day Pesah) he was seized, gagged, and his head tied with cords and pierced with thorns. He was then bound, as if on a cross, on three uprights of wood and a horizontal bar; his right hand and foot were secured with ropes and his left hand and foot with nails. His left side was pierced to the heart and scalding water was poured over the body to clean the wounds and stop the flow of blood. Thomas' evidence for this seems to have come from a Christian maid in a Jewish house who claimed that through a chink in a door she caught a momentary glimpse of a boy tied to a post and later she found a boy's knife in the room. Thomas claims that he was shown two nail holes in the post.
On Thursday the Jews met to decide what to do with the body. The information on this was given to Thomas from a converted Jew. A decision was

reached that the body should be removed to a remote place. On the following day, Good Friday, two Jews, one of whom was alleged to have been Eliezar who we met earlier and was subsequently murdered, took the body on horseback to Thorpe Wood,
The evidence for this came from a Norwich man called Aelward Ded. He died in 1149 and on his deathbed he confessed that he had seen two Jews entering Thorpe Wood, he had spoken to them and felt a body in a sack carried on one of the horses. He explained that he had not said anything about it before because he had been warned by the Sheriff to keep this secret. He claimed that the Jews had bribed the Sheriff.
Thomas also wrote in support of his reconstruction of some astonishing information he had received from Theobold, a Jew who had converted to Christianity and had become a monk. He told Thomas that the Jews had a written tradition that in order to regain their freedom and return to their fatherland they must sacrifice a Christian each year. In order to select their victim the leading Jews of Spain met in Narbonne each year to select a country where a Christian was to be sacrificed. In 1144 the lot had fallen on England, and the English Jews had chosen Norwich.
If you believe that you can believe anything. But Thomas did!

Some Problems with Thomas' version

There are, as you have no doubt already gathered some problems with Thomas' reconstruction of the crime. Thomas did not arrive in Norwich until 1848 at the earliest and probably not until 1850. Thus his description of the death and the events surrounding it are at best second-hand and based on hearsay evidence that he gathered well after the events when recollections might well have been vague, incorrect or even purposely altered. By the time Thomas arrived on the scene the cult of William as a martyr killed by the Jews was well on its way. Thomas seemed to have his own agenda. He supported the cult and wished to support and justify the proposed canonisation of William. In fact the book is in seven parts and only the first and part of the second deal with the death of William, the rest deals with the miracles surrounding William and his body and justifies William's canonisation. One suspects that Thomas' motivation and belief in a new saint led him to give credence to some improbable stories and he ignored or deliberately omitted any facts which tended to weaken the claims. Thomas' book tells us what Thomas wanted to believe happened rather than what really occurred.
There is a problem on dates. In Thomas' account the first day of Passover was a Wednesday, the day when the Jews are said to have crucified William after prayers. The difficulty is that the first day of Pesah cannot be a Wednesday; the first day can only be a Sunday, a Tuesday, a Thursday or a Saturday. According to my luach the first day of Pesah in 1144 was Tuesday 21 March. Possibly Thomas had not realised that the Wednesday was the second day of Passover, but nonetheless this confusion casts some doubt on his reconstruction.
The fact that Tuesday was the first day of Pesah makes it unlikely that the stranger, who said he was the cook to the Archdeacon, was a Jew. It would imply that he was probably away from his home on the first Seder night (Monday) and going about his errands on the first day of Pesah (Tuesday). Both of these are unlikely. In fact the whole episode about the stranger is curious. Thomas makes no further mention of him yet one would have expected enquiries to have been made about him at the time of the death and subsequently by Thomas. The stranger said that he was the cook to the Archdeacon and this could easily have been checked. Perhaps the

