The Jews of South-West England
Thesis by Rabbi Bernard Susser
The early settlement of Jews in Devon and Cornwall
Ancient traces of the Jews in Devon and Cornwall
No decisive evidence has been adduced to show the presence of organized Jewish communities in England before 1070 A.D., but there is some varied evidence worthy of consideration indicative of the presence of Jews in Britain before this date, and especially in Devon and Cornwall. Writers on Anglo-Jewish history from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries have suggested that Jews first visited England in company with the Phoenicians about the time of King Solomon. This suggestion was based on the links between the Kingdoms of Judah and Tyre. [I Kings, vii, 14 and I Kings, xvi, 31.] Ancient historians referred to Phoenician voyages to the Cassiterides, later identified as Britain, in search of tin and lead, and it was thought likely that Jews had accompanied them. [M. Margoliouth, History of the Jews in Great Britain (1851), I, 9-15 (afterwards quoted as Margoliouth, Jews in Great Britain).] That there may have been some connection between the inhabitants of Devon and Cornwall and the dwellers on the Palestinian coast line is shown by food habits which they still hold in common. Both areas use saffron in cooking, particularly in the baking of cakes. [J. Bannister, 'Jews in Cornwall', Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, II (1867), 324 (afterwards quoted as Bannister, 'Jews in Cornwall'), usefully summarizes all the arguments.] In these two regions as well as in Brittany, which was also under Celtic influence, clotted cream is manufactured. [S. Applebaum, 'Were there Jews in Roman Britain?' Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (afterwards quoted as TJHSE), XVII (1950), (afterwards quoted as Applebaum, Roman Britain), p. 189.] A further indication of some degree of intercourse between the ancient Israelites and Celts is the similarity in sound and meaning of words and phrases in the Hebrew and Celtic languages. [Margoliouth, Jews in Britain, I,23. For 300 Ancient British expressions which are also Hebrew homonyms and synonyms, see H. Rowlands, Mona Antiqua Restaurata quoted in T. S. Duncombe, The Jews of England (1866), p. 25, where he mentions some 30 examples, and M. Margoliouth, Vestiges of the Historic Anglo-Hebrews in East Anglia (1870), p. 14, and p. 65 where he quotes eight phrases.] So much so, that in 1827 the British and Foreign Bible Society distributed Hebrew Bibles among the Cornish as being nearest the vernacular. [E. N. Adler, History of the Jews of London (Philadelphia, 1930), p. 1.]
The presence of smelting ovens in Cornwall and Devon which are called "Jews' Houses" or "Jew's Houses" [White's Devonshire Directory (1850) (afterwards quoted as White, Devon Direct.) p. 41. The houses near Chudleigh (Ordinance Survey (1960) SX 87/839, 765) called Jews Houses should not be confused with these smelting ovens. They take their name from their proximity to Jew's Bridge, for which see infra, p. 40.] may point to early Jewish participation in the mining industry. The earliest method of smelting was a simple pit in which the ore was burnt and the metal subsequently collected from the ashes. This method was in use until the third or second century B.C. An improvement on this primitive method involved the building of a furnace made of hard clay in the shape of an inverted cone about 3 feet across and about the same height. A blast of air from a bellows to the lower part of the furnace served to produce an intense heat, and the molten tin was discharged from a small opening at the bottom. This type of oven was in use from the second century B.C. until about 1350 A.D. and was called by eighteenth century tinners "a Jew's House". [A. K. Hamilton-Jenkin, The Cornish Miner (1962), p. 68f. The term may have originally come into use during the medieval period, (see infra, p. 37).]
The tin from a Jew's House was known as "Jew's House tin", [W C. Borlase, Antiquities of Cornwall (1769), p. 163. See also T. Hogg, Manual of Mineralogy (1828), p. 74, and Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, IV (1871), 227.] and it is somewhat suggestive that a farm on which such a Jew's House was discovered in 1826 was locally known as "Landjew". [Gent. Mag. XCVI (1826), 125.]
Jews may have had at least one well established trading centre in Cornwall in the pre-Roman period, as the town Marazion [This name is itself suggestive of Hebraic origin, meaning either "sight of Zion" or "bitterness of Zion".] was anciently known as Market-Jew, and the main street of Penzance which leads to it is even today called Market-Jew Street. Nor is this the only town in Cornwall whose name is said to be Hebraic in its origin. There is also the village of Menheniot, which name, a correspondent to the Jewish Chronicle suggested, is derived from the two Hebrew words, min oniyot, which mean "from ships". [JC, 1 June 1860.] The current pronunciation of the name of the Cornish town of Mousehole as "Muzzle" might also be influenced by Hebrew, as "Muzzle" is the homonym of the Hebrew word meaning "luck". It might be objected that the apparent Hebrew origins of the names of these towns is due to mere coincidence. It is known, however, that in the nineteenth century the cryptic Hebrew expression Makom Lamed (= 'L(ondon) place') coined by local Jews when referring to London, passed into general Cornish usage. [Roth, Provincial Jewry, p. 91, but cf. C. Roth, 'Jews' houses', Antiquity, XXV (1951), 98, 66-68 where he discusses place names associated with "Jew", such as Jews' Tower at Winchester, Jews' Mount at Oxford, Villejuif near Paris or Judenberg in Germany. He points out that often there is no proven Jewish community at that place. He suggests that when the origin of a large structure was unknown, it would be ascribed to the Jews, 'loosely corresponding to the term 'Cyclopaean' in vogue today - or yesterday - to describe massive structures of great or even mysterious antiquity.' But a Jew's House is only 3 feet high and could hardly be called even a large, let alone gigantic, structure.]
It is worth noting that much of the evidence which points to Jewish settlement or influence in Britain during the pre-Roman period, relates in the main to Devon and Cornwall.
Were there Jews in Roman Britain? This question has been considered by Dr Applebaum and, largely on the basis of archaeological and literary evidence, he suggests a positive answer. [Applebaum, Roman Britain, p. 205.] It is highly likely, he says, that there were at least a few Jewish soldiers in oriental units of the Roman army which served in Britain. It is also possible that there were some Jewish traders who were connected with the import of pottery, glass and oriental wares. They may even have formed small communities at Colchester, York, Corbridge and London. Moreover, there is a distinct likelihood that some Jewish slaves were brought to England after the Bar Kochba uprising in 135 A.D. Indeed, Carew supposed that Jews were sent as slaves by one of the Flavian Emperors to work the mines of Cornwall, but the only evidence for his view appears to be a coin of Domition found in an old mine gallery. [Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. XI, p. 456.]
The archaeological evidence relates to finds of coins and pottery. According to Dr Applebaum, Near Eastern coins of the Roman period found in Dorset and Devon show an early connection between those areas. A close analysis of these coins indicates that Exeter was one of the first ports of call for sea-traffic coming from the Mediterranean up the Channel. Analysis of the coins also shows that they mainly originate from Antioch, Chalcis, Cyrrhus, Hierapolis, Edessa, Samosata, Zengma and Singara, all of them towns with a high percentage of Jews in their population. [Applebaum, Roman Britain, p. 190.]
The particularly strong link between Exeter and the Near East makes it likely that there were some early Jewish associations with that city. Dr Applebaum suggests that archaeological finds in Exeter should be closely examined as some of them might indicate that Jews passed through or settled in Exeter in Roman times. [Ibid.] Following this suggestion the discovery in Exeter of a sherd of carinated bowl with an incised graffito of the second or third century A.D. was noted. [Lady Aileen Fox, Roman Exeter (Exeter, 1952), Plate X b.] Lady Fox considers the inscription 'to represent an amalgamation of a trident with a conventional palm leaf, bordered by incised lines; there seems to be the loop of a cursive letter above the "trident"'. There is a possibility, and it cannot be put any higher than that, that the "loop of a cursive letter" is the figure of a citron. If so, this would indicate Jewish associations with the bowl, as the palm and citron were used extensively on Jewish coins and burial caves. [Cf. P. Romanoff, 'Jewish symbols on Ancient Coins', Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXIII (1943), pp. 14, 15.] The "trident" could be the Hebrew letter Shin [Shin is used as an abbreviation for Shadai (= Almighty) and is used on the phylactery of the head.] and if this identification is correct it heightens the likelihood of the figures on the bowl being palm and citron and strengthens the assumption that there were Jewish connections with Exeter at this early period.
On the other hand it must be allowed that the references to Britain in Midrashic literature of the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods do not appear to relate to the South-West. [Applebaum, Roman Britain, pp. 197-199 quotes all the literary references.]
