The Murder of William of Norwich

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

3.7 (67 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Dispatched from the UK in 3 business days
When will my order arrive?


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 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 eventually 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 - 12th-century ecclesiastical politics, the position of Jews in England, the Second Crusade, and the cult of saints - 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 antisemitic myths that continue to present.
show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 416 pages
  • 143 x 211 x 27mm | 432g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0190679190
  • 9780190679194
  • 95,862

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 * E.M. Rose's book on the murder of William of Norwich is a breathtaking work of revision that addresses one of the central questions in the history of Christian/Jewish relations in the Middle Ages, a topic of enormous relevance in the contemporary world and one around which there is considerable scholarly contestation. The book is a brilliant piece of historical investigation and a marvelous read as well. * Gabrielle Spiegel, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University * Our explanation for Jewish creativity is that Jews have learned from experience that the entire world can believe something that is demonstrably false, such as the blood libel. This fine book takes us back in time to what may have been the first false accusation that a Jew (or 'the Jews') killed a Christian to obtain his blood for ritual purposes. It explains, without justifying, how so many could be so wrong for so long. * Alan Dershowitz, author of Abraham: The World's First (But Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer * 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. * The Sunday Times * Lucid and exhaustively researched * The Times Literary Supplement * A landmark of historical research into the grotesque 800-year history of blood-libel accusations. * Wall Street Journal *
show more

About E. M. Rose

E.M. Rose is a historian who has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Villanova University, Princeton University, Rutgers University, and Baruch/CUNY.
show more

Rating details

67 ratings
3.7 out of 5 stars
5 19% (13)
4 45% (30)
3 25% (17)
2 7% (5)
1 3% (2)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X