Jews in England 1290

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Curriculum topics: Diverse histories, Medieval Life

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about the escalating tensions between Christians and Jews in Medieval England? What do these documents suggest about the deteriorating relationship between the King and England’s Jewish communities? How and why were Jews expelled from England in 1290?

Potential activities: Following the source activities here, students should reflect back over the course of the three lessons and explain how Christian-Jewish relations deteriorated from the Jews’ arrival in England after c. 1066 to their expulsion in c. 1290. They may then consider whether the expulsion could have been avoided. This may be structured in the form of a debate to consolidate the unit of work.

Why did Edward I expel the Jews in 1290?

Following almost two centuries of Christians and Jews living alongside each other, King Edward I expelled England’s entire Jewish population in the autumn of 1290. As the previous two lessons have shown, Jews had once been prominent in national finance and local trade at key regional centres like York, Lincoln and London, yet by the end of the thirteenth century, Jewish individuals were no longer able to reside ‘freely and honourably’ in England nor enjoy the same ‘liberties and customs’ as their predecessors. They were expelled from the realm as perfidious (faithless) men.

The reign of King Edward I (1272-1307) witnessed a heightening of tensions between the Christian and Jewish populations in England. Before relations between the two faiths had been occasionally difficult, subject to prejudice around crusading propaganda and the varying levels of debt owed to Jewish moneylenders but horrific outbursts, such as the attack on York’s Jewish population in March 1190, were few and far between. Edward, however, placed new emphasis on the status of Jews in England. The Statute of Jewry c. 1275 outlined that Jews had to live in specific areas of the king’s towns; those aged over seven had to wear a badge that visually identified them as being Jewish; all aged over twelve years were to pay a tax of 3 pence each Easter; and Jews could only sell property or negotiate debts with the king’s permission. New rules paired with heavy taxation and growing suspicions surrounding the coin-clipping events in the late 1270s led to mounting pressure on Christian-Jewish relations. By the late 1280s, Edward could only secure parliament’s grant of further taxation to aid his war with France by making sacrifices. The expulsion of the Jews was the price he agreed to pay.

This lesson explores the worsening relations between Christians and Jews in the latter half of the thirteenth century. Use the sources to investigate the religious, economic, and social factors that led to the Jews being expelled from England in c. 1290. Could this extreme royal tactic have been avoided?


Tasks

Task One

In 1275, King Edward I introduced a Statute of the Jewry with further rules and regulations for the Jewish community living in England. Various versions of this statute survive, but the document below is preserved in a compilation book of statutes at The National Archives. Unlike the majority of the documents in this lesson series, the Statute below is written in Anglo-Norman (a form of the French language). This task focuses on three key extracts from the statute.  

Read Extract (a) of the Statute of Jewry, c.1275 and consider the accompanying questions: 

  1. What does the king no longer allow Jews to do? 
  2. What reasons does the king give for introducing this new rule? 
  3. How do you think Jewish individuals might have felt and/or responded to this rule? 

Task Two

Read Extract (b) of the Statute of Jewry, c. 1275 and consider the accompanying questions: 

  1. What three rules are introduced in this extract? 
  2. The chests of chirographs kept records of Jewish loans. Why do you think the king wanted to restrict Jews to cities and boroughs where these chests were located? 
  3. Why do you think King Edward I wanted Jewish individuals to wear a badge? 
  4. What does this extract suggest about attitudes towards Jewish women in 1275? 

Task Three

Read Extract (c) of the Statute of Jewry, c. 1275 and consider the accompanying questions: 

  1. What does the king suggest Jews do to earn a living?  
  2. How does the king feel about Christians mixing with Jews?  
  3. What does the Statute order in regards to the taxation of Jews?  
  4. After reading all three extracts, what do you think the impact of this statute was on England’s Jewish community? Explain your answer with reference to the extracts. 

 

Task Four

Source 2 “Aaron the son of the Devil”, c. 1277 Catalogue ref: E 32/12, m. 3d 

Despite the tightening restrictions on England’s Jewish community, Jews and Christians continued to interact with one another. They are even recorded to have committed crimes together in select court cases. For example, in court case recorded before the forest court in 1277, it was reported that two of Aaron of Colchester’s sons, amongst other Jewish men, were part of a mixed-faith gang tried for illegal deer hunting in Colchester, Essex. This case is particularly curious as a caricature of Aaron was drawn next to record and labelled ‘Aaron, son of the Devil’ in Latin. Consider this image and the additional information below, before reflecting on the following questions:  

  1.  What does the image suggest about attitudes towards Aaron of Colchester?  
  2.  How does the image compare to the cartoon of the Norwich Jewish community that we considered last lesson? Note the similarities and differences.  
  3. What does the presence of the Jewish badge on Aaron’s chest suggest about the effectiveness of the new rules introduced in the Statute of Jewry c. 1275? 

