The Sad Story of Little St Hugh of Lincoln

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Lincoln Cathedral viewed from Lincoln Castle

While researching Lincoln this week I came across the unhappy story of Little St Hugh, a young boy whose death caused a lethal backlash of blame and recrimination which attracted the attention of the king, Henry III, himself.

The story revolves around a young boy called Hugh. Born around 1246 he  was probably 9 years old when he disappeared on 31st July 1255. No one seems to know who Hugh’s father was, or even if he had one – some sources suggest he was illegitimate – but his mother was a Lincoln lady called Beatrice.

According to reports young Hugh had been doing what all boys do at the age – he’d been out playing with friends. But when it got late the lad could not be found. His mother spent days looking for him and apparently was eventually told by some neighbours that he had last been seen ‘playing with some Jewish boys of his own age, and going into the house of a Jew.’¹

According to Matthew Paris Beatrice, herself, had discovered Hugh’s body sometime around 27th August 1255, after marching into the house Hugh had been seen going into. Little Hugh’s body was found in a well at the property of a Lincoln Jew, named Copin (or Jopin, Joscefin or Koppin).

Poor Copin was immediately seized by those present when the body was found; Beatrice and her neighbours and the city’s bailiffs all appear to have been in attendance. In no time at all a dreadful tale of ritual murder and the ‘blood libel’ (where it was believed Christian children were tortured and killed in Jewish rituals, supposedly mimicking the crucifixion of Christ) was woven around the tragedy of the little boy’s death.

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Body of Hugh of Lincoln

According to Paris:

… having shut him up in a room quite out of the way, where they fed him on milk and other childish nourishment, they sent to almost all the cities of England where the Jews lived, and summoned some of their sect from each city to be present at a sacrifice to take place at Lincoln; for they had, as they stated, a boy hidden for the purpose of being crucified. In accordance with the summons, a great many of them came to Lincoln, and on assembling, they at once appointed a Jew of Lincoln as judge to take the place of Pilate, by whose sentence, and with the concurrence of’ all, the boy was subjected to divers tortures They beat him till blood flowed and he was quite livid, they crowned him with thorns, derided him and spat upon him. Moreover, he was pierced by each of them with a wood knife, was made to drink gall, was overwhelmed with approaches and blasphemies, and was repeatedly called Jesus the false prophet by his tormentors, who surrounded him, grinding and gnashing their teeth. After tormenting him in divers ways, they crucified him, and pierced him to the heart with a lance.²

It is still unclear whether or not Little Hugh was murdered; some sources suggest that it could have been a terrible accident and the boy lost his footing and fell down the well. And even if the boy was murdered, it is far from clear that Copin was the culprit. However, one man took the initiative and played on the prejudices of the time to, not only, create a scapegoat but use the anti-Semitism prevalent at the time in order to blame the Jewish population of England as a whole.

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Gateway to Lincoln Cathedral precincts

John of Lexington was one of the witnesses at the discovery of the body and appears to have been the one to investigate the accusation of ritual murder levelled Copin, probably by the distraught Beatrice. He may have been familiar with the case, just over a century earlier, of William of Norwich, who died in 1144 and whose death was said to involve a mock execution at the hands of a converted Jew named Theobald.

Lexington, described as ‘a man of learning, prudent and discreet‘² by Matthew Paris, managed to persuade Copin to confess and describe the murder in return for a promise of protection from torture and execution. Copin is said to have confessed to his involvement, and described the scourging, disembowelling, crowning with thorns and crucifixion of the young boy. He went on, it seems, implicat the rest of his people, saying ‘nearly all the Jews of England agreed to the death of this boy.’³

At the time of the death many prominent Jewish families had congregated in Lincoln; not to  commit murder, but to celebrate the marriage of Bellaset, the daughter of Berechiah de Nicole. These were suddenly caught up in the tragedy and more than 90 of them were arrested and charged with practicing ritual murder. They were sent to London and imprisoned in the Tower to await trial.

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Sign in Lincoln Cathedral explaining Hugh’s story

In the mean time rumours of miracles started circulating  and being attributed to Little Hugh. It was said his body had been thrown down the well because when Copin had tried to bury him the earth had thrown the corpse back out. In another miracle attributed to him a blind woman regained her sight by bathing her eyes in water from the well in which Hugh’s remains had been found. Having heard of the miracles associated with Little Hugh, the canons of Lincoln Cathedral requested the body and Little Hugh ‘was honourably buried in the church of Lincoln as if it had been the corpse of a precious martyr,’² with the Cathedral even raising a shrine to the memory of Little Saint Hugh.

As for Copin; the story of a boy’s murder by England’s Jews had attracted the attention of England’s king, Henry III. According to Paris the king himself reproached John of Lexington for having promised life to such a ‘wicked being’ and the poor man was condemned to death. He was tied to the tail of a horse and dragged through the streets to the gallows, and hung.

