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Jews in Medieval England

I’m updating this post, in large part because of a comment a reader left about my use of the word ‘pogrom’ in Footsteps in Time, having not heard the word before. A ‘pogrom’ is defined as: “An organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group, especially one conducted against Jews.”  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Pogrom

Jews lived in England during the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods, but not as an organized community. This page states:  “When William the Conqueror arrived in England in 1066, he encouraged Jewish merchants and artisans from northern France to move to England. The Jews came mostly from France with some from Germany, Italy and Spain, seeking prosperity and a haven from anti-Semitism. Serving as special representatives of the king, these Jews worked as moneylenders and coin dealers. Over the course of a generation, Jews established communities in London, York, Bristol, Canterbury and other major cities. They generally lived in segregated areas by themselves.”

From the charter by King John (1201), for which he received 4000 marks:  “John, by the grace of God, &c. Know that we have granted to all the Jews of England and Normandy to have freely and honourably residence in our land, and to hold all that from us, which they held from King Henry, our father’s grandfather, and all that now they reasonably hold in land and fees and mortgages and goods, and that they have all their liberties and customs just as they had them in the time of the aforesaid King Henry, our father’s grandfather, better and more quietly and more honourably.”  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/kingjohn-jews.html

This goodwill, if it ever existed, had disintegrated by the time of Edward I of England (1239-1307).  As a king, he casts a long shadow over the thirteenth century and historians have generally viewed him favorably, in large part because they view his reign as good for England as a country (meaning he was stubborn, vibrant, and never backed down from a fight), if not anyone else.  But one of his most heinous acts, in addition to conquering Wales, was the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.

Edward, and his father before him, began with a series of pogroms designed to reduce their ability to secure a livelihood. He and his predecessors encouraged the Jews to become physicians, merchants, bankers, and traders but they were not allowed to own land. Through apprenticeship and education, which was of supreme importance to the Jewish community, many Jews accumulated a great deal of wealth, in disproportion to their routinely uneducated gentile counterparts. Of course, this engendered animosity among gentiles, who saw only the wealth, and not the effort to attain it.

Map of Jewish expulsions and resettlement areas in Europe. 1100-1500: http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/gallery/expuls.htm.

This did not stop the gentiles from borrowing money from the Jews, however, and Edward allowed the Jews in England to charge interest on loans. In turn, Edward would exact huge taxes from them.  As the taxes became more burdensome, it forced them to both raise the interest rates which they charged their debtors, and to call in those loans when taxed to excess. If the Jews refused to pay Edward, they were punished. In 1278, Edward arrested 600 Jewish men upon charges of coin clipping and hanged 270 of them. Edward then claimed their wealth for himself, to the tune of over 16,000 pounds. http://www.jewishhistory.org.il/history.php?startyear=1270&endyear=1279

That equaled 10% of the annual income of the entire realm. The money Edward took from the Jews compensated for the huge expenses involved in defeating Prince Llywelyn of Wales (see how this is all interconnected?).

Once Edward had taken all their money, he had no more use for them, and began to pass more laws restricting their activities. They had to wear specific clothing and badges, could not own land, practice money lending, join any guild or business, or pass on their assets to their children. In 1290, Edward completed his pogrom against the Jews and expelled them from England (although a few paid bribes in order to be allowed to stay). England is the first country in Europe to do this, though France and Germany follow suit in short order.

Which is why Spain had so many to persecute 200 years later during the Spanish Inquisition. And why, by 1935, millions of Jews lived in Poland, which welcomed them after the Black Death.

 

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