Contextual Information: 

This image includes one of the earliest English depictions of the Jewish badge – the piece of yellow taffeta, six fingers long and three broad, cut to represent the shape of the tabula (stone) that recorded the Ten Commandments. The badge was first introduced in England by Pope Honorius III’s orders following the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, but it was only after the Statute of Jewry c. 1275 that it had to be worn in England by every Jew aged over the age of seven. 

Task Five

Source 3 and 4 are both letters sent by King Edward in 1290 that were enrolled on the Close Rolls (formal record of royal letters); the first on the 18th July to his sheriffs, and the second to the treasurer and barons of the Exchequer on 5th November.  

Following the Statute of Jewry c. 1275, the situation for England’s Jewish community declined further still. In 1287, in the duchy of Gascony (an area of modern-day France under English rule), King Edward ordered the local Jews to be expelled. All their property was seized by the crown and all outstanding debts owed to Jews were transferred to the king’s name. Shortly later, England’s Jewish community faced the same fate. By the time King Edward returned to England in 1289, he was deeply in debt. The next summer he summoned his knights to introduce a steep tax on his people. To make the tax more bearable Edward essentially offered to expel all Jews in exchange. The heavy tax was passed, and three days later, on 18th July 1290, writs (letters) were issued to the sheriffs of every county outlining that all Jews should leave England by All Saint’s Day (1st November 1290). Jews were allowed to take their possessions with them, but the vast majority had their houses forfeited to the king.  

Read Source 3 and consider the accompanying questions: 

  1. Which sheriffs were sent a copy of this letter? Why do you think these sheriffs in particular were selected to receive this order? 
  2. What does the king urge his sheriffs to make sure happens to Jews in each sheriff’s bailiwick (area)? 
  3. What about these instructions might surprise you? Explain your answer. 

Read Source 4 and consider the accompanying questions: 

  1. What main reason does King Edward give for expelling Jews from England? 
  2. Why might the king describe the Jews as ‘perfidious’ men? 
  3. From this letter, was Edward’s decision more economic (about money) or religious (for Christianity and the Church)? Explain your answer.  

Background

The Statute of the Jewry c. 1275 saw a series of new regulations placed upon the Jewish community by King Edward I. Building on the earlier, loosely enforced restrictions issued by his father, Edward placed new, stricter controls on Jewish individuals, most notably outlawing the practice of usury (lending money at interest). The Statute also outlined that Jews had to live in specific areas of the king’s towns; those aged over seven had to wear a badge that visually identified them as being Jewish (the double tabula – the shape of stone tablets); all aged over twelve years were to pay a tax of 3 pence each Easter; and Jews could only sell property or negotiate debts with the king’s permission. England’s Jewish population were entitled to earn a living as tradesmen or farmers, but were not allowed to be part of guilds (groups of craftsmen or merchants) or to own farmland. As a result of these new laws, many Jewish families became poor and the king could no longer collect taxes from them: hundreds were arrested, hanged or imprisoned.

The 1270s also marked escalating tensions elsewhere. The accusation most commonly brought against Jews in court was neither homicide (murder) nor theft, but the act of coin-clipping; trimming pieces of silver off the rims of coins, melting them down, recasting the silver into plates, and selling these to a goldsmiths or other metalworkers for money. Various arrests took place over the course of the thirteenth century, but there was much worse to follow. On 17th November 1278, it was record that all the Jews of England were simultaneously arrested “for clipping of money” and imprisoned while their houses were searched. Although Christians were also accused of these crimes, it was clear that England’s Jewish community were targeted as the key suspects. Coin-clipping was punishable by death and, by 7th May 1279, it was recorded that 269 Jews had been executed in London.

Just over a decade later, England’s Jewish community was unrecognisable compared to its size and so-called ‘prosperity’ in the early 1200s. By 1290, the gradual deterioration of Christian-Jewish relations in England came to a head when King Edward could only secure parliament’s grant of further taxation of his people to aid his war with France by making sacrifices. The expulsion of the Jews was the price he agreed to pay. On 18th July 1290, Edward I issued what came to be called the Edict of Expulsion. The same day that the Edict was proclaimed writs (letters) were sent to his sheriffs advising that all Jews in their counties had until 1st November to leave the realm. Any Jews remaining after this date were liable to be seized and executed. It was also ordered that Jewish houses would be forfeited to the crown, but Jews could take with them what they could carry, including any money and valuables. The letter also urged the sheriffs to protect the Jews and ensure they were not injured in their exit from the kingdom. Not all Jews, however, made the journey safely. One famous account recorded by Walter of Guisborough reveals that Jews sailing from London were persuaded to disembark for a walk on a sandbank while the tide was out, and then left to drown there when the water returned.

