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Henry III’s murdered moneylender: Statue of Jewish Englishwoman Licoricia unveiled

‘She was a woman in a man’s world, an ethnic minority at a time of great racism and prejudice’; Prince Charles, who has COVID, forced to miss Winchester event; faith leaders attend

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Britain's Lord-Lieutenant Hampshire Nigel Atkinson unveils the statue of Licoricia of Winchester at The Arc, in Winchester, Hampshire, on February 10, 2022. (JUSTIN TALLIS / POOL / AFP)
Britain's Lord-Lieutenant Hampshire Nigel Atkinson unveils the statue of Licoricia of Winchester at The Arc, in Winchester, Hampshire, on February 10, 2022. (JUSTIN TALLIS / POOL / AFP)

A statue of prominent English Jewish woman Licoricia of Winchester, who lived during the 13th century, was unveiled in the city last week, attracting a large crowd and drawing the support of local community leaders.

The bronze, life-size statue depicts Licoricia, who ran a successful business and raised four children in Winchester until her murder in 1277. She is depicted with her youngest son, Asser, who is seen holding a dreidel.

Licoricia “has real resonance for today,” acclaimed historian and best-selling author Simon Sebag Montefiore told The Jewish Chronicle.

“She was a woman in a man’s world, an ethnic minority at a time of great racism and prejudice and persecution.

“She was a very successful person,” he added. “She must have been a great character. She was also an outsider in a time ruled by aristocrats and kings so on so many levels she’s got real resonance especially since there’s a tendency now to deny antisemitism, to deny there was racism against Jewish people and the fact of the matter is she proves that.”

A moneylender, Licoricia had a roster of clients that included King Henry III and Queen Eleanor. Living in times of virulent antisemitism — her death preceded the 1290 total expulsion of Jews from England by only 13 years — she was jailed repeatedly before being murdered in a mysterious attack in Winchester. She was also widowed twice.

Prince Charles was originally slated to participate in Friday’s unveiling, but was forced to cancel his participation in the event after testing positive for COVID.

The prince “is deeply disappointed not to be able to attend today’s events in Winchester and will look to reschedule his visit as soon as possible,” read a statement issued on behalf of the Royal Family and read aloud during the unveiling event.

The duty of unveiling the statue was passed on to Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson, local media reported, who did so with the help of local schoolchildren.

Britain’s Lord-Lieutenant Hampshire Nigel Atkinson unveils the statue of Licoricia of Winchester at The Arc, in Winchester, Hampshire, on February 10, 2022. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / POOL / AFP)

This, however, created a new problem — the statue’s engraved plaque.

Expecting Prince Charles to do the honors of unveiling the statue, organizers had engraved the plaque with the words: “To commemorate the unveiling of the statue of Licoricia by HRH The Prince of Wales.”

Replying on behalf of the Licoricia of Winchester Statue Appeal, which led the project, Tony Stoller said the group’s trustees were “considering what to do in respect of the plaque, and we will be consulting with Clarence House and the Hampshire County Council before coming to a final decision,” The Hampshire Chronicle reported.

But despite the unexpected change in plans, the unveiling event continued as planned, drawing an excited crowd and Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist community leaders, who came to show their support.

People wait for the unveiling of the statue of Licoricia of Winchester, in Winchester, Hampshire, on February 10, 2022. (JUSTIN TALLIS / POOL / AFP)

Addressing the audience, Chief Rabbi of the UK Ephraim Mirvis spoke about the difficult conditions Licoricia must have experienced during her lifetime.

He noted the “sustained horrific persecution of Jews in this country leading ultimately to the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.”

And yet, “within those exceptionally trying times there was an extraordinary lady committed to her faith who was determined to raise her family, built a successful enterprise and give a contribution of inestimable value to her country,” he said.

The biblical quote “Love thy neighbour as thyself” from the Book of Leviticus is engraved on one side of the statue, both in Hebrew and English.

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, January 23, 2020. (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

The statue was designed by renowned British artist Ian Rank-Broadley, known mostly for his royal portraits, many of which have been minted on coins.

No portraits of Licoricia are known to have survived, so Rank-Broadley drew inspiration for her facial features from his own daughter and grandson, who are Jewish.

“The broader message is that we all benefit from letting women take an equal part in our society. It also holds up the fact that as she was Jewish she was persecuted in those times,” Rank-Broadley told JC.

JTA contributed to this report.

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