Who was Licoricia of Winchester? | Smart News

No image of Licoricia of Winchester has survived, so sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley based the statue’s features on his daughter and grandson, both Jews.
Courtesy of Licoricia of Winchester Appeal

When Winchester licorice, an English loan shark who was one of her clients Henry III and members of her court, was found murdered in her home in 1277, news of her death circulated widely, even reaching Jewish communities in Germany. The level of interest in Licoricia’s murder reflected her unique position in medieval English society: “She was Jewish, she was wealthy [and] she was a woman”, biographer Rebecca Abram tells Catherine Pepinster Religious News Service (RNS). “All three could have led to his death.”

Today, some 745 years after Licoricia’s murder, amid a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe– A statue of the Jewish businesswoman is set to be installed in her hometown of Winchester, where organizers hope she will “promote tolerance and diversity in today’s society” while highlighting a often overlooked chapter in local history, according to a declaration. Sculpted by a British artist Ian Rank-Broadley, the six-foot-tall bronze statue depicts Licoricia, whose name means “sweet factory”, holding the hand of her youngest son. The phrase “Love your neighbor as yourself” is engraved on the stone base of the sculpture in both English and Hebrew.

“In many ways, [Licoricia has] always been there, but she’s been hiding in historical documents and books, and this is the first time, if you will, that she’s appeared in three dimensions on the streets of Winchester where she used to live,” Rank- Broadley to Mathilde Frot from Jewish Chronicle.

A mock-up, or model, for the sculpture of Licoricia of Winchester

A model, or model, for the sculpture

Courtesy of Licoricia of Winchester Appeal

Licorice was, in words of historian Robert Stacey, “the most important Jewish woman in medieval England”. She lived for a period of rampant anti-Semitism, when Jews were legally considered the personal property of the crown – a status that afforded them protection but left them vulnerable to heavy taxes. As Abrams wrote for Additional story in 2019, Jews made up only 0.25% of England’s population at the end of the 12th century, but provided 8% of the total income of the royal treasury. Jews also faced restrictions on the jobs they could do and found themselves victims of prejudice on a daily basis. (Money lending was one of the main occupations of medieval Jews, as Christians considered lending money for interest as a sin.) Growing anti-Jewish sentiment aroused by the Crusades, false claims of “blood libel” and financial instability culminated in Edward I’s expulsion of Jews from England in 1290.

Born at the beginning of the 13th century, liquorice appears for the first time in the historical archives of 1234, when she was a young widow with three sons and possibly a daughter. Write for the Jewish Women Archives (JWA), researcher Cheryl Tallan and Suzanne Bartlet, author of a book 2009 on Licoricia, note that she quickly established herself as one of Winchester’s wealthiest Jewish moneylenders. In 1242 Licoricia married her second husband, the similarly successful financier David of Oxford. When David died two years later, Henry III had Licoricia imprisoned in the Tower of London to prevent him from intervening while royal accountants assessed his estate. (According to a 2004 article in the journal of Jewish Historical Studies, the crown often seized a third of the property of deceased Jews as a “relief” or right of succession. The king only allowed Licoricia to be released after adding 5,000 Brands to the royal treasury – a substantial sum which was largely used for the construction of a chapel at Westminster Abbey.

This otherwise inauspicious event marked the start of Licoricia’s fruitful relationship with Henry, who supported her when she tried to collect her debts and offered her additional tax exemption, according to historic royal palaces. JWA points out that Licoricia’s “ease of access” to the king also proved beneficial to the Jewish community, with other Jews relying on the moneylender to intercede with him on their behalf. The businesswoman lent money to the elite, including the king and other royals, nobles and the Church, as well as less well-off members of society, offering aid financial support to his Jewish compatriots, small landowners and farmers.

Three views of the new statue

The statue depicts Licoricia holding the hand of her youngest son, Asser.

Courtesy of Licoricia of Winchester Appeal

Unfortunately for Licoricia, his passage in 1244 in the Tower will not be the last: in 1258, a neighbor accuses the usurer of having stolen a gold ring intended for the king. Licoricia was sent to the Tower while the case was investigated and was only released after the neighbor who accused her was identified as the real thief.

In 1277, Licoricia’s daughter, Belia, discovered the bodies of her mother and a Christian servant, Alice of Bickton, in Licoricia’s house in Winchester. Each had suffered “a stab in the chest, in the heart”, according to a columnist wrote at the time. Authorities charged three suspects suspected of attacking the women in a burglary or a botched business transaction, but found the men not guilty, instead charging a saddler who had left town. Two of Licoricia’s sons attempted to bring further action against the men but were unsuccessful; his murder was never officially solved.

As Stephen Oryszczuk reports for the Jewish News, from Rank-Broadley statue of Licorice—planned to be unveiled by Prince Charles on February 10 – features her as a wealthy medieval woman dressed in ornate clothing and a headdress. Although most English Jews were required to wear name tags denoting their religious identity, Licoricia appears without an identity, as Jews with financial means could pay for exemption from the regulations. In her right hand, the businesswoman holds a demand for size, or taxation, an allusion to the increased taxes imposed on English Jews throughout the 13th century.

“[Licoricia’s] story … embodies the prosperity and gradual decline of the Jewish community, culminating in one of its sons to be hanged [for coin clipping] and the others banished during the expulsion of the Jews from England,” writes Jonathan Romain for the Jewish Chronicle in 2019.

Jews were not readmitted to Britain until 1656, 366 years after their expulsion in 1290.

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