incident of the stranger was untrue and William's family used it to cover up something. On the other hand this is unlikely, as they would be taking too great a risk as their story might have been checked. More likely Thomas did enquire further and found evidence that conflicted with his theory, so he suppressed it.
The narrative relates that the stranger mentioned to William's mother thirty pieces of silver, which draws a parallel to the betrayal of Christ. In the end he gave her three shillings or pieces of silver, which is 10% or the tithe of 30 pieces. This seems rather a concoction.
There are many contradictions between the various accounts he recorded. For example, the daughter of Liviva stated that she followed William and the stranger to a specific Jew's house. But when Elviva makes the accusation and subsequently at the synod it is the Jews generally who are accused and not a specific Jew. Godwin Sturt did not mention this episode when he accused the Jews of the crime. Surely he would have done so had he then known about it, and surely if it was true he would have known about it as the little girl was his daughter. It is as if Thomas wrote in this episode to the story well after the event.
There is also the evidence of the servant who claimed to have seen a tied up boy through a chink in the wall. There is no explanation why she did not come forward immediately or at the synod to tell this story, but waited many years before Thomas coaxed it out of her, or perhaps put words in her mouth.
The deathbed confession of Aelward Ded is also somewhat suspect. Why did he wait five years before he told his story, and even if he was afraid of the Sheriff why did he not tell the story three years earlier after the Sheriff died? Perhaps he did see two Jews carrying a bundle into the woods, but maybe it was on the Monday the eve of Pesah not Good Friday, and it was not William they were carrying, but they were merely going to bury their chametz.
It was probably Theobold, the converted Jew, who planted the germ about Jews ritually killing Christians in Thomas' mind. It is unlikely that Thomas invented this evidence since he would not have known that Narbonne was the chief seat of Jewish learning at that time. It is also important to note that there were two accusations against the Jews, first the accusation of murder by Godwin in 1144 and second the accusation of crucifixion by Thomas a few years later.

How did William die - the different theories

We should discount Thomas' story of a deliberately planned ritual murder, as there is no evidence in support of this. The witnesses are suspect, and such a procedure and murder is alien to Jewish tradition and law. We can also discount an accident in the woods involving no one else. Why should William have partially undressed himself elsewhere, and how did the gag get into his mouth.
So if it was not an accident only involving William himself and he was not murdered or even crucified by the Jews who did it? Since the Thomas book was published, historians and others have argued over this and many books and articles have been published on the subject. Let me go through the various hypotheses in chronological order.
In his 1896 book the Reverend Augustus James considers William's death to have been caused by an accident. Essentially the case is that he accepts Thomas' reconstruction up to William being taken to a Jew's house on the Tuesday. They do not think the Jews had contemplated murder, as they would have made preparations for disposing of the body. On the Wednesday, William died by accident, possibly by

some pranks that went wrong, and on the Thursday the Jews had to consider how to dispose of the body. The rest of the account by Thomas was also accepted.
A year later in 1897 Joseph Jacobs reviewed the Jessop and James book in the Jewish Quarterly Review where he speculated that on Good Friday William's family held a mock crucifixion, with William as the victim, and during it William had a cataleptic fit. They took him to the woods thinking he was dead and he was subsequently buried alive. This would account for a miracle relayed by Thomas that the earth was seen to move when the body was exhumed and there were no signs of decomposition. William's family attributed the murder to the Jews in order to avoid suspicion falling on them. This was pure speculation, as Joseph Jacobs cited no evidence to support his allegation, other than trying to find a rational reason for the earth above William's initial grave seeming to move and the absence of decomposition.
In 1933 Cecil Roth published an article on the subject, but he did not come up with any new ideas on how William died. He did though advance the theory that Purim masquerades led to the ideas among Christians that the mock executions of Haman could imply mock crucifixions.
In 1964 Marion Anderson published a book entitled A Saint at Stake: The Strange Death of William of Norwich. She was a church historian and fancied herself as an amateur sleuth. Her arguments are rather convoluted, although she was clearly impressed with Cecil Roth's article. She suggests, with no evidence at all, that on the previous Purim the Jews had held a feast during which there was a mock or even real hanging of Haman. News of this got out and was the reason why William had been told to stop mixing with Jews. She states that the Jews were concerned to find out why William had been so forbidden and plotted to take William on the Tuesday by bribing the man who purported to be the cook to the Archdeacon. She then argues that William died either deliberately or accidentally at the hands of the Jews who were trying to extract this information from him. Furthermore, she also argues that when William's body was discovered opinion in Norwich was that the Jews were involved because of what had happened at the Purim masquerade.
She contradicts this somewhat by arguing that following his death it was seen as a good idea to pin the blame on the Jews since William could thus become a martyr, and there were economic advantages in Norwich having a saint and martyr in that thousands of pilgrims would be attracted to visit the city.
In 1967 Vivien Lipman published his work The Jews of Norwich. In this book he projects backwards present day mores or attitudes and considers it was the work of a paedophile who was likely to have been the stranger or self-styled cook. His view is that the stranger must have been a Christian because if he had been a local Jew or had resembled a Jew, Thomas would undoubtedly have mentioned it.
In 1984 Gavin Langmuir published a paper entitled Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder. His conclusion was also to point the finger at the stranger, but he desists from attributing a sexual motive. He believes that the move from a straightforward murder accusation to crucifixion came from Thomas, which it might well have since the original accusation at the synod by Godwin Sturt made no reference to crucifixion. In fact Langmuir is less concerned to find the wrongdoer but more interested in who first made an accusation in the Middle Ages against Jews of crucifixion. He points the finger to Thomas, but more recent scholarship, in particular a paper by John McCulloh, suggests that the accusation of crucifixion predated Thomas' arrival on the scene.

