Jews in England 1216-72

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about the changing status of England’s Jewish communities? What do these documents suggest about the relationship between the king and England’s Jewish communities? Can court records, especially accusations of violence, always be taken at face value?

Potential activities: Following the source activities below, students should create a poster that stands against the new rules introduced in the Statute of Jewry c. 1253. What rules have been introduced and why are they unfair for Jewish communities living in England?

What was the relationship between Christians and Jews from 1216-72?

The kings following William I, offered England’s Jewish community the same protection in return for their civil obedience. They had to recognise and respect the king as the person in charge of their non-religious affairs and contribute to royal revenue through their moneylending activities. This relationship can be traced to its earliest form in documents such as the Laws of Edward the Confessor and the later ‘Charter of Liberties’ issued under King Richard I and King John. Here it said that Jews may live ‘freely and honourably’ in England and enjoy the same ‘liberties and customs’ as their predecessors for as long as they served the king in charge. The financial value of Jews to both the crown and the wider economy is recognised to have created Jews a place in English society. Many historians have used the term ‘the king’s Jews’ in reference to this unusual, even ‘special’ arrangement and have come to understand the experience of the Jewish community predominantly through the eyes of medieval royal government. This lesson explores the experience of Jews through the same ‘eyes of medieval royal government’ to investigate how Jews interacted with the king and the law.

The lesson also focuses on the relationship between Christians and Jews during the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272). Being only nine years old when his father died, the initial years of Henry’s rule saw England managed by a minority government, a council of influential noblemen, and this period is often described as a time of ‘prosperity’ for Jews living in England.  Use the sources in this lesson to support or challenge this view. Was their position one of prosperity or persecution?


Task one

The end of King of John’s reign marked a new era for Jewish communities living in England. In fact, many historians describe it as a time of ‘prosperity’ for Jews. The Receipt roll that recorded the contributions made to the 1221 tallage (tax) placed on the Jews reveals that many Jewish individuals were able to pay their tax with ease. Below are two extracts from this Receipt roll. Source one considers a selection of payments made by members of Northampton’s Jews and Source two provides the total contributions made by each Jewish community across England.

  1. Focus on source one. Using the key in the transcript to help you, consider the following questions on the contributions made by members of the Northampton Jewish community:
    1. How many different Jewish individuals contributed to the tax in this extract?
    2. How much did Abraham, son of Samuel contribute?
    3. How much did Solomon, son of Mosse contribute?
    4. How many of the contributors were female?
    5. What does this suggest about women in the Jewish community?
  1. The total contributions made by each Jewish community to the 1221 tallage are recorded at the end of the Receipt roll. Focus on source two and consider the following questions:
    1. How many Jewish communities contributed to the tallage (tax)?
    2. Which community contributed the most to the tallage (tax)?
    3. Reflecting on key events from last lesson, does the contribution from the York community surprise you? Explain your answer.
    4. Using this extract, explain why historians have called this a ‘prosperous’ age for England’s Jewish communities.

Task two:

The financial success of Jews in England was not celebrated by everyone. In fact, many Christians living in settlements alongside Jewish families came to increasingly resent their Jewish neighbours. These anti-Jewish feelings were often only recorded in narrative accounts in the history books of the day but one record that survives at The National Archives offers a cartoon that captures the attitudes of those living in Norwich.

The cartoon survives on an Exchequer roll; a financial account that was created to list the tax payments made by Jewish individuals in the city of Norwich to the king. The presence of such an image on a formal administrative document is rare and offers a valuable opportunity to consider how Christian drawings from the thirteenth century portray Jewish members in their shared community.

  1. Look carefully at source three
    1. List five things you can identify in the image.
    2. Can you see any names or words? What might they be referring to?
    3. On first impression, how do you think this image links to the Jewish community?
    4. Who do you think created the image? Why was it added to a royal financial record?
  1. Let’s examine source three in detail.
    1. Read through each description and match it to the correct section of the image.
    2. Using this additional information, write a paragraph explaining how this image reveals attitudes towards Jews in Norwich in the early 1230s. Make sure you select ‘evidence’ from the image to support your argument.

