Wednesday, 7 December 2016

My research notes on "When Christ and His Saints Saints Slept"

I’ve long harboured a love of historical novels. More precisely, I love good historical novels. The work of people like Elizabeth Chadwick (whose novels are responsible for my love of medieval England), Sharon Penman, Bernard Cornwell, Hilary Mantel (especially her much underappreciated novel A Place of Greater Safety), C. J. Sampson, Simon Scarrow, Ben Kane, et. al. Consequently, when I was looking for a new research project, I thought it might be an idea (it remains to be seen whether it was a good one) to combine my love of medieval Anglo-Jewry and historical novels. More specifically, I was trying to establish how the Jews of medieval England had been represented in modern “popular” culture using historical novels as a starting point. Now I haven’t managed to obtain every book on my list, but by my count there are at least fifteen pertinent novels, and a number of key themes have emerged. For context, a recent essay exploring the Empress Matilda in historical novels could draw upon only three historical novels. I obviously cannot explore every facet of each novel in my paper – the only thing worse that writing such a document would be reading it! Therefore, I thought that I would use this blog to sketch out my thoughts and notes on the subject.  In this post I intend to discuss a novel which has only one scene (of only nine pages) in which Jews appear. The novel is When Christ and His Saints Slept, by Sharon Penman first published in 1994.[1] The novel itself, the first book of the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, centres on the Ranulf, a (fictional) bastard son of Henry I (r. 1100-1135) and his exploits during the so-called Anarchy. Although the book only contains one scene with the Jews,[2] this made such an impression on me that in my paper I juxtapose Penman against every other historical novelist (though I think it best not to say why here, you may be able to guess from what I have to say).

                Although short, a lot is packed into this scene. Most importantly, Ranulf meets Aaron and Josce, Jewish traders who are returning home to Bristol from Chester. Additionally, we are told that Aaron has a wife, Belaset, waiting at home for him and, rather quaintly, the pair have a dog called Cain. One things that I love most about this passage is its accuracy. Throughout the passage, Penman managed to intertwine a synthesis of the medieval Anglo-Jewish experience, with some general references and other explicit contemporary references, like that to the William of Norwich case. Equally, the approach which Penman adopts is not to represent the Jews as they were presented in contemporary chronicles but, rather, as they are viewed in the governmental records. Thus, Aaron and Josce are presented not as Jews but as Bristolians and English. At the very beginning of the passage, Ranulf is shocked meet Jews, and we know that the vast majority of Christians would never have met a Jew. Soon, however, they are just travellers with a common goal and I think that this is evident in the governmental records and in the work of scholars like Sarah Rees Jones. Of course, there are elements which are not congruous with the historical record. For example, Aaron and Josce are described as “Bristol-born and bred”.[3] Given that the only Jewish community in England until 1135 had been at London, however, it seems unlikely (though not impossible) that this could have been the case in 1148. Equally, the Jews are described as regularly being “accused of […] coin clipping, and sometimes suspected of profaning the Eucharist, stabbing the Host till it bled”.[4] Whilst these allegations would become staples of thirteenth century Jew hatred, they’re not something which I would consider in England during the twelfth century.

                I am loath to end on a negative point about this passage, however, even if I do not mean it as an attack, merely an observation. Therefore, I thought I would include a little bit on the influences that I detected. First, and this is the influence that I am less confident about, would appear to be Cecil Roth. Given the date that this book was published, 1994, there were remarkably few sources that Penman could have used which were accessible. I think, however, that I am right in saying that Cecil Roth (or somebody associated with his work) was one of the secondary sources used in researching this passage. This is not least because Penman makes use of Roth’s famous phrase which he used to describe the state of Anglo-Jewry during the reign of Henry III: the king’s “milch cow”.[5] The second, much more obvious, influence that I detected (I’m not sure I can take any credit given the obvious comparison) is Gerald of Wales’ Journey Through Wales.[6] There are a number of similarities between the two passages. First, in both the travellers are journeying through the Marches towards Shrewsbury. More significantly, however, the character of Josce in Penman’s text is evidently modelled on Gerald’s “witty Jew” and the two share the same razor sharp wit across the centuries.

With this project, I am not trying to be a historian condescending historical novelists but rather to see which themes have emerged in the popular imagination. Consequently, with my paper I shall not be considering historical accuracy or criticising novelists. Therefore, if any novelists who’ve written any pertinent to this project would be interested in chatting or even being interviewed for further insights then I would be enormously grateful. You can contact me via the following means:

·         E-mail:

·         Facebook: The “Towards a Bibliography of Medieval Anglo-Jewry” Facebook Group,

·         Twitter: @medievaljews.

[1] Sharon Penman, When Christ and His Saints Slept (London: Penguin Books, 1995).
[2] Penman, When Christ and His Saints Slept, pp. 602-610
[3] Penman, When Christ and His Saints Slept, p. 605.
[4] Penman, When Christ and His Saints Slept, p. 604.
[5] Penman, When Christ and His Saints Slept, p. 606; Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1964), chapter 3.
[6] Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales, ed. and trans. Lewis Thorpe (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), esp. pp. 204-205.

(Jewish) OTD: 7 November

I can only apologise for my absence over the last little while. I’ve been accumulating even more rejection letters in my continued attempts to find employment (if anybody has any suggestions then please do let me know), and trying to get a bit of my own writing done. I assure you it’s not lack of interest just lack of time.


