Richard I - Jacob Abbott

The Coronation

It was now time that the coronation should take place, and arrangements were accordingly made for performing this ceremony with great magnificence in Westminster Abbey. The day of the ceremony acquired a dreadful celebrity in history in consequence of a great massacre of the Jews, which resulted from an insurrection and riot that broke out in Westminster and London immediately after the crowning of the king. The Jews had been hated and abhorred by all the Christian nations of Europe for many ages. Since they were not believers in Christianity, they were considered as little better than infidels and heathen, and the government that oppressed and persecuted them the most was considered as doing the greatest service to the cause of religion.

One very curious result followed from the legal disabilities that the Jews were under. They could not own land, and they were restricted also very much in respect to nearly all avocations open to other men. They consequently learned gradually to become dealers in money and in jewels, this being almost the only reputable calling that was left open to them. There was another great advantage, too, for them, in dealing in property of this kind, and that was, that comprising, as such property does, great value in small bulk, it could easily be concealed, and removed from place to place whenever it was specially endangered by the edicts of governments or the hostility of enemies.

From these and similar reasons the Jews became bankers and money-lenders, and they are this day the richest bankers and the greatest money-lenders in the world. The most powerful emperors and kings often depend upon them for the supplies that they require to carry on their great undertakings or to defray the expenses of their wars.

The Jews had gradually increased in numbers and influence in France until the time of the accession of Philip, and then he determined to extirpate them from the realm; so he issued an edict by which they were all banished from the kingdom, their property was confiscated, and every person that owed them money was released from all obligation to pay them. Of course, a great many of their debtors would pay them, notwithstanding this release, from the influence of that natural sense of justice which, in all nations and in all ages, has a very great control in human hearts; still, there were others who would, of course, avail themselves of this opportunity to defraud their creditors of what was justly their due; and being obliged, too, at the same time, to fly precipitately from the country in consequence of the decree of banishment, the poor Jews were reduced to a state of extreme distress.

Now the Jews of England, when Henry died and Richard succeeded him, began to be afraid that the new king would follow Philip's example, and in order to prevent this, and to conciliate Richard's favor, they determined to send a delegation to him at Westminster, at the time of his coronation, with rich presents which had been procured by contributions made by the wealthy. Accordingly, on the day of the coronation, when the great crowds of people assembled at Westminster to honor the occasion, these Jews came among them.

The ceremony of the coronation was performed in the following manner: The king, in entering the church and proceeding up toward the high altar, walked upon a rich cloth laid down for him, which had been dyed with the famous Tyrian purple. Over his head was a beautifully-wrought canopy of silk, supported by four long lances. These lances were borne by four great barons of the realm. A great nobleman, the Earl of Albemarle, bore the crown, and walked with it before the king as he advanced toward the altar. When the earl reached the altar he placed the crown upon it. The Archbishop of Canterbury stood before the altar to receive the king as he approached, and then administered the usual oath to him.

The oath was in three parts:

1. That all the days of his life he would bear peace, honor, and reverence to God and the Holy Church, and to all the ordinances thereof.

2. That he would exercise right, justice, and law on the people unto him committed.

3. That he would abrogate wicked laws and perverse customs, if any such should be brought into his kingdom, and that he would enact good laws, and the same in good faith keep, without mental reservation.

Having taken this oath, the king removed his upper garment, and put golden sandals upon his feet, and then was anointed by the archbishop with the holy oil on his head, breast, and shoulders. This oil was poured from a rich vessel called an ampulla.

The anointing having been performed, the king received various articles of royal dress and decoration from the hands of the great nobles around him, who officiated as servitors on the occasion, and with their assistance put them on. When thus robed and adorned, he advanced up the steps of the altar. As he went up, the archbishop adjured him in the name of the living God not to assume the crown unless he was fully resolved to keep the oaths that he had sworn. Richard again solemnly called God to witness that he would faithfully keep them, and then advancing to the altar, he took the crown and put it into the hands of the archbishop, who then placed it upon his head, and thus the coronation ceremony was completed.