Task three:

During the 1230s, the relationship between Christian and Jewish communities became increasingly tense. Lesson one showed that accusations of Jewish violence especially the murder of Christian children had circulated in England since the 1140s. However, from the 1230s onwards, these cases were finding themselves before the king’s law courts for the first time. These accounts were most likely made up but were being taken seriously by the law. The extract below is taken from one such case in 1232 when it was recorded on the Hampshire Eyre roll that a one-year-old boy, named Stephen, was found strangled near St Swithun’s Priory, in Winchester. According to those who found the body, it had been dismembered (hands and feet removed), castrated, and its eyes and heart taken out. The case reveals that Abraham Pinche, a member of the Jewish community, was named by the jury as the perpetrator of the murder.

  1. Read through source four and consider the following questions:
    1. Who is recorded to be telling the account to the court?
    2. Who is reported to have sold the young boy?
    3. What happened to the boy’s mother?
    4. What happened to the Jews in Winchester because of this accusation?
  2. Consider the following information and reflect on the questions below:

The young boy’s mother was eventually found guilty of the crime, yet Abraham Pinche failed to win back around the people of Winchester. Abraham was accused of stealing from a shop and eventually tried at the Hampshire Eyre (court) of 1236 and hanged as a felon (criminal).

  1. What does this court case suggest about the relationship between Christian and Jews living in Winchester in the 1230s?
  2. Whose side of the story do we not hear in the court case? Why might that shape how we think about the accusation?
  3. Why must we be careful to not always trust the stories (especially of violence) recorded in medieval court records?

Task four:

In 1253, King Henry III enforced a series of new laws (known as articles) to tighten control over Jewish life. This was known as the Statute of Jewry. A statute was a new law introduced by the highest authority. Many historians believe that this marked a new phase in the deterioration of Christian-Jewish relations in England as the king’s new rules attempted to segregate and isolate Jews in their local communities.

Read through source five below and consider the following questions:

  1. What do you think King Henry meant by the word “serve” in Article I (1)?
  2. Why do you believe King Henry restricted the building of more synagogues?
  3. Look at Article 9 (IX). Why might the king want Jews to wear a distinctive badge?
  4. Which rule do you believe is the most severe? Explain your answer.
  5. How do these rules compare to the “prosperous” age for Jews as suggested in task one?


King Henry III came to the throne in c. 1216. After the ‘chaos’ of his father King John’s reign, especially, for Jews, the heavy taxation and imprisonment of members of their community, the early years of Henry’s reign are often viewed as a successful period in the history of England’s medieval Jewish community. It is even said that the English Jewry recovered rapidly to such an extent that by c. 1241 they were the wealthiest Jewish community in Europe.

There are a variety of documents that survive from the 1220s and 1230s that show Jewish individuals thriving during these early years; especially financial records, such as the Receipt rolls, that preserve the tax contributions made by individual Jews.  Records from the Exchequer of the Jews, a specialist administrative centre set up to handle Jewish financial and legal affairs also reveal how Jewish moneylenders used the legal system effectively to ensure debts were repaid to them on time. Some cases appeared outside the Jewish Exchequer in the central royal courts: the king’s court (which travelled around the country), the court at Westminster (known as the common bench), and the Eyre courts that travelled around specific counties at specific times. The cases brought by and against Jews in these courts varied significantly. Some reveal Jewish individuals able to express and voice the prejudice and persecution they received from Christians in their communities, while others highlight vicious and violent accusations brought against Jews and increasingly so from the 1230s onwards.

The growing wealth of England’s Jewish community was due to a number of factors: a booming economy and a widespread demand for cash meant that the business of many Jewish moneylenders flourished at this time. This stirred much resentment within the wider Christian population and contributed to a deteriorating relationship between the two communities. From the 1230s, there was a rise in anti-Jewish incidents and many related to the alleged ritual murder of Christian children: for example, the accusations levelled at the Winchester Jewry in c. 1232, the Norwich Jewry in c. 1233, and the Lincoln Jewry in c. 1255.

Other evidence also reflects growing resentment of the growing dominance of Jews in local trade and finance. For example, in the 13th century, Norwich was one of the largest and most important towns in England. One of its richest and most powerful residents was Isaac, son of Jurnet, a Jewish moneylender who owned a large amount of property in the city and was a banker to the king. Isaac employed other Jews to collect the money that borrowers in the city owed to him. The most well-known were Mosse Mokke and his wife Abigail. The grotesque cartoon depicting Mosse Mokke in league with the Devil leaves little doubt about how the Jews of Norwich were viewed in 1233. Many Christians viewed Jews in England as the enemies of Jesus Christ.

