Friday, 30 September 2016

The Sources for the Study of Medieval Anglo-Jewish Moneylending Activities (Part 1).

The occasion of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887 was celebrated by a plethora of public events. Among these was the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, hosted primarily at the Royal Albert Hall between April and June of that year. One of the expressed aims of the Exhibition was ‘[t]o determine the extent of the materials which exist for the compilation of a History of the Jews in England’.[1] Next year, 2017, will make the 130th anniversary of the Exhibition and I passionately believe that it is time to revisit this objective. I think this for two main reasons. First, whilst the sources which were brought to light to by the Exhibition, for the medieval period, have underpinned the historiography ever since, in the last decade or so historians have begun using new sources, or using old sources in new ways, to bring a new dimension to scholarship. I became acutely aware of this when in my time working under the guidance of Dr Robin Mundill. We were both passionate about studying medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities but we approached the study in totally different ways: he would focus in on specific sources which could relate the specific details of moneylending transactions, whilst I included these sources a whole lot more besides. In areas of literature, the law, gender and more, exactly the same debates have been occurring, and a new generation of scholars (and me) are challenging the dichotomy of medieval Anglo-Jewish studies in way which I firmly believe will shape the discipline for the next 130 years. Second, since the mid-1980s the discipline of medieval Anglo-Jewish studies has experienced a period of increased, and sustained, interest, to the point where it now features regularly in undergraduate courses, and even in high school courses and museum exhibitions (for example, the ‘Blood’ exhibition at the London Jewish Museum). I am enormously concerned, however, about the sustainability of such growth because of how accessible to field is to the novice. I was very lucky to have been introduced to the sources and the field by a leading expert in the field, but not everybody is so fortunate. A major factor which I think could seriously retard further growth is a lack of a comprehensive introduction of the sources for each aspect of the discipline.

Consequently, when I was reading one of the Routledge ‘Guides to Using Historical Sources’, I began contemplating what such a guide would look like for medieval Anglo-Jewish studies. I selected a number of the most important sources and themes which I would include in such a volume (and the historians who I would love to write them). Now I am not remotely qualified to discuss most of these themes. In the case of moneylending, however, I know as much about the sources for this area as anybody. Given that it is highly unlikely that a publisher would react favourably to such a proposal, however, I thought that I would produce a guide to the sources of moneylending for this blog. I have made two decisions in advance. First, this will not be done all at once, but will be done in stages – to make it manageable for readers. Second, wherever possible I will make use of English translations, or failing that Latin transcriptions as opposed to manuscript sources – so that readers can follow at their own pace, should they be so inclined. As a result, this should very much be treated as a first go at this task, and I will, in all likelihood, refine the sections for inclusion in a final document subsequently. Just as a final point, I will produce a final conclusion at the end rather than at the end of each section, so the pieces are not unfinished, they merely run on from each other.

*             *             *

The Sources of Medieval Anglo-Jewish Moneylending, 1:1 – Regulation

Moneylending was one of the most heavily regulated aspects of medieval Anglo-Jewish life. From the end of the twelfth-century onwards, the Crown dictated how debt was to be recorded, where it was to be stored, how much interest could be charged (if at all), and where disputes should be dealt with. Additionally, the Crown could periodically take debts as fines. As a result, we know quite a lot about the way in which medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending were intended to function from a theoretical. Therefore, this section will consider the ways in which the Crown sought to regulate this aspect of Anglo-Jewish life and what the implications were for Jewish moneylending more generally. In essence, this section will trace the Crown’s attempts to legislate Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities during this period.

The earliest extant sources which allow historians to glimpse the nature of the Jews’ relationship with the Crown are the charters which were issued by Kings Richard I (r. 1189-1199) and John (r. 1199-1216) in 1190 and 1201 respectively. Regrettably, these say remarkably little on the issue of moneylending. The only thing that they do say is that in legal disputes about debt, it would be the Jewish creditor who must prove the debt, and the Christian debtor the interest.[2] Given that these documents purport to be reiterations of a charter issued to the Jews by Henry I (r. 1100-1135), it would seem reasonable to reflect that this reflected the custom of the twelfth century. An additional piece of legislation which was issued during the reign of Richard I provide us with a much more significant glimpse into the Crown’s attempts to regulate Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities. The ‘Form of Pleas’ issued in 1194, probably by Hubert Walter, includes a section of regulations which Jewish financiers were to adhere to. These stipulated that debts should be recorded upon a bipartite chirograph (discussed in 1.2), with one part, sealed by the debtor, being retained by the creditor, with the second part being deposited in one of the archa which were to be established at individual locations. Additionally, this legislation stated that chirographers, or administrators, should be appointed to each archa (two Jews, two Christians, and two scribes). These chirographers, or as many as were available, were to be present when debts were produced and that three pence should be paid (half by the creditor and half by the debtor) – two pence to the scribes and one penny to the clerk who entered the particulars of the transaction onto a roll.[3] Also, in 1201, King John stipulated that whilst the majority of internal matters could be settled by the Jewish legal system, cases involving Christians (including those over moneylending) were to be heard by the Justices of the Jews, which set the precedent for the thirteenth century.[4] As will be seen in future sections, this means that the records of the Exchequer of the Jews are particularly rich in cases involving medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending.