Just 6 months before Hugh’s death the king had sold his rights to tax the Jews to his younger brother Richard, earl of Cornwall. However, he retained the right to receive the goods and property of any Jew implicated in a crime. This made the 90 Jews arrested alongside Copin valuable to the king if guilty – and to his brother if not. Of these 90, 18 ‘of the richer and higher order of Jews of the city of Lincoln’² were condemned to death and dragged to gibbets erected especially and hung; their property confiscated by the king.

The remaining 80 or so prisoners were eventually released, following payment of their ransom by the Earl of Cornwall; his personal Jew had probably been caught up in the arrests and so it was in Cornwall’s interests to get the Jews released. Among those freed was Berechiah de Nicole, the father of the bride for whose wedding the Jews had been gathered in Lincoln.

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The shrine of Little Hugh in Lincoln Cathedral

The tragedy of Little Hugh’s death was only worsened by the judicial murders of so many innocent Jews in revenge. Little St Hugh is the best known of the ‘blood libel’ saints and although a shrine was erected in Lincoln Cathedral, with a feast day of 27th August, Little Hugh was never canonised by the Vatican and has never been included in the official roll of Catholic martyrs. The shrine inside the cathedral, although still there, now has a sign at the side, explaining the legend and telling the sad tale of the boy’s death and its dreadful aftermath.

Little Hugh’s story would continue to be told in the succeeding centuries. It has been the subject of ballads in both English, Scottish and French poetry and is referred to by Chaucer in The Prioress’s Tale and by Marlowe in the Jew of Malta.

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Footnotes: ¹Matthew Paris, quoted by Haidee J Lorrey from oxforddnb.com; ²Matthew Paris, Of the cruel treatment of the Jews for having crucified a boy from arts.cornell.edu; ³Matthew Paris, quoted by Haidee J Lorrey from oxforddnb.com.

And thanks to Dean Irwin for clarifying some points for me.

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Article and photos of Lincoln Cathedral and precincts ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly; Picture of the Body of Little Hugh courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources: oxforddnb.com; arts.cornell.edu; britannica.com; pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.co.uk; Who’s Buried Where in England by Douglas Greenwood;  Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett; jewishencyclopedia.com.

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Sanchia of Provence, Queen of the Romans

One of 4 sisters, all of whom became queens, Sanchia of Provence was born in Aix-en-Provence in about 1228. She was the 3rd daughter of Raymond Berengar V, Count of Provence, and his wife Beatrice of Savoy.

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Sanchie de Provence

Sanchia was 7 years younger than her oldest sister, Marguerite, who married Louis IX of France in 1234. Her 2nd oldest sister, Eleanor, was 5 years older her senior and married Henry III of England in 1236. Sanchia probably spent most of her childhood with Beatrice, who, as the youngest of the 4 sisters, was 3 years younger than Sanchia and didn’t marry until 1246; she would become Queen of Naples in 1266.

I could find no information on Sanchia’s childhood, beyond the fact that the sisters were all close, and remained so throughout their lives; thus helping to forge international relations through their exceptional familial bond.

The one description I could find of Sanchia was that she was ‘of incomparable beauty’.

Sanchia had originally been married, by proxy, to Raymond VII of Toulouse; however Raymond had failed to obtain an annulment of his previous marriage and the arrangement was declared void. In the mean time Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of Henry III of England visited Provence in 1241; he saw in Sanchia the chance to ally himself more closely with his brother’s interests, whilst at the same time strengthening his family’s position on the continent.

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Richard Earl of Cornwall

Richard and Sanchia were betrothed by proxy in July 1242, following negotiations at Tarascon, led by Sanchia’s uncle, Peter of Savoy, and the Savoyard bishop of Hereford, Peter d’Aigueblanche.

Richard was the 2nd and youngest son of King John of England and Isabella of Angoulême. Born in 1209, he was just 7 years old when his father died. A renowned soldier, Crusader, negotiator and administrator, Richard was one of the wealthiest men in Europe. He already had a son, Henry of Almain by his 1st wife, Isabella Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, who had died in childbirth in January 1240, after delivering a stillborn son.

In August-September 1242, following a failed campaign against Louis IX with his step-father, Hugh de Lusignan, Richard had planned to visit his future bride in Provence, before returning to England. However a falling-out with his brother, Henry III, and a fear of kidnapping forced Richard to change his plans and head straight for home, thus delaying a reunion with his bride-to-be.

Sanchia arrived in England in 1243. She and Richard were married in Westminster Abbey on 23rd November 1243. Sanchia was a girl of about 15, while Richard was 34. On his marriage, Richard confirmed in his possession of Cornwall and the honours of Wallingford and Eye. He was also given £2000 in cash by the king, and a promise of 1000 marks a year, in return for a renunciation of all claims to lands in Gascony and Ireland.

Richard’s marriage to Sanchia greatly improved his relations with the Savoyards, a powerful contingent of the queen’s relatives living in England. Following the marriage Richard served Peter of Savoy, titular earl of Richmond, as a banker and political ally.