Today we have a fairly interesting letter from the patent rolls. Ralph son of Richard le Greyne was apparently in a situation where he found himself accused of (or actually did) killing a Jew called Isaac son of Cresse. This was a common name so I’ve not been able to work out who it was just yet. What is interesting however is that Ralph then fled and, in accordance with the law, was outlawed. Thereafter, Ralph  (or probably more likely his friends and allies) sought intervene and allow him to return home “on condition that he make peace with the relatives of the said Jew, and stand his trial if any will proceed against him”. What I find fascinating about this account, and many others like it, is that the social niceties are being observed, and yet the Crown reserved the right to bring a case for the death of one of the “King’s Jews”.

Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Henry III, 1247-1258, ed. H. C. Maxwell-Lyte(London, 1908) p. 120.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 30 November

Never let it be said that I can’t make a Jewish connection to just about anything! Today is St. Andrews Day. Now obviously there were no Jewish communities in medieval Scotland, so how, you may ask, is that lunatic going to make a connection to this rather Scottish feast day? I would naturally answer: with an acknowledgement of debt, the same way I answer every other question. So, TNA E 210/35 is an acknowledgment by Henry “Wyte” son of William of the county of Buckingham (I never know whether that should be written as White in modern English – suggestions are welcome) of a debt 2 marks to Sampson son of Isaac. The record goes on to state that repayment was due on the feast of St. Andrew, includes the standard penalty clause and the date: 8 March 1263. There are two things I’d like to draw your attention to here. First, it was standard practice for the date of repayment to be specified as the liturgical date. This could be for various reasons: convenience, the fact that the date was significant in terms of the English administrative calendar (Michaelmas was far and away the most common, followed by Easter), or perhaps because of the significance of the Saint (e.g. dates relating to the Virgin Mary were common, which has an important English context). Second, based upon the handwriting I am fairly confident that this document was produced at the London archa by and archa scribe.

TNA E 210/35.

Monday, 28 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 28 November

Another acknowledgement of debt from The National Archives today. This one, TNA E 210/33, declares to “all that I” Henry White son of William, from the county of Buckinham, owed Sampson son of Isaac 40s (£2). This is followed by the repayment date, Pentecost 1264, followed by the standard penalty clause and finishes with the date, 28 November 1263.

TNA E 210/33

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Critical Information for Your "Dear Santa" Letter

Yes, it’s that time of year again. If you haven’t already, you will soon be writing your letter to Santa. You might be shocked to learn that my letter is always very Jewish, so I thought I’d give you some tips about what to include in your wish list this year.

Let’s be honest, 2016 has been pretty dismal. The nutters were put in charge of the asylum and, consequently, Britain will be leaving the European Union and Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States of America. Additionally, so many (so-called?) celebrities have died that when, on New Year’s Eve they do the list of those who have died in the previous year on the television, as they invariably do, the list will either be broadcast at warp speed, or they’ll have to start on 1 December. In terms of medieval Anglo-Jewry, that everybody has followed assiduously all year, however it’s been a pretty decent year. Here are the highlights in terms of books:

·         This year saw the publication of Judith Olszowy-Schlanger’s Hebrew and Hebrew-Latin Documents from Medieval England: A Diplomatic and Palaeographic Study. I think technically this was published in 2015, however, as far as I know it only became available in 2016, hence it is included here. It’s on the very pricey side but if you think you can get a copy from Santa then it’s more than worth it – every page contains a new nugget of information. If anybody wants to send me a copy of this then I would be elated as I no longer have access to a copy.

·         After so many years relying on the work of Edward Synan and Kenneth Stow, we’ve finally had a new history of the Papacy and the Jews this year. Published by Oxford University Press, Rebecca Rist’s Popes and Jews, 1095-1291, is a masterpiece which has much in it that relates directly or indirectly to the Jews of medieval England.

·         Just out in the last few weeks, Kati Ihnat’s book Mother of Mercy, Bane of the Jews: Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman England was published by Princeton University Press. I think it’s fair to say that this was one of my favourite books of the year. Of course, you don’t need Santa for this one, you can win a free copy from me if you hurry.

·         Finally, two books that I haven’t been able to get access to this year, but I’ve heard excellent things about are Kathy Lavezzo’s The Accomodated Jew: English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton, published by Cornell University Press, and Samantha Zacher’s edited collection, Imagining the Jew in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Culture, published by Toronto University Press. I’ve requested review copies of both of these books but, as yet, haven’t heard anything – if I do then I’ll upload a review as quickly as possible for you, dear reader.

It has also been a good year in terms of reprints. This is the point when people like me, who purchased the outrageously expensive hardback edition think, as Del Boy taught us, “What a plonker” I was. For you, dear reader, who had the common sense to wait, it means that these books are available at much more reasonable prices. The main books to look out for in this category are:

·         The proceedings of the York 2010 conference edited by Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts, published by Boydell and Brewer. This contains essays by some of the royalty of the medieval Anglo-Jewish historiograph, as well as some new scholars – notably Pinchas Roth, two paper by him on England should be published next year (which are epic).
·         Given my love of Jewish women, I have to include this volume published by Manchester University Press. Simha Goldin’s brilliant study of Ashkenazic women was published in paperback earlier this year and I love it (even if it just lumps in England): Jewish Women in the Middle Ages: A Quiet Revolution.

If none of those take your fancy then why not ask Santa for an IOU? There are some excellent book coming out next year so perhaps you might like to ask Santa to pre-order you one of these beauties:

·         Palgrave Macmillan will be publishing Julie Mell’s The Myth of the Jewish Moneylender in January (according to their website). I’ve been eagerly anticipating the publication of this two volume study since I first read the book over Christmas 2015.
·         In about March, Ruth Nisse’s book Jacob’s Shipwreck: Diaspora, Translation, and Jewish-Christian Relation in Medieval England, looks epic and I can’t wait to read it.
·         About June next year, Tales in Context: Sefer ha-ma’asim in Medieval Northern France will be published by Wayne State University Press, which I’ll be reviewing in early 2017.