                The 1194 regulations were conspicuously silent upon the topic of interest, however. This would, however, come to dominate attempts to regulate Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities. Famously, chapters ten and eleven of Magna Carta sought to protect underage heirs from the accumulation of interest, and widows’ inheritance.[5] Historians have traditionally discounted these clauses on the basis that the chapters were omitted from every subsequent reissue of Magna Carta. There were, however, echoes of Magna Carta throughout the thirteenth century. For example, chapter five of the Statute of Merton (1235), again stipulated that interest should not accrue upon debts which fell into the hands of minors – though this was speaking in general terms rather than specifically about Jews.[6] Interest also comes to the fore in the legislation of the thirteenth century. In the Statute of the Jewry (1233), the Crown limited the interst which could be charged by the Jews to two pence in the pound per week. Additionally, this Statute also stipulated records of debt should be produced in a tripartite, rather than a bipartite, format, with the additional part being retained by the creditor.[7] The next significant piece of Anglo-Jewish legislation, the Provisions of the Jewry (1253) did not explicitly refer to moneylending, however, it appears to implicitly support the activity with the opening phrase ‘no Jew [shall] remain in England unless he do the King service’. In other words, unless Jews were engaged in an activity which was profitable to the Crown, as moneylending was given that the profits could be taxed or the debts seized, then they were out.[8] Subsequently, in 1269, another document entitled the Provisions of the Jewry, outlawed the practice of fee debts, or debts which charged an annual fee in perpetuity. Additionally, the Provisions placed a moratorium upon Jews selling debts to Christians without a licence.[9] This was a particularly vicious aspect of the thirteenth century moneylending market because whereas a Jew could not hold the land which was used as surety, if they sold it on to a Christian then that person could demand immediate repayment or take the land. Equally, through this system a debtor might well find him/herself indebted to a great lord or lady, putting them in a much more difficult position.

                 Perhaps the most famous piece of legislation which sought to regulate medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities was the Statute of the Jewry (1275), issued by Edward I (r. 1272-1307). With this piece of legislation, the Edwardian government placed a moratorium upon Jewish usurious activities.[10] There has been a great deal of debate within the historiography as to whether this was adhered to. Certainly, Edward I stated that it had not been in a letter dated 5 November 1290 (just days after the Expulsion).[11] Within the context of understanding the sources, and the environment in which they were produced, however, it is enough to simply know that the Crown outlawed the Jewish practice of lending money at interest. Where the historiographical debates do matter, however, is in relation to the final major piece of legislation which relates to the Jews: the Articles Touching the Jewry (late 1270s). This legislation reintroduced a limited form of usury for Jewish transactions.[12] There is, however, debate as to whether this legislation was ever enacted – Paul Brand would argue that it was, whilst Robin Mundill argued that this was only a draft. As a consequence, it is clear that throughout the thirteenth century, at least, medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities, and the sources, cannot be understood in isolation but, rather, must be considered in relation to the Crown’s attempts to regulate that activity.

[1] Joseph Jacobs and Lucien Wolf, Catalogue of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1887), p. vii.
[2] Robert Chazan, Church, State and Jew in the Middle Ages (New York: Behrman, 1980), pp. 66-69; J. M. Rigg, Select Pleas, Starrs, and Other Records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, A.D. 1220-1284 (London: Bernard Quaritch), pp. 1-2.
[3] Harry Rothwell, English Historical Documents: 1189-1327 (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1975), pp. 305-306.
[4] Rigg, Select Pleas, pp. 2-3.
[5] J. C. Holt, Magna Carta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3, 2015), p. 383.
[6] English Historical Documents, p. 351.
[7] English Historical Documents, p. 350.
[8] Rigg, Select Pleas, pp. xlxiii-xlix.
[9] Rigg, Select Pleas, pp. xlix-li.
[10] Robin R. Mundill, England Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 291-293.
[11] Chazan, Church, State and Jew, pp. 318-319.
[12] Mundill, England’s Jewish Solution, pp. 294-298.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

[#52] Christopher Johnson and Stanley Jones, Steep, Strait and High: Ancient Houses of Central Lincoln (Woodbridge, 2016).

Academic Entry:

A consideration of certain houses in the center of Lincoln.

General Entry:

Ordinarily, I would not have purchased this book – it doesn’t really fall into one of my main research areas (though that it not to say that the topic doesn’t interest me). It was purely by chance of the fact that I was trading e-mails with one of the authors that I thought it only polite to have a look at the book. So, I purchased the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. In particular, with every page that I read I could not help thinking of one of my favourite quotes which comes from the great English historian G. M. Trevelyan who wrote that ‘[t]he poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow’ (Trevelyan: 1949, p. 12). Conventionally, this is meant in general terms, however, in the case Christopher Johnson and Stanley Jones’ book, Trevelyan’s quotation becomes incredibly literal. That is to say, by viewing history through the medium of individual properties, one actually gets to see the successive generations be replaced by the next generation. For me, that makes this a wonderful piece of scholarship in its own right – I don’t really care about the great men doing great deeds in, what was undoubtedly, a great way. Rather, I want to know about real people lived and I think that this is a wonderful format for presenting such explorations.