A persistent legend also refers to the presence of at least one Jew in England at the beginning of the Christian era. He was Joseph of Arimathaea, a wealthy Essene Jew who, it is said, out of sympathy with Jesus gave him burial in a rock tomb near Jerusalem. [See Mark, xv, 42f.] According to legend he came to England as one of the Seventy Apostles to erect the first oratory; and out of the staff which stuck in the ground at Glastonbury as he stopped to rest himself there grew a miraculous thorn, said still to blossom every Christmas-Day. [Jewish Encyclopaedia (New York, 1901) (afterwards quoted as Jew. Encycl.) s.v. JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA.] A variant of the legend makes Joseph travel through Cornwall accompanied by Jesus. [For the persistence of the legend see C. C. Dobson, Did our Lord visit Britain? (Glastonbury, 1936), the seventh edition of this work was reprinted for the third time in 1959. And also Brendan Lehane, 'Did Christ come to Britain?', Weekend Telegraph, 116, 16 December 1966.] This legend may be the folk memory of some ancient time when one or more notable Jews visited England.
In the Saxon period individual Jews may have visited England but the evidence formerly used to support the hypothesis that there were organized Jewish communities has been largely rebutted. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 2.] It has also been suggested that the prevalence of Biblical names in Cornwall such as Benjamin, David, Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, and Solomon, during the Saxon period indicates some intercourse between Jews and Cornwall, [M. Margoliouth, Vestiges of the Historic Anglo-Hebrews in East Anglia (1870), p. 14.] the more so as these names were not used in other parts of the country, not even at Exeter, which is barely 40 miles from the Cornish border. [Bannister, 'Jews in Cornwall', p. 335.] But there is always the possibility that these names came to Cornwall with the spread of Christianity to that county, or that they were a legacy from Jews who were there in the Roman or pre-Roman periods. The latter suggestion would account for a mid-fourth century Duke of Cornwall who became a Christian when already an adult, and yet was called Solomon even before his baptism. [M. Margoliouth, loc. cit. V. Newall, 'The Jews of Cornwall in Local Tradition', MJHSE, XI (1979), pp. 119-121, collects most of the evidence relating to Jews in ancient Cornwall. All her material is to be found in B. Susser, 'The Jews of Devon and Cornwall from the middle ages until the twentieth century', unpbd. PhD diss. University of Exeter, 1977. She doubts if there was any major connection.]
Jews in Medieval Devon and Cornwall
There are no known authentic references to Jews in England during the reign of William the Conqueror, other than an incidental remark by William of Malmesbury, the medieval chronicler, that the Conqueror had brought Jews with him from Rouen. Of William Rufus it is related that he favoured the Jews of London when they were involved in a religious discussion with bishops and churchmen. It is not likely that there was any settled and relatively numerous Anglo-Jewish community until after the massacre of the Jews of Rouen by Crusading knights in 1096. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 5, 6.]
Little more is known of the Jews in England until Henry I issued a charter of uncertain date giving protection to some individuals. [Ibid. p. 6.] Among other privileges they were guaranteed freedom of movement throughout the country, relief from ordinary tolls, free recourse to royal justice, and permission to retain land taken in pledge as security. Aided by these privileges, English Jewry slowly gathered strength and, under Stephen's continuation of Henry's protective policy, Jewish communities developed at Norwich, Lincoln, Winchester, Cambridge, Thetford, Northampton, Bungay, Oxford, Gloucester, Bristol, and York. There were also isolated Jewish families at Worcester and Leicester. [Ibid. p. 11.] But beyond the bare knowledge that these communities existed and made greater or lesser contributions to various tallages, little else is known. [Starrs, charters and records of court cases are the main sources for the history of the medieval Anglo-Jewry, and therefore accounts of Jewish life in England are heavily coloured by financial transactions. Evidence is now coming to light of medieval intellectual activity in England, similar to that of the Jews of Northern France. See Ephraim Auerbach, 'Mitoratam shel Hachmei Anglia milifnei Hagirush', Sefer Hayovel Tiferet Yisrael (1966), pp. 1-56, and C. Roth, 'The Intellectual Activities of Medieval English Jewry', The British Academy Supplemental Papers, VIII, (Oxford, 1949).] Jews may have journeyed into Devon and Cornwall but there is no evidence demonstrating the settled presence of Jews in these counties until the closing years of Henry II's reign.
Henry II not only confirmed but even extended the privileges which his father had granted to the Jews, and they flourished under his protection amid the general peace which prevailed in the realm. These favourable conditions led to an influx of Jews from Europe, an immigration which was reinforced by Jewish refugees expelled from the Ile de France in 1182. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 12.] Its increased numbers enabled the Anglo-Jewish community to consolidate itself, and it now attained the zenith of its prosperity in medieval times.
Another factor made it easier for Jews to create new communities outside London. Hitherto, the only consecrated burial ground available to the Jews of England had been in London, and great inconvenience and even distress was experienced by relatives who had the unpleasant task of escorting a corpse along the roads of twelfth-century England. In 1177, each community was allowed to buy land outside its city walls for use as a cemetery. This new concession encouraged Jews to settle in towns remote from the capital. Thus by 1189, the end of Henry II's reign, besides the communities in the towns which have already been enumerated, there were further groups of Jews established at Stamford, Lynn, Bury, Bedford, Ipswich, Canterbury, Hereford, Dunstable, Chichester, Devizes and, in Devon, at Exeter (Map 1). [Roth, Jews in England, p. 13, but there is no evidence that the medieval Exeter Jewry ever had its own cemetery (M. Adler, 'The Medieval Jews of Exeter', Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association, LXIII (1931), (afterwards quoted as Adler, 'Medieval Jews'), p. 222). See, however, the suggestion on 'Jews Bridge', infra, p. 40.]
So far as Devon was concerned, it was not only that it was easier for a Jewish community to maintain itself but there was also a positive attraction for Jews to settle there from the middle of the twelfth century. For tin mining was in operation in Devon in 1156 [Hoskins, Devon, p. 131.] and it is possible that rich Jews from already established centres provided some of the capital for one of Britain's first capitalist industries, [Ibid. p. 135.] at the same time sending their agents to safeguard their interests. If so, these agents probably formed the nucleus of the subsequent medieval Jewish community in Exeter. One may gauge the extent of the involvement of medieval English Jews with tin mining in Devon by the steep decline in the Devon output of tin from 87 thousand weight in 1291 to 38 thousand weight in 1296, a decline which has been attributed to the expulsion of the Jews in 1290. [Victoria History of Cornwall (1906), p. 525; British Mining (2nd ed.1887) 92, 918 (quoted in TJHSE, XXIX (1982), 23).] Furthermore, the name of at least one mine owner, Abraham the Tinner, who owned a number of stream works in 1342 and employed several hundred men, suggests that he was of Jewish origin. [Ibid. p. 540.]
The first mention of a resident Jew in Exeter was in 1181 when Piers Deulesalt [I.e. Dieu-le-saut, May God save him - the French translation of the Hebrew name Isaiah.] paid 10 marks [1 mark = 13s. 4d.] that the king might take care of his bonds, [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', 223. A misprint in J. Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England (1893) (afterwards quoted as Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England), p. 73, makes Deulesalt pay the fine for his 'boys' instead of 'bonds'.] and by 1188 there were enough Jews to form a distinct community. The earliest recorded act of the new community was to pay a fine of one gold mark [A gold mark was eight ounces of gold.] that its members might be allowed to set up a Beth Din to try 'pleas which were between them in common'. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 222.]
How did the members of this community earn their daily bread? Without doubt, their main means of livelihood was the interest they received from money which they advanced on the security of lands, rents and chattels. Hundreds of documents survive relating to such transactions and innumerable references in the published volumes of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews. Only a double standard of ethics on the part of both Jews and Christians made this possible. The Church regarded usury as reprehensible and forbade its adherents to take interest. In principle, Jews were similarly inhibited, but the Church generally turned a blind eye to their activities - their spiritual welfare being of no concern to the Church. So far as Jews were concerned they could not take interest from one another, but it was not generally regarded as blameworthy to take interest from a non-Jew. [J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (Oxford, 1961), p. 57 (afterwards quoted as Katz, Exclusiveness).]
