The Pogrom of the Jews

An excellent primary source for the First Crusade is Fulcher of Chartres. He set out in October 1096 in the entourage of Stephen, count of Blois. In his Historia Hierosolymitana, he describes some of the characters along the way, their leaders, and some of the events.

Robert, duke of Normandy decided to go, mainly at Pope Urban’s prompting, and to raise money for his expedition, he pawned his duchy to William Rufus. Rufus, in turn, raised the money through crippling taxes. Clerics were forced to strip gold and silver off the caskets of saints, hand over silver crucifixes and melt down chalices to give to the king.

Normandy’s price was 10,000 marks, which took a great deal of finding. Rufus had no qualms about despoiling religious houses. He was no friend of the church.

We’re told that Hugh of Vermondois, Philip the First’s brother, was the first to make his way across the Adriatic in August of 1096. Foolishly, he allowed his army to spread out and found himself captured by the citizens of Durazzo in Bulgaria. Thence he was taken to the Emperor of Constantinople, Alexius the First, Comnenus. He had a daughter, Anna, another excellent source of information, and we shall hear more of her later.

Now, though, we should stop and turn to Albert of Aachen who, although he was writing after 1100, nevertheless tells of one of the most terrible episodes of the whole Crusade. The Jewish pogrom.

Now, these frightful massacres were not the work of mindless rabble. There were knights among them of otherwise good standing, who were just as guilty as the rest. But the actions were essentially German. The citizens of Cologne were the first to perpetrate this horror.

A small band of Jews was suddenly attacked, many were decapitated, their homes and synagogues destroyed and a large sum of money looted from them. From there, the ravishings spread to the cities of the Rhineland. Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Trier. One of the largest groups gathered in Mainz.

They were Germans led by Emicho, count of Leiningen, Swabians, under count Hartmann of Dillingen, and even Crusaders from France, England and Flanders. Certainly no rabble, they were led by Drogo of Nesle and William the Carpenter.

The question that resounds down the centuries is why? Why were the Jews singled out for this terrible slaughter? Albert of Aachen suggests a judgment from God, deluding the minds of the Crusaders, but greed was certainly one of the motives. Some of the pilgrims were in dire need of supplies, which drove them to follow these murderers. Other contemporary writers felt that there was little point in going all the way to Jerusalem to fight the enemies of Christ, when the Jews were on the doorstep and had been responsible for His Crucifixion. These, however, are mere excuses.

It was bloodlust, pure and simple. Emicho was known to have no love for the Jews. He waited in Mainz for the arrival of the other pilgrims. The Jews of Mainz, however, put their trust in bishop Ruothard. They gave him their priceless treasures to hold for them, and he settled them in the huge hall of his home. This failed to stop Emicho.

One Salomon bar Simson describes the awful massacre that took place when the pilgrims broke in to the bishop’s residence. No mercy was shown to anyone. Men, pregnant women, who had their babies cut from them, babes in arms, who were roasted on spits, men decapitated. Nothing was too base for these people to attempt.

And so it was in all the cities mentioned. Jews were told that if they converted to Christianity, they’d be spared. Notwithstanding that forced conversions were strictly against canon law.

To their horror, the Jews saw that all the soldiers who had been supposed to guard them had fled, along with the bishop. They were all herded into the courtyard of his house and there slaughtered to a man.

Some had taken refuge in upper rooms, but each killed the other, rather than be taken by the pilgrims. Women killed their children and babies, and then themselves. But at last it ended, that terrible time, and many pilgrims were sickened by it all

I’m indebted to The Chronicles of the Crusades, edited by Elizabeth Hallam