The Murder of William of Norwich
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The Murder of William of Norwich : The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe

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In 1144, the mutilated body of William of Norwich, a young apprentice leatherworker, was found abandoned outside the city's walls. The boy bore disturbing signs of torture, and a story soon spread that it was a ritual murder, performed by Jews in imitation of the Crucifixion as a mockery of Christianity. The outline of William's tale swiftly gained currency far beyond Norwich, and the idea that Jews engaged in ritual murder became firmly rooted in the European imagination. E.M Rose's engaging book delves into the story of William's murder and the notorious trial that followed to uncover the origin of the ritual murder accusation-known as the "blood libel"-in western Europe in the Middle Ages. Focusing on the specific historical context-the 12th-century reform of the Church, the position of Jews in England, and the Second Crusade-and suspensefully unraveling the facts of the case, Rose makes a powerful argument for why the Norwich Jews (and particularly one Jewish banker) were accused of killing the youth, and how the malevolent blood libel accusation managed to take hold. She also considers four "copycat" cases, in which Jews were similarly blamed for the death of young Christians, and traces the adaptations of the story over time. In the centuries after its appearance, the ritual murder accusation provoked instances of torture, death and expulsion of thousands of Jews and the extermination of hundreds of communities. Although no charge of ritual murder has withstood historical scrutiny, the concept of the blood libel is so emotionally charged and deeply rooted in cultural memory that it endures even today. Rose's groundbreaking work, driven by fascinating characters, a gripping narrative, and impressive scholarship, provides clear answers as to why the blood libel emerged when it did and how it was able to gain such widespread acceptance, laying the foundations for enduring anti-Semitic myths that continue to the present.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 416 pages
  • 137.16 x 210.82 x 33.02mm | 612.35g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0190219629
  • 9780190219628
  • 437,814

Review quote

The Murder of William of Norwich is a sweeping revision of an influential scholarly story. Anyone who works on twelfth-century England, Anglo-Jewish history, or medieval and later antisemitisms will have to contend with this book. It is a significant accomplishment. * Adrienne Williams Boyarin, American Historical Review * The storytelling by this first-time author is quite voluble, with the pen of a master narrator. The text is never boring, picking up new lines just when the old ones had run their course. A brilliant entry by this author, leaving us wanting a next book soon. * Huffington Post, Joel L. Watts * [An] important new book. * Irish Catholic, Peter Costello * Detailed and subtle, Rose's account is a brilliant and audacious work of revision that demands we rethink our previous understandings of the origins of the blood libel. * Eastern Daily Press, R M Bond-Webster * By careful reconstructions of the events of ... early blood libels, Rose tells a story that allows its reader to see the motivations and actions of important individual protagonists, in the light of the forces at work on them, in their particular historical circumstances. The reader on the way may learn intriguing details of medieval socio-economic history, medieval literature and theatre, medieval exegesis and iconography. The story is no less shocking for being allowed to unfold in this way; rather its genesis becomes painfully easy to follow * Sehepunkte * Rose, a meticulous and perceptive scholar, makes a strong case for her hypothesis that the cult was particularly promoted in northern France ... Rose's highly original conflation of sources from different historical traditions make for an important addition to the literature on the blood libel. Her focus on the civic life of the world in which it evolved, illuminated by a thoroughly documented account of the people who drove it, also makes her book a fascinating contribution to our understanding of the high medieval period. * Mark Glanville, Jewish Quarterly * A short review cannot do justice to Rose's painstaking examination of these charges of ritual murder, nor to the political and ecclesiastical climate in which they were brought ... Despite being confined to the 12th century, Rose's masterly treatment of the murder of William and the other children has an uncomfortable relevance for Christians engaged in dialogue with Jews, and deserves the widest readership. * Anthony Phillips, Church Times * There is only one weapon against superstition enlightenment and there is nothing better suited for the struggle with ignorance than Emily Rose's book about William of Norwich. * Meduza * an engrossing look not only at the mediaeval origin of one of Europe's oldest and most notorious conspiracy theories but also at the ways in which that story has been reused and repurposed in different contexts. * James Holloway, Fortean Times * EM Rose's thorough, accessible and forensically researched study is a reminder of Judaism's sorrow-fillled history. It is also a pertinent warning about the dangers of greed, envy, paranoia and spreading rumours. * Patrick West, Catholic Herald * ... [Rose has] delved into the record more deeply than most historians of the period to explain how the ritual murder story originated and was spread. It is to be hoped that her book will remind readers that the story was from the start a mendacious one - "No charge has withstood historical scrutiny," Rose writes - and that its repetition has been responsible for the shedding of much innocent blood. * Frank Freeman, Dublin Review of Books * a medieval whodunnit with global implications which continue to this day ... a murder mystery every bit as thrilling as anything in the fictional genre ... This is a book which works on several levels; rattling murder yarn, authoritative social history; penetrative insight into the way the medieval mind worked. * Nigel Nelson, Tribune * A tremendous book. This is forensic historical reasoning allied to hugely readable storytelling: part murder mystery, part masterly thesis exploring a deeply unpleasant and sinister aspect of medieval culture, which is still of immense significance today. The Murder of William of Norwich is one the most stimulating pieces of serious historical storytelling I have read all year. * Dan Jones, The Sunday Times * Lucid and exhaustively researche * Alfred Thomas , The Times Literary Supplement * [EM Rose's] book is both a scrupulous dissection of anti-semitic imagery and a fascinating window into the medieval imagination. * Dominic Sandbrook, Books of the Year 2015, The Sunday Times *show more

About E. M. Rose

E.M Rose is a historian based in Princeton, NJ. She has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Villanova University, Princeton University, and Baruch/CUNY.show more

Table of contents

Part 1: The Monk, the Knight, the Bishop and the Banker ; Chapter 1 Introduction ; Chapter 2: The Discovery of a Dead Body ; Chapter 3: Background: Civil War and Crusade ; Chapter 4: The Trial ; Chapter 5: The Narrative ; Part 2: The Earl, the Count, the Abbot, and the King ; Introduction ; Chapter 6: Gloucester ; Chapter 7: Blois ; Chapter 8: Bury St. Edmunds ; Chapter 9: Paris ; Chapter 10: Conclusionshow more

Rating details

56 ratings
3.71 out of 5 stars
5 23% (13)
4 41% (23)
3 23% (13)
2 9% (5)
1 4% (2)
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