Wednesday, 30 March 2016

[#6] William Prynne, A Short Demurrer to the Jewes Long discontinued Remitter into England (London, 1656).*

* While this text is now available through EEBO that is a less than ideal platform and as such the edition that this review is based on is housed in the special collections of the John Rylands Library.

There is often the tendency within historical writing to reference to latest, most cutting edge, research. While, I am not against this per se, I think that the Issues in Historiography series produced by Manchester University Press, which confronts ‘highly charged dialogues, disagreements, controversies and shifting centres of interest’, has highlighted the need to consider how other generations of scholars viewed the history which we consider (http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/series/issues-in-historiography/). The obvious examples in the case of medieval Anglo-Jewry, in terms of older material, would be the work of D’Bloissiers Tovey (1738), who has justifiably been described as ‘the founding father of Anglo-Jewish studies’ (Mundill: 2003, p. 55) or Joseph Jacobs (1893), whose work is still required reading for those working on this period. Tovey’s work in particular drew on the work of two previous scholars, William Prynne and Thomas Madox, whose work is now rarely considered, and it is the former writer whose work is considered here. When considering Prynne’s Short Demurrer it is important to bear in mind that he was writing at the time of the Readmission debates and as a result of the fact that he was opposed to allowing the Jews to return to England, his text reflects that. That being said, Prynne’s work is a remarkably erudite piece with many of the features of historical scholarship that are recognisable today – and many of his arguments are not dissimilar from those which were maintained well into the twentieth-century scholarship on the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry.

The first half of Prynne’s Short Demurrer consists of a history of the Jews in medieval England. As far as his sources, Prynne drew heavily upon the main chroniclers of the period. However, as a result of the this reliance on the chroniclers, Prynne did not attempt to gain any detailed understanding of the Jewish life in medieval England which could have been gleaned from the governmental sources – though this is hardly surprising given that many of them would be crammed into the record office in the Tower of London until the following century. In any event, the chroniclers, with their often critical approach to the Jews served Prynne’s arguments best. As a result of this reliance on the chroniclers, some dates are obviously wrong, such as Prynne’s suggestion that the William of Norwich case occurred in 1160 (p. 6) rather than in 1144. However, this was an easy mistake to make when basing the summary of events on the chroniclers accounts, particularly in the absence of the Life and Passion of William of Norwich which would only be discovered in the late nineteenth-century.

Within the context of Prynne’s purpose of demonstrating why the Jews should not be readmitted to England, it is not surprising that he takes every opportunity to portray them in the most negative light. For example, in the case of attack upon the Jews at Richard I’s coronation was brought about as a result of the fact that a number of Jews, in violation of Richard’s prohibition on their attendance, ‘secretly got into the Church and Palace; who being discovered one after another were well beaten, and thrust out of the Church and Court by the Kings Officers and Christians.’ That being said, Prynne does not take the stance that the Jews deserved what they got, as one might expect given the nature of the text, but rather is highly critical of those perpetrators of the massacres. The second half of Prynne’s history very much follows the discussion set out in Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora which is hardly surprising given that Paris provides one of the most comprehensive chronicle accounts of the Jewish ‘experience’ in medieval England. This is further explained by the fact that in 1640 a new printed edition of the Chronica was produced by William Watts (the first printed edition having been made available in 1571 by Archbishop Mathew Parker) (Lloyd and Reader: 2004).

            Ultimately, while I would never seek to displace Tovey from his deserved place of reverence among historians of medieval Anglo-Jewry, I think that perhaps a more polytheistic approach might be adopted, with a triade of early writers (William Prynne, Thomas Madox and D’Bloissiers Tovey) being considered the founding fathers of the discipline. Certainly, I disagree wholeheartedly with the emphasis on Tovey who overshadows two of my favourite ever writers. Moreover, I think that given the remarkably detailed history which Prynne managed to assemble here it should not be ignored because in the general details it covers all of the details that modern histories would touch upon, though without the detailed analysis, means that this piece should not (and cannot in my opinion and writing) be ignored.

Work cited

‘Issues in Historiography’, Manchester University Press Website, at http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/series/issues-in-historiography/ accessed on 23 Mar. 16.

Jacobs, Joseph, The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records from Latin and Hebrew Sources Printed and Manuscript for the First Time Collected and Translated (London, 1893).

Lloyd, Simon and Reader, Rebecca, ‘Paris, Matthew’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/21268?docPos=1 accessed on 30 Mar. 2016.

