Eng­land’s Jews: Finance, Vio­lence, and the Crown in the Thir­teenth Century

  • From the Publisher
September 1, 2021

In 1290, Jews were expelled from Eng­land and sub­se­quent­ly large­ly expunged from Eng­lish his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry. Yet for two cen­turies they occu­pied impor­tant roles in medieval Eng­lish soci­ety. Eng­land’s Jews revis­it this neglect­ed chap­ter of Eng­lish his­to­ry – one whose remem­brance is more impor­tant than ever today, as anti­semitism and oth­er forms of racism are on the rise.

His­to­ri­an John Tolan tells the sto­ry of the thou­sands of Jews who lived in medieval Eng­land. Pro­tect­ed by the Crown and grant­ed the exclu­sive right to loan mon­ey with inter­est, Jews financed build­ing projects, pro­vid­ed loans to stu­dents, and bought and rent­ed out hous­ing. His­tor­i­cal texts show that they shared meals and beer, cel­e­brat­ed at wed­dings, and some­times even end­ed up in bed with Chris­tians. Yet Church author­i­ties feared the con­se­quences of Jew­ish con­tact with Chris­tians and tried to lim­it it, though to lit­tle avail. Roy­al pro­tec­tion also proved to be a dou­ble-edged sword: when revolts broke out against the unpop­u­lar king Hen­ry III, some of the rebels, in debt to Jew­ish cred­i­tors, killed Jews and destroyed loan records. Vicious rumors cir­cu­lat­ed that Jews secret­ly plot­ted against Chris­tians and cru­ci­fied Chris­t­ian chil­dren. All of these fac­tors led Edward I to expel the Jews from Eng­land in 1290. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, Tolan shows, thir­teenth-cen­tu­ry Eng­land was both the the­atre of fruit­ful inter­re­li­gious exchange and a cru­cible of Euro­pean antisemitism.

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