It has been strongly urged that Jews in medieval England, particularly those in the small towns and villages, must have engaged in other occupations and trades. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 282.] The proposition is logically acceptable though the evidence put forward to demonstrate it is sometimes a little forced. There is no reference in the Plea Rolls or any of the other published sources to suggest that the Jews of Exeter did anything other than advance money. Even in this, their most certain occupation, a degree of doubt remains. Did they act on their own behalf or were they acting as agents for the rich Jews of other towns? It is tantalizing to read of the rural activities of the Exeter financier, Jacob Copin, [Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, ed. J. M. Rigg (1905) (afterwards quoted as Rigg, Plea Rolls), I, 242. See also infra, p. 25.] who was assaulted whilst transacting business in Newton, and not to know what took him there, or on whose behalf he went.
A spontaneous popular outbreak against the Jews of England occurred in London in 1189 at the coronation of Richard I. This was followed by attacks on the Jews in almost all the towns in which they resided. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 22, says that only Winchester Jewry escaped molestation; Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 223, asserts that none of the West Country Jewish communities was involved.] The riots caused a heavy loss to the Exchequer both by the impoverishment of the Jews who survived and the despoliation of those who were killed, part at least of whose property should have escheated to the Crown on their death. Provision was made in 1194 to safeguard the royal rights in the future. Six or seven cities [They were London, Lincoln, Norwich, Winchester, Canterbury, Oxford, and perhaps Bristol (Roth, Jews in England, p. 29).] were designated as centres through which all business transactions had to be channelled, and in those cities records were kept of all Jewish possessions and credits. In each of the designated towns two Jews and two Christian clerks, called chirographers, were appointed to safeguard the royal interest under the supervision of a representative from the newly established central authority. Orders were given that all deeds and contracts (chirographs) were to be drawn up in duplicate and the counterparts deposited in a chest (archa) secured by three locks. Ultimately, chirograph-chests were set up in each of the principal Jewish centres in the country, some twenty-seven in all. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 29, 30.] In the thirteenth century, they were established in the West Country at Bristol, Devizes, Exeter and Winchester. [Ibid. p. 91.] As an archa was sometimes established for the sake of a single Jewish financier, [Ibid. p. 29.] the presence of an archa in a town does not necessarily indicate a sizeable Jewish community. This may be illustrated by reference to the situation at Exeter where in 1276 there seem to have been only two Jews actively engaged in money-lending: Auntéra widow of Samuel son of Moses, and Isaac son of Moses, apparently her brother-in-law. In 1290, there was hardly a shadow of the formerly prosperous community of Exeter, the sole representative being a Jewess named Comitissa. Besides her house in the High Street, no other house was either owned or leased by Jews in Exeter, nor was there a synagogue. Yet, though the Jews were so few in number, at the Expulsion there were actually two archae, an old one for bonds executed up to 1275 and a new archa which had been opened in 1283. [H. G. Richardson, The English Jewry under Angevin Kings (1960) (afterwards quoted as Richardson, English Jewry), pp. 18, 19.]
The chirographers, both Christian and Jewish, were paid for their responsibilities, receiving one penny between them each time a chirograph or other instrument was removed from the archa. [V. D. Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich (1967), p. 73. Cf. Rigg, Plea Rolls , I, 148, for an exceptional case where a depositor had free access to the chest, and also op. cit. p. 271.] They had to deposit a pledge against the proper performance of their duties. [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 82.] Their office left them open to charges of incompetence, [Rigg, Plea Rolls loc. cit.] malpractice, for which they were collectively fined, [V. D. Lipman, 'The Roth "Hake" Manuscript', Remember the Days, ed. J. M. Shaftesley (1966), p. 55.] and fraud. [Rigg, Plea Rolls, II, 193, 200, 218, 258.] The chirographers, Christian and Jewish, were put to the trouble of travelling to London to give evidence in a case where the amount involved was forty shillings. [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 132.] There is no evidence, however, to suggest that the office was either courted or shunned. Occasionally it passed from father to son. [TJHSE, VII, (1911), 44.] The chirographers of the Exeter archa, so far as they have been identified, are listed in Table 1.
Table 1: The chirographers of Exeter, 1224-90
Eventually the administrative system of the archae and chirographers became an effective instrument to raise money for the crown, but before then England had to pay a ransom of £100,000 to the Emperor Henry VI for Richard the Lionheart. The contribution of English Jewry to this sum was assessed at 5,000 marks, a disproportionate amount, being three times as much as was demanded from the burghers of London, by far the richest city in the kingdom. Representatives of every Anglo-Jewish community were summoned to a 'Parliament' at Northampton on 30 March 1194, to decide the amount each community should pay towards the required sum. Payments to the Northampton Donum, as the tallage is called, reveal the presence of some twenty major Jewish communities as well as a number of minor ones scattered throughout the country. The most important centres were London, Lincoln, Canterbury, Northampton, and Gloucester, each with from twenty to forty contributors. [ Roth, Jews in England, p. 27.] The Jews of Exeter at this time were neither numerous nor affluent as only one man, Amiot, [Amiot was active in Exeter for some years. In 1204 he lent £5 to Sir Henry de la Pomeroy (for whom see J. Prince, Worthies of Devon (1810), p. 645), for which the king exacted a tax of a bezant (2/-d.) for each £1. In 1211, he tenanted a house in the High Street belonging to one Godeknight (Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 224).] contributed to the Donum, and his mite, £1. 3. 3d, was less than 2 out of the 5,000 marks demanded. [Jewish Historical Society of England, Miscellanies (afterwards quoted as MJHSE), I, lxvii: however, Richardson, English Jewry, p. 164 suggests that the financial records of the period are incomplete.]
The seventeen years during which John was King of England, 1199-1216, marked a turning point in the history of England as well as in the affairs of its Jewry. Hitherto, England had been closely connected with northern France and from thence had come the main body of the Jewish settlers in England. From its inception the Anglo-Jewish community had been French in character, and it maintained its links with France until the expulsion from England in 1290. The Jews of England spoke French, ['This is clear from the glosses of the English Tosafists and from the fact that Richard of Devizes makes a French Jew recommend a lad not to go northward in England, because he will find none speaking Romance' (Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, p. 338). See also The Sefer Ha-Shoham, ed. B. Kar (1947), p. 11.] bore French names, and regarded France as their haven of refuge in time of trouble. The Jews of England looked to the French rabbis for religious guidance. [Richardson, English Jewry, p. 93.] English Jews shared with English nobles and the higher and more learned of the English clergy a common language and secular culture. [Richardson, English Jewry, p. 93, but cf. A. E. Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta (Oxford, 1955), p. 2, who writes that 'by the latter part of the twelfth century it was well nigh impossible to tell whether a man was Norman or English'.] Their 'Frenchness' was characteristic not only of the Jews of London but also of those living in the provinces. Exeter Jews, even as late as the Expulsion, bore French names, such as Amiot, Bonenfant, Bonefey, Deudoné, Deulecresse, and Deulegard; whilst the women were graced with names such as Amité, Nona, Chère, Ivoté, and Juetta. [TJHSE, II (1895), 91, and Adler, 'Medieval Jews', passim.]
A further indication of the close political ties and the similarity of administrative functions in the two countries are the Charters of Privilege granted by successive sovereigns from Henry I onward which were issued to the Jews of Normandy as well as of England. Once Normandy was lost, England again became, politically as well as geographically, an island. The Jews of England, too, were cut off from the great Continental centres of Jewry. The influx from abroad which had formerly provided the numbers necessary for the expansion and consolidation of provincial communities was checked. Had John decided to leave Normandy to the Normans the process of isolation may have done no harm and might even have strengthened the Jewish community by making it culturally and intellectually self-supporting. Unfortunately for England in general and its Jewry in particular, John's endeavors to recover Normandy led him to impose crippling taxation. It was this heavy burden of taxation which fell principally upon the Jews that hastened the decline of medieval Anglo-Jewry. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 34.]