In a 1988 paper Zefirah Rokeah reviews the accusations and points her finger at Theobold as the prime suspect. More on that later.
In 1994 there was a festival in Norwich to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the city's charter, and they commissioned an oratorio by Karen Wimhurst, the composer of the Lockerbie requiem. She chose as her subject the story of William, not the most edifying chapter in the city's history. We will never know what conclusion she would have reached as to the culprit, since the city authorities objected to the subject and the commission was withdrawn.
However, two years later in 1996 Arnold Wesker was asked to write a play for the opening of the recently constructed Norwich Playhouse. This time the Burghers were too late and the play, called Blood Libel, was the opening production at the theatre. Wesker sees the murder of William to have been the result of rape and the accusation against the Jews as a manifestation of antisemitism. The Jews are depicted by the Christians as hereditary enemies of the church, moneylenders, and their doctors using blood, trying to corrupt and convert Christian youths, arrogantly challenging Christian doctrines and preaching against images in churches. There are no Jews in the play - Wesker sees it as a Christian problem. I would like to have seen the faces of the Burghers of Norwich on the opening night. Unfortunately after its opening run the play has not been presented anywhere else.
In 1997 John McCulloh wrote a paper on the incident. Although his main object was to establish that there were sources for the story of the event other than the account by Thomas, he nonetheless gives his view on the culprit and believes it was an unknown sadist.
Last year Jeffrey Cohen (not the former Stanmore Rabbi) wrote an article where he expressed the view that if the body had been found today, we would attribute the murder to a paedophile or serial killer.
Before I give you my own ideas on who dunnit I want to digress slightly and talk about another issue that arises from the events.

Why did a Ritual Murder Charge arise in Norwich in the mid-twelfth century?

Why were the Jews accused of crucifying William, why at that time and why in Norwich?
It was at least 700 years since the last similar accusation against Jews.
Most historians see the late eleventh and the twelfth centuries as a turning point in the relations between Christians and Jews. Before the First Crusade in 1096 relations, whilst they were not unduly friendly, only rarely gave rise to anti-Jewish outbursts and the basic humanity of the Jews was not in question. During the twelfth century social antagonisms and heretical sects were spreading and Christian attitudes towards Jews became more negative. An irrational hatred of Jews began to develop primarily because many Christians were plagued by doubts and conflicts between what they wanted to believe and their more rational thoughts and they projected these insecurities on to Jews. Furthermore, at the time of the first crusade, many Jews killed their families and then themselves rather than submit to forced conversion. This enhanced the belief among Christians that Jews would kill not only themselves but also sacrifice Christian children. It was not a big step to start demonising Jews. It was a small step from demonising Jews to accusations such as the one in Norwich.
But why ritual murder?
Historians have discussed two ritual murder charges that had been recorded hundreds of years previously and although some consider they might have had a