                Given that this blog is ostensibly about medieval Anglo-Jewry, I suppose that I should say something about the content which discusses the Jews of medieval Lincoln. The authors make the point in the introduction that such a format is not the place to stage a full reappraisal of the Lincoln Jewish community. I don’t think that that is necessarily a bad thing, however, given the considered way in which Jews were introduced into the narrative of this text. In cooking terms, I think that it’s fair to say that this is a well-balanced book, with the right proportion of Jews in it (I shall leave that analogy there or risk offending people). In a number of the chapters, it is made clear that at one point or another there was a Jewish resident in the property concerned. I find this fascinating because, whilst the work of urban historians like Sarah Rees Jones has demonstrated that Jews and Christians lived in the same areas as each other (see, for example, Rees Jones, 2013), but this book elevates that to a whole new level by illustrating how, in a relatively short space of time, properties moved from Jewish to Christian ownership. In particular, there are some first rate explorations of individual Jewish owners of various houses. As a result, I would highly recommend this book, from both an English history and a medieval Anglo-Jewish perspective. It’s a wonderful piece of scholarship which is truly an enjoyable read (and it has a CD-Rom in it which is always a winner for me – yes I’m that childish!).

Work Cited:

Sarah Rees Jones, ‘Neigbours and Victims in Twelfth-Century York: a Royal Citadel, the Citizens and the Jews of York’ in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Jews and Christians in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts(York, 2013), pp. 15-42.

G. M. Trevelyan, An autobiography and other essays (London, 1949).

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Q #10: GCSE History

Dear Dean,

I am a new teacher and have been assigned the task of teaching the expulsion of the Jews from Medieval England to GCSE history students next year. This is a topic that I’ve only fleetingly looked at and I wonder whether you might be able to provide a bit of information as to the cause(s) of the Expulsion, in addition to the textbook.


A. Teacher

I’ve received this question a lot over the last few weeks, so am happy to answer it. First, I’ve looked up the textbook and see that it’s co-authored by Dr Sophie Ambler – she’s an expert in the thirteenth century who I couldn’t compete with in a month of Sundays, so treat whatever she’s said as gospel. That being said, I’ve outlined a few factors which have been prominently used to explain the Expulsion within the historiography over the course of the last century. They’re not all of the factors but are certainly some of them, and if there are any follow up questions, then I’d be happy to add to this.


In one of the earliest modern explorations of the Expulsion, George Leonard attributed the Expulsion to money (Leonard: 1891). More specifically, he drew attention to the fact that at the time of the Expulsion, Edward I was granted the single largest grant of taxation of the entire Middle Ages, of more than £100,000. Consequently, it is impossible not to draw a connection between the two. Leonard’s argument was revised just over a century later by the eminent medieval Anglo-Jewish historian Robert C. Stacey. According to the explanation that Stacey promulgated, whilst the grant of taxation is an important contributory factor in understanding the Expulsion, it is vital to understand the background to that tax in order to understand why Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion in July 1290 (Stacey: 1997). Stacey argues that the taxation must be understood as a negotiated settlement with the knights of the Shire. Having returned to England, after three years in Gascony, in 1289, King Edward was heavily indebted to the Italian moneylenders – as well as other debts (e.g. Charles of Salerno’s ransom). As a result of this, he was in serious need of some ready cash to pay off his creditors. In years gone by, the Crown could simply have levied a tallage upon Anglo-Jewry, however, the days when this kind of sum could have been squeezed of England’s Jewish community were long gone. Therefore, Edward set about negotiating with parliament. Now it is, at this point, important not to underestimate Edward’s position – he was still not a man who one would want to mess with, but parliament was perhaps in a stronger position that it might otherwise have been. So, according to the argument which was promulgated by Stacey, the price which was exacted by the baronial elite was the scrapping of some (very) unpopular royal policies – notably the Quo Warranto and Quia Emptores proceedings. Conversely, the knights of the Shire demanded, as the price for their support, the Expulsion. It is worth noting that the barons obtained promises in exchange for their support (promises which Edward subsequently reneged on), whilst the knights of the Shire obtained the Edict of Expulsion before consenting. For me, this is important point because, if it was only about the money then why not subsequently readmit the Jews? Certainly, this is the model which was adopted (repeatedly) by the kings of France. This is especially puzzling given that in the reign of Edward’s son, Edward II, in 1310 a Jewish delegation actually came to England, according to the annals of St. Pauls, in order to negotiate a return but this came to naught (Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, 269).