The first attempt to satisfy the king's rapacity was made in Bristol in 1210. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 227 erroneously gives the date as 1216, see Roth, Jews in England, p. 35.] John arrived there after a campaign in Ireland, and he ordered all the wealthier Jews of England to appear before him for a scrutiny of their resources. Great cruelties were perpetrated on the assembled Jews to force them to reveal their wealth - the story of the Jew of Bristol whose teeth were extracted one by one became proverbial. As a result of the investigation, they were tallaged for 66,000 marks and kept in prison until the sum was paid or satisfactory guarantees given. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 227 gives the figure of 60,000 marks.] Eleven years later there were still debts outstanding from this tallage. The Exeter Jews who had not satisfied their obligation were Samuel of Wilton who had died, his widow, Iveta, Deodatus son of Amiot, Jacob of Gloucester, Samuel Episcopus, [See supra, p. 14, n. 7.] and Sampson cum ore (with the mouth). [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 227. Personal descriptions were not uncommon, e.g. Moses cum naso (with a nose), Manasseh grassus (big), Benedict longus (tall), Deudon<130] cum pedibus tortis (with lame feet) (H. P. Stokes, Studies in Anglo-Jewish History, (Edinburgh, 1913), p. 65).] Clearly the Exeter community had grown numerically and in financial importance since the Northampton Donum of 1194 to which only one individual contributed. The growth of Exeter Jewry at this period is indicated not only by its contribution to the Bristol Tallage but also by a number of references in the Fine and Oblate Rolls, 1204-5, to a further six members of the community. They were Samuel of Exeter and his wife Juetta, [Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, p. 239. In 1204, they lent 6 marks to Robert fil Ascelin.] Deulecresse le Evesque, [In 1205, he lent £5 to John Sep (Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, p. 240). This Deulecresse was perhaps the progenitor of an Exeter family of Cohenim whose titular name became their surname. In 1266, there was a Deulecresse le Chapelyn of Exeter (Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 231), probably identical with Deulecresse le Prestre of Exeter who is mentioned in 1277 (Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 233). It is not unlikely that the 1205 Deulecresse was the grandfather of his 1270-6 namesake.] and Jacob son of Yveliny together with his brother Deulecres and his sister Sarra. [Together they lent Eustace son of Albert £8 in 1205 (Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, p. 240). Yveliny also occurs in Exeter records as a Christian name (Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 224).] Possibly, the provincial communities had been reinforced by Jews from London who were anxious to escape the close scrutiny of King John's officials, for his exactions pressed close one upon the other until the once wealthy Jews of London were so reduced that 'they prowled about the city like dogs'. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 36, quoting Chronicle of Lanercost, p. 7.]
The outbreak of civil war rendered the position of Jews throughout England insecure. The barons saw the Jews not only as creditors but also as royal agents, for the Jews were used by the king 'like a sponge, sucking up the floating capital of the country, to be squeezed from time to time into the Treasury'. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 52.] To mitigate the dispossessing effect of this method of raising money for the king, the barons caused the tenth and eleventh clauses to be written into Magna Carta. These stipulated that debts due to Jews or other usurers should bear no interest during the minority of the heirs of a deceased debtor, and that if the debts fell into the hands of the king then only the capital need be paid. Similarly, a widow's dowry and the support of her minor children were to be the first charge on the estate and all debts to be paid out of the residue. These clauses bear witness to the animosity of the Jew's everyday clients, and it has been said that only John's death in 1216 saved the Jews from further despoliation by him and from attacks by the populace. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 37.]
When the infant Henry III came to the throne, England was torn by the strife engendered by the conflict of John and the barons. But the Jews suffered not only from the troubled political scene but also from the deteriorating religious climate. In 1218, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, gave effect to the discriminatory decrees of the fourth Lateran Council. [Ibid. p. 40.] Popular feeling was aroused against the Jews, and in Exeter, at least, this must have run high against them, and they needed special protection. This may be deduced from a writ addressed to the Sheriff of Devon in 1218 couched in the following terms: [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 18.]
The measures taken by the Sheriff in pursuance of the writ presumably took effect, for there is no record of any violence or outbreaks against the Jews at this period.
During the royal minority, successive regents set about the task of rebuilding the shattered Jewish community. Apart from protection of the person secured by writs similar to that just quoted, financial relief was also granted. Tallages, at least until 1227, were light. The first of these was in 1221, when seventeen Jewish centers contributed £564 towards a dowry for Princess Joan, sister of Henry III. [She married Alexander II, king of Scotland, at the age of eleven.] To this dowry Exeter Jewry contributed £8. 5. 8d. The Exeter Jews who paid most towards this sum were Jacob of Gloucester, [He would be called 'of Gloucester' after he had left that town to reside in another. If he moved from Exeter, he would most likely then be known as Jacob of Exeter. Moses of Exeter, infra, known by that name whilst still in Exeter, was probably so called to distinguish him from another Moses in a different town.] £3. 11. 8d., and Deulecresse le Eveske, £2. 10. 0d., followed by Ursell who gave 18s., Ursell, son-in-law of Amiot, 15s., Moses le Turk, 6s., and Moses of Exeter, 5s. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 227.] The Jewish community of Exeter throve under the rule of the regents, for only two years later in 1223 fifteen Exonian Jews and Jewesses were able to pay £78. 10. 6d. to a royal tax which brought in about £1,680 from the Jews of the whole country. Three of the Exeter contributors to this tallage were women. [Jewish women frequently acted as financiers in the medieval period and later periods (Roth, Jews in England, p. 115.] Bona daughter of Abraham gave £1. 10. 0d., and Chère together with Hanot between them paid £1. 11. 8d. The men mostly gave larger amounts. Jacob of Gloucester headed the list with a payment of £17 and 14 marks, Deulecresse comes next with £13. 18. 10d., Moses le Turk gave £9. 6. 8d., Bonefey son of Isaac £4, Ursell £4, Ursell, son-in-law of Amiot, £3. 19. 8d., Sampson £1. 7. 4d., and Moses son of Solomon 13s. 4d. New Exeter residents mentioned for the first time are Solomon of Dorchester who together with his son-in-law Deulecresse subscribed £2. 10. 0d., Jacob of Norwich who gave 5 marks and Lumbard son of Deulecresse Episcopus who gave 13s. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 228.] The last tallage imposed on English Jewry during Henry's minority was one of 4,000 marks, but, unless the records are incomplete, Exeter Jewry did not contribute towards it. [Ibid. p. 223.]
The first quarter of the thirteenth century marks the zenith of Anglo-Jewry's as well as Exeter Jewry's prosperity in the medieval period. Under the personal rule of Henry III, however, the Anglo-Jewish community was taxed so heavily and in such arbitrary fashion that it began to diminish in numbers and financial importance. In the first decade of Henry's personal rule onerous tallages were imposed in 1229, 1230, 1231, 1233, 1234, 1236, and 1237 of 6,000, 9,000, 15,000, 35,000, 750, 10,000 and 3,000 marks respectively. [The following table, after Roth, Jews in England, p. 271, summarizes the royal exactions and illustrates the rapid rise in the rate of taxation and the resultant impoverishment of the community in the second half of the century:
Year Amount in marks 1221 - 1230 33,000 1231 - 1240 63,000 1241 - 1250 117,000 1251 - 1260 72,000 1261 - 1270 6,000. Richardson says that various writers have greatly exaggerated the tallages exacted by Henry III (Richardson, English Jewry, p. 214.)] The 3,000 marks in 1237 were a gift to Richard of Cornwall, for his intended crusade.] Detailed accounts of the collection of these imposts have not survived and it is therefore not possible to assess the relative importance of Exeter Jewry's contribution to the national total, but presumably they had to pay their share. [Although the city and castle of Exeter were given by the king to his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1231, the Jews of Exeter remained the sole property of the Crown, and continued to pay their taxes to the royal treasury (Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 228).] Nor was there any relief from the high level of taxation in the succeeding years of the reign. In February 1241, 109 Jews from the twenty-one communities of the realm then recognized were summoned to Worcester to a so-called 'Parliament of Jews'. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 45.] They were the delegates appointed to consider ways and means of raising a new tallage of 20,000 marks, and they themselves were to act as assessors and collectors to aid the Sheriffs in collecting the tax from their fellow Jews. The larger Jewries such as London, York, Cambridge and others sent six delegates, whilst Exeter Jewry, never very numerous, sent only four. They were Jacob of Gloucester, Deulecresse Episcopus, Bonenfant son of Judah, and Josce Crespin son of Abraham. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 228.] When the Exeter Jews did not pay their share of this Worcester tallage it was Joseph Crespin, by then one of the Jewish Chirographers of Exeter, who became responsible for the outstanding balance of £31. 1. 4d. [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 75.]
The royal exactions continued unabated until the Jews of England had been stripped of all their immediately realizable possessions. But even when the Jews themselves were no longer able to provide the money which Henry always needed they still represented a marketable asset. Accordingly, in 1251, the king mortgaged them for two years as security for a loan of 5,000 marks to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who 'was thus permitted to disembowel those whom the King had flayed'. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 47. Richard protected 'his' Jews and taxed their resources with discretion.] At the end of this period Exeter Jewry paid £3. 15. 0d. towards a total collection of £320 and the following year, in 1254, the communal fund of the Jewry in Exeter gave £2 towards a tallage of 1,000 marks. Besides the small communal donation two individuals were also assessed for this tallage, one an unnamed local debtor of Aaron son of Abraham of London for £10, and Bonenfant the chirographer for 12 marks. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 229. In 1255, Bonenfant was the pledge for another royal tallage, as well as for £5. 5s. 0d. tax due from another Exeter Jew, Isaac son of Abraham.]
