Jews of York

A medieval Jewish community known for its tragic end during the anti-Semitic violence of the 12th century.

Religion: Judaism
Founded: 12th Century
Ended: 1190
Location: York, England
Other Names: The York Massacre, Clifford’s Tower Massacre

The Jews of York were a significant Jewish community in medieval England, known primarily for the tragic massacre of its members in 1190. This event is one of the most notorious examples of medieval anti-Semitism in England and marked a dark period in the history of English Jewry.

Early Presence and Role

Jews arrived in York, England, in the wake of the Norman Conquest of 1066. They played a crucial role in the economic and cultural life of the city, primarily involved in money lending and finance, as they were barred from many other professions due to religious restrictions. The Jewish community in York was one of the most important in England during the 12th century.

Increasing Tensions

The 12th century in England was marked by increasing hostility towards Jews, fueled by religious prejudice, economic envy, and the Crusades’ fervor. Jews were often scapegoated for social and economic problems, leading to increasing tension and violence. The situation was exacerbated by the Third Crusade, which stirred up anti-Semitic sentiment.

The Massacre at Clifford’s Tower

The most infamous event in the history of the Jews of York took place in March 1190 at Clifford’s Tower, the keep of York Castle. Fearing for their safety amid escalating violence, the Jewish community sought refuge in the royal castle. However, a mob besieged the tower, driven by a combination of anti-Semitic fervor and debts owed to Jewish moneylenders.

Faced with the prospect of violent death at the hands of the mob, many Jews chose to commit suicide, while others were killed or forcibly baptized. The exact number of deaths is unknown, but it was a significant portion of the Jewish community in York.

Aftermath and Legacy

The massacre at Clifford’s Tower had a profound impact on the Jewish community in England. King Richard I of England, who was on crusade at the time of the massacre, later issued edicts to punish the perpetrators and offer some protection to the Jews, but anti-Semitic violence continued in England for many years.

The events in York in 1190 are remembered as a symbol of the dangers of unchecked prejudice and mob violence. Today, Clifford’s Tower stands as a memorial to the tragedy and serves as a reminder of the history of England’s medieval Jewish communities.