Raison d’ĂȘtre at an end

This was a particularly influential explanation for the Expulsion and it was first advanced by Peter Elman in the 1930s (Elman: 1937). According to this line of argument, the successive tallages which had been levied on Anglo-Jewry throughout the thirteenth century had drained the community of its wealth. Most famously, this argument was seized upon by one of the greatest Jewish historians of the twentieth century: Cecil Roth. Roth famously, and vividly, described that by the latter part of the thirteenth century, the ‘royal milch cow’ had been drained of its wealth (Roth: __, esp. pp. __-__). Consequently, as according to this line of argument there was really no reason for the Crown to maintain the Anglo-Jewish community. Certainly, Robert Stacey has highlighted the implications of the tallages which were levied between 1240 and 1260, even going so far as to suggest that perhaps half of the Jewish wealth in England was transferred to the Crown during the first decade of that period alone (e.g. Stacey: 1988). It has, however, been argued by Robin Mundill (an argument which is not universally accepted by any means – though I’m convinced) that in some quarters, Anglo-Jewry was showing tentative signs of recovery by 1290 and, as a result, a wholesale expulsion of the Jews from England cannot be simply explained upon by the basis of the Jews having outlived their usefulness (Mundill: 2005). Additionally,  it was suggested by Elman that the Jews were more valuable to the Crown by being expelled because it meant that the Crown could confiscate their property. As Robin Mundill has demonstrated however, the Crown obtained little financially as a direct result of the Expulsion – the Jews were allowed to retain their movable goods and whilst debts and houses subsequently defaulted to the Crown, these did not make a great deal of money.


The Jews were the only religious minority in thirteenth century England and, as a result, it would be easy to attribute the Expulsion to religion. Certainly, in a letter to the Exchequer dated 5 November 1290, King Edward himself partially attributed the Expulsion to the Jewishness of the Jews (Chazan: 1980). Certainly, as Paul Hyams long ago suggested, Anglo-Jewry enjoyed one of the longest periods as an ‘Immigrant community’ in history (Hyams: 1974, p. 270). As a result, it could be argued that Edward was fulfilling his obligations as a Christian in expelling the Jews. There is, however, one very large problem with this argument: the Church. The Expulsion ran contrary to Augustinian teaching and the Papal Bull Sicut Judaeorum both of which stipulated that whilst the Jews should be kept in submission, they should be tolerated and not persecuted until they saw the light of the one true religion. So the Expulsion cannot find support in religious teaching. Moreover, the fact that, as Sophie Menache has convincingly illustrated, the Expulsion found no support in the church chroniclers which suggests that whilst they had spent the previous two centuries vilifying the Jews, this last, final, step was to much for them to support (Menache: 1985).

The weather

I’m being slightly facetious with the sub-title here, but not entirely. A group of historians have recently attempted to make a connection between the persecution of the Jews in history and ‘weather shocks’ (Anderson, et. al.: 2016). I don’t buy this argument for a second, but according to this line of argument a weather shock could have been a contributory factor to the decision to Expel the Jews in 1290.

It’s complicated

This was the favoured argument of Robin Mundill who argued, in proper historical fashion, that a combination of short and long term factors explained the Expulsion. That is that sociological factors meant that Jews were being pushed out of an increasingly English society by 1290, as well as the factors above. Additionally, Mundill’s argument that Edward’s decision to expel the Jews from Gascony was an important event because it opened up the possibility of doing the same in England. That coupled with contemporary events, which have been touched upon above, resulted in the Expulsion.

Work Cited:

Robert Warren Anderson et. al., ‘Jewish Persecution and Weather Shocks: 1100-1800’, The Economic Journal, early view, available online at  

Peter Elman, ‘The Economic Causes of the Expulsion of the Jews in 1290’, The Economic History Review, 7 (1937), pp. 145-154.

George Hare Leonard, ‘The Expulsion of the Jews by Edward I. An Essay in Explanation of the Exodus, A.D. 1290’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5 (1891), pp. 103-146.

Paul Hyams, ‘The Jewish Minority in Medieval England, 1066-1290’, Journal of Jewish Studies, 24 (1974), pp. 270-293.

Sophia Menache, ‘Faith, Myth, and Politics: The Stereotype of the Jews and Their Expulsion from England and France’, The Jewish Quarterly Review, 75 (1985), pp. 351-374.

Robin R. Mundill, ‘Changing Fortunes: Edwardian Anglo-Jewry and their Credit Operations in Late Thirteenth-Century England’, Haskins Society Journal, 14 (2005), pp. 83-90.

Robert C. Stacey, ‘1240-60: a Watershed in Anglo-Jewish Relations?’, Historical Research, 61 (1988), pp. 135-150.

Robert C. Stacey, ‘Parlimentary Negotiation and the Expulsion of the Jews from England’, Thirteenth Century England, 6 (1997), pp. 77-101.

[#51] Anthony Bale, ‘Richard of Devizes and Fictions of Judaism’, Jewish Culture and History, 3 (2000), pp. 55-72.

Just a couple of general note before I start. These blog posts are likely to become less frequent over the next little while as I search for work (I’ve given up on academic / Jewish history related jobs so they’re not likely to increase after I find a job because that will then take up my time) so I would encourage anybody who wants to, to send things to be uploaded to me.

Academic Entry:

A consideration of Richard of Devizes’ ritual murder allegation.