Between 1254 and 1260 the Jews of England were tallaged for 32,000 marks. Most of this large sum was paid by rich individuals who were often eventually reduced to penury. [Richardson, English Jewry, p. 172 and Roth, Jews in England, p. 49.] Such a one was the formerly wealthy Exeter Jew, Jacob of Gloucester. In 1221, and again in 1223, he had been the largest Exeter contributor to tallages imposed on Jews in those years. And yet, in the closing years of his life [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 151, where Belia is his widow in 1267. He was still alive in 1263 when he had business dealings with Bonenfant (Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 182).] he was only able to give 13s. to the tallage demanded in 1260. Nor were his fellow Jews in Exeter by then in much better case. Lumbard Episcopus [At his decease the value of his chattels, within and without the archa, was 40s. Tercia, his widow, paid one mark fine to take up her inheritance.] paid 6s. 8d., Bonenfant four marks, his brother Samuel two and a half marks and Joseph son of Moses gave 4s., the total amounting to £8. 6. 4d. This modest sum seems to represent the total realizable wealth of Exeter's Jews as they were unable to pay anything at all to a further tax in that same year. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 230. A rigorous search of Exeter's archa by the Sheriff revealed no assets (Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 230).]
When the Jews were squeezed by the king, they in turn had to press their Gentile debtors for prompt repayment. In the circumstances there were many disputes which were brought to court. In the Exeter courts, at least, the Jew was fairly treated. An interesting record of the procedure adopted in Exeter has survived. It is contained in a description of local customs and business regulations current in Exeter just after the middle of the thirteenth century. The description was published under the title of An Anglo-Norman Custumal of Exeter by Professor J. W. Schopp and Miss R.C. Easterling. [Published in London, 1925, for the History of Exeter Research Group of the University College of the South-West.] The reference to the Jews reads as follows:
The procedure outlined in the custumal was used in actual practice. [But cf. Rigg, Plea Rolls, II, 194 where 12 Christians and 8 Jews make inquest on a disputed charter. For the permissibility of Jews making Christians take a Christological oath in spite of a prohibition against doing so (Sanhedrin, 63b), see Katz, Exclusiveness p. 35. Some Jews relinquished their claims rather than take any oath, see I. Elfenbein, Teshuvot Rashi (New York, 1943), p. 327.]
The Jews formed one of the objects of dispute in the constitutional struggle between Henry III and his barons. The lesser baronage, in particular, was affected by financial dealings with the Jews. One of the complaints specifically aired at the Parliament of Oxford in 1258 was that the Jews sold lands taken in pledge by them to the great magnates, who then refused to accept repayment of the outstanding debt so that they could retain possession of the lands. In the revolt of the barons led by Simon de Montfort from 1262 to 1267, much havoc was wrought to the Jewries of London, Canterbury, Bristol and other cities and in each place the archa was either burned or carried off. [ Roth, Jews in England, pp. 59-62.] The revolt did not spread to Devonshire and the small Jewry of Exeter was left unharmed by the general disorders. Indeed, it was regarded as a place of safety as six deeds were sent from London for safe deposit in the Exeter archa when the seal of the Exchequer of the Jews was stolen during the uprising in London. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 231.] It is therefore not surprising to read that the Exeter chirographers, both Christian and Jewish, were reluctant to leave the security of Devon and go to London in 1266. [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 132. They would not go of their own accord, the Sheriff had to send them. In addition, the Jews probably had to pay a tax for leaving Exeter, even temporarily, to go to London (Cf. Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, ed. H. G. Richardson (1972), IV, 147, item 81).] Their fears were justified as a Jew, Jacob Baszyn, formerly resident in Exeter, was murdered in Oxford in 1286, probably in the disturbances of the 'Disinherited Knights' following de Montfort's fall. [C. Roth, The Jews of Medieval Oxford (Oxford, 1951), p. 28.]
The last years of Henry's long reign marked an effort to strengthen the position of the Jews. Those who had emigrated were encouraged to return. Jews were permitted to claim their debts, notwithstanding the destruction of the archae, if reasonable proof of them could be produced. Citizens were nominated to protect the Jews in towns where they had been particularly hard used. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 63-4.] It was, perhaps, these improved conditions which encouraged Jacob Copin, Jewish chirographer in Exeter, to seek redress when he was assaulted. The incident occurred in 1270 whilst he was transacting business in the vill of Newton. [Probably the present Newton Abbbot. Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 231, n. 9, says that one of his clients was a Paulinus of Newton. See supra, p. 12.] He was assaulted by one Robert of Buleshill, Christiana his wife and William le Layte. When Copin brought an action against them they absconded, and the Sheriff was ordered to arrest them and bring them to justice. [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 242. William de La Leye, probably the same as this William le Layte, was the guardian of Hugh Fychet who in 1274 claimed that Copin and Jacob Crespin had fraudulently placed an £80 bond in the archa (Rigg, Plea Rolls, II, 140). The assault may mark the beginning of the dispute.] The provisions to strengthen the Jewries of the realm, successfully enabled the Jews to recuperate. Whereas in 1267 the Jews of Exeter had been totally denuded of their ready cash, by 1272 Jacob Copin was able to pay £20 to Henry's last tallage. This comparatively large amount does not necessarily indicate that Copin himself had become a wealthy man, but rather that he had collected it from his fellow Jews in Exeter and paid it on their behalf. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 231.]
When Edward I came to the throne of England, 1272-1307, he showed himself to be no less extravagant than his predecessors and he sought every opportunity to raise revenue. A memoranda roll of Edward I's reign records that a fortnight after Easter, 1272, the sheriff of Devon was to render an account of his tallage. Apparently, he promptly did as he was ordered as there is no record of any failure to do so. [Rigg, Plea Rolls, IV, 49.] In 1277, on the other hand, John Wygger, the sheriff of Devon, was fined for the late return of writs concerning Jews, though he was later pardoned because he was dead! [Ibid. 103, 107.] Late in 1273, a tallage was levied on the Jews assessed at one-third of all their movable goods, that is, their bonds and valuables. Once again the effect was to throw the burden upon Christian debtors who were pressed to repay so that the Jews might be quit of their own obligations. Again Christian debtors protested against the effects of Jewish usury but this time their protest was reinforced with the authority of the Church. In 1274, the Council of Lyons, acting under the spur of Pope Gregory X, urged the Christian world to greater efforts against the sin of usury. Encouraged by Church and Laity the Statutum de Judeismo was issued at Worcester in 1275. By it Jews were absolutely forbidden to lend money at interest. Outstanding transactions had to be wound up as soon as possible. The right of distraint on land was severely curtailed and the alienation of real estate by Jews was forbidden without special permission. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 70.]
The crippling provisions of the Statutum, if carried out to the letter, would have left the Jews with hardly any means of livelihood. It is true that some Jews, particularly in the provincial centres, traded in corn and wool, as appears from a summary of the bonds for money, corn and wool held by Jews throughout England at the Expulsion. The round figures in which the amounts of corn are expressed and the absence of any qualitative differentiation suggests that dealings in corn 'conceal clandestine moneylending operations' [Roth, Jews in England, p. 272.] But the specification of quality [Cf. H. Jenkinson, Calendar of the Plea Rolls, (1929), III, 200, 'good, dry pure clean and better wheat and without evil moisture'] and details of time and place of delivery [R. R. Mundill, 'Anglo-Jewry under Edward I', TJHSE, XXXI (1990), pp. 1-21 strongly supports the view that the transactions were genuine, and that the Jews had become credit-agents trading in futures.] as well as external evidence [Richard of Devizes (ed. Howlett, p. 437) writing in 1192, 'Exeter feeds men and beasts with the same corn'.] seems to indicate that the transactions were genuine. Exeter's main import at this time was wine [W. G. Hoskins, Devon (1954), p. 107.] which the Jews also imported [Roth, Jews in England, p. 115.] so the Exeter Jews may have participated in the wine trade. But the Jews of Wiltshire, Exeter and Bristol left bonds which related, in the main, to monetary transactions, [TJHSE, II (1894), pp. 85-105.] and must have found themselves hard pressed financially. Although the Jews of England were able to eke out only a bare existence after the passing of the Statutum in 1275, they were nevertheless still expected to make large contributions to the royal purse. A tallage was imposed in 1275 which most were unable to pay. Those who were still in this unfortunate position by the following year were imprisoned, their chattels confiscated, and their wives and children deported. Debts owing to Jews became part and parcel of the commercial life of the wider community. Thus a Plea Roll of 1277 records [Rigg, Plea Rolls, IV, 98.] that a further tallage of 3,000 marks was imposed in 1277-8 notwithstanding the difficulty experienced in collecting the earlier tallage. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 73.]