bearing most think this unlikely. The historian Posidonius recorded the first in the second century BCE. He asserted that when Antiochus Epiphanes invaded and desecrated the Temple in 168 BCE, he found a Greek captive there, who told him that every seven years the Jews captured a Greek, fattened him up, killed him, ate parts of him, and took an oath of undying enmity against the Greeks. This story is considered a fabrication to justify Antiochus' desecration of the Temple. Josephus in his book Against Apion repeated this story, except that the interval of seven years was reduced to one. Josephus considers it a fable and refutes it. Some historians have seen similarities between this story and the Norwich accusation, but no one has been able to make a connection and copies of Against Apion were rare at that time and there do not appear to be any references to the book nor to the incident by medieval authors.
Another episode occurred in 414 CE at Inmestar in Syria, and reported by the church historian Socrates. Apparently during Purim some drunken Jews took a Christian boy, bound him to a wooden cross and ill-treated him so much that he died. Historians are divided as to whether this incident could have influenced the Norwich accusation, but most are doubtful. However, it was probably this episode that gave the idea of a Purim masquerade to Reverend James. Indeed, many later writers, including as  I have already said Cecil Roth, consider that it is the Purim masquerades and the re-enactment of the execution of an enemy of the Jews, Haman, that led Christians to consider it a mockery of the crucifixion of Christ and this could have informed opinion in Norwich.
One other incident might have had a bearing. It was first related in the sixth century. It concerns the story of a Jewish child cast into a furnace by his father because he had taken Holy Communion on Easter Day. He was protected from the fire by the Virgin and was rescued. He and his mother joined the Church and his father was executed as a murderer. This story was included in a sermon preached by Bishop Herbert of Norwich on Christmas Day in about 1110. The analogy to the William story is that a Jew tried to sacrifice a male child (albeit Jewish) at Easter. This anecdote and the sermon might well have been known to Thomas and thus could have implanted in him the idea of Jews sacrificing children at Easter. Wesker seems to think that this sermon is at the root of the accusation since it forms the opening scene of Blood Libel.
Maybe the question of why Norwich, needs to be turned on its head. If the anecdote in the sermon was the spark, where else but Norwich could the accusation have arisen?
Let us now revert to the whodunit.

Conclusions

There were two crimes - murder and a libellous accusation against the Jews.
I mentioned that Zefirah Rokeah pointed her finger at Theobold as the prime factor. I go further. I consider him the prime suspect. He had just converted to Christianity and his motive probably came from a hatred he developed towards Jews, possibly as a result of the uncertainties and insecurities he felt on becoming a Christian. No doubt he blamed the Jews for his anxieties. At that time Christianity was also going through a period of self-doubt and insecurity and this was reflected in a hardening of attitudes towards Jews and the demonisation of them. Theobold's object was to take some revenge against the Jews and this took the bizarre form of committing a murder and trying to put the blame on the Jews. He might even have