The people who had presents for the king now approached and offered them to him. Among them came the Jews. Their presents were very rich and valuable, and the king received them very gladly, although in announcing the arrangements for the ceremony he had declared that no Jew and no woman was to be allowed to be present. Notwithstanding this prohibition, the Jewish deputation had come in and offered their presents among the rest. There was, however, a great murmuring among the crowd in respect to them, and a great desire to drive them out. This crowd consisted chiefly, of course, of barons, earls, knights, and other great dignitaries of the realm, for very few of the lower ranks would be admitted to see the ceremony; and these people, in addition to the usual religious prejudice against the Jews, had many of them been exasperated against the bankers and money-lenders on account of difficulties that they had had with them in relation to money that they had borrowed, and to the high interest which they had been compelled to pay. Some wise observer of the working of human passions has said that men always hate more or less those to whom they owe money. This is a reason why there should ordinarily be very few pecuniary transactions between friends.

At length, as one of the Jews who was outside was attempting to go in, a by-stander at the gate cried out, "Here comes a Jew!" and struck at him. This excited the passions of the rest, and they struck and pushed the poor Jew in order to drive him back; and at the same time a general outcry against the Jews arose, and spread into the interior of the hall. The people there, glad of the opportunity afforded them by the excitement, began to assault the Jews and drive them out; and as they came out at the door beaten and bruised, a rumor was raised that they had been expelled by the king's orders. This rumor, as it spread through the streets, was soon changed into a report that the king had ordered all the unbelievers to be destroyed; and so, whenever a Jew was found in the street, a riot was raised about him, he was assaulted with sticks and stones, cruelly beaten, and if he was not killed, he was driven to seek refuge in his home, wounded and bleeding.

In the mean time, the news that the king had ordered all the Jews to be killed spread rapidly over the town, and in the evening crowds collected, and after murdering all the Jews that they could find in the streets, they gathered round their houses, and finally broke into them and killed the inhabitants. In some cases where the houses were strong, the Jews barricaded the doors and the mob could not get in. In such cases they brought combustibles, and piled them up before the windows and doors, and then, setting them on fire, they burned the houses to the ground, and men, women, and children were consumed together in the flames. If any of the unhappy wretches burning in these fires attempted to escape by leaping from the windows, the mob below held up spears and lances for them to fall upon.

There were so many of these fires in the course of the night that the whole sky was illuminated, and at one time there was danger that the flames would spread so as to produce a general conflagration. Indeed, as the night passed on, the excitement became more and more violent, until at length the streets, in all the quarters where Jews resided, were filled with the shouts of the mob, raving in demoniacal phrenzy, and with the screams of the terrified and dying sufferers, and the crackling of the lurid flames in which they were burning.

The king, in the mean time, was carousing with his lords and barons in the great banqueting-hall at Westminster, and for a time took no notice of these disturbances. He seemed to consider them as of very little moment. At length, however, in the course of the night, he sent an officer and a few men to suppress the riot. But it was too late. The mob paid no heed to remonstrances which came from the leader of so small a force, but, on the other hand, threatened to kill the soldiers too, if they did not go away. So the officer returned to the king, and the riot went on undisturbed until about two o'clock of the next day, when it gradually ceased from the mere weariness and exhaustion of the people.

A few of the men who had been engaged in this riot were afterward brought to trial, and three were hung, not for murdering Jews, but for burning some Christian houses, which, either by mistake or accident, took fire in the confusion and were burned with the rest. This was all that was ever done to punish this dreadful crime.

In justice to King Richard, however, it must be stated that he issued an edict after this forbidding that the Jews should be injured or maltreated any more. He took the whole people, he said, thenceforth under his special protection, and all men were strictly forbidden to harm them personally, or to molest them in the possession of their property.

And this was the terrible coronation scene which signalized the investiture of Richard with the crown and the royal robes of England.