With their old sources of livelihood cut off, the poorer Jews sought other means, often illegal, to keep themselves from starvation. Some sought refuge in apostasy, the numbers in the Domus Conversorum [See TJHSE, I (1893), pp. 15-24. A Jew's property escheated to the king when he or she was converted to Christianity. The ensuing poverty proved a bar to conversion of Jews. Neophytes were therefore given '... a home and a safe refuge for their whole lives with sufficient sustenance without servile work ...' (C. Trice Martin, 'The Domus Conversorum', TJHSE, I (1893), p. 15, quoting Mathew Paris).] rising to nearly one hundred. Others are said to have taken to highway robbery. Most carried on their old profession, making use of the devices invented by Christian usurers to evade canon law. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 74. For Christian moneylenders and their methods of evading Canon Law on usury, see Abrahams, Starrs and Charters, ii, civ - cviii.] Yet another way of augmenting their income, coin-clipping, was practised by some Jews. They filed the edges of the coins in which they dealt and melted the 'clippings' into bullion. The evil was no new one, early in John's reign an Assize of Money had taken place to enquire into the debasement of the coinage. Not only the Jews but also the Cahorsins, the Flemish wool traders and indeed everyone who handled coins in large numbers was suspected, and with some reason, of making illicit profits from coin-clipping. [See Richardson, English Jewry, pp. 217-223 for a discussion of the subject.] In December 1276, it was found that the coinage was in a bad shape, so justices were appointed to try accusations of coin-clipping made against both Jews and Christians.
At this stage Christians were suspected as the principal offenders; it was only later, almost perhaps by accident, it was realized that in these trials lay a golden opportunity to extract further revenue from the Jews. In November 1278, all the Jews of the kingdom were arrested and a house to house search made. 680 men and women against whom evidence was found or could be manufactured were sent for trial to London, and 293 of them were hanged. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 75. A perusal of the receipts of perquisites at the Tower from the Jews of London, 1277-8, indicates some dozens of different excuses for 'fleecing' the Jews (Rigg, Plea Rolls, IV, pp. 173-194).] The king profited considerably from the Jews' troubles. So much property fell into his hands as the result of the forfeitures and escheats consequent upon the executions that a special department was set up to deal with it. The Exeter Jewry did not pass unscathed through these perilous times. Eleven Exonians including one non-Jew were arrested. They were Blakeman son of Jacob Copin, Aaron of Caerleon, Deulecresse le Chapleyn, Leo and Copin sons of Lumbard, Solomon the son of Solomon, Benedict of Wilton, Ursell, Isaac Ericun, Aaron of Dorchester, Jorin son of Isaac, and a non-Jew, James de Fenys. The defendants were allowed bail, but there is no record of what finally happened. [Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 234.] Jacob Copin, father of the accused Blakeman, was hanged about this time, [Close Rolls, 1284, p. 278. See also infra, p. 33, n. 4 and supra, p. 12.] probably on a charge of tampering with the coinage. [It is surprising that though his house was confiscated at his death his property was not forfeited, 35 of his bonds valued at £357 were in the archa when it was opened in 1290. His clients included Sir Robert le Denys, Richard Bullock, the goldsmith, who was one of the Christian chirographers, two priests, Roger de Moleyns and Arnulf of Hunecroft, and numerous other residents of Devon and Somerset (Adler, 'Medieval Jews', p. 237).] Ursell may have followed his or a namesake's earlier example and fled the country. [In 1238, Ursell of Exeter fled after a Jewish enquiry into coin-clipping (Richardson, English Jewry, p. 221, n. 1).]
The Statutum de Judeismo was unworkable in the context of medieval English society. The severity of its provisions was soon ameliorated and a modified form of money-lending was authorized. But the local Jewry never really recovered from the setback it received after the Act was passed and from the troubles that followed the charges of coin-clipping. The Jews who were left in Exeter resumed their former occupation but they lent only small sums. [When the archa was opened in 1290, 24 tallies were found recording loans ranging from 2s. to £3. 13s. 3d.; the few that were dated were from 1286-1289.]
The hostility of the clergy towards the Jews was not peculiar to England. In 1096, there were popular outbreaks stimulated by centuries of clerical animosity against the Jews in all the cities of northern and central Europe. [J. Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (Philadelphia, 1961), p. vii, and Katz, Exclusiveness, p. xi.] The legislation covering Jews which was passed by various synods in England reflected, and was sometimes prompted by, the pronouncements of successive popes and European Church Councils. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 76-7.] The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, for example, was concerned at the rapid spread of heresy in Europe, and decided that too free intercourse with Jews was largely responsible for it. [H. Graetz, History of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1956) (afterwards quoted as Graetz, History of the Jews), iii, 509. Graetz asserts that 'the great misery of the Jews during the Middle Ages began with Pope Innocent III and the Fourth Lateran Council'.] The Council passed certain measures, designed to check Jewish influence among Christians, which were introduced into England in 1218, [The ground had been prepared by a series of tracts against the Jews: Dialogus inter Christianum et Judaeum de fide catholica (anonymous, between 1123-48). Bartholomew, Bishop of Exeter's Dialogus contra Judaeos ad corrigendum et perficiendum destinatus (1180-4); Peter of Blois, Invectiva contra perfidiam Judaeorum (c. 1204) (TJHSE, XVII (1951), 230). Bartholomew's Dialogus may have been prompted by the settlement of Jews in Exeter at that period (supra, p. 10).] and were renewed and reinforced at synods at Worcester in 1240, at Chichester some six years later, at Salisbury in about 1256, and at Exeter in 1287. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 54, 77-8.] The anti-Jewish code thus promulgated contained a number of humiliating and degrading conditions. All Jews had to wear a distinguishing badge - 'ostensibly to prevent the scandal of unwitting sexual intimacy between unbelievers and the faithful'. [Ibid. p. 40.] Jews were forbidden to employ Christian servants, to enter churches or keep their property in them. Jews were not allowed to build new synagogues. They had to acknowledge the local priest as their overlord by paying church tithes based not only on their real estate but even on the usurious profits which they were supposed not to make. [Graetz, History of the Jews, iii, p. 516.] Life was only made bearable by royal influence and also by Time - the great healer. The renewal of the regulations at successive synods was necessary because their full force became blunted, for with the passage of time many of the regulations lapsed into desuetude. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 119-121. Katz, Exclusiveness, p. 9, however, asserts that occasional infringements did provoke public admonitions.]
One result of religious fanaticism on the one hand and ignorant credulity on the other was the invention in England of the infamous Ritual Murder accusation. This was first made on Easter Eve 1144, when the dead body of William, a young apprentice, was found in a wood near Norwich. Rumours spread that he was a victim of the Jews who had crucified him on their Passover, but no Jew was tried or punished for the alleged crime. [Jew. Encycl. s.v. BLOOD ACCUSATION. Hardly a decade had passed since 1144 without the 'Blood Libel' being raised somewhere. Riots following publication of Ritual Murder charges occurred in Russia, in Tashkent in 1961, and Margelan in 1962 (, 25 January 1963).] Further accusations of similar crimes followed at Gloucester in 1168, Bury St. Edmunds in 1181, and Bristol in 1183. No trials were held after these latter charges either, but popular rumour was sufficient to establish the martyrdom of the children involved. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 13, 18, 21.] These child martyrs attracted considerable numbers of pilgrims, no doubt with economic benefit, to the cathedrals and abbeys where their relics were housed.
The Church was not the sole beneficiary of the new hagiolatry; the king, too, required compensation for the supposed loss of one of his subjects. In 1239, an alleged murder in London was punished by the confiscation of one-third of the ten richest Jews' property. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 45.] Further charges accompanied by heavy fines for the Jewish community at large and fatal consequences for the individuals concerned were made in London in 1244, Lincoln ['Little St. Hugh of Lincoln.'] in 1255, and Northampton in 1277. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 55, 56, 78.]