·         Finally, at the very end of this year, the University of Pennsylvania Press will publish Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century, an edited collection which brings together some of my favourite historians, and which I’ve been promised a review copy of when it becomes available.

(Jewish) OTD: 26 November


As we have seen in this OTD feature, on 5 November 1290 Edward I had ordered that the archae were to be transported to Westminster. We know that this had been done by 26 November, by virtue of this document from The National Archives. For me this is one of the most important, and neglected, items in TNA’s collection. Indeed, I like it so much that I composed an entire PhD proposal around it (though I’m unlikely to actually to submit it). So each entry records the two Christian chirographers as well as the sheriff who accompanied the archae to Westminster, as well as the particulars of the “Old” and “New” archae which were transported. This is a really important point, for me, but I don’t want to say too much about it because I am currently writing a paper entitled “The archae Revisited” for a peer-reviewed journal which discusses this at length – I’ve set myself a deadline of 28 February 2017 for that so look out for it. From this document it is possible, as I do in my paper, to make a number of important conclusions relating to the scrutinies which were produced once the archae were at Westminster. I’m going to lie, this isn’t the prettiest of documents but, in many ways, it shares many characteristics with the scrutinies, as one would expect, so should be viewed in conjunction with them (and the Westminster Abbey Muniments collection) – as I do.

TNA E 101/249/29 

Friday, 25 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 25 November


We’ve already met Benedict, son of Licoricia, of Winchester in this OTD feature. Today, in an entry from the Close Rolls, we meet him again in the capacity of a moneylender. More specifically, this is an order concerning the debts of Peter of Falaise to Benedict. The order, addressed (as was customary) to the justices of the Jews, stipulated that the king wished to “aid” Peter, by the extension of Peter’s lands and the provision of reasonable terms of repayment. Moreover, the order ensured that Peter would keep his “chief messuage and a moiety of his lands”. This was a most favourable outcome for Peter, who could very well have lost all of his lands or had the debt sold to a Christian who could then have seized them for themselves.

Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Edward I, 1272-1279, ed. H. C. Maxwell-Lyte (London, 1900), p. 321.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 24 November

I am grateful to Mr Christopher Johnson for this superb OTD post. Johnson co-authored "Steep, Strait and High: Ancient Houses of Central Lincoln" with Stanley Jones (I have previously reviewed that volume). He is currently working on a full length study of the Lincoln Jewry, which is still in the research stage. 

Blood libel accusations in Lincoln 1255: the aftermath

24 November

The saga of the death of the boy Hugh in Lincoln is in several respects a well-documented episode in the history of the medieval Jewish community there. I should qualify that statement by referring it to the quantity rather than quality of the evidence from the public records, chronicles and later ballads. It has been examined several times by more recent historians, notably Sir Francis Hill[1], Gavin Langmuir[2], and more recently Professor David Carpenter[3]. There are however various aspects of the case that scream out for review, but for the purposes of this short piece I will introduce into evidence an entry from the Close Rolls[4] concerning the houses and chattels of those Jews of Lincoln who were hung and suffered confiscation as a result.

By this point in November 1255 the immediate dust had settled: Henry III paid a brief visit to Lincoln in the first week of October to agree the results of John of Lexington’s enquiry into the boy’s death. The King had been in Northumberland on family business, and had originally hoped to get back to London for the feast of St Edward the Confessor, but was delayed and therefore had not fully thought out the consequences of his actions in this case. During his brief stay in Lincoln he authorised the hanging of 18 Jews (Jacob just outside the city, and the others in London), and the transportation of a further 92 Jewish suspects to the Tower of London[5]. Justice was swift, but none too sure in all of this, and it is a not very strange coincidence that the chief suspect, ‘Copin’, whose admission of guilt had been extracted no doubt by torture, was in fact the wealthiest of the Lincoln Jews, Jacob son of Leo[6]; several of the others hung for the alleged offence were also leading members of the community.

Cash was therefore a strong motive, and it seems would assist the King in three ways: for one thing the chattels, i.e. book debts and personal wealth of those convicted would go to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to whom the King had already assigned the Jews and their chattels on a nationwide basis. Henry needed to pay for his various military excursions. Secondly, part of this (£172 8s 2d) would actually go to the Queen for her gold[7], which took precedence over Richard’s needs. Thirdly the King stood to gain personally from the sale of the Jewish properties, which under the terms of this Close Roll entry[8] would revert to the King.

The dirty work in all of this was hereby delegated to the Sheriff of Lincoln, with the assistance of the Mayor and Bailiffs of the city; the chirographers and their clerk would also have to get busy, by removing the necessary financial documents from the archa in their care[9].

The properties of those who were hung were duly appraised and in most cases sold. A few went to local people of note; one of these was the house of Josce of Colchester, situated on the corner of Micklegate and Brancegate (mod. High Street and Grantham Street), later to form part of the nice timber-framed hostelry we know as the Cardinal’s Hat[10]. Several other properties were kept handy to reward people who needed rewarding: not John of Lexington, however, as he was in disfavour (and that is certainly another story), but surprisingly a Jew who had previously been working for the Earl of Cornwall, a certain Hagin, son of Master Mosse. Two of the better houses were reserved for the use of the Earl, and another for Herman, the King’s assistant[11].


Just a quick note from me after Chris' excellent piece: In case you missed it yesterday, I'm running a competition with a copy of Kati Ihnat's new book, Mother of Mercy, Bane of Jews. For details see the previous blog entry.

