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The Jewish Kingdom of Rouen

The pogrom initiated by the First Crusade (1096)

Pope Urban II, at Clermont, calls for the Crusade.

Robert Curthose, successor of William the Conqueror († 1087), left Normandy in the hands of his brother, William Rufus, when he decided to participate in the First Crusade launched by Pope Urban II. The crusader’s fervor was not long in turning against the Jews.

In many cities, including Rouen, the departure for the First Crusade is marked by anti-Jewish persecutions and by the destruction of their religious and communal institutions.

No sooner had the Normandy crusaders begun to set out on their journey (September-October 1096) than the Clos aux Juifs in Rouen was invaded and many of its inhabitants killed. Abbot Guibert de Nogent (a virtual contemporary of these events) relates that the crusaders of Rouen one day began observing that it seemed contradictory to cover such long distances to fight the Lord’s enemies in the East while before our eyes are the Jews, of all races God’s greatest enemy. This… would be doing our work backwards. Upon these words, the Crusaders obliged the Jews to follow them to a certain place of worship [...] and executed them… whatever their age or sex. Only those who accepted conversion to Christianity were spared. One boy, known eventually as William the Jew, was seized by a nobleman, baptized and brought up in the Christian religion. He joined the monks of St. Germain de Fly’s abbey and, giving up Hebrew as his mother tongue, went so far as to write a treatise in Latin against the Jews. It is probable that, during the 1096 persecution, the synagogue and cultural institutions possessed by the Jews of Rouen were either destroyed or taken over for the specific use of Christians.

The Normans at the time of the First Crusade

Chroniclers of the time, such as Hugues de Flavigny and Sigebert de Gembloux, confirm that similar pogroms took place almost everywhere in France, Germany, and further east, for example, in Metz, Trier, Mainz, Prague, and Ratisbonne.

The persecutions in Rouen seem to have stopped after the Crusaders’ departure. As early as 1098 or 1099, the Jews of Rouen who had been spared implored King William Rufus, who ruled in Normandy during the absence of his brother Robert Curthose, to agree that the Jews who had been forced to convert be allowed to return to their original faith, which the king willingly accepted for a fee.

The Norman Conquest (1066) opened maritime commerce between England and France.

When Henry Beauclerc (1100-1135) became king, the Jews of England and Normandy were again allowed to own land, have an income, take out mortgages, have material possessions, have their own courts of justice -which were largely independent except in severe criminal cases- enjoy all the liberties and customs that were theirs, and live in accordance with the principles of the Jewish Law. This is made clear in the charter granted in 1201 by King John Lackland, which reasserts the right of the Jews to be granted by [His Majesty] all that they had been granted by King Henry, [his] grandfather’s father. Among the rights pointed out in the charter was an exemption from all taxes concerning tolls or customs, which clearly shows the influential part played by the Jews in the sea trade between England and France.