Converts both to and from the dominant faith frequently caused trouble. At Lynn in Norfolk in 1190, for example, some Jews followed a former coreligionist into a church where he had taken refuge to escape their insults. An uproar followed which soon turned into a riot. [Ibid. p. 21. Other instances were: in 1234, at Norwich (p. 53); in 1274, London Jews coerced a woman convert to go overseas so that she might return to her ancestral faith; in 1290, at Oxford (p. 83).] Exeter Jews were probably involved when many of the leading members of the Oxford Jewry were imprisoned on a charge of rescuing a boy who had become a Christian, the lost infant being traced to Exeter in 1236. [Ibid. p. 271. It was deemed specially meritorious to assist converts, especially those who had apostatized under duress, to escape from Christianity (Sefer Hasidim (Berlin edn. 1891), pp. 200, 201, 209).] But the greatest damage was caused by conversions to Judaism. In 1222, a deacon was burnt at Oxford for becoming a Jewish proselyte. After his conversion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, zealously supported by the Bishops of Norwich and Lincoln, threatened with excommunication even those who sold to the Jews the basic necessities of life. Fortunately for the Jews this last enactment was countermanded by the king, else they would have starved. [Ibid. p. 41.] Another proselyte is said to have been one of the direct causes of the decision to expel the Jews from England. He was Robert of Reading, a Dominican friar who some years before the Expulsion embraced Judaism, adopted the name of Haggai and married a Jewess. [In TJHSE, VI (1908), p. 255 ff., various dates are given for the incident from 1260-75.] But even converts from Judaism to Christianity proved to be a source of vexation to the Church. For whereas Christians apostatized at the risk of their lives and demonstrated depth of character and courage in so doing, most of the Jews who left their community had much to gain. The wealthy Jew was deterred from accepting Christianity as, at his baptism he had to sacrifice the greater part of his wealth to the king, who was deprived henceforth from deriving a profit from 'his' Jew. So it was those who had little or nothing to lose materially who joined the Church, and these converts often proved to be little loss to the faith they left and little gain to the one they joined. [Richardson, English Jewry, p. 32, and Roth, Jews in England, p. 83. For a discussion of the motives leading to apostasy see Katz, Exclusiveness, pp. 74-6.] But the Christian clergy was not only irritated by the qualitative but also by the quantitative gain, [M. Adler minimized the total (Jews of Medieval England (London, 1939) (afterwards quoted as Adler, Medieval England), p. 32).] which remained comparatively small. [Richardson, English Jewry, p. 29, corrects Adler's view that the number was insignificant. On the other hand, Katz, Exclusiveness, p. 68, strongly suggests that throughout Europe there were only isolated instances of voluntary conversion.] Six known converts came from Exeter, four men and two women, though there may have been more. [Nicholas le Jew at St. Winnow, Cornwall, in 1321, must surely have been a convert (Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, p. 914).] The men were the brothers Samuel and Solomon, sons of Leo, [Perhaps Leo of Bourg, chirographer about 1266.] who were converted before 1266 and 1270 respectively, [Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, pp. 132, 265.] Henry of Exeter, a clerk, and Richard the elder of the same city, a tailor. [Adler, Medieval England, p. 309. It is not impossible that Henry and Richard are the baptismal names of Samuel and Solomon.] One of the women was called Alice of Exeter [Adler, Medieval England, p. 351. She was one of the 28 women who resided in the Domus from 1280. Alice and Claricia were still there in 1308 (TJHSE, IV (1899), p. 54).] and the other was Claricia, [TJHSE, IV (1899), p. 26.] daughter of Jacob Copin who was hanged about 1280. [Supra, p. 29, n. 1.] Claricia entered the Domus in 1280, probably at a tender age because she died there seventy six years later, by which time she had become the sole resident. [She left the Domus in 1309, went back to Exeter, married and had two children, Richard and Katherine. In 1327, she left the children in Exeter and returned to the Domus where they joined her in 1333. Richard was granted a pension of one and a half pence a day even when he left the Domus (TJHSE, IV (1899), p. 26).] These six Exeter Jews who converted to Christianity represent about 6.7 per cent of Jews who are known to have resided in Exeter from 1180 until 1290. [If Henry and Richard are the same as Solomon and Samuel then the percentage is reduced to about 4.5 per cent.] If this proportion was typical of Anglo-Jewry as a whole, then the frustration of Christian clerics 'to whom the unconverted Jew was a standing reproach' is, perhaps, understandable. [Richardson, English Jewry, p. 28.]
In 1286, Pope Honorius addressed a letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in which he called upon them to reaffirm the decisions of the Lateran Councils. This letter had a baleful influence on the Synod of Exeter a year later in 1287 under Peter Quivil, [He was Bishop of Exeter from 1280-91 (G. Oliver, Lives of the Bishops of Exeter (Exeter, 1861), p. 48.] when 'all the ancient canonical strictures against the Jews were reinforced with a severity seldom paralleled'. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 77.] Special stress was laid on the following enactments:
These enactments must have been strictly enforced in the city of their promulgation, and for a time, at least, a certain degree of unpleasantness must have ensued for the Jews of the city. This Synod was probably the cause of the rapid dwindling in the number of Exeter Jews shortly before the Expulsion. For whereas there seem to have been at least forty Jews actively engaged in money-lending in the years immediately before 1290, [TJHSE, II (1894), 91.] only one, a Jewess called Comitissa, had a house there when the final blow fell. [TJHSE, II (1894), 91, no. 39. V. D. Lipman estimates the Jewish population of Norwich at the time of the expulsion to have been about fifty or sixty (V. D. Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich (1967), p. 38). If the number of bondholders and the value of their bonds are any criteria then the medieval Jewish population of Exeter was about 100 at the time of the expulsion in 1290.]
The Expulsion, 1290
A combination of crippling taxation and repressive legislation had brought the fortunes of Anglo-Jewry low. As providers of capital they had been superseded by Christian moneylenders. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 84.] They did not fit into feudal society nor were the leaders of that society sufficiently advanced in their political thinking to accept on equal terms people of different religious faith. [Ibid. p. 72.] On this count alone, Edward could justify his decision to expel an group which refused to be assimilated. But there was an even more attractive advantage to be gained by a general expulsion of the Jews - a financial one. This had already been demonstrated when Edward expelled the Jews from his Gascon dominions in 1289 and confiscated their property. [Richardson, English Jewry, p. 225.] The confiscated property proved a welcome addition to his depleted funds, but it did not amount to a very great deal, and Edward's needs were both great and pressing, as he had entered into heavy commitments to ransom his cousin, Charles of Salerno. [Ibid.] When he turned to his English Jewry, he discovered that it produced very little in terms of day-to-day revenue. [In 1190, the Jews had provided one-seventh of the royal income, by 1290 the proportion had dropped to one one-hundredth (Roth, Jews in England, p. 84).] Its assets in bonds and immovable property, however, were substantial. Lists of all the bonds and obligations on account of money and produce owing at the time of the Expulsion to the Jews in eleven of the seventeen towns in which they resided are extant. The total value on record is about £9,100, the Exeter Jewry accounting for some £1,238 of this amount. There were 39 bondholders in the Exeter archa and five of them had bonds for more than two-thirds of Exeter's total, see Table 2.
(Source: TJHSE, II (1894), 91.)
All these assets were Edward's for the taking if he repeated his Gascony expedient. This he determined to do, and on 18 July 1290, writs were issued to the sheriffs of various English counties, informing them that all Jews were ordered, on pain of death, to leave the realm before 1 November 1290. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 85.] The edict was carried out with humanity, and the few who ill-treated the Jews as they left the country were punished. Provincial Jews made their way to London and from thence they sought refuge with their brethren overseas. The medieval Anglo-Jewry was no more. [For the main routes of the Expulsion see Map 2.]
Was there an organized community of Jews in Cornwall in the medieval period? There is no evidence to suggest that there was. Individual Jews certainly settled there [Aaron of Cornwall together with Moses Rod were arrested at Uxbridge in 1244 on a charge of stealing a horse (Rigg, Plea Rolls, I, 98). He may be identical with Aaron of Caerleon (? Carlyon Bay, 3 miles from St Austell).] and may have participated in the tin trade as may be inferred from the Liber Rubeus of the Treasury from the Capitula de Stannatoribus, 9 Ric. I:
It is possible, however, that the phrases 'neither man nor woman, Christian nor Jew' were a stereotyped legal term which meant 'everybody'. If this was so then no inference can be drawn from the Liber Rubeus about medieval Jewish tin trading. There is, however, a very explicit reference to such trading in Camden's Brittania (1586) where he says that in the time of King John the mines were farmed by the Jews for 100 marks. [Ibid. p. 188.]
