by Andrew Lee-Hart
This year . the Jews of Lincoln stole a boy called Hugh, who was about eight years old. After shutting him up in a secret chamber, where they fed him on milk and other childish food, they sent to almost all the cities of England in which there were Jews, and summoned some of their sect from each city to be present at a sacrifice to take place at Lincoln, in contumely and insult of Jesus Christ.
(Matthew Paris Chronica Majora)
Trumped up stories of "ritual murders" of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.
Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:
Lord, forgive what we have been, amend what we are, and direct what we shall be.
(Plaque in Lincoln Cathedral)
It was all over the lunchtime news; the little boy Hugh found dead in a well. His disappearance had been in the newspapers for weeks, and the whole of Lincoln had been praying that he be found safe and well, but alas our prayers had not been answered and I wondered if this was just the beginning of the horror.
Hugh, only nine years old, had been playing with his friends close to the cathedral, apparently there had been a falling out of some sort and he had set off for home but did not arrive, it was not a long walk and there were no witnesses who came forward, nor had his companions seen anything suspicious. The soldiers searched high and low and so did the townsfolk, and there was a special edition of the television programme Crime Watch dedicated to Hughs disappearance. Those of us from the Jewish community did our bit, perhaps more so as we knew that any seeming reticence on our part to help would lead to suspicion and to whispering.
Lincoln is not a big city; a castle, a cathedral, a few bookshops and a river, and so when a child goes missing, then everyone is shocked and most of us knew Hugh at least by sight, we had seen him at play with his friends, or he had run into our shops on an errand from his mother. One child of many but now distinguished with a name and a tragic story. How we hoped that he had just gone off on an adventure and would return home contrite and ready for the whipping that would surely follow. But alas the child was dead and now, as the solemn looking reporter told us the questions will start.
As soon I heard the news I turned off the television and hurried back home from the newsagent shop which I own, leaving Simon, a gentile in charge. As I quickly made my way down Steep Hill I looked up at the cathedral and I felt scared as if the Christian God knew where I was and wanted to exact revenge. That is the problem when you are part of a hated minority you feel guilty for everything, always under suspicion if any bad happens; crops failing, an outbreak of the plague, or the death of a child.
Hannah was home with our baby, Joel.
That little boy has been found I told her, dead in a well.
It may have been an accident she said, he could have tripped and fallen in, hit his head. You know what children are like, always hurrying hither and thither.
I really hope that is what happened, but apparently the soldiers are treating it as suspicious. The well is not near to Hughs house and reporter mentioned something about leads.
Hannah sighed and held Joel close to protect him from the oncoming storm.
My friend Nathan telephoned later.
Have you heard?
About the little boy Hugh, yes of course.
Oh Copin, do you think they will blame us? I could tell Nathan was frightened. Something similar had happened in Norwich to a young man called William and us Jews had been blamed for that and had had to flee the city. The King in London was no friend of ours and would offer us no protection, however I tried to encourage my friend as best I could.
I doubt anything will happen. Hannah thinks it was probably an accident, that he tripped. Just try and keep a low profile until the fuss dies down. No doubt once there is a post mortem everything will be okay.
I dont want to leave here. Nathan said, this is my home, where I have made my living.
Where else would be there to escape to? I asked, where in this kingdom is safe?
Hannah and I watched the television that evening, shutters down and the volume turned low. There had been shouting outside our door earlier and banging but I had declined to investigate. The news though was the worst. One of the young children who had seen Hugh disappear into the night now claimed he had left with a Jew.
Why did he not mention this before? Hannah asked, the poor boy has been missing a month?
I shrugged my heart full of dread. Later we curled up together in bed as if our love could protect us and our child from the evil outside.
Later that night there were torches and shouting, and at three in the morning there was banging at the door.
Come on out Jew. We are coming for you. And there was cries of child killer and paedophile.
