Idolatry, Adultery and Murder
History| Medieval Jewry
Bad girl but brainy, the figure of 13th century Anglo-Jewish businesswoman, Licoricia of Winchester looks set to become the centre of a cult.
As Licoricia’s story includes adultery and murder I suggest the mounting hysteria surrounding her is part of the current vogue for crackpot idol worship.
Nor am I surprised that the statue of her due to be unveiled today, Thursday 10 February, has been created by the same artist who produced that of the late Diana, Princess of Wales and other images of senior members of the British Royal Family.
In reality, Licoricia’s story is not just about her and her mysterious death or even the condition of medieval Anglo-Jewry but also Suzanne Bartlet, whose often cited historical biography was her only book and completed by her editor, Patricia Skinner, as she died from cancer the year before its publication in 2009 **.
So while Bartlet appears to have been instrumental in fuelling what has become a near mania about the medieval moneylender, we are left with Ian Rank-Broadley’s well-intentioned but fanciful and costly bronze sculpture of an imagined likeness, based on those of his own daughter and grandson.
This may not be viewed as history. It is an artistic impression; a finely wrought vision of familial love.
Further, am I the only one to be uncomfortable that in the name of good community relations and ‘diversity’, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has agreed to intone a ‘blessing’ over the statue; a gesture that may be interpreted as unhealthy – and un-Jewish?
Licoricia’s story resonates strongly today because she lived at a turning point in Jewish Diaspora history when – as too often - a tiny, ultra talented Jewish community, first invited to settle in a host country at the behest of a commercially canny monarch became too successful for its resentful non-Jewish neighbours.
When the rot set in, some of the hate was, as ever, propagated by disaffected Jews. If that sounds familiar, so it should!
So I conclude by offering the strongest possible support for an educational UK ‘Jewish History Month’ but beg that it does not deal solely with the Holocaust. This, in itself, would achieve nothing.
Instead I suggest that any course material should open where some believe Anglo-Jewish history really began – with the possibility of a Jewish presence in Roman Britain.
Now, where are our professional historians when we need them?
** Suzanne Bartlet. Licoricia of Winchester: Marriage, Motherhood, and Murder
in the Medieval Anglo-Jewish Community. Edited by Patricia Skinner.
London: Vallentine-Mitchell, 2009. Pp. xiv + 160. isbn: 9780853038221.
10 FEBRUARY 2022