Altogether, it is estimated that around 3,000 Jews were forced to leave England. In return for the expulsion of Jews from England, Parliament granted Edward a tax of £116,000. Edward’s Edict to banish his Jewish community was followed by his fellow Christian monarch in France, Philip le Bel sixteen years later. It was not until 1656 that Oliver Cromwell allowed Jews back into England. In the interim, Jews were required to obtain a special license to visit the realm, though it seems very likely that some Jews remained or resettled in England while keeping their religion secret.


Teachers' notes

This final lesson (3) completes the scheme of learning for England’s medieval Jewish communities c. 1066-1290 and 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 chronologically on the previous two lessons to consider the reign of King Edward I and the eventual expulsion of Jews from England in 1290. Through the royal records it reveals how royal legislation tightened the final screw on deteriorating Christian-Jewish relations. It presents several opportunities to reflect back to previous sources and draw comparisons between periods to consider the changing status of Jews in Medieval England.

Learning Objective:

To understand why Jewish people were expelled from England in c. 1290.

Differentiated Learning Outcomes:

  • (All) Students will be able to identify new restrictions placed on Jews from c. 1275.
  • (Most) Students will be able to explain why Jewish individuals were expelled from England in c. 1290.
  • (Some) Students will be able to evaluate whether or not the expulsion of the Jews could have been avoided.

The lesson is focused around three tasks that in turn examine new legislation issued in 1275 that introduced further restrictions on Jewish communities, including the prohibition of usury, Christian sentiments towards Jews, and the eventual expulsion of Jews from England in 1290. These tasks are focused on the governmental documents that survive in The National Archives, including Pleas of the Forest and Close rolls. The notes below discuss the nature of this material and offer advice on how to aid student discussion in each case.

Pleas of the Forest:

These records preserve the legal proceedings from forest eyres; that is, the proceedings that dealt with offences concerning the royal forests. Pleas of the Forest dealt with criminal cases arising in the king’s forests, which since the reign of William the Conqueror had a separate legal jurisdiction within the Common Law at the time. The system of forest law and offences were divided into two categories: trespass against the vert (the vegetation of the forest) and the venison (the game). In this lesson, the drawing of Aaron of Colchester is included on the forest roll as the court case beside it concerned the killing of deer. As a result, the case’s jurisdiction fell under forest law.

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 presenting the first formal notice of Jewish expulsion.

Some teachers may wish to discuss the sources in turn with the students before they attempt to answer the accompanying questions; especially in Task 1 where the language and content is more complex. 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 vocabulary. All documents, however, have been transcribed and a simplified translation is offered in each case to allow students to delve into the subject matter. Definitions are also included for more complex terminology.

Sources

Source 1: Les Estatutz de la Jewerie (The Statute of Jewry, c. 1275) preserved in a compilation book of statutes at The National Archives. Here, Edward I revised the basis for the relationship between the King and the Jews, Catalogue ref: E 164/9, fol. 31d.

Source 2: Drawing of Aaron of Colchester on the forest roll for the tribunal in Essex, c. 1277. Here the tabula badge is depicted stitched to the front of Aaron’s clothing, Catalogue ref: E 32/12, m. 3d.

Source 3: Letter from King Edward I to the Sheriff of Gloucester, dated 18th July 1290, Catalogue ref: C 54/107, m. 5.

Source 4: Letter from King Edward I to the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer, dated 5th November 1290, Catalogue ref: C 54/107, m. 1.

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

Expulsion of Jews from England, the British Library. Overview of the Expulsion of the Jews provided by British Library in addition to an illustration from the margins of The Rochester Chronicle, created in 1355. https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item103483.html

Remembering England’s Medieval Jews, The National Archives. Further context to the settlement and situation of Jews in medieval England with further reference to documents that survive in The National Archives. https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/remembering-englands-medieval-jews/

Readmission of Jews to Britain in 1656. Article published by the BBC that examines the events leading up to the expulsion and the readmission of Jews in 1656. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/history/350.shtml

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

Curriculum topics: Diverse histories, Medieval Life

Suggested inquiry questions: What do these documents reveal about the escalating tensions between Christians and Jews in Medieval England? What do these documents suggest about the deteriorating relationship between the King and England’s Jewish communities? How and why were Jews expelled from England in 1290?

Potential activities: Following the source activities here, students should reflect back over the course of the three lessons and explain how Christian-Jewish relations deteriorated from the Jews’ arrival in England after c. 1066 to their expulsion in c. 1290. They may then consider whether the expulsion could have been avoided. This may be structured in the form of a debate to consolidate the unit of work.

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