Twelfth Century Norwich (1100 to 1200)

Painting 1833 by David Hodgson and Francis Stone

The eleventh century would establish Norwich as major trading town thanks to its market and good access to the sea via the River Yare.

The twelfth century was a complex time for Norwich, in some ways the city was moving forward with the rebuilding of the Castle and the construction of the Cathedral completed in this century.

On top of this, the relations between the English citizens of the town and the French traders were positive.

The Norwich Jewry (built from 1135 to 1144)

Before the Norman conquest, there was no evidence of there being any Jewish people in Norwich. The first known record of a Jewish person living in Norwich dates to 1086. These early Jewish Settlers where brought over into Norwich by the Norman’s. This is because until the 16th century, it was a sin for Christians to make a profit from money lending.

This meant that Christians could not take on the risk of providing the loans that Norwich needed to grow economically.

As Jewish people had no such restriction on making a profit from moneylending to non-jews and vice versa. They bought Jewish people into Norwich from France, to provide the economically necessary loans. To house the Jewish people who were coming into Norwich during the twelfth century. A built a Jewish Quarter within the “Castle fee” between Haymarket and Oxford Street, known as the Jewry.

By 1159, Jewish people made up 7% of the population of Norwich. As the Jewish Quarter continued to grow, they built more public buildings, including; A synagogue, a school, and Abraham’s Hall. Though there appears to be no information about what was during its early years, what we know is that it became an inn in around 1619.

Tensions Brew Between Catholic and Jewish Residents (before 1144) 

In the Norman times, Jewish people were the Chattel (personal property) of the king. This status of being property meant that when Jewish people immigrated to England, they would often be under protection of the Castle. They based the Jewish Quarter in Norwich within the “castle fee” of Norwich Castle (as stated before). This meant that on top of being uniquely protected by the proximity of Norwich Castle, just like others living within the “fee” [

The residents of the Jewish Quarter did not have to pay taxes to the local civic. Also, if suspected of a crime, these people were tried in different courts than other citizens. There would have been religious tensions and the Jewish population not having to pay local taxes put a “wedge” between the communities.

The one thing that would lead to rioting was the resentment the local population had for the complete control over credit that the local Jews had. This would over time be an excuse by the locals to whip up anti-Semitic riots against the local Jews. The locals hoped that these riots who either lead to debt destroyed records or that they would receive bribes for “future protection” [

The Murder of William of Norwich and Its Knock-on Effects (1144)

A rood-screen panel at the Holy Trinity Church in Loddon, that depicts the martyrdom of William of Norwich.
© Evelyn Simak 2010 (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

William of Norwich was an Anglo-Saxon child who was born on the 2nd February 1132. He worked as an apprentice tanner before someone claiming to be a cook for a local monastery offered William a job in the monastery kitchens. The “cook” paid Williams is parents three shillings for this.

The story leading up to the death goes as follows; William and the man that claimed to be a cook went to William’s aunt, who thought something was “amiss”.

She would then send her daughter to follow them. The last claimed sighting before his death was by William’s cousin, who last saw William enter the house of a well-known Jew on Tuesday, 22nd Match 1144.

The body of William was discovered that on Holy Sunday at Mousehold heath by a royal forester who was patrolling the heathland. Later on it would be claimed that William’s body had sustained injuries that pointed to a violent death. But at the time the death was seen as a tragic accident and his family quickly buried him.

Around five years later, a knight returning from the failed second Crusade who had borrowed money from a local Jewish moneylender. Because of the failure, he didn’t have the pay back the Money Lender and had that Money Lender murdered (presumably to get out of paying the debt).

After the knight was arrested, they put him on trial before King Stephen. His legal counsel argued to the king that the Jewish people of Norwich of the far more heinous crime of murdering William. There was very little evidence given for this, and the king was too busy fighting. To deal with what would be two murder cases, they permanently adjourned the case [

Around two years after the cases were adjourned, Thomas of Monmouth who claimed to have been championed to the “neglected” cause by “successive visions” would pick the investigation of the murder of William up. His investigation would involve interviewing eyewitnesses and faithful people. Who visited William’s tomb and claimed that there miracles connected with the tomb.

The series of books published would push the narrative that William was murdered in what they claimed to be a ritual that involved Jews conducting a yearly sacrifice of a Christian child in what they claimed would lead to the Jewish people to regain control of Israel.

The last book released to a lukewarm reception. The book itself is not the source of this myth itself, or even the theory that of William being murdered in such a ritual. These people who believed where often the people in the cult that already saw him as a martyr, the book even failed to impress the local community [

The City of Norwich (1194)

As Norwich continued to get to get more wealthy though the twelfth century from it being a “centre of commerce” which was itself helped along by the availability of credit. The town became wealthy enough to buy privileges from the king.

The earliest charter we still have records of was from 1158, which granted the burgesses of Norwich unspecified “customs and liberties”.

The second charter issued on the 5th May 1194 by King Richard, which granted the citizens of Norwich of new rights. The main new right granted by this charter was the right for the people of Norwich to elect their own reeve. Thus some level of self-governance for the new city. This charter also commute the mixture rents and toll that would be because of the king to a fixed annual payment of £108. While also allowing the people of Norwich to travel around the country without having to pay tolls.

People commonly see this as the charter that turned Norwich in a city [
31] [32].

Sources for this article:

[19] Rose, C., n.d. Norwich - 2000 Years Of European Immigration | Culture24. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 September 2020].

[28] Autor: Malcolm Atkin (1993). Norwich : history and guide. Editorial: Dover, Nh: A. Sutton, p.34.

[29] Jones, D. (2015). The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in medieval Europe by EM Rose. [online] 26 Jul. Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep. 2020].

[30] Despres, D.L. (2010). Adolescence and Sanctity: The Life and Passion of Saint William of Norwich. The Journal of Religion, [online] 90(1), pp.33–62. Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep. 2020].

[32] Malcolm Atkin (1993). Norwich : history and guide. Editorial: Dover, Nh: A. Sutton, p.37.

[33] Jewish bodies found in medieval well. (2011). BBC News. [online] 23 Jun. Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2020].