Some support for the assumption that medieval Jews actually worked underground is to be found in the folklore of Cornish legend. According to the tradition of Cornish miners, unidentifiable noises were thought to be caused by spirits called 'knockers'. These were supposed to be the spirits of Jews who were at work in the mines. So as not to offend them, nobody was allowed to make the sign of the cross underground. [Quoted by Arthur Bluett, Cornish Magazine, ed. A. T. Quiller-Couch (Truro, 1899), ii, 274.] Some miners thought that the knockers were the spirits of the Jews who were alleged to have crucified Jesus, and it was said that the knockers never worked on Christmas Day, the Jews' Sabbath, Easter day and All Saints Day. [Ibid. p. 269.]
A medieval relic which perhaps demonstrates the close connection between Jews and the mining industry has survived in the form of an alloy casting of a figure inscribed with four Hebrew letters. The figure was dug up on Bodmin Moor near Helmen Tor in the parish of Lanlivery, significantly, perhaps, near the site of a Jew's House. [Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, XVII (1907), 320.] It is at present housed in the collection of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro. The figure is 5.5 inches high, 4.3 inches wide at its base, 3.6 inches deep and weighs 9 pounds 9 ounces. It clearly portrays a bearded man sitting on a high backed chair or throne. Until it was lost in a late nineteenth century fire, there was a crown on the man's head. The man has tentatively been identified with Richard, Earl of Cornwall and the four Hebrew letters, Nun, Resh, Shin, Mem, have been said to be the initial letters of four Hebrew words referring to Richard as 'Rapacious Eagle - The Almighty is our King'. [See the descriptive card relating to this object at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro.] As the letters are scattered over the figure this identification is most uncertain and it is difficult to do more than hazard a guess at the meaning of the letters and the purpose of the figures. One possibility which suggests itself is that the object was made by a Cornish miner who gave it as a pledge to a Jew. If this presumption is correct then the letters might represent its value and the time of its redemption. On the other hand, it is unlikely that the pledgee would mar a pledge with such large and deeply incised letters. Perhaps the object was used in pseudo-Cabbalistic or Black Magic rites and hence the Hebrew lettering, [I am indebted to Mr H. Douch, Curator of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, for this suggestion. He also weighed and measured the figure.] or it may even have been used as a medieval chess piece.
There is also a suggestion of a connection between medieval Jewry and Cornwall which relies on the literal meaning of the Hebrew phrase used to designate England. [, 13 March 1845.] Some medieval Jewish scholars referred to England as Ketzei HaAretz, [Though the more usual name for England was Iyyei HaYam (see TJHSE, XVII (1952), 74, n. 2).] a phrase which can be literally rendered as Land's End. According to one suggestion the Jews' first contact with England was at Land's End and they afterwards used the Hebrew name for Land's End to designate England as a whole.
Finally, it is difficult to imagine why a writ issued in 1283 to some twenty Sheriffs, all known to have Jews under their jurisdiction, to go in person to all the chests of the chirographers of the Jews in their bailiwicks, should also be sent to the Sheriff of Cornwall, unless there were Jews actually in his county; [TJHSE, IV (1899), 215.] however, no reference to an archa in Cornwall, and at least one archa was established elsewhere for a single Jew, [See supra, p. 13, n. 3.] has come to light.
After their expulsion from England, the medieval Jews left behind only a slight impression of their two century sojourn. In Devon, one relic of their stay has not been noted in any of the standard works of Anglo-Jewish history. It is Jews' Bridge, the lowest bridge over the River Bovey, some two and a half miles south-west of Chudleigh, [Ordnance Survey, (1960), SX 87/839,765.] which was built before 1399. [Episcopal Registers of Exeter: Edmund Stafford (1886), p. 223.] In 1406, the vicar of Buckfastleigh willed 12 pence each to the Totnes Bridge, the Dart Bridge and the 'ponti Judeorum'. [H. R. Watkins, Totnes Priory and Medieval Town (Torquay, 1914), p. 348.] In 1421, an indulgence of 40 days was granted to those who contributed to the upkeep of 'Jewysbrugge'. [The Place names of Devon, ed. J. E. B. Gover, A. Marver, O. F. M. Stenton (Cambridge, 1932), p. 469.] It was repaired in 1643, [C. Henderson, Old Devon Bridges (Exeter, 1938), p. 47.] and widened in 1753, at which time it was called Judar's Bridge, [Exeter City Council Act Book, XIV (1753), 198.]. It was replaced in the early nineteenth century [C. Henderson, Old Devon Bridges (Exeter, 1938), p. 47.] and again in 1966, still keeping its name Jews' Bridge. The origin of the name is not now known, though the suggestion by William White [White, Devon Direct. p. 470.] that it was so called because it was built by one of the Jewe family is untenable in view of the early reference to ponti Judeorum. Possibly, it was so called because the medieval Jews paid special tolls when they used it; [See Roth, Jews in England, p. 103, n. 1.] that they acquired the toll rights; that it was built with monies raised from a special tax levied on Jews; [Cf. the cross at Oxford built with Jews' money, 1275, (Richardson, Plea Rolls, IV, 76).] that the burial ground for medieval Jewry was situated close by, [The medieval Jewish cemetery at York is in a place called Jewbury. Perhaps Jewysbrugge in Devon was adapted from a name similar to Jewbury.] and sadly and most likely, that the bridge was the site of a tragedy involving Jews. [Compare, for example, the origin of the name Jew's Lane, infra, p. 47. There is an old house in Polperro, Cornwall, which is called 'The Jew's House' but it got its name as late as 1922 (letter to author from Mr F. Nettleinghame, 14 June 1963).]
Edward I's edict of 1290 expelled all Jews from the Kingdom on pain of death. During the course of the next three and a half centuries, before their presence was officially accepted, individual Jews entered England in spite of the severe penalty which they faced. [See Roth, Jews in England, pp. 132-48, 158-66.] One such case occurred in 1409, when a Jewish woman, Johanna, and her daughter, Alice, were discovered at Dartmouth. [TJHSE, IV (1899), 35. For medieval Jews in isolated places see C. Roth, 'The ordinary Jew in the Middle Ages', Gleanings (New York, 1967), p. 25.] It is not known how they arrived, nor how long they had been in residence but upon discovery, perhaps to avoid fatal consequences to themselves, they intimated that they were prepared to become Christians. Henry IV ordered the Keeper of the Domus Conversorum 'to admit them for the term of their lives and grant them the usual wages of the converts, 1d. per day'.
A stronger personality and much more important visitor was Joachim Ganz or Gaunze who was largely responsible for the revival of copper mining in Keswick and Cornwall. He was a German Jewish mining engineer who was invited by the Company for the Mines Royal to advise on methods of copper extraction. He visited the company's mines at Keswick and produced a report on the treatment of copper ores which is still of value. He spent three years from 1586 to 1589 in Cornwall ensuring a supply of copper ore for the rising metallurgical industries of Wales. He was expelled from England after a too forthright declaration of his Judaism which may well have influenced Francis Bacon in his literary and scientific work. [TJHSE, IV (1899), 87, 100; XXIX (1982), 9-21. See also M. B. Donald, Elizabethan Copper (1955), pp. 90, 299, 300, 343.]
A chance Jewish visitor to Devon was a privateer who was arrested in Plymouth in 1614. He was Samuel Palache who had received a commission from the King of Morocco to act against the Spaniards. Having taken two prizes he set sail for Holland but was forced by bad weather to take refuge in Plymouth, where he was arrested on a charge of piracy but was released the following year by an Act of the Privy Council. [Item 54 in the Catalogue of Exhibition of Anglo-Jewish Art and History (1956), p. 17. Mr M. H. Gans of Amsterdam kindly sent me photo-copies of his material on Palache.]
Contact JCR-UK Webmaster:
This website is
owned by JewishGen and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. All
material found herein is owned by or licensed to us. You may view, download, and
print material from this site only for your own personal use. You may not post
material from this site on another website without our consent. You may not
transmit or distribute material from this website to others. You may not use
this website or information found at this site for any commercial purpose.
Copyright © 2002 - 2020 JCR-UK. All Rights Reserved