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Tuesday, 18 June 2019

History of the Jews in England (Part 1)

A thirteenth century English manuscript  image of Jews being beaten.  Note that the two central characters appear to have emblems of two stone tablets on their clothing.
THE HISTORY OF JEWS IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND is a relatively short one. William the Conqueror is said to have brought in moneylenders from Rouen, France, after 1066. As such, Jews had the protection of the Crown and this alone caused much resentment particularly in times of economic hardship when they and other foreign nationals were liable to persecution. The earliest reference to Jews in London dates to 1130 and notes their settlement around Cheapside and Jew Street, now Old Jewry, which name is almost all that remains of the original Jewish district. Sadly, one has to look hard to find any evidence of medieval Jewry in London. Although excavations in Milk Street and Gresham Street have uncovered two mikvehs (ritual baths) of the thirteenth century which are unique to this country. Until 1177 the only Jewish cemetery in England was at Cripplegate and this must have caused great hardship to Jews living elsewhere in the country.


In 1262 a mob destroyed a synagogue, south of Lothbury Street EC1, and killed 700 inhabitants. Apparently there were several synagogues in London because in 1282 the bishop of London was ordered to destroy all synagogues in his diocese. 
The coronation of Richard 1 in 1189 marked the first of a series of attacks on Jews. The arrival of Jewish dignitaries at Westminster to pay their respect to the king sparked a riot in which some thirty Jewish families were murdered. Similar attacks also followed in Lincoln, York and Norwich.
The years leading up to their expulsion from England were particularly oppressive; in 1275, Edward 1 issued the Statute of Jewry. Jews were prohibited from charging interest on loans and had to collect all existing debts by the following Easter or forfeit them. All Jews from the age of seven had to wear a yellow felt badge 6” long and 3” wide. A poll tax of 3d a year was also imposed from the age of twelve. Three of the 63 clauses of Magna Carta (1215) directly relate to Jews, and in particular their money-lending activities. It means that the document not only has enormous significance for English history, but also epitomises the privileges and problems of medieval Anglo-Jewry.
Finally, Jews were given notice to quit England completely in July 1290. The Jewish presence in many English towns lasted until that expulsion. At that time there were about 3,500 Jews out of a population of around two million people in Britain.
You can hear a Jewish spiritual song here. It's a modern song but the words (in Hebrew) are from Genesis and speak of a golden river flowing out of Jordan.

10 comments:

Hels said...

Thank you. This was one of my favourite eras and topics in European history. I would have said that Edward I (or his advisors) must have been a piece of work, at least when he presented the Statute of Jewry. I did remember the provisions of the Statute! But I didn't remember the clauses of Magna Carta that directly related to Jews, even though those clauses preceded King Edward by many decades.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I'm enjoying the Jewish spiritual song. I didn't know William had brought over money lenders ... nor did I know even the basic history you've given us here. The Statute of Jewry ... the yellow felt badge - I feel ashamed that I'd never heard of the Yellow Badge ... as a badge of shame. I also knew nothing about the clauses in the Magna Carta ... you've really opened my eyes here ... to more - so look forward to part 2, and I'll be more aware in future. So interesting - thank you ... cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hels: I don't suppose that Edward l was very different from other Kings in those days. Humanity and compassion were in pretty short supply.

Magna Carta Clause 10.If anyone who has borrowed from the Jews any amount, large or small, dies before the debt is repaid, it shall not carry interest as long as the heir is under age, of whomsoever he holds; and if that debt falls into our hands [if the Jewish creditor dies and the king takes over his bonds], we will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

Clause 11. And if a man dies owing a debt to the Jews, his wife may have her dower [dowry] and pay nothing of that debt; and if he leaves children under age, their needs shall be met in a manner in keeping with the holding of the deceased, and the debt shall be paid out of the residue, saving the service due to the lords. Debts owing to other than Jews shall be dealt with likewise.

The fact that these were listed as numbers 10 and 11 among the 62 clauses indicates the importance of the consequences of Jewish loans to the barons. The solution was a freeze on interest payments, while the debt was only to be paid once appropriate living expenses had been guaranteed.

Another clause did not mention Jews by name, but next to these two, insisted that any debts should be paid out of liquid assets rather than land, a clear attempt to halt the king's acquisition of more territory through his Jews.

bazza said...

Hilary: William brought in Jewish money lenders not only for their financial expertise but because Christians were not allowed to charge interest on loans. So, until the rise of the Italian bankers, money-lending was an exclusively Jewish domain.

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, What a fascinating and edifying article. Your answers to Hels and Hilary helped to develop some of the issues at stake and the logic behind these early edicts. It seems that they welcomed Jews when they could bring money, but did not hesitate to abuse them when that became expedient.
--Jim

bazza said...

Jim: Thank you. It is a history that interests me greatly. Your point exactly nails the situation!

jenny_o said...

I did not know about any of this - thank you for the post and I look forward to part 2.

bazza said...

Jenny: Thanks for looking in! Part 2 should be ready in a week or so.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Thanks for sharing this. It's all new... and fascinating... to me. The more I learn, the more I realize I DON'T know. Thanks for filling in some of the gaps. Looking forward to part two.

bazza said...

Susan: I find that the best way to learn about something is to write a short piece about it. Over the years I have learned a lot from Blogs all over the world (and even my own one.)
I like knowing stuff...!