[1] JWF Hill, Medieval Lincoln (CUP 1948),224 ff
[2] G Langmuir, ‘The Knight’s Tale of Young Hugh of Lincoln’ in Speculum 47 (1972)
[3] D Carpenter, ‘Crucifixion and Conversion: King Henry III and the Jews in 1255’ , Fine of the Month for January and February 2010,, accessed 9 April 2015
[4] Calendar of Close Rolls 1254-1256,241
[5] Ibid.,142,145
[6] C.Johnson and S.Jones, Steep, Strait and High: Ancient Houses of Central Lincoln, (Lincoln Record Society Occasional Publication 1: Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, 2016),56,62
[7] Calendar of Patent Rolls 1247-1258,451-2
[8] CClR 1254-1256,241
[9] ibid.,142,145,394
[10] Dean and Chapter A.1.10 (Welbourn Cartulary), no.50; Johnson and Jones op.cit.,128
[11] Calendar of Charter Rolls 1226-1257,460; CClR 1254-1256,285,311

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Competition: Win a Copy of Kati Ihnat's "Mother of Mercy, Bane of the Jews: Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman England"

One of the best books that I've read this year is Kati Ihnat's Mother of Mercy, Bane of the Jews: Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman Literature. Thanks to Princeton University Press, I now have a spare copy which I have permission to use a prize draw. If you want a chance to win this excellent book then it's really very simple.

The Competition:

I'm sure everybody is getting fed up of my ramblings so it's your chance to contribute to the blog (I've nicked this idea from Dr Levi Roach). All that you have to do is propose a review of a piece of primary or secondary literature relating to Jews and medieval England (c. 500 - c. 1500) and tell me why you've chose that piece. The best proposal gets the book and in return will supply the review that they've proposed.

The Rules:

The competition is open to anybody, but given my current situation if your postal address is outside of the UK, I will ask you to cover the postage and packaging costs. There will be no preferential treatment on the basis of letters after ones name, so students and members of the general public stand just as much of a chance.

How to Enter:

Please submit your proposal to me at by 18:00 on Sunday 27 November and I will announce the winner on Monday.

Good luck!

(Jewish) OTD: 23 November


After a brief divergence, we’re now back to my favourite document type: acknowledgements of debt. I think this document in particular illustrates some of the challenges of working on these documents. On the one hand, it is pretty well preserved, and was produced in a clear scribal hand. On the other hand, parts of the text have been rubbed off and are now illegible. I do wonder, however, it might be possible to use ultra violet light to recover the text. As a result of this, combined with my poor photography, I have had to use the catalogue entry for this item to support my reading.[1] The name of the debtor, Richard of Tinnewinneshell, is particularly difficult to decipher in the original record. Richard was acknowledging a debt of 10 marks to be repaid at Midsummer. The debt was owed to Manasser son of Aaron a Jew of London. This is interesting for two reasons. First, the debtor is identified as being of Bedford and was completing this transaction with a London Jew. Consequently, it would seem that the former had to make the trip to the latter – not least upon the basis of the handwriting. Second, Manasser was a prominent member of the London community, who had previously served as chirographer until his business activities had meant that he did not have enough time for that office. The document goes on to say that the debt was to be repaid on the nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Here is one of the reasons that I loathe the catalogue entries: this date was recorded as “Midsummer” there. In some ways this is a moot point given that both occur on 24 June, but it’s the principal of the matter. The debt then goes on to include the conventional details of a penalty clause and date of repayment. On the reverse is the comment that Richard also owed two quarters of corn at the same time.

TNA E 210/276

[1] Catalogue of Ancient Deeds Contained: Volume 3, ed. H. C. Maxwell-Lyte (London, 1900), available online at accessed on 22 Nov. 2016.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

New Link: Pinchas Roth's lecture at the Making EME Conference

I've updated the "Links" page to include this excellent paper from the brilliant Pinchas Roth: Enjoy!

(Jewish) OTD: 22 November

One of the first entries that I did for this feature related to the supposed forced circumcision of Odard son of Benedict in Norwich. That entry was from 1235, today we have another entry from the Fine Rolls, coming from the previous year. On 22 November 1234, according to the dating of the Fine Rolls of Henry III Project, detailing that the accused Jews were to be brought before the king for trial “15 days from Hilary in the nineteenth year” [28 January], the Jews having paid 100 marks (£66 13s 4d) for respite of judgement. There is an important context here. The Jews of Norwich had already been subject to a hearing before the Justices of the Jews as the monks of Norwich priory earlier in 1234. During these proceedings, the Jews had been found guilty. Consequently, the king’s decision was required in the case. Thereafter, the Jews were imprisoned in August 1234 and, as Vivian Lipman noted in the Pipe Rolls, agreed to pay 100 marks for recite of the king’s justice. Therefore, this Fine is clearly making reference to that agreement. Interestingly, or at least it's interesting to me given that I'm working on the role of the Tower of London in the lives of medieval Jews, one of the Jews arrested was first imprisoned in the Tower before being transferred to Norwich. [1] 

"Fine Rolls of Henry III Project", accessed on 22 November 2016.

[1] Vivian D. Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich (London, 1967), pp. 59-63.

Monday, 21 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 21 November

My apologies for my absence over the weekend with regards to the OTD feature. As I’m sure that you can imagine, it takes up quite a lot of my time and I needed to get some of my own research done.


In a series of entries in the Patent Rolls dated 21 November 1265, a number of grants were made not to interfere in Jewish debts. We have already seen this type of order, so I don’t need to go into the context again. The first grant was made to Benedict of Lincoln, granting that the Crown would not interfere in debts which were owed to him by a number of named individuals. Following on from this, the same terms were granted to Josce (Joseph) nephew of Aaron and his son Benedict, Magister Mosse, Auntera daughter of Jacob (this appears in the male in the published version but I think the name is feminine) and Manasser son of Aaron of London. In the case of Manasser, another series of debtors are named.

Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office:  Henry III, 1258-1266, ed. H. C. Maxwell-Lyte (London, 1910), p. 510.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

[#59] Kati Ihnat, Mother of Mercy, Bane of the Jews: Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman England (Princeton, 2016).

I am grateful to Princeton University Press for providing me with a review copy of this book. It is available to purchase via their website here. Given that Princeton University Press very kindly sent me a review copy, I felt that it was only proper to produce a more comprehensive review than I might otherwise have done, so I feel I must earn my keep.

At its peak in 1200 the medieval Anglo-Jewish community numbered around five thousand individuals. In the century prior to the accession of Henry II (r. 1154-1189), however, the Jewish population would have been considerably smaller. There are no estimates of the size of the Jewish population at this point but, given that Jews had only begun to arrive in England after 1066, it is hard to envision a population of more than a couple of hundred (at most). In contrast, it has been estimated that the Christian population between 1100 and 1200 was perhaps 1.5-2 million people. Consequently, most Christians would never have met a Jew. Therefore, their conception of a “Jew” would have a been a construction, assembled by the Church and disseminated to the population. In this magnificent tome, Mother of Mercy, Bane of the Jews: Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman England, Kati Ihnat explores that construction in relation to the cult of the Virgin Mary in England. As Ihnat elucidates in the introduction, Mary was a “universal saint” in England during this period. She could appeal to men as well as women, was an important figure for the Chruch (particularly those reformists who endorsed chastity) and secular society, and was not just perceived as an intercessor but was also a powerful Saint in her own right (and according to Eadmer of Canterbruy may even have superseded her son in prominence). In this book, Ihnat sets out to explore the development of the cult of the Virgin Mary in England between 1066 and 1153, and bases her argument primarily upon Benedictine sources, by necessity of survival. Moreover, Ihnat does not seek to “[look] for the ‘real Jews’ behind their fictional counterparts [which] is a trap, for the sources examined in this book are not historical records but instead tools for religious practices”. This is a really important point because all too often we have been subjected to discourses which assume that because Jews were present in England at the time, literary sources must be treated as reflecting that. As was the case with Marian literature in medieval England, this book is one of contrasts. It contrasts expressions of devotion to Mary with attacks upon the Jews who refused to believe.

                In Chapter One, Ihnat discusses devotion to Mary in medieval England, both in public and in private. This discussion is divided three contextual sections, before considering the role the representation of Jews in that literature in the final section. The first two sections are concerned with the role of Mary within the liturgy. Section one we are introduces us to the feasts of Mary’s Conception and Presentation at the Temple. In particular, Ihnat focuses upon the Conception, tracing it from the pre-Conquest period, to its (brief) suppression in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, and the revival by the early twelfth century. Additionally, Ihnat also explores the significance of two of the key proponents of the feast of the Conception: Anselm abbot of Bury St. Edmunds and Osbert de Clare, of Westminster. This latter figure, who appears to have been a colourful character, was particularly important, not only because a number of his liturgical writings survive, but also because he was a key figure in the establishment of the cult of St. Anne in England. Feast days are all very well and good but they only come once a year. Consequently, section two discusses how Mary retained her preeminent position in England during this period though the adoption of daily and weekly liturgical offices relating to Mary. Here, Ihnat paints a similar picture as in the feast days. Prior to the Conquest, daily and weekly Marian offices emerged, being stifled in the immediate aftermath of the Normans, before resurging by the early decades of the twelfth century. The final expression of devotion to Mary which Ihnat discusses is prayer, which is focus of section three. As she points out, this is a more problematic aspect of study because whilst the previous two sections had explored areas which were explicitly public. It does not, however, follow that prayer was inherently private. Indeed, during the period covered by this book prayer was likely to be public as well. Regardless, with the same level of precision which was demonstrated previously, Ihnat outlines that this was the period in which the ave Maria became solidified in English custom. She also outlines the role of Anselm, future Archbishop of Canterbury, and Eadmer of Canterbury in establishing Marian prayers, as well as a particularly intriguing section on pictorial representations of the Virgin.  Finally, chapter one concludes by situating the Jews within this context. Two things came out of this for me. First, the extent to which anybody who opposed any aspect of Mary’s narrative could be “tarred… with the Jewish brush”. Second, it becomes apparent that attacks on the Jews were cumulative, and at particular times of the year, such as Advent, could increase in severity.

                The model which was used so effectively by Ihnat in Chapter One is replicated in the following chapter. That is, the initial sections provide the vital context, before finally bringing in the way in which Jews were integrated is discussed.  Chapter Two explores the ways in which devotion to the Virgin Mary was articulated and expressed in England during this period, by focusing upon the key aspects of Mary’s life. Thus, in sections one and two, which focus upon the Incarnation, championed by Anslem (future Archbishop), and the Conception, written about by both Eadmer and Osbert (see above), respectively, we are treated to a wonderful exposition of how these events emerged and were portrayed in England during this period. Similarly, the work of William of Malmesbury and Honorius Augustodunensis are discussed in relation to Assumption. Moreover, this section also includes a particularly successful section on the use of imagery. In concluding, Ihnat considers the way in which Conversion was intertwined into the work of the aforementioned writers, and how the theme was to become an integral element of this style of writing.