Mundill, Robin R., ‘Edward I and the Final Phase of Anglo-Jewry’ in Patricia Skinner (ed.), Jews in Medieval Britain: Historical, Literary and Archaeological Perspectives (Woodbridge, 2003, rpt. 2012), pp. 55-70.


Tovey, D’Bloissiers, Anglia Judaica, or the History and Antiquities of the Jews in England (Oxford, 1738).

Friday, 25 March 2016

[#5] Robert C. Stacey, ‘The Massacres of 1189-90 and the Origins of the Jewish Exchequer, 1186-1226’ in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts (York, 2013), pp. 106-124.*

* This review was completed as a result of a request in the Facebook group (which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/163168817403014/), by Marilyn Smith, for something relating to the Exchequer of the Jews.

In his seminal work From Memory to Written Record, Michael Clanchy placed the emergence of royal regulation of the Jews during the 1190s within the wider context of the move towards a written culture and emphasised the role of Hubert Walter, in particular, in making the administrative changes which centralised and regulated many aspects of English government (Clanchy: 2013, pp. 72-75). However, Clanchy did little more than draw attention to the trend, something which is addressed by Robert Stacey’s essay which is under consideration in this review. Despite the fact that my usual historiographical instinct would be to side with Robin Mundill, who also has an essay in this volume (Mundill: 2013), I find Stacey’s essay the more convincing of the two. This is not least because I have never been convinced by the fact that the establishment of the archae and the Exchequer of the Jews was a reactionary move which was motivated by a desire to protect royal rights in the aftermath of the 1189-1190 massacres of the Jews. In this piece, Stacey provides a credible alternative argument to this reactionary argument by placing the aforementioned developments within longer term developments which had been occurring since the 1170s at the very least. One aspect of this paper which I really like, and which is a feature of Stacey’s scholarship more generally, is the way in which he places events concerning the Jews within the broader Christian context (e.g. the decline of the seigneurial Jewries and the assertion of royal rights over the Jews more generally and consistently than had been the case), rather that artificially segregating the Jews from mainstream events. Thus, when one views the developments of the 1190s within the longer term context it seems likely that they were not reactionary but part of a longer term series of developments. That being said, Stacey also demonstrates that the survival of the Exchequer of the Jews, which was to become a feature of medieval Anglo-Jewish life from the 1220s onwards, was by no means certain through King John’s reign when the institution was heavily neglected, only to enjoy a revival during the minority of Henry III.

While, on the whole, I agree with Stacey’s approach, one facet of his argument in particular needs to be challenged in the light of recent research. That is to say, Stacey follows the traditional line of argument that from the 1190s onwards all legal matters relating to the Jews were dealt with no in the ordinary courts but in the king’s court. Despite the fact that this hypothesis has remained largely unchallenged, the work of Hannah Meyer suggests that the king’s court was never able to fully assert a monopoly on court cases involving Jews and Christians (Meyer: 2009). While the evidence for England as a whole is lacking, Meyer’s work on Exeter in particularly has convincingly demonstrated that this was far from the case. Another problem that I have with this line of argument (which is not unique to Stacey) is that it does not take into account internal Jewish disputes with were handled by the bet din – fortunately that omission will be remedied later this year with a superb paper on the Jewish courts in medieval England.

Work cited:

Clanchy, M. T., From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London, 3rd ed., 2013).

Meyer, Hannah, ‘Female moneylending and wet-nursing in Jewish-Christian relation in thirteenth-century England’ (University of Cambridge, unpublished PhD diss., 2009).


Mundill, Robin R., ‘The “Archa” System and its Legacy after 1194’ in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts (York, 2013), pp. 148-162.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

[#4] Anthony Bale, ‘Afterword: Violence, Memory and the Traumatic Middle Ages’ in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts (York, 2013), pp. 294-304.

The great English historian G. M. Trevelyan famously wrote that

“The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing after another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone like ghosts at cock-crow.” (Trevelyan: 1949, 12)
Nowhere does the phenomenon which Trevelyan highlighted manifest itself more obviously than in the heritage industry, which seeks to keep the past relevant in the modern world. In many ways the heritage industry contributes to a sense of cultural memory, actual or imagined, which in turn works to construct our sense of self. In the case of Anglo-Jewish history, the impact of local heritage is becoming particularly obvious in the light of increased interest in the long term history of Jewish communities in particular areas: notably Berkshire (Romain: 2013), Hampshire (Kushner: 2009) and Winchester and York (Griffths: 2012). In the essay which is being considered here, Anthony Bale provides a fitting end to a wonderful edited collection: Christians and Jews in Angevin England. Bale chapter starts by considering Clifford’s Tower as a souvenir of the medieval which has been adopted, and sanitised, in the modern world in order to reflect what a modern audience expect to see. Subsequent to this, Bale considers the significance of signs which have been produced to mark the Jewish heritage in particular areas and the politics associated with them.

            For me, this is an incredibly important essay because I think that as historians we are all too ready to conclude that history can only be transmitted through the written records – this is especially problematic for medieval historians (and even more so historians of medieval Anglo-Jewry). As a result of this, Bale’s consideration of Clifford’s Tower is particularly important, not least because, in many ways, this bailey (which was constructed after the Expulsion of 1290) has become the image which represents the Jewish ‘experience’ in medieval England and has accordingly contributed to the cultural memory of York specifically and England generally. However, while Clifford’s Tower, and sites like it, is undeniably evocative, to assume that when we look at the carefully manicured grass which surrounds the keep and take the structured tour around the Tower, we can in any way understand the experience of the 150 desperate Jews who were forced to take the most difficult of decisions on 16-17 March 1190 would be nonsensical. In many ways the reality is irrelevant because the carefully choreographed image of the Tower presents the desired image of the past and those who view it will take what they want from that image. As Bale goes on to point out, this tailored representation of the past is much more obvious when one looks at the signage which has been produced during the course of the twentieth-century which Bale argues was designed to portray a linear development from the medieval past to the modern period (i.e. using medieval as a synonym for archaic or barbaric as compared with the ‘enlightened’ age in which we now live).

            While, on the whole I find Bale’s essay enjoyable and thought provoking, I do have one major issue with it. The chapter appears at the end of a splendid volume upon the context and implications of the York massacre of 1190, and concerned as it is with memory, I find it perplexing that there is not a single reference (or even an inferred suggestion) to the myth which has arisen in York in recent decades that a herem is in place in the city of York which prevents the establishment of a Jewish settlement there (completely ignoring the fact that in the decade after the massacre of Shabbat ha-Gadol a Jewish community was re-established in York which was to become the richest community in England for a time). While Bale is not the only scholar to fail to tackle this issue, it is nevertheless frustrating that historians continue to ignore this issue which has become a central aspect of York’s cultural memory in relation to the Jews (even if it is has no bearing on the medieval historical reality). However, I have recently been informed, by one of the contributors to this volume, that there is a scholar currently working on this tantalising, and intriguing, omission. Hopefully that research will appear in the near future which addresses this point.

Work cited:

Griffths, Toni, ‘The State of Jewish Memory in York and Winchester’, PaRDeS, 18 (2012), pp. 67-78.

Kushner, Tony, Anglo-Jewry since 1066: Place, locality and memory (Manchester, 2009).

Romain, Jonathan, Royal Jews: A Thousand Years of Jewish Life in and Around the Royal County of Berkshire (Maidenhead, 2013).

Trevelyan, G. M., An autobiography and other essays (London, 1949).

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

[#3] Michael Adler, ‘Jewish Tallies of the Thirteenth Century’, Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England , 2 (1935), pp. 8-23.*Michael Adler, ‘Jewish Tallies of the Thirteenth Century’, Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England , 2 (1935), pp. 8-23.*

* While the Jewish Historical Society of England has made the back issues of Transactions available online, I can’t see any hint that the Miscellanies have been digitised but this volume can be procured through the JHSE.

In a speech dripping with unrestrained contempt for archaic and bureaucratic nature of English government, Charles Dickens famously described tally sticks as ‘worn-out, worm-eaten, rotten old bits of wood’ (Shepherd: 1906, 170). (It is worth noting, given the need for massive restoration efforts to the Palace of Westminster, that Dickens found it incredulous that £2 million should be spent on the reconstruction of the Palace after it had burned down). In many ways Dickens’ opinion of tally sticks has permeated through academia because, despite the efforts of scholars like Hilary Jenkinson (Jenkinson: 1911, 1924) and several others, tallies are a much neglected source. This is reflected in the fact that in a recent study of medieval money, the most substantive reference to tallies took up, in total, only about a single page (Bolton: 2012, 32-33), thus demonstrating that there is a long way to go in incorporating this type of source into historical analysis of the medieval economy.