General Entry:

At the risk of sounding like a complete moron (a risk that I seem to take the more I learn about medieval Anglo-Jewry), the ritual murder case in Richard of Devizes’ Chronicon has always baffled me from a historical perspective. I can never get my head around the fact that because there was no body, in this particular case, it should be treated any differently from any of the other cases which did have a body. This is not least because the addition of a body did not make the allegation any more credible. Consequently, it always irritates me when historians approach Richard of Devizes with an air of incredulity that he made up the allegation. In the case of this piece by Anthony Bale, however, no such attempt is made. On the contrary, the essay commences with the important point for the Jews who were being accused in the literature of the period, the allegation was very real. Moreover, Bale elucidates his aim of considering the way in which Richard’s narrative was constructed, rather than simply discussing the implications of the narrative. This article might be divided into two sections: contextualisation and analysis. Towards the beginning of the article, Bale contextualises the manuscripts of Richard’s Chronicon as well as outlining what little we know of Richard himself. Moreover, some general feeling of the text itself is provided, in terms of the route which King Richard adopted on crusade. In the final section of contextualisation, Bale sumerasies the role of the Jews within the narrative of the Chronicon, with particular emphasis not only on the way in which Richard described that event, but also how Winchester was also describe (noting in particular that the violence did not spread to the city). A really interesting point which Bale makes is the way in which time and identity are manipulated at various points so as to fit the narrative but also to justify it. Moreover, the discourse upon the way in which irony was used, and the narrative pertaining to the Jews was fitted into contemporary events is particularly intriguing.

Following on from this, Bale outlines the scant evidence for a Winchester ritual murder case. Whilst I agree with his argument about the importance of the Benedictines, I would not go so far as to say that the previous cases had been particularly successful (though they were undeniably influential). For me, the most fascinating part of this article is found at the end where Bale postulates a connection between Richard’s case and a French narrative written in the early twelfth-century. This is one of the aspects of Bale’s scholarship which I like most, the way in which he traces ideas and concepts rather than just assuming that it popped into existence (for more examples of this see Bale:2006 – particularly the chapter on the ‘Jew of Tewkesbury’). For me an element of this paper which I would have liked to have seen more of is where Bale is discusses the Jew as also having been described as a Frenchman and I would have liked to have seen some kind of discussion as to how these two types of Otherness contrasted and interacted with each other and manifested themselves in the text – particularly in the light of what the French were doing in 1192. Having said that, this is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it!

Work Cited:

Anthony Bale, The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms, 1350-1500 (Cambridge, 2006).

Friday, 16 September 2016

[#50] Elisa Narin van Court, ‘Invisible in Oxford: Medieval Jewish History in Modern England’, Shofar, 26 (2008), pp. 1-20.

Academic Entry:

An outline of the use of signs in identifying the Anglo-Jewish past and the politics of the language which is used in those.

General Entry:

It’s been a long few weeks for me, finishing my MA and, given that I don’t have PhD funding, looking for a proper job. Consequently, I thought I’d curl up on this rather windy Friday evening with a bottle of Scotch and read start reading the latest edition of one of my favourite journals which I haven’t had time to read since it came out: Shofar. Before we go any further I can answer that question you have: ‘Yes, I am that sad’. I don’t read Shofar because it prints a plethora of articles which fall within my area of interest – as I shall get to in a moment, it absolutely does not. What I like about Shofar is its interdisciplinary nature. I remembered this as I was reading the front matter and this got me to thinking about how interdisciplinary medieval Anglo-Jewish studies is at the moment, with people rewriting everything from moneylending, literature, legal history and the impact of the rabbis. As a result, after reading the first two (very good) articles, I did a search for articles concerning medieval Anglo-Jewry, and was baffled to find that there was only one article, though it’s a very good one, which came up. So I think it’s fair to say that historians of medieval Anglo-Jewry have failed to engage with this particular journal which I think is tragic, and as such I think that it’s about time that a few more articles (or even better, a special issue of articles) relating to my favourite topic, appeared in this journal. So, onto this particular essay which considers the use of signs within the heritage industry in England. Van Court starts by elucidating how difficult it could be to find those modern markers which are used to highlight the medieval Anglo-Jewish past in Oxford – I visited the city a few years ago and encountered the same problems. Subsequent to this, van Court explores the signs which have been raised in York, Norwich and Lincoln. Although this essay does, in part, draw attention to such signs, its primary aim is to provide a discourse upon the politics of signage, what is written? Why? On the whole, I have a serious problem with the sanitisation of history within the heritage industry, and agree with van Courts arguments. Having said that, however, I think that much more could have been done to consider the role of the medieval Anglo-Jewish past in the cultural memory of each of the cities. That being said, van Court ends by saying that this article was the first stage of a broader research project – though I have been unable to find any follow up publications by her.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

New Link

I’ve just come across this really cool website the ‘Jewish Book Council’. If you type medieval into the search bar then lots of really good summaries appear of lots of books. Moreover, there are lots of really good resources and other items on this website, so I highly recommend it. Incidentally, I should stress that it’s one of those websites that you can spend all day on, so if you have plans (as I did this morning) then give it a miss until you have more time!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

[#49] Ellman Crasnow and Bente Elsworth (ed. and trans.), Into the Light: The Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Meir of Norwich (Norwich, 2013).