                I shall treat the following two chapters together. This is partly as a result of the fact that I am rapidly running out of words, but also because they share the same source base. Chapter Three, explores the emergence and development of hagiographies and miracle stories relating to Mary. Miracle collections in particular were long viewed with suspicion by historians, but the work of scholars like Simon Yarrow and Matthew Mesley has demonstrated that this cannot only be an important source, but also can be used to study representations of Jews. Here we see that such narratives did not emerge in isolation but, rather, in conjunction with many of the texts that we have already been introduced to. The fourth, and final, chapter is most easily described as the piéce de résistance of the book. In a work of such exceptional scholarship, it is no mean feat that in this final chapter Ihnat managed to exceed even her own standards. In a chapter devoted to the role of Jews in miracle tales, however, we are introduced to something which can only be described as “practically perfect in every way”. Commencing with a brief exploration of the origins of this relationship, Ihnat then regales us with an exploration of manifestations of the legend of Theophilus. I think that this section is so successful because this legend has attracted a lot of attention in vernacular literature, for example in Adrienne Williams Boyarin’s superb Miracles of the Virgin, but here we see the Latin equivalent. Following on from this, we are introduced to the legend of the Jewish boy who is thrown into an oven by his angry father, only to be saved by the intervention of Mary. Thereafter, several more prominent themes of Marian miracle tales are explored. This chapter is a triumph not only because of the skill in which these narratives are explored, but also because of the significant themes which emerge in the portrayal of the Jews.

For me, this book is little short of magnificent for four reasons (or rather for four reasons which I am going to explain here – we would be here until Judgement Day if I were to discuss everything I liked). First, most books of this type focus upon one type of source. In contrast, Ihnat explores “Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman England” in its many facets, through the guise of multiple sources, thereby presenting something approaching a complete picture. Second, each form of “Devotion” is explored fully before considering how Jews were woven into that picture. Third, some historians are good at presenting what others have argued, but abysmal at expressing their own viewpoint. This can make it difficult to work out what the historian is actually arguing. In contrast, Ihnat’s book is the epitome of clarity. There is an argument which runs throughout the book, as well as individual chapters, but also she responds to what other historians have argued and that means that reading this book is not like pulling teeth to get the historians viewpoint. Fourth, and finally, Ihnat combines the study of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman England with the representation of Jews in relation to that. Who doesn’t want to read about that? As far as I can tell, that’s a marriage made in heaven!

To conclude, when you read a lot of academic history books, you grow to expect them to exude quality. All historians should be able to use sources critically, conduct extensive research using both primary and secondary sources, and present an argument which they think is convincing and fits the evidence. Consequently, it can be difficult to distinguish a good book from a great one. This is, of course, exceptionally subjective. For me however, a great book must do the things that I have just outlined to the highest possible level, but by its very definition must also do something more. It should leave the reader with a sense of joy at having taken the time to read such an exceptional scholarship and a minor sense of disappointment at having come to the end of the  journey with that particular book (for the present at least). It goes without saying that great books are much rarer in academic circles – particularly if you are as pedantic as me – but Ihnat’s book certainly fits the bill. I was genuinely saddened to finish this book and delayed reading the conclusion for a day so as to prevent the imminent end arriving. I suppose that it the occupational hazard of combining the highest calibre of research, argument and writing into a single book: the reader is always going to want more, and call for an encore. At two-hundred pages (or as near as makes no difference) this is not, by any means, a short book. If, however, the next one could be doubled I was be elated! I admit that that is a caviller use of hypocrisy given that I have to be all but tied to my desk when producing academic writing but it’s my blog so I can say that.

Friday, 18 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 18 November


Pick up any social history of medieval Northern European (Ashkenaz) Jewry, and sooner or later you’ll come across the statement that next to no evidence survives from England which attests to the social history of Anglo-Jewry. This is half true: there is very little Hebrew evidence. In the governmental rolls however, we have a considerable number of entries which allow us to infer the situation. This is particularly the case of the Patent Rolls during the reigns of both Henry III (r. 1216-1272) and Edward I (r. 1272-1307). In a particularly interesting entry dated 18 November 1238 from the Fine Rolls, we gain a glimpse of Jewish inheritance practices. In Christian society during this period it was conventional for the eldest male heir to inherit, and move to multiple inheritors only in the case of females. Jewish inheritance practices, however, were slightly different. It was conventional for the male heirs, in the first instance, to pay the fine of one third of the deceased’s estate. In this entry Aaron of York, presbyter iudeorum (who we’ve already met), and his brother Benedict agreed to pay a fine of £100 to inherit the estate of their brother Samuel. Both Benedict and Samuel are identified as the sons of Josce, and Aaron was as well though it is not noted in the record, and I think it is pausing briefly on this point. In the older scholarship you’ll find it stated that the brothers were the sons of Josce of York, who died in the York massacre of 1190. This argument comes from Michael Adler and is particularly problematic given that Josce appears in the records of the early thirteenth century alongside his sons. It is now known that Josce, was from Lincoln, as were his sons. Thereafter, Aaron transplanted to York, to be followed as his wealth grew by his father and brothers. I mention this because in a few books and articles that I’ve read in recent months, Adler’s argument has been promulgated. Strictly speaking, if we assume that this was one third the value of Samuel’s estate then this would put its total value at £300. The fact is, however, that in many instances we simply cannot begin to estimate the total size of any Jewish inheritance. These problems are exacerbated by Aaron’s connections at court, which make it possible that the Aaron was able to secure. In any event, the £100 fine was to be paid in instalments of £20 per annum (£10 respectively at Easter and Michaelmas). What is interesting, however, is the final part of the entry, detailing the provision for Samuel’s wife. Typically, she is not named. It seems fairly certain, however, that she and Samuel had no children given that his brothers paid the inheritance fine. When she had married Samuel, a ketubah would have been drawn up, detailing such things as her dowry, so it was a fairly simple matter to assign the appropriate properties / chattels. What I am always struck by is that in this respect it would be better to think of English women rather than differentiating between Jews and Chrsitians because Magna Carta, and its reiterations, had provided for the same thing. I also wonder whether this provision for the speedy assignment of the wife's dowry was a nod to Jewish tradition or an echo of Magna Carta - it's something of a mute point given that either way these were expected but it is interesting to wonder.