known of the Posidonius and Inmestar incidents and these might have given him the idea.
He was both subtle and cunning. His alibi, if he ever needed one, was that he was at Cambridge at the time. We only know this from the statement he made to Thomas and there is no indication that Thomas checked it out. It is likely Theobold arrived in Norwich a few days before the events began to unfold. He had probably arranged to stay with a Jewish friend over Pesah, not having yet announced his conversion decision. The stranger who met William's mother on the Monday and purported to be the Archdeacon's cook was possibly Theobold or an accomplice. Thomas wrote this stranger out of the book after the Tuesday episode because, even if he had checked him out and found he was not the cook, it would not help his case against the Jews. The demand by the stranger that William had to join him before Easter is another clue to the existence of the plot, in that it was vital the murder took place by Easter. William was murdered either by Theobold or by the stranger acting on Theobold's instructions. The wooden gag found in William's mouth and other injuries were no doubt to make it seem that the death was the result of ritual murder.
William's cousin probably did see William entering a Jew's house - she was meant to, as it was part of the plot to incriminate the Jews. Even the housemaid's sighting of a boy tied to a post could have been laid on as part of the plot. Aelward Ded's story about seeing two Jews carrying a bundle into Thorpe Wood was probably a correct recollection. Except that the two were no doubt Theobold and the stranger, and it was not the Sheriff who warned him off telling the story but a bribe from Theobold. This would explain why he did not tell the story after the Sheriff died.
The murder of Eliezer also fits into place. Theobold was concerned that Eleazar knew too much. Perhaps it was at Eleazar's house that he had stayed over Pesah, and it was hinted that the house William was last seen entering was Eleazar's. So Eleazar had to be eliminated and Theobold took out a contract on him. Thus Eleazar's murder was a contract killing.
Theobold had skilfully made sure that the last sighting of William was by a relative and he would be seen entering the house of a Jew. When the body was found, William's mother thus needed little encouragement to go round the town accusing the Jews. When this did not work, Theobold turned to Godwin perhaps drawing his attention to Bishop Herbert's sermon and explaining that Jews needed to sacrifice a child during Passion week. This would account for the ten days or so between the finding of the body and Godwin's accusation at the synod.
This also did not achieve Theobold's object. And it was not until Thomas arrived on the scene that he was able to develop his plot further. Thomas was a willing listener and probably Theobold not only told him about the international conspiracy of Jews to sacrifice a Christian child, but also he might have mentioned the sermon by Bishop Herbert. Thomas clearly jumped at the story, as it probably seemed true to what he thought about Jews, and of great importance to him in presenting a case that would ensure the canonisation of William.
Norwich thus has the doubtful honour of the first ritual murder accusation against Jews in the medieval period. But it was a double first. It was also where the first charge was made of an international conspiracy among Jews. Both charges came from the warped and malevolent mind of a Jewish apostate.
Thomas' account possibly formed the basis of the summary of the event in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles which were written just after 1155. They are important because they record the first accusation against Jews in the Middle Ages. The extract reads:

In King Stephen's time, the Jews of Norwich bought a Christian child before Easter and tortured him with all the torture that our Lord was tortured with; and on Good Friday hanged him on a cross on account of our Lord, and then buried him. They expected it would be concealed, but our Lord made it plain that he was a holy martyr, and the monks took him and buried him with ceremony in the monastery, and through our Lord he works wonderful and varied miracles, and he is called Saint William.


Thus England acquired its most famous mythical victim of ritual murder. Through these chronicles the word spread not only to other towns in England but to the continent as well. Thus Thomas of Monmouth, with the help of a converted Jew, created a myth that affected Western mentality from the twelfth century right up to the present and caused, directly or indirectly, far more deaths than William's murderer could ever have dreamt of committing. It was not only the ritual murder myth that had these adverse consequences, but the fable of the leading Jews meeting to conspire led no doubt inexorably to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

But that's another story.

Further Reading

Anderson, M. D. A Saint at Stake: The Strange Death of William of Norwich, 1144. London, 1964.

Cohen, Jefferey J. “The Flow of Blood in Medieval Norwich'  in Speculum 79(i) (2004): 26-65.

Dundes, Alan (ed.). The Blood Libel Legend: A Casebook in Anti-Semitic Folklore. Wisconsin, 1991.

Jacobs, Joseph. 'St William of Norwich' in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Old Series Vol. IX (1897): 748-55.

Jessopp, Augustus and James, Montague Rhodes. The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich by Thomas of Monmouth. Cambridge, 1896.

Langham, Raphael. The Jews in Britain: A Chronology. Basingstoke, 2005.

Langmuir, Gavin I. “Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder' in Speculum 59 (1984): 822-46.

Lipman, V. D. The Jews of Medieval Norwich. London, 1967.

McCulloh, John M. 'Jewish Ritual Murder: William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth and the Early Dissemination of the Myth' in Speculum 72(ii) (1997): 698-740.

Rokeah, Zefira Entin, “The State, the Church, and the Jews in Medieval England' in Shmuel Almog (ed.), Antisemitism Through the Ages, Oxford, 1988:99-125.

Wesker, Arnold, 'Blood Libel' in Wild Spring and Other Plays, London, 1994.