As relations between Christians and Jews became evermore strained, King Henry III enforced a series of new laws to tighten control over Jewish life. This was known as the Statute of Jewry and it was issued in 1253. It attempted to segregate and isolate Jews. Some of the new conditions included that Jews could only remain in England if they ‘served’ the crown in some way; they had to wear a badge that marked them as Jewish; and no new synagogues could be built. King Henry’s legislation reflected what was happening elsewhere in Europe: other kings were also seen tightening their restrictions over their Jewish communities. The reaction to Henry’s clampdown was so strong that Elias l’Eveske, arch-presbyter (leader) of England’s Jews, asked if they could leave the country. This request was refused.

Teachers' notes

This is the second lesson of three on England’s medieval Jewish communities c. 1066-1290. It continues to develop the path for teachers to integrate a deeper awareness of medieval religions, tolerance and diversity, and religious persecution into the classroom, including recommended reading and accessible sources to aid schools, and equip students, with the skills and awareness to challenge misconceptions, tackle adversity and recognise their responsibility as global citizens in the modern world.

It builds on lesson 1 to examine the presentation of England’s Jewish community in the records at The National Archives. In doing so, it aims to showcase the ever-changing experience for Jews through the eyes of royal government over the course of the early thirteenth century. Some teachers may wish to cover these sources over two lessons. It is recommended that appropriate time is taken to understand and appreciate the sensitive material (as to not to misconstrue its meaning); especially in Tasks 2 and 3.

Learning Objective:

To question the changing status of Jews in medieval England.

Differentiated learning outcomes:

  • (All) Students will be able to identify which Jewish communities contributed to royal tallage (tax) payments.
  • (Most) Students will be able to explain how life for Jewish communities had changed by the 1250s.
  • (Some) Students will be able to evaluate how far royal records (administrative and legal) reveal the attitudes of Christians to Jewish individuals in their communities.

The lesson is focused around four tasks that in turn provide context to the financial significance of Jewish communities, the Christian response to Jewish success, and the increasing pressures on Christians and Jews living harmoniously in shared interfaith communities. These tasks are focused on the governmental documents that survive in The National Archives, namely the Receipt rolls, Eyre rolls and Close rolls. The notes below discuss the nature of this material and offer advice on how to aid student discussion in each case.

Receipt Rolls

Receipt rolls record the details of all money paid into the Exchequer, or Exchequer of Receipt, and, as a result, offer a highly valuable collection of material for understanding Exchequer revenue. Alongside the main series of receipts are the Jewish receipt rolls, which record the income from tallages (taxes), fines and amercements levied on the Jewish community between the reign of King John and King Edward. Much like the Pipe rolls, the entries are highly formulaic and you may wish to help the students consider the Latin record to try and detect key vocabulary/numbers.

Eyre Rolls

Eyre rolls record the legal proceedings from when small groups of judges (referred to as justices) were sent from the central courts at Westminster to preside over local courts across the counties of England. These justices sat in judgment over various kinds of legal cases, referred to as pleas that had occurred since the last eyre was conducted. The court case in this lesson arose in the Hampshire eyre in 1236 although the crime was said to have taken place four years earlier in 1232. Accusations of this nature had not been taken seriously in the royal courts before the 1230s and some historians argue that their appearance in the royal courts from this point onwards is further evidence to suggest that relations between Christians and Jews were becoming increasingly strained.

Close Rolls
Letters close were often instructions or orders of a private, personal nature. They were therefore issued folded and ‘closed’ by the application of the great seal. The Close rolls present an enrolled copy of those letters sent. These records outline matters of varied importance. In some cases, letters are addressed to officials, such as sheriffs, or even foreign rulers. The Close roll entries in this lesson reveal just how important these records can be by revealing the new rules restricting the livelihoods of Jews in England.

The documents offer students a chance to develop their powers of evaluation and analysis. Encourage your students to look at the original sources, if possible, although some are more difficult than others, in an attempt to understand the nature of the material and to see if they can pick out any key Latin vocabulary (using the key to help them). All documents, however, have been transcribed and a simplified translation is offered in each case to allow students to delve into the subject matter. Ensure too that they are familiar with terms like ‘prosperity’, ‘tallage’, and ‘statute’, before they start.

Students can study the document extracts and questions in pairs and report back to the whole class. Alternatively, they can work through the tasks independently.


Source 1: Extract from the Receipt roll for Easter 5, Henry III that records the contributions from the Northampton Jewish community to the c. 1221 tallage (Catalogue Ref: E 401/4, m. 4).

Source 2: Extract from the Receipt roll for Easter 5, Henry III that records the overall contributions from each of the Jewish settlements across England to the c. 1221 tallage (Catalogue Ref: E 401/4, m. 4d).

