Pulcelina of Blois

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PULCELINA OF BLOIS , 12th-century female moneylender to the court of Blois. Pulcelina (also Pucellina) was implicated in the first ritual murder accusation in France and was burnt at the stake along with her two daughters and 30 other co-religionists in 1171. These events are documented in a variety of Hebrew sources, including five surviving letters, a chronicle, two memorial lists, and eight poems; this literary productivity indicates the degree to which this tragedy shocked the Jews of Ashkenaz. In his account in Sefer Zekhirah ("Book of Remembrance"), the chronicler and liturgical poet Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn (1132–c. 1200) used the verb ohav ("love") to describe the affection of Count Thibaut of Blois (1152–1191) for Pulcelina; most historians have assumed that the two were involved in a romantic relationship. (See the translation in J. Marcus, ed., The Jew in the Medieval World (rep. 1990), pp. 127–30.) This theory has been challenged by S. Einbinder (1998), who suggests that ohav in this instance implies that the count "favored" Pulcelina as a lender and perhaps as a trusted financial advisor. Einbinder believes that Thibaut's wife, Countess Alix, who is described as hating Pulcelina and swaying the count against her, was motivated not by sexual jealousy but because she herself, and others close to her, owed significant sums to Pulcelina and resented her influence over the Count. The surviving documents make it clear that Pulcelina behaved arrogantly and was widely disliked by members of Thibaut's court. That a ritual murder accusation could be brought against Pulcelina, and Blois Jewry, when there was no corpse and no missing child, also indicates the level of animosity her position of power had generated. Ephraim wrote that once she was arrested she was prevented from speaking with the count for fear that she might convince him to change his mind and release the Jews. Although Jews from other communities attempted to ransom the prisoners, they were unable to offer sufficient funds to prevent their martyrdom. While in many ways this catastrophe represents a cautionary instance of the fall of a court Jew, with tragic consequences for the larger community, Pulcelina's gender and the possibility that she had an intimate relationship with Count Thibaut give the story added dimensions as an extreme example of the independence and entrepreneurship of Jewish women in Askenaz in the 11th and 12th centuries. The tragedy was the subject of a Hebrew drama by S.D. *Goitein, Pulzelinah (1927).


R. Chazan, "The Blois Incident of 1171…," in: Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research (1968), 13–31; idem, "Ephraim ben Jacob's Compilations of Twelfth Century Persecutions," in: jqr, 84:4 (1994), 397–416; S. Einbinder, Beautiful Death (2002), 45–69; idem, "Pucellina of Blois: Romantic Myths and Narrative Conventions," in: Jewish History, 12:1 (1998), 29–46.

[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]