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Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall

Richard and Sanchia had only 2 children. Their eldest son, Richard, was born at Wallingford in July 1246 and died there the following month; the little baby was buried at Grove Mill. Another son, Edmund, was born at Berkhamsted on 26 December 1249 and was baptised by his mother’s uncle, Boniface of Savoy, Archbishop of Canterbury. He would be knighted at the age of 22 and married Margaret, the daughter of Richard de Clare.

However, the marriage was childless and the couple officially separated in February 1294. Edmund had departed on crusade with the king’s son and heir, Edward (the future Edward I) when he heard of the murder of his older brother, Henry of Almain (son of Richard and his 1st wife, Isabella Marshal), who was murdered in Viterbo by the sons of Simon de Montfort. Edmund returned home to his father, who died the following year, leaving Edmund as the 2nd Earl of Cornwall. With no heir to succeed him, the earldom reverted to the crown on Edmund’s death in 1300.

In 1246 Sanchia’s father, Raymond Berengar V, died, leaving Provence to the youngest of his daughters; Beatrice was the only daughter still unmarried. Several suitors now set out to ‘win’ the heiress and her mother appealed to the pope for protection. The pope and Louis IX together decided that the most appropriate husband for Beatrice was Louis’ brother, Charles of Anjou. Beatrice’s mother offered no objection; however Henry III and Richard sought – unsuccessfully – to oppose the marriage, unsurprising when you consider their wives were denied their share of their father’s inheritance.

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Raymond Berengar V, Count of Provence

Sanchia and her sister, Eleanor, were not as cut off from their family as most royal brides of the period appear to have been. Their mother, Beatrice of Savoy, arrived in England in 1248 with her brother, Thomas, to visit both her daughters.

Sanchia also accompanied her husband on an embassy to the French court in 1250, taking the opportunity to meet with her big sister, Marguerite; and possibly her little sister Beatrice, who was by then married to Charles of Anjou. Sanchia also joined the family gathering in Chartres and Paris in 1254, when Louis IX and queen Marguerite received Henry III and queen Eleanor; Her mother Countess Beatrice and youngest sister Beatrice were also present.

Sanchia and her sister Eleanor seem to have been in close contact ever since Sanchia arrived in England. Henry III officially recognised Sanchia as a voice in family dynastic matters. In the 1253 Calendar of Patent Rolls, she is included in a grant to her uncle, Peter of Savoy:

Grant to Peter de Sabaudia that if he have an heir male of his wife, he may assign or bequeath the lordship of his lands and heir to whom he will. The king also wills that the said heir shall not be married to anyone without the consent of Queen Eleanor and Sanchia, countess of Cornwall, and the brothers of the said Peter.”

Sanchia seem to have had some influence in pleading for others. The Patent Rolls of 1255 record her achieving a pardon for a man who received an outlaw and again, in 1256, they record her gaining a licence to a man to enclose a wood.

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Beatrice of Savoy, Countess of Provence

Henry III had made attempts to gain his brother a crown; he had accepted the crown of Sicily, offered by the pope, on his brother’s behalf, but the enterprise to recover the kingdom from the Hohenstaufens proved beyond the king’s means. In 1256, however, another opportunity arose with the death of William of Holland, papal candidate to be Holy Roman Emperor. With the support of his brother and his considerable wealth, diplomatic skills and imperial connections, Richard set about earning his election to the Empire.

On 26 December 1256 the crown of Germany was offered to Richard by the archbishop of Cologne. with his rival, King Alfonso of Castile, too busy with troubles at home to travel to Germany to claim the crown; Richard and Sanchia, with a large entourage including their son Edmund, but only half of the electors on their side, made their way to Aachen.

Sanchia and Richard were crowned as king and queen of Germany on 17 May 1257, by the archbishop of Cologne; being styled as the king and queen of the Romans, Richard still needed papal ratification to become Holy Roman Emperor. The coronation was followed by a splendid feast for Richard’ supporters before the new king and queen departed on progress around their new kingdom. Richard held his 1st royal parliament, or diet, in Mainz in September, and another progress in the spring of 1258 was spent confirming imperial privileges and issuing charters.

However, papal confirmation of Richard’s titles were not forthcoming and in the winter of 1258/9 Richard and Sanchia returned home to an England riven by baronial rebellion. Richard acted as mediator between his brother the king and his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, leader of the baronial opposition.

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Hailes Abbey, final resting place of Sanchia, her husband, Richard, and son, Edmund.

The political situation was still unresolved when Sanchia died at Berkhamsted on 9th November 1261 and was buried at Hailes Abbey 6 days later; her husband was absent from her death-bed and funeral.

After Sanchia’s death a grant in the Patent Rolls of Henry III:

for the saving of the king’s soul and of Sanchia, queen of Almain [Germany], to the master and brethren of the hospital of St Katharine without the Tower London of 50s a year at the Exchequer for the maintenance of a chaplain celebrating divine service daily in the chapel of St John within the Tower for her soul”.

Although she was only about 33 at her death, Sanchia’s legacy came from the close relationship with her sisters. All 4 sisters, and their mother, took part in the negotiations which led to the 1259 Treaty of Paris, improving relations between the French and English kings.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources:  The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam;  The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; oxforddnb.com;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu

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My books

Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly