Anti-Semitism, Edict of Expulsion, Expulsion of the Jews, Henry IV of England, Jews, Judaism, King Edward I of England, King Henry III of England, Magna Carta, William the Conqueror
The Edict of Expulsion was a royal decree issued by King Edward I of England on July 18, 1290 expelling all Jews from the Kingdom of England. Edward advised the sheriffs of all counties he wanted all Jews expelled by no later than All Saints’ Day (1 November) that year. The expulsion edict remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages. The edict was not an isolated incident, but the culmination of over 200 years of increasing persecution. The edict was overturned during the Protectorate more than 350 years later, when Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England in 1657.
The first Jewish communities of significant size came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. After the conquest of England, William instituted a feudal system in the country, whereby all estates formally belonged to the Crown; the king then appointed lords over these vast estates, but they were subject to duties and obligations (financial and military) to the king. Under the lords were other subjects such as serfs, who were bound and obliged to their lords, and to their lords’ obligations. Merchants had a special status in the system, as did Jews.
Jews were declared to be direct subjects of the king, unlike the rest of the population. This was an ambivalent legal position for the Jewish population, in that they were not tied to any particular lord but were subject to the whims of the king, and it could be either advantageous or disadvantageous. Every successive king formally reviewed a royal charter, granting Jews the right to remain in England. Jews did not enjoy any of the guarantees of the Magna Carta of 1215.
Economically, Jews played a key role in the country. The Church then strictly forbade the lending of money for profit, creating a vacuum in the economy of Europe that Jews filled because of extreme discrimination in every other economic area. Canon law was not considered applicable to Jews, and Judaism does not forbid loans with interest between Jews and non-Jews. Taking advantage of their unique status as his direct subjects, the King could appropriate Jewish assets in the form of taxation. He levied heavy taxes on Jews at will, without having to summon Parliament.
The situation only got worse for Jews as the 13th century progressed. In 1218, Henry III of England proclaimed the Edict of the Badge requiring Jews to wear a marking badge. Taxation grew increasingly intense. Between 1219 and 1272, 49 levies were imposed on Jews for a total of 200,000 marks, a vast sum of money. Henry III imposed greater segregation and reinforced the wearing of badges in the 1253 Statute of Jewry. He endorsed the myth of Jewish child murders.
The first major step towards expulsion took place in 1275, with the Statute of the Jewry. The statute outlawed all lending at interest and gave Jews fifteen years to readjust.
In the duchy of Gascony in 1287, King Edward ordered the local Jews expelled. All their property was seized by the crown and all outstanding debts payable to Jews were transferred to the King’s name. By the time he returned to England in 1289, King Edward was deeply in debt.
The next summer he summoned his knights to impose a steep tax. To make the tax more palatable, Edward, in exchange, essentially offered to expel all Jews. The heavy tax was passed, and three days later, on 18 July, the Edict of Expulsion was issued.
One official reason for the expulsion was that Jews had declined to follow the Statute of Jewry and continued to practice usury. This is quite likely, as it would have been extremely hard for many Jews to take up the “respectable” occupations demanded by the Statute. The edict of expulsion was widely popular and met with little resistance, and the expulsion was quickly carried out.
The Jewish population in England at the time was relatively small, perhaps 2,000 people, although estimates vary. The expulsion process appears to have been relatively non-violent, although there were some accounts to the contrary. One perhaps apocryphal story told of a captain taking a ship full of Jews to the Thames, en route to France, while the tide was low, and convincing them to go out for a walk with him. He then lost them and made it back to his ship quickly before the tide came back in, leaving them all to drown. King Edward was said to be incensed and had the captain executed for the crime.
Many Jews emigrated, to Scotland, France and the Netherlands, and as far as Poland, which guaranteed their legal rights.
Between the expulsion of Jews in 1290 and their formal return in 1655, there are records of Jews in the Domus Conversorum up to 1551 and even later. An attempt was made to obtain a revocation of the edict of expulsion as early as 1310, but in vain. Notwithstanding, a certain number of Jews appeared to have returned; for complaints were made to the king in 1376 that some of those trading as Lombards were actually Jews.
Occasionally permits were given to individuals to visit England, as in the case of Dr Elias Sabot (an eminent physician from Bologna summoned to attend Henry IV) in 1410, but it was not until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497 that any considerable number of Sephardic Jews found refuge in England.
In 1542 many were arrested on the suspicion of being Jews, and throughout the sixteenth century a number of persons named Lopez, possibly all of the same family, took refuge in England, the best known of them being Rodrigo López, physician to Queen Elizabeth I, and who is said by some commentators to have been the inspiration for Shylock.
England also saw converts such as Immanuel Tremellius and Philip Ferdinand.
Jewish visitors included Joachim Gaunse, who introduced new methods of mining into England and there are records of visits from Jews named Alonzo de Herrera and Simon Palache in 1614. The writings of John Weemes in the 1630s provided a positive view of the resettlement of Jews in England, effected in 1657.