Richard of Devizes and the Alleged Martyrdom of a Boy at Winchester

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Richard of Devizes, a monk of the Benedictine Priory of St Swithun at Winchester, is remembered chiefly as the author of the Chronicle of the Reign of Richard the First It is unfortunate that almost nothing else is known about him, for his humour, caustic wit and sense of the ridiculous permeate almost every event he records. The Chronicle con? tains an abundance of classical quotation and satire disguised as fact, yet provides a valuable source for the history of the period.1

The scant information about Richard comes from his own pen. In the Chronicle he describes himself as 'Richard called of Devizes', so he presumably came from that area of Wiltshire.2 His writing betrays an opinionated, though well-educated man, with an enquiring mind, who took every opportunity of making his own judgments, although his opinion of the Jews was based on a strong belief in his Church's teaching that all Jews, whether dead or living, were responsible for the death of Jesus and for the other 'crimes' of Judaism. This was tempered a little by canon 26 adopted by the third Lateran Council, according to which 'Jews ought to be subject to Christians, and treated kindly by them only out of humane considerations.'3

Richard held strong opinions on money-lending, especially if the Church was the borrower, for he scathingly reports on the activities of his bishop, Godfrey de Lucy of Winchester, who 'mindful of his position' secretly gave the king ?3000 to obtain judgment on the Church's claim to two manors, to secure his patrimony as sheriff of Hampshire and to have custody of the castles of Winchester and Portchester. 'When the time for him to pay so much money drew near, since he could not go beyond the day fixed for the payment without risking the whole undertaking, and since he could find no nearer help under Heaven, he reluctantly put his hand into the treasure of his church.'4 Richard of Devizes did not hesitate sarcastically to reprimand Godfrey, 'the circumspect man', for seeking worldly rather than spiritual advancement and for borrowing the money to pay for the achievement of his ambitions. And it is difficult to believe that Richard of Devizes was unaware that his own prior borrowed from the Jews: Robert fitz Henry, at some date before 1191, had pledged a convent cup (cyphum) to Abraham son of Samuel of Winchester for ten marks.5 There is evidence of other borrowings by St Swithun's Priory from Jews, because in 1205 King John ordered the sheriffs of Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire to aid the prior and monks of St Swithun's to make peace of all pleas of Jewish debts and to help free houses and lands in their bailiwicks to acquit these debts.6 These outstanding loans appear to have been incurred late in the 12th century and to have involved a substantial amount of money. Richard was probably aware of the Church's financial liabilities and these could, in part, be responsible for his hostility towards the Jews.

By the mid-12th century

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