Source 3: Satirical illustration of the Norwich Jewish community (Catalogue Ref: E 401/1565).

Source 4: Extracts from a court case accusing Jews of the murder of a Christian child in Winchester brought before the Hampshire Eyre, c. 1232 (Catalogue Ref: JUST 1/775, m. 20).

Source 5: The Statute of the Jewry (the provisions made by the King for the Jews of England), dated 31st January 1253 (Catalogue Ref: C 54/66, m. 18.

Select bibliography

Abulafia, A. Sapir. Christian-Jewish Relations 1000–1300: Jews in the Service of Christendom (Harlow, 2011).

Bale, A.P. Feeling Persecuted: Christians, Jews and Images of Violence in the Middle Ages (London, 2010).

Brand, P. ‘The Jews and the Law in England, 1275-90’, Economic History Review 115 (2000): 1138–1158.

Carpenter, D.A. ‘Crucifixion and Conversion: King Henry III and the Jews in 1255’, in Law, Lawyers and Texts: Studies in Medieval Legal History in Honour of Paul Brand, ed. S. Jenks, J. Rose and C. Whittick (Leiden, 2012): 129–148.

Dobson, R.B.  ‘The Jews of Medieval York and the Massacre of March 1190’, in The Jewish Communities of Medieval England: the collected essays of R.B. Dobson, ed. H. Birkett (York, 2010): 1–52.

Hyams, P. ‘The Jews in Medieval England, 1066–1290’, in England and Germany in the High Middle Ages, ed. A. Haverkamp and H. Vollrath (Oxford, 1996): 173–192.

Moore, R.I. Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250 (Oxford, 2007).

Mundill, R.R. The King’s Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval England (London, 2010).

Richardson, H.G. The English Jewry under Angevin Kings (London, 1960).

Roth, C. A History of the Jews in England (Oxford, 3rd ed., 1964).

Rubin, M. Gentile Tales: the Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven, 1999).

Stacey, R.C. ‘‘Adam of Bristol’ and the Tales of Ritual Crucifixion in Medieval England’, in Thirteenth Century England XI: Proceedings of the Gregynog Conference, 2005, ed. J. Burton, B. Weiler, P. Schofield and K. Stöber (Woodbridge, 2012): 1–15.

Stacey, R.C. ‘The English Jews under Henry III’, in Jews in Medieval Britain: Historical, Literary and Archaeological Perspectives, ed. P. Skinner (Woodbridge, 2003): 41–54.

Stacey, R.C. ‘The Massacres of 1189-90 and the Origins of the Jewish Exchequer, 1186–1226’, in Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts, ed. S. Rees Jones and S. Watson (York, 2013): 106–24.

Tartakoff, P. ‘From Conversion to Ritual Murder: Re-Contextualizing the Circumcision Charge’, Medieval Encounters 24 (2018): 361–362.

Vincent, N.C. ‘Jews, Poitevins, and the Bishop of Winchester, 1231–1234’, Christianity and Judaism, Studies in Church History 29, ed. D. Wood (Oxford, 1992): 119–132;

External links

King Henry III
A biography for King Henry III. A short biography of King Henry III produced by the British Library. There are also additional links to articles surrounding the period of Henry’s ascension to the throne in 1216.

Medieval Jewish Winchester
A history of medieval Jewish Winchester. An overview with accompanying walking tour of the Jewish history of Winchester published as a collaborative project by the University of Winchester and Winchester City Council to uncover Winchester’s medieval Jewish past.

Matthew Paris, ‘Chronica Majora’, c. 1255. A brief translated account from a medieval chronicle, provided by Cornell University, describing a Christian account of the story of Hugh of Lincoln. It is important to stress that this account is dramatised and not to be accepted at face value.

Connections to Curriculum

This lesson fits within the KS3 curriculum for the thematic strand ‘The development of Church, State and Society’. In particular, ‘Christendom, the importance of religion and the Crusades’ and ‘Society, economy and culture: religion in daily life’.

Key stage 4

GCSE Edexcel Migrants in Britain, c800–present

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about the changing status of England’s Jewish communities? What do these documents suggest about the relationship between the king and England’s Jewish communities? Can court records, especially accusations of violence, always be taken at face value?

Potential activities: Following the source activities below, students should create a poster that stands against the new rules introduced in the Statute of Jewry c. 1253. What rules have been introduced and why are they unfair for Jewish communities living in England?

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