Dont go Hannah whispered to me, and she neednt have worried. The door was secure and the blinds too, if they were determined to find a way in or to burn down the house they would do, but it would take them awhile and hopefully they would be moved on by the soldiers in the castle. The banging continued and then someone seemed to take an axe to the door and we cringed as the door vibrated. I grabbed my hammer and walked downstairs whilst Hannah and Joel hid under the floor boards, a place of safety I had created after the events in Norwich had become known.
Is this going to be our life I wondered, and I did think that perhaps Nathan was right that we needed to move; perhaps somewhere like Whitby or Newcastle would be safer. To my relief the sounds died away, the locals had evidently given up or been moved along. Hannah and I returned to bed but did not sleep, we murmured to each other and then we made love, knowing that perhaps it was for the last time.
Hughs mother was on television, she was a guest on a popular morning show, between an item about Strictly Come Dancing and one on insomnia. She was interviewed by a slick and rather unpleasant television presenter. He looked at her, his eyes as cold as his heart.
What do you think of these Jews who have murdered your son? he began, do you hate them?
Was it truly them Jeremy? she asked.
He nodded, you have heard what that boy said. They tortured him and killed him as part of their unholy rites, and then when he was dead they threw him down a well. Your son. That cant be right.
She burst into tears and my heart melted for her. What was she doing there? She should be at home mourning for her son with her family around her, not being exploited by a ratings-hungry journalist.
I hate them I heard her say, the host nodding in encouragement, I hate them so much. They took my son from me. And I want them dead, all of them.
I was clearing up the mess outside the front door when the soldiers came for me.
David Copin? they asked although they knew who I was. They walked me through the streets whilst the people of Lincoln stood and starred. I looked straight ahead of me ignoring the whispering and shouts, and when it became clear that the soldiers were not going to protect me, the stones and mud which were hurled at me. Eventually I arrived at the castle and was thrown into a cell.
Now my days are liked a dream; the endless torture, the beatings all day and night. They work in relays; three soldiers at a time with their sticks and their fists, determined to hurt me but not to kill me, not yet. At times my brain switches off, so that I feel no pain, but then I am left to rest on the damp stone floor and I can barely breath and wonder that anybody can stand such agony. I know that they want something from me, but I cannot even remember what it is. I just want to die and for Hannah and Joel to be safe, I would do anything for that to happen.
I could feel God all around me as I knelt in the cavernous cathedral built to his eternal glory. I am a king who had dedicated his life to God and the Christian faith, a good king who will never hesitate to do Gods will. Perhaps I should have been a priest or a wandering friar, but God had thrust this crown upon me and he has done it for a reason, and I have no right to shirk such responsibility.
We rode all night to Lincoln. I had been in tears when I heard about the boy killed by the Jews and thrown into a well; I felt heart-sick that such evil could happen in my kingdom, even my mistress could not console me as I spent the night in my bed-chamber weeping and praying. And then I told my soldiers that we should go to Lincoln, to show my support to my people, to show that these Jews could not get away with it.
I came straight to the cathedral, not even resting after two days journey. I needed to hear Gods word, to be in his presence. As I knelt I saw Christ in front of me hanging on the cross, in his death throes after being killed by those Jews, and I heard him crying out to me as if he were Hugh in that well. Crying out for safety and protection.
Where were you? he was crying, why did you not save me?
I had no idea how long I had knelt and prayed, but it was the least I could do for Hugh, that innocent killed by those Jews, that blot on our nation. I never trusted them; in London I had segregated them, made them wear badges so that everyone knew who they were. Unfortunately the authorities had not done the same here in Lincoln; and so the Jews had intermixed with the Christians; lived with them, worked with them, watched them from their synagogues, plotted against them whilst they read their blasphemous books and now they had killed one of our children.
My knees ached on the hard stone and my head ached; I think I caught a chill in that inn in Derby, there were draughts everywhere and even though I was covered in blankets and robes I shivered and froze. And the food they offered me? That might be fit for Derbyshire peasants but not for a King of England. I was glad to escape, and I will go another way on our journey back to London.