“Henry III Fine Rolls Project”, available online at accessed on 17 Nov. 16.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 17 November


During the twelfth century, the English coinage was among the best in Christendom. By the final decades of the thirteenth century, however, the coinage had been considerably debased. One of the obvious ways in which this was done was through the process of coin clipping. This might seem like a novel concept in the modern world where all of our coins are quite substantive. In contrast, medieval coins had to be thin enough to cut into legitimate segments (for when what you wanted to purchase cost, for example, only half a penny). This has obvious implications for the coinage when the value is directly proportionate to the weight of the coins in question. Consequently, Edward I set about remedying the situation. In usual tactful manner, he ordered a clampdown on coin clipping, and dealt with the culprits severely. Innevitably, the investigations quickly focused upon the Jews – they had long been associated with the coinage and the trade in precious metals, and people with an axe to grind against them, duly did so. This culminated in the trials of 1278-1279. I’ll go into the full implications of these trials, which Suzanne Bartlet described as a “coin clipping pogrom”, in a future entry. Suffice it to say here, however, Zefira Entin Rokeah traced fifty-seven instances where a Jews’ property had been forfeited on account of their having been found guilty. This provides the background to this entry in the Patent Rolls, dated 17 November 1279. The order appoints men in York, Lincoln, Stamford and Warwick to sell the houses of those Jews whose properties had defaulted to the Crown. There are quite a few names, so you, dear reader, can look them up at your leisure. I would, however, like to draw your attention two individuals. The first is Hugh of Kendal. He can only be described, in the vein of Terry Jones, as “a very naughty boy”. He was heavily involved in the investigations into coin clipping, until it was eventually realised that many innocent Jews were probably being implicated. Additionally, at the time of the Expulsion he was appointed to dispose of all the Jewish houses in England – as a result of a bit of dodgy dealing in which he sought to line his own pockets he became involved in a couple of scandals. The second figure is Hamo Hauteyn, a leading Jew who was complicit in this act.

Robin R. Mundill, “The Jewish entries from the Patent Rolls, 1272-1292”, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), pp. 64-65.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 16 November


An acknowledgement of debt, by its very nature, was not intended to be preserved for posterity. They were simply there to record a moneylending transaction. Consequently, the condition of many of these documents is less than pristine. We see that with this document dated 16 November 1262. There is what appears to be, from my photograph, water damage in the upper quadrants of the document, as well as a tear to the parchment, which makes part of the document illegible. That doesn’t present too much of a problem given the formulaic nature of these documents. The document would have commenced with the phrase “Sciant universi quod ego”. The name of the debtor is then missing but “de Aswelle” does survive, as does his rank: knight. An interesting point (or at least a point which is interesting to me given my obsession with mapping debt) is that the county (comitatus)from which the debtor originated is also included. In this case it is Hertfordshire, and this was an important point to record from the Crown’s perspective – i.e. in order to trace. The debt was to Manasser son of Aaron, who we’ve already met in this blog feature, for 20 marks (viginti marcum). Then follows the standard material: the date of repayment, All Saints Day 1263 (festum onmium sancti), the penalty clause, and the date upon which the transaction was done.

TNA E 210/34.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 15 November


The Jews of medieval England have long been described as “the King’s Jews”. Whilst Julie Mell may have recently challenged the concept of serfdom, it cannot be denied that the Crown certainly used the Jews to its advantage. One of the ways that it did this was by granting individual Jews to members of the royal family (and from researching the OTD feature I think leading nobles also). These were the “personal Jews” of the individual. On the one hand the Jew got the protection of their patron, on the other hand all of their goods and properties technically belonged to the patron. This was not a theoretical relationship – if the Jew failed to prove profitable patrons had no problems seizing goods, debts and properties. One such personal Jew was Aaron son of Vives. Aaron was a particularly interesting figure, and I look forward to introducing you to him in future entries. For our purposes, however, it is sufficient to say that Edmund Crouchback, second son of Henry III, acknowledged his patronage of Aaron in 1265. This relationship continued into the following decade as this order from 15 November 1275 testifies. The letter starts by outlining the relationship between Edmund and Aaron, and stating that Edward I had reiterated Henry III’s grant of the latter to the former. Thereafter, it goes on to say that everything of Aaron’s belonged to Edmund so nobody should interfere with it. Finally, and most interestingly, the order concludes by saying that “all matters concerning him and needing judicial examination shall be heard and determined before the king and the said Edmund”. For all that the granting of a “personal Jew” might seem barbaric to a modern audience, this last point was vital. It effectively meant that Aaron would not be tried by the Justices of the Jews but by the King and his brother. Time and again, the records reveal that “personal Jews” had been protected by their patrons in such cases – including in a case of murder and desecrating the image of the Virgin Mary in a lavatory. As a result, this clause made the status quo beneficial for the Jew in question – they could earn for themselves as well as their patrons and have a powerful patron should it become necessary.

Robin R. Mundill, “The Jewish entries from the Patent Rolls, 1272-1292”, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), pp. 64-65.

