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The Murder of William of Norwich

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Registration is NOT required
Members Free and Non-members Free with admission ($10)

The Murder of William of Norwich

E.M. Rose

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.

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. 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.

E.M. Rose earned her M.B.A. from Columbia University, and her Ph.D from Princeton University. Rose worked as a producer for CNN for ten years. Over the next ten years, she raised four children while turning her doctoral dissertation into “The Murder of William of Norwich.” She has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University, City University of New York, and is currently a Visiting Fellow of Medieval Studies at Harvard University.

In winning Phi Beta Kappa’s 2016 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for “The Murder of William of Norwich,” E.M. Rose found recognition by illuminating the real history behind an imaginary event.

Thomas of Monmouth’s work remains highly debated today for the accounts of ritual murder by the Jews that are depicted in his biography, The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich. After the publication of this work in 1173, the discrimination of Jews began by being expelled from England and eventually many surrounding areas.  Take a look at these accounts for some contextual insight into this upcoming lecture.