Historical Background and Glossary of Terms
in connection with
the Medieval (pre-1290) Jewish Communities
of England & Wales

Created: 22 April 2005
Latest revision: 14 December 2011

Jews began to settle in England shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066, the first group brought over from Rouen by William the Conqueror.  They escaped the massacres that Continental European Jewry witnessed during the period of the first and second crusades and, despite occasional manifestations of anti-Jewish sentiment (including the prototype of the ritual murder accusation) and the imposition of periodic fines and special levies, initially their numbers and prosperity increased under the protection of the king. The era of prosperity and relative calm ended in 1189, on the death of King Henry II and the coronation of his son, King Richard I, when English Jewry became subject to outbreaks of extreme violence and increasingly more repression measures, stimulated by the third crusade, culminating in the expulsion of the impoverished Jews by King Edward I in 1290, at which time they may have numbered as many as 16,000 souls.  It was to be over 350 years before they would be permitted to return.

Glossary of Terms

Historical Background
and the kings of
England during the period

Glossary of Terms


Historical Background - and the kings of England during the first period of Jewish settlement

House of Normandy

1066 – 1087

William I (“William the Conqueror”). Brought over a body of Jews to England from Rouen, but apart from this, little is known about his relationship with the Jews.

1087 – 1100

William II (William Rufus”), third son of William I.  Little is known about his relationship with the Jews. On one occasion was reputed to have jestingly sworn that he would embrace Judaism if the Jews proved victorious in a debate he persuaded the Jews to have with a group of churchmen.

1100 – 1135

Henry I, youngest son of William I and brother of William II.  He encouraged the Jews and granted to them a charter of protection, under which they were granted a number of rights, including freely of movement throughout the country, without paying tolls or customs, the right of fair trial by their peers, protection from misusage, and permission to retain land taken in pledge of security. During his reign the Jews appear to have prospered.

House of Blois

1135 – 1154

Stephen, son of Adela, daughter of William I, and the Count of Blois.  During much of Stephen’s reign, there was a civil war between him and the empress Matilda (Maud), daughter of Henry I, in which the Jews appear to have suffered more than the rest of the populations, facing demands from both sides of the conflict.  One Oxford Jew who refused to pay certain monies demanded of him by the king, had his home torched.  It was also during Stephen’s reign there arose, in Norwich, the first ever allegation against the Jews in medieval Europe of ritual murder. However, Stephen is generally considered with given protection to the Jewish community.

House of Plantagenet

1154 – 1189

Henry II, son of Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and Geoffrey Plantagenet.  It was under the reign of Henry II that the Jews enjoyed their longest period of relative peace and prosperity.  The number of Jewish communities increased significantly throughout the kingdom and several Jews grew to great opulence, including Aaron of Lincoln and Isaac fil’ Rabbi.  However, Henry’s apparent favour and protection of the Jews was undoubtedly a matter of self-interest, enabling him to heavily tax a prosperous  Jewish community and elicit from them loans and impose fines when needing to raise capital.

1189 – 1199

Richard I (“Richard Coeur de Lion”), son of Henry II.  The calm and tranquility of the Jews ended with the rule of Richard I, largely spurned on by the crusader zeal that was now sweeping the kingdom.  Jews are killed in London by the mob at a riot that broke out at Richard’s coronation. Despite a proclamation by the King that the Jews of England (and his French domains) were not to be molested, the violence spreads while Richard is in France preparing for the Crusades, with attacks against the Jews in Lynn, Norwich, Stamford, Bury St. Edmunds, Dunstable and Lincoln, culminating with the most tragic episode in English Jewish history with the York massacres of 1190. 
Many Jewish financial records were destroyed by the murderous mob in the massacres of 1189-90, resulting in Richard suffering heavy lose of revenue.  Accordingly, in 1194, after Richard’s return to England (towards whose ransom the Jews were forced to pay three times the amount paid by the whole city of London), he initiates a complete reorganization of English Jewry, including the introduction of the system of archae and the establishment of the Exchequer of the Jews.

1199 – 1216

John (“John Lackland”), son of Henry II and brother of Richard.  Although in 1201 John reissued the charter guaranteeing the liberties of the Jews of England and Normandy (originally issued by Henry I), the condition of English Jewry continued to deteriorate under his rule, with exorbitant sums periodically being demanded of the Jews. In 1210, John places a levy of 66,000 marks (the “Bristol Tallage”) on the Jewish community (imprisoning and torturing many of the community until collected).  Not surprisingly, many English rabbis join the exodus of their French colleagues to the Holy Land in 1211 - probably the earliest known case of English aliyah (emigration to the Land of Israel).

1216 – 1272

Henry III, son of John, who acceded to the throne at the age of nine. Although there were a number of measures taken against the Jews during the early years of Henry III long reign, there was initially a generally respite from the harsh conditions and outbreaks of violence seen during the reigns of his uncle and his father. In 1218, Jews were required (in conformity with a decision of Fourth Lateran Council) to wear a distinctive badge on their clothing.  In 1222, a provincial synod in Oxford enacted anti-Jewish ecclesiastical legislation, forbidding Jews from mixing with Christians, holding Christian slaves or building new synagogues, which was shortly thereafter reversed by royal decree. 
However following Henry becoming of age in 1227, the oppressive measures against the Jews were revived with even greater intensity. Jews were forbidden to leave England (they were a valuable source of Crown income), and, in 1230, Henry levied in tax one-third of all the property of the Jews. Over the next few years the taxes on the Jews increased at an alarming rate. By 1253, the Church was also again making its influence felt with another wave of repressive anti-Jewish measures.  In 1255, Henry, considering the Jews his own personal property, sold all the Jews of England to his brother, Richard of Cornwall, for five thousand marks.

1272 – 1307

Edward I (“Edward Longshanks”), son of Henry III. By the time Edward came to the throne, the Jews were already in an impoverished state due to repressive legislation and the excessive taxation levied by his father. Edward put the final nails in the coffin of English Jewry.  As he no longer needed them as bankers (they in any case had very little left to lend), as the Lombards of Northern Italy were now filling this task, he specifically banned them from usury.  With few other trades or skills open to them or able to be acquired within a short time (membership of the various guilds was not, in any case, generally freely available), the Jews fell even further into the abyss. 
In 1275, Edward issued the Jewish Statute, which required all Jews in the kingdom to reside only in the towns where archae were held.  The Jewish Statute' also required all Jewish males aged seven and over to wear a distinctive yellow Jewish badge. 
A number of new edicts of Edward in 1279-81, ensured that there was to be a minimum of contact by Jews with their Christians neighbours and a virtual end to Jewish spiritual live.  It become a capital offence for Jews to “blaspheme the Christian religion”, Jews were ordered to listen to conversion sermons, were forbidden to have Christian servants, hold public meetings, have Christians eat at their table, build new synagogues appear in public without a distinctive badge, and so on and so forth. 
Finally, on July 18, 1290 (which corresponded in the Jewish calendar to 9th of Av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as other tragedies that befell the Jewish nation), all Jews were ordered to leave the kingdom before All Saints Day (November 1) of that year.  They could carry with them their movable property.  Their homes were generally escheated to the Crown and the debts owed to the Jews became collectable by Edward (principal only), which amounted to nine thousand pounds.  Most of the Jews made their way to France (only to be expelled in 1306), but about ten per cent went to Flanders.


List of Medieval (Pre-1290) Communities
(arranged according to

List of Medieval (Pre-1290) Communities  
(arranged according to

List of Regions
(Medieval Period)

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