Monday, 14 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 14 November


One of the things that I love about doing this (Jewish) OTD feature is sharing my research. I’m not going to sit here pretending that I have an in-depth knowledge of every document I present. I don’t. Most of the time I know a little bit about the context of a document, or the narrative which it formed part of. Thereafter, I must quickly scramble through books and articles in the hopes of finding something interesting to say. In the case of today’s entry, however, that is not necessary. Having worked quite a lot over the last few months on the moneylending activities of Hagin son of Master (magister) Moses, to whom this document relates, I can tell you about it from memory. Hagin was an important Jew in thirteenth century London, and between 1258 and his death in 1281 he occupied the position of presbyter iudeorum. We have already encountered this office in relation to Aaron of York, so I shan’t repeat myself but I would like to pause for a moment on Hagin’s patronym. His father, Moses, is labelled as a magister. This is somewhat difficult to explain what this Latin term means. The simplest definition, however, is a communal leader – not necessarily a rabbi – thus, Elias was an expert in Jewish Law. The records of Hagin’s moneylending activities are extensive (including a number acknowledgements of debt which you’ll find out about in due course). This grant in the Close Rolls from 1265, however, details that the Crown would not interfere with any loans to a number of names individuals “or other his debtors are bound to him in the realm”, for a period of five years. In essence the Crown was acknowledging that it would not seize, pardon, or otherwise interfere with Hagin’s transactions, as was relatively common during this period.

Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Henry III, 1258-1266, ed. and trans. H. C. Maxwell Lyte (London, 1910), 505.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 13 November


A lot of mythology surrounds Eleanor of Castile. In many ways she is portrayed as the Guinevere to Edward I’s Arthur (ignoring the whole Lancelot thing). What this hides, however, is that Eleanor was an incredibly astute business woman. In particular, she was a prominent figure in the trade of debts to Jews. Consequently, she earned the admission of such figures of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a little rhyme emerged around her: “The king desires to get our gold | the queen, our manors fair to hold”. A particularly vociferous business woman, when she had control of a debt she would usually demand repayment from the debtor or take control of the surety given for the debts which was usually land in the case of larger transactions (i.e. “our manors fair”). Whilst Eleanor was not unique in this respect, I can’t think of a single figure who comes even remotely close to her level. Eleanor did not only purchase debts, however, but rather used her relations with her husband to secure grants of debts. That is what four letters in the Close Rolls for 13 November 1275 detail. They each take the form of orders to the Justices of the Jews. The first, details that John de Burgh’s [de Burgo] (grandson of Hubert de Burgh) debts to all Jews in England were to be granted to Eleanor. This demonstrates perfectly Eleanor’s business savvy because de Burgh’s lands focused in Norfolk, close to some lands granted to Eleanor in her dowry, which suggests that this was targeted to strengthen and expand her holdings there.[1] Similarly, Eleanor had land holdings in Kent, so the fact that the second order is virtually the same in relation to Stephen de Leyburn, who had lands centred around Chatham in Kent suggests that the same thing was going on.[2] The third order is a little bit more complicated than the first two. It details that the debts which Edward had granted to Eleanor which Norman d’Arcy (de Arcy) were to be removed from the archa. Whilst it is possible that this was another strategic move, the fact that d’Arcy had gotten into a fair bit of trouble the previous decade for murder and rebellion could also mean that these were taken as payment for the king’s Grace and subsequently regranted to Eleanor.[3] Finally, the fourth letter relates to a specific debt of £450 owed by Stephen Cheindut to Manasser son of Aaron. This was an enormous sum, given that the average debt was for under £5. Whilst I’ve been unable to trace Stephen fully, I have come across him quite a few times before in terms of debts owed to different Jews. Ordinarily, it would be difficult to trace Manasser given that it was a fairly common name. The size of the transaction, however, rules out a lot of the obvious candidates. Consequently, I must tentatively conclude that this refers to Manasser son of Aaron, a Jew of London who was formerly a chirographer of London and who, during this period, conducted a number of large transactions.[4]

Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Edward I, 1272-1279, ed. and trans. H. C. Maxwell Lyte (London, 1900), p. 221.

[1] Sara Cockerill, Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen (Stroud, 2014).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Paul Dalton, “Darcy family”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at accessed on 12 Nov. 16.
[4] Discussed in Joe Hillaby, “London: the 13th-century Jewry revisited”, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), p. 126.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 12 November


Today we have two letters from the Close Rolls. Although I am now only doing one document per day, given that these two appear side by side, are dated on the same day, and relate to the same individual, I feel that it is only proper to keep them together. The orders start out fairly conventionally, addressed as they are to the Justices of the Jews and also to William de Middleton. Middleton was a fairly experienced royal administrator and had worked closely upon Jewish affairs. Additionally, de Middleton was a churchman. In the month prior to the issue of these orders, he had been appointed archdeacon of Canterbury and three years later would be consecrated as the bishop of Lincoln.[1] The orders themselves relate to Benedict of Winchester, son of Licoricia of Winchester, who is famous for having been made a guildsman (among other things). The first entry is a little bit complicated by virtue of all of the names. The basic gist of it, however, is that Benedict’s wife, Floria le Blund had inherited some debts from her first husband, Solomon l’Eveske. Floria had also died prior to the issue of these letters, but before she did so she had granted the debts originally owed to Solomon to Eleanor of Castile (wife of Edward I). Consequently, this order details that where Benedict had originally been tallaged £22 2s 2d in relation to these debts, this sum was now to be acquitted. As one final point in this document, Eleanor then granted the debts to Benedict.

                The second order is much easier to understand. It details that Benedict was indebted to the Crown for the sum of £25, in relation to such things as fines and outstanding tallage payments. Consequently, it order the Justices of the Jews and William de Middleton to “retain” £25 worth of “more clear debts”. This just means that those debts of Benedict’s which could realise this sum easily were to be taken into the hands of the Crown. Thereafter, Benedict was to be acquitted of the specified sum.

Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Edward I, 1272-1279, ed. and trans. H. C. Maxwell Lyte (London, 1900), p. 221.

[1] Christopher Harper-Bill, “Middleton, William”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at accessed on 11 Nov. 16.