For further details of this volume and how to purchase it see here:

Academic Entry:

A translation of the poetry of Meir of Norwich.

General Entry:

Anybody who has read Susan Einbinder’s stunning monograph Beautiful Death will know just how emotive medieval Jewish poetry could be (Einbinder: 2002). When thinking of England, however, one might be more tempted to think of the writing of Thomas of Monmouth, as opposed to the immaculate phrases of those French Jews. One might be more surprised to learn that the town which produced the Blood Libel narrative also produced a poet, in Meir of Norwich, who produced some truly stunning pieces of poetry as well. I’ve known about this poetry for a while, as it was discussed in several locations (e.g. Einbinder: 2000), however, not being able to read Hebrew (yet), I was unable to read the collection of poems which had been transcribed in Vivian D. Lipman’s Jews of Medieval Norwich. Consequently, when I saw that the Norwich Writing Centre had produced a translation I was elated and ordered it with as much speed as I could muster. I’ll get into the content of the volume which was delivered to me in a moment but here I’d just like to pause for a moment of contemplation. First, given the important work that has been done by the likes of Tony Kushner, Anglo-Jewry since 1066, and Jonathan Romain, Royal Jews, considering the cultural memory of Hampshire and Berkshire respectively, I think it would be really interesting to see how Norwich, as a city, considers both Thomas of Monmouth’s text and Meir of Norwich’s poems in relation to its Jewish heritage. Second, if there isn’t somebody going into schools (in Norwich at the very least) teaching school children the about Thomas and Meir together then there is something seriously wrong, and that should be rectified with all possible haste!

Now onto the poems themselves. As has already been noted above, they were written by the Jew Meir ben Eliahu, of Norwich, probably in the latter half of the thirteenth century. The corpus is composed of twenty poems written by Meir. I’m not going to say too much about the content of the poems because I am of the opinion that it should be a criminal offence, which carries a severe custodial sentence, to ruin poetry or literature for others by telling the content and ending. That being said, however, given that this is a review, I have to say something. So a consistent themes which runs through the poetry itself is biblical narratives, however it is interesting to note that there are parallels with the experience of Anglo-Jewry and it appear that the narratives were chosen for that purpose. None of the poems are especially long, but I think that they are all incredibly emotive, especially if you know the Norwich background specifically and the English context generally. I also love these poems because, after a long day of looking at economic data, these poems provide me with a connection with an actual person who had actual emotions instead of records of debt.  Although I have a great deal of time for this volume, I also think that it is also hugely problematic for several reasons. First, when I deal with the Latin source material, I am wholeheartedly opposed to relying on modern editions and think that you should go back to the original manuscript (particularly if you are producing a translation). Partly, this has to do with accuracy – I’d prefer to make sure that the manuscript says exactly what the transcription says it does – but it also has more important reasons. That is to say, scholars who produce transcriptions often only transcribe the text itself, making no note of marginalia. Moreover, as I have learned from my study of the Latin documents, a manuscript is more than just a way to transmit text and, as a result, consistently contain more secrets that can only be unearthed as a result of palaeographic and codicological analysis. Consequently, the fact that this translation was produced using a modern transcription sets off QI style klaxons for me (I’m not sure how well that reference will translate so it’s a general knowledge television programme in the UK which was, until very recently, hosted by Stephen Fry). Second, what I know about Jewish poetry (medieval or otherwise) could be condensed onto the back of a postage stamp and as such I would have liked not only the text and translation but also a commentary which tells me what I’m looking at and how common that was and what the significant linguistic choices were. Third, and finally, I think that the introduction could have been completed more effectively to discuss the literary output of Anglo-Jewry specifically and medieval Jewry generally, the archival history of the manuscript, and the position of Meir of Norwich’s poetry in the cultural memory of Norwich more generally. Having said that, if you, dear reader, only ever read one publication which I discuss in this blog then please let it be this one. This is not least because all of the criticism that I make is done with my historian hat on, but if truth be told then when I read the poems themselves then it is as an ordinary person who likes to read literature and poetry.

Work Cited:

Susan L. Einbinder, ‘Meir b. Elijah of Norwich: persecution and poetry among medieval English Jews’, Journal of Medieval History, 26 (2000), pp. 145-162.

Susan L. Einbinder, Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France (Oxford, 2002).

New Links

If truth be told, while Reviews in History is a very good site generally, in terms of medieval Anglo-Jewry it is severely lacking, with some of the key publications of the last few years being absent from its pages. Having said that, there are a small number of reviews which relate to the aims of this blog and I include them here.