Of the several hundred thirteenth-century tally sticks which are extant, over 160 relate to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry. While the details of a great many thirteenth-century tallies were published by Jenkinson (1924), in this article Michael Adler provides a brief discussion of the nature of the Jewish tallies before providing a complete list of the known Jewish tally sticks. While, one might use this paper as evidence to support Robert Stacey’s conclusion that, in general, ‘[Adler did] little more than plunder the printed records for curious details’ (Stacey: 1987, 62), I would argue that despite the fact that Adler drew from Hilary Jenkinson’s publication of tally sticks, that does not make this paper any less valuable. I take this stance for two reasons. First, it is only when the Jewish tallies are removed from the general collection of thirteenth-century tallies that the real significance, in terms of the overall collection of tallies, become apparent. Second, and more importantly, Adler’s classification of tallies makes it possible, at a glance, to establish the nature of the Jewish tallies (primarily in terms of the tallages of 1239 and 1241-2). This also makes it easy if, as I have recently been doing, you want to compare the extant tallies with the receipt rolls which were simultaneously produced.
Work cited:

Bolton, J. L., Money in the Medieval English Economy: 973-1489 (Manchester: 2012).

Jenkinson, Hilary, ‘Exchequer Tallies’, Archaeologia, 62 (1911), pp. 367-380.

Idem., ‘Medieval Tallies, Public and Private’, Archaeologia, 74 (1924), pp. 280-351.

Shepherd, Richard Herne (ed.), The Speeches of Charles Dickens 1841-1870 (London, 1906).

Stacey, Robert C., ‘Recent Work on Medieval English Jewish History’, Jewish History, 2 (1987), pp. 61-72.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

[#2] Hannah Meyer, ‘Gender, Jewish Creditors, and Christian Debtors in Thirteenth-Century Exeter’ in Cordelia Beattie and Kirsten A. Fenton (eds.), Intersections of Gender, Religion and Ethnicity in the Middle Ages (Basingstoke, 2011), pp. 104-124.

Nota Bene: I will get this review properly referenced in the next few days but wanted to get it uploaded today in order to mark International Women's Day.

While the role of the medieval Anglo-Jewess in medieval society was first considered by Michael Adler (1939), it was not until R. B. Dobson shone light on the topic once more, during the 1990s, that interest in Jewish women in medieval England began to take off. Despite the pioneering work of Dobson, and subsequently Suzanne Bartlet (Bartlet: 2000, 2003, 2009), it was not until Hannah Meyer completed her PhD research that the role of the medieval Anglo-Jewess, that the position of Jewish women in medieval England truly began to be understood. In section one of her thesis, Meyer used an empirical analysis of the evidence relating to the Jewish communities of Exeter, Norwich and York, and the chapter being reviewed here effectively summarises her conclusions on the Exeter Jewry. A theme of this chapter, which is enunciated much more clearly in her thesis, is the argument that Professor Jordan’s conclusions about gendered moneylending practices in thirteenth-century Picardy (namely that women tended to lend small amounts to other women and that men conducted the main business) should not, and cannot, be applied by historians as representative of European lending practices as a whole (Jordan: 1978). While I have a number of problems with this chapter, which I outline below, Meyer nevertheless makes a convincing case that gender did not really impact upon Jewish moneylending practices in thirteenth-century Exeter. She does this in several key ways. In terms of creditors, Meyer demonstrates that Jewish males and females loaned money to Christians at all levels (from small to large loans) thus suggesting that there was no gendered aspect to Jewish moneylending in thirteenth-century Exeter. From the point of view of the debtors, Meyer further highlights that familial connections and historical relationships played a much stronger role in moneylending practices than gender did. Moreover, Meyer demonstrates that this was not just an urban phenomenon but was also representative of rural borrowers as well and also that this was true at all social levels thus demonstrating a much more nuanced understanding of Jewish moneylending that the monochrome, and reductionist, division between ‘men’ and ‘women’.

                That being said, I do have some fundamental problems with specific apects of Meyer’s piece. First, and foremost, is the argument which she first advanced in her PhD thesis, that the Expulsion merely accelerated a process which was already underway. That is to say, Meyer contests that as a result of the heavy taxation and anti-Jewish legislation which was passed in the decades prior to the Expulsion, many Jews had already left England and so, when it came, the Edict of Expulsion merely ensured that the Jews as a whole left England. I have two major problems with this argument.  First, I agree with Robin Mundill’s conclusion that medieval Anglo-Jewry was showing signs of economic recovery by 1290 (Mundill: 2000) and as such can see no reason to suggest that the decline in the Jewish population would have continued after 1290. Second, Meyer fails to substantiate the argument that the decline of the Anglo-Jewish population came about as a result of emigration rather than other internal factors and internal movement (something which she also fails to address in her PhD thesis). Another facet of Meyer’s argument on this point is her suggestion that the reason that Jewish women became more prominent in the business records after 1275 was as a result of the fact that the Jewish men emigrated to start the process of relocating with the intention of the women joining them subsequently. This argument seems to suggest that Jewish women were thus filling the vacuum in business which their husband’s had left. However, as the work of historians like Michael Adler, R. B. Dobson, Suzanne Bartlet, Victoria Hoyle and Meyer herself have all demonstrated, Jewish women in medieval England were not merely passive observers but could play as active a role in business as their male brethren. My final problem with this chapter, or rather the final one that I am going to spell out here, is Meyer’s willingness to accept that in 1290 there was only one Jewish property, still owned by a Jew, in Exeter. This seems to me to be unlikely as it would suggest a much more rapid decline in the Exeter Jewry than can be accounted for, even if you do not question all the points that I have challenged above, and as such I think that it is much more likely that those responsible for recording the Jewish properties in Exeter merely omitted the other Jewish properties so that they could claim the profits for themselves – certainly we know that Hugh of Kendal did this more generally.