They tell me that Copin has admitted to killing the boy but there are more Jews in this city who are just as guilty, hiding in their houses and synagogues, hoping that they are safe to carry on their evil ways, and the same all over this land. And there are the Jews in London, who I owe money to, who think that they can control me. But I am king I can do what I want; this country is mine and I know what is best for the peasant, for the barons overloaded with wealth and contempt and for the church more intent on ritual and arguing with kings rather than preaching to the people and condemning the wickedness all about us.
And then as I knelt at the altar God spoke to me from up on high as I knew that he would.
Persecute them he said, hate these people who killed my son. Drag them from their synagogues and their homes, from their shops and from the fields, slaughter them, take their money and burn their books.
I got up from my knees and ignored the clergy who cringed before me. I was upon Gods work.
I miss Hugh so much, nobody can understand how much. Even His Majesty who came to see me yesterday cannot understand the emptiness in my heart. He was my first born when Jack and I were still young and in love. Jack does not care about the death not really; just an excuse to get drunk and beat up people; preferably Jews but it doesnt matter. He just wants to kill. He barely knew who Hugh was, just another child to feed.
I remember when the priest came to tell me that they had found Hugh and that he was dead. I was at home with my mother and my friend and there was a knocking at the door and somehow I knew what it was, that the worst possible thing had happened. After he told me that Hugh was dead, I wept and wept whilst everyone stood around. They laid him in out in the cathedral and he looked so beautiful and whole, barely a scratch upon him. I clutched his hand wishing that he was my lovely little boy ready to come home with his mother.
Hugh, my angel so eager to join in everything and so energetic. Clumsy like me but he always picked himself up afterwards, eager to carry on with whatever he was doing. He wasnt a saint, despite what people are saying, he was better than that, he was a beautiful, living little boy and now he is a bundle of bones in a pit. And I hate those who did it, they who killed my little boy just for their rituals, to mock Christ. Why couldnt it have been another little boy? Why did it have to be Hugh? My precious son.
I asked to see Copin in prison, everybody advised me not to, but it was my right, to see the man that killed my son. I went to the gatehouse, and the soldiers got their commander and eventually they let me in.
Are you sure my lady? the sergeant asked me, he killed your son and he is a mess.
I want to see him, I want to know why he did it?
The sergeant looked embarrassed. He is chained up, so he cannot hurt you he told me.
They led me in to the cell, and there was this creature on the floor; naked, more blood than skin. He looked at me but I am not sure what he saw.
You killed my son I spat at him, and he licked the spit from his face and looked at me with what looked like compassion.
Can you not speak Jew? I asked, and I could see that he tried to say something but his lips were too dry, so I asked the sergeant to give him a drink.
Do not show him mercy the sergeant said, but I was adamant.
I want to hear him speak. I told him.
They brought in a cup and the sergeant gave him a drink as if he were a child.
Why did you do it? I asked again.
I have a wife he told me, and a baby son. I dont want them to be hurt, they are precious to me like Hugh is to you.
Dont mention his name, you have no right, just tell me why you killed my son?
I have never killed anyone man or child. I knew your son. He used to run past my shop, he looked beautiful, we are here to do good not evil.
Enough of your lies I shouted, unconvincingly, you are a wicked people. My son needs justice; his bones cry out to me for revenge. I dont care about your child or your wife; revenge is what I want, my son cannot rest in peace until you are dead on a gibbet and your fellow Jews are hanging their too, every last one of them dead for what they did to my son.
I felt myself consumed with hatred, I felt it warm me and drive me on. It was all I had and all I needed, and as I left the cell I felt its warm glow surrounding me.
And my mother got her wish time and time again; in Lincoln, in London, in the shtetls of Russia, the Nazi gas chambers and in the streets of Paris, all in my name and others like me. Is this my legacy? Death for a Holy people who could have taught us so much?
And does all this hate bring back to life a child dead in a well? Does it lighten even a little the darkness in a grieving mothers heart? Is this the end of love?
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