David Biale’s review of Anthony Bale, Feeling Persecuted: Christians, Jews and Images of Violence in the Middle Ages (London, 2009), at

John Klier’s review of Miri Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven, 1999), at

Colin Richmond’s review of Robin R. Mundill, England’s Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion, 1262-1290 (Cambridge, 1998), at

William Rubenstein’s review of Tony Kushner, Anglo-Jewry Since 1066: Place, Locality and Memory (Manchester, 2009), at

Robert C. Stacey’s review of Robin R. Mundill, The King’s Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval England (London, 2010), at– I really disagree with this review.

[#48] Jeffrey J. Cohen, ‘The Future of the Jews of York’, in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Christians and Jews in Angevin England (York, 2013), pp. 278-293.

Academic Entry:

A discussion of the literary context within which William of Newburgh’s narrative of the York massacre.

General Entry:

As my friends who read this blog will know, I am a massive Tolkien fan. Consequently when I read something about medieval Anglo-Jewry that transports me to the Shire then I’m a very happy person! It is fair to say that such occurrences are incredibly rare, but the opening of this essay by Jeffrey Cohen, where he describes a scene of joviality under a hill in Yorkshire which appears in William of Newburgh’s History  of English Affairs, my interest was most certainly piqued. Within the context of the York massacre, I think that Cohen’s paper is really important because historians all to readily focus upon the details that help their narrative rather than consider the context within which the events were written. I should point out at this point that although the writing of remarkably few scholars (discussing the Jews of medieval England) intimidate me, Cohen is one of them and while I’ve read this paper thrice in order to try and write this piece (to say nothing of previous readings) I am almost certain that some context or subtlety has escaped me, so you, dear reader, should most certainly read this paper for yourself. One message which it is possible to take from Cohen’s piece, though, is the way in which Jews and Christians were presented in medieval writing. The former was the antithesis of the modern latter (almost as if the Jews who were resident in the medieval world were those who were accused of having committed the crime of deicide).I’ve never been convinced, however, that this was a situation which could be found anywhere other than in literature and even there, as Cohen goes on to elucidate, Christian-Jewish relations were often much more complicated with cooperation and coexistence – these are the sections of the literature that I focus upon. That is not least because I feel that in order to give sensational accusations the air of credibility then a degree of the mundane and the familiar must also have been included. Following on from this, Cohen discusses the significance of stone to the narrative, with particular emphasis upon the metaphorical way in which it related to Clifford’s Tower and the Jews. Moreover, the way in which the ‘Other’ is presented within Newburgh’s work is discussed in terms of how they of the past and supersceded by the modern English. The Jews present a peculiar problem to this, however, because they lived side by side with Christians and some, like Richard Malebisse, were indebted to Jews. On the basis of the language which was used Cohen makes the intriguing point that whilst the massacre of 1190 marked the immediate (though not permanent) end of the York Jewry, they were already based in the past rather than in the future. Whilst I am not willing to commit to saying that I understand every element of this essay, I am willing to go so far as to highly recommend it – Cohen’s writing is beautiful and if I were to read his work a hundred times then I suspect that I would find something new to talk about each time (which is a brilliant thing!).

Monday, 5 September 2016

[#47] John Tolan, ‘The First Imposition of a Badge on European Jews: The English Royal Mandate of 1218’, in Douglas Pratt et. al. (eds.), The Character of Christian-Muslim Encounter: Essays in Honour of David Thomas (Leiden, 2015), pp. 145-166.

Nota bene: This essay is available via Professor Tolan’s page.

Academic Entry:

Survey of the evidence relating to the tabula in medieval England.

General Entry:

I am frequently, and consistently, disappointed by the state of scholarship on the English Church and England’s medieval Jews. Where some first rate work has been produced for other European countries (particularly Spain), in the case of England the literature is very limited (e.g. Edwards: 2003). So when somebody recently asked me about sources for medieval Anglo-Jewry and wanting to look at the relations between Church and Jews I was at a loss to recommend something other than this paper, which is the one of the few pieces of serious scholarship in this area. This essay explores the context and implications of the imposition upon Anglo-Jewry of the so-called tabula which was to represent the two tablets of Mosaic Law. Now I should point out that this point that I am of the H. G. Richardson school of thought when it comes to the tabula, in that I argue that the order was a token gesture which was widely flaunted, so I approach this article from that perspective.

In this essay, Tolan starts with a survey of the arguments and the contemporary situation in England in the aftermath of King John’s death and the First Baronial Revolt. I have to say that this is the least successful element of Tolan’s article because I think that the argument was to focused upon the tabula. For me the more interesting thing is that the tabula was the only serious concession which was to survive throughout the thirteenth century that was made by the Regency government to the Church and I would have liked to have seen something upon the reasons for this (or my argument put down at least). Following on from this, Tolan begins his discussion of the exemptions which were purchased by the Jews, and the reaction of the Church to those. This essay concludes with a discussion of the implications of the 1253 Statute of the Jewry and I find this to be a lucid and convincing argument. Finally, Tolan includes several caricatures of Jews wearing the tabula and I find this to be very disappointing because, there is no context given and, in the case of one of the Rochester Chronicle caricatures, the text doesn’t really fit with the image (as can be seen by actually accessing the chronicle – something I strongly recommend as it’s beautiful). There are, however, a couple of things that I would like to see in future discussions of this nature. First, I think that integrating the work of art historians, like Sara Lipton, who argue that one reason for the imposition of the badge in England so early was a reaction to the fact that Anglo-Jewry did not develop a distinctive dress code – not a discussion I know enough about to intervene in, but interesting nonetheless. Second,  I also think that the argument in this article could be refined further, and even expanded, on the basis of Rebecca Rist’s recent study of Papal-Jewish relations (Rist: 2016). Overall, however, I think that this is a superb article which is well worth a read.

Work Cited:

John Edwards, ‘The Church and the Jews in Medeival England’, in Patricia Skinner (ed.), Jews in Medieval Britain (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 85-95.

Rebecca Rist, Popes and Jews, 1095-1291 (Oxford, 2016).

Friday, 2 September 2016

OTD #1 3-4 September 1189

I’m not about tomorrow so I upload this short piece today. I’m not sure whether this format is going to go down like a lead balloon or prove successful so please do let me know what you think and, if the latter proves to be the case, I might replicate it for the anniversary of the Expulsion (1 November). This is a whistle stop tour of the events of 3-4 September and is by no mean exhaustive so if anybody wants to add anything, then you’re more than welcome.

The anointing of a new monarch is, in any historical epoch, a time for celebration and jubilation. In the case of Richard I’s coronation, however, the event has also become infamous within English history on account of the fact that it was accompanied by a massacre. Now it’s fair to say that not all coronations go according to plan. For example, when William, duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England on 25 December 1066 ‘the guards were so jumpy that the shouted acclamations with the abbey caused a panic and the burning of neighbouring houses, because a rebellion was feared’ (Bates: 2004). This was surpassed by the coronation of Richard I, however, because, having issued orders that women and Jews were not to attend the festivities, trouble broke out when some Jews were found in the crowd trying to approach Westminster. This trouble quickly developed into a massacre which was described by one contemporary, Richard of Devizes, as a ‘holocaust’ (holocaustum) (Devizes: 1838, p. 5). It is not entirely clear what happened, but it would appear that some individual Jews were caught up in the crowd that inevitably moved towards the festivities at Westminster and somebody, having heard Richard’s prohibition on Jews attending, began to attack them. Thereafter, a mob mentality took over and the mob moved on to attack the Jewish community itself, seeking booty as much as blood. It appears that when the mob was unable to break into some Jewish houses they made use of fire to gain entry – never a good idea in a medieval city – though the sources do not permit us to guess how many Jews might have died. In fairness to Richard when he learned of the attacks he dispatched Ranulf de Glanville to break up the mob but, to quote my A-Level history notes, ‘this was about as effective as a chocolate teapot’. In reality, Glanville had little choice but to wait for the mob to burn itself out, something which did not happen between late afternoon on 3 September and the morning of the following day.  The crowd was far too big for any kind of justice to be handed out, though in the final injustice of the events three Christians were hanged for crimes committed against other Christians.

For me the saddest part of this narrative comes not in the form of a general survey of events but by looking at one individual. Two of the leading Jews of York – Benedict and Josce – made the trip to London in order to secure the Crown’s support once more. Having been caught up in the massacre, however, Benedict was seized and was presumably given the option of conversion or death. Having already been wounded he chose the former and became an apostate. Shortly thereafter on 4 September he was taken before the new king and Archbishop Baldwin. During that audience he renounced Christianity (no mean feat in front of Richard I and the archbishop of Canterbury) and Archbishop Baldwin, according to Roger of Howden, said ‘Since he does not wish to be a Christian let him be the Devil’s man’ (Jacobs: 1893, p. 106). It is worth noting at this point that whilst the Church forbade forced conversions, if such an event happened then there was no way to revert. Subsequently, Benedict began the journey back to York but died at Northampton and on account of his apostasy the Jewish community would not bury him in their cemetery, nor would the Christians bury him in their cemetery because he had renounced the new religion.

Work Cited:

David Bates, ‘William I’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online accessed on 2 Sept. 2016.

Chronicon Ricardi Divisiensis de Rebus Gestis Ricardi Primi Regis Angliae, ed. Joesph Stephenson (London, 1838).

The Jews of Angevin England, ed. Joseph Jacobs (London, 1893).

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Q. #8 Can you review a specific volume for me?

Judy would like to know if I can upload my thoughts on Kristine T. Utterback and Merall L. Price (eds.), Jews in Medieval Christendom: Slay Them Not (Leiden: Brill, 2013), so that she can decide whether to purchase a copy of this.

Judy, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to review this volume for you Elizabeth, however, I do not have access to a copy that volume. The most I can do is say that if I do get hold of a copy then I will happily review this volume. Also, I open up the field to anybody who does have access to this volume and would be willing to jot down a few thoughts for Elizabeth.

Just an observation - Robert Stacey contributed an essay to this volume and while I rarely agree with him, he does set the gold standard for scholarship on medieval Anglo-Jewish history. That being said, I've not read the essay in question so I couldn't speak to how good this one is. Apologies that I could not offer more assistance.