                Having said all of that, the issues which I raise are of a historiographical nature and naturally are subject to individual interpretations. It is therefore important to note that I do not take any issue with the fundamental arguments which Meyer advances about the gendered characteristics of Jewish moneylending in thirteenth-century Exeter. Therefore, this chapter is important reading for anybody interested in the role of gender in the Jewish communities of medieval England, particularly for those who do not have access to Meyer’s unpublished PhD thesis (which I would also highly recommend).

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

[#1] Robin R. Mundill, ‘Banishment from the edge of the world: the Jewish experience of Expulsion from England in 1290’ in John Tolan (ed.), Expulsion and Diaspora Formation: Religious and Ethnic Identities Flux from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century (Turnhout, 2015), pp. 85-101.

In a career which spanned three decades, Dr Robin Mundill fundamentally changed the way that historians consider the final years of the Jewish presence in medieval England and their expulsion in 1290. Such was the significance of his 1998 monograph on the Expulsion that it became an instant classic and the go to text for the final years of medieval Anglo-Jewry (Mundill: 2002). As a result of this, Mundill is well qualified to provide this brief exploration of the Expulsion. In ‘Banishment from the edge of the world’, Mundill provides a discussion of how the Expulsion has been percieved by both contemporaries and modern historians (particularly in relation to the arguments which have been advanced in the past decade by Ira Katznelson and Mark Koyama) before reiterating his opinion of the causes of the Expulsion. Subsequently, Mundill provides a chronology of the lead up to, and execution of, the Expulsion with particular emphasis on the actions of the Church and contemporary events relating to Edward.

                As he has repeatedly so over his long and distinguished career, Mundill advances the argument here that the Expulsion was not a reactionary event, motivated by political expediency and financial necessity, but rather the idea had a longer germination period. Mundill posits two dates which, he argues are, significant in terms of a longer history of the Expulsion: 1275, when the idea of the Expulsion was originally conceived, and 1287, when the Expulsion was decided upon as a course of action. While I agree with the latter date as the significant point in the narrative of the Expulsion, Mundill fails to convince me that 1275 should be regarded as the point when the idea was first conceived. I take this stance for two reasons. First, in 1275 Edward I was still a new King, having only just returned from crusade, and as such the political situation was very different than it would be fifteen-years later when he had stamped his authority on the English political landscape (Stacey: 1997). As a result it would have been exponentially easier to exact the Edict of Expulsion from Edward at this earlier point if the idea had even been on the political cards. Second, I do not interpret the Statute of the Jewry (1275) as a precursor to Expulsion but rather as a concerted effort to move the Jews away from their usurious activities and towards conversion to Christianity. However, 1287 seems to me the correct date to consider the start of the Expulsion – not least because had the Expulsion been a reactionary event then there was no reason that Edward would have continued enforcing it after he got what he wanted (certainly Edward had no problem reneging on his deal with the barons with regards to the quo warrant proceedings – Stacey: 1997).

                Ultimately, Mundill does not advance any new arguments in this piece. Rather, he provides something of a state of the field summary. It is helpful, after the period of intense scholarship which has focused upon the Expulsion, for such a summary to be provided. In pulling together some of the major themes of this scholarship, and restating his own well known views on the subject, Mundill illustrates how the scholarship on this topic has been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, and also highlights how much detail can be gleaned from the extant source material about the final five-months of medieval Anglo-Jewry. With his usual skill and dexterity, Mundill strikes right at the heart of the issues which have fascinated (and continue to fascinate) generations of historians.

Work cited:

Mundill, Robin R., England’s Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion 1262-1290 (Cambridge, 1998, rpt. 2002).

Stacey, Robert C., ‘Parliamentary Negotiation and the Expulsion of the Jews from England’, Thirteenth Century England, 6 (1997), pp. 77-101.