Saturday, 30 April 2016

New Podcast References

For those general readers who also like the introductory podcast material listed in the 'Links to Lectures, Podcasts and Blogs' page, a friend has just sent me two links to resources relating to medieval Jews - one of which is specific to England the other is general Europe material. However, unless I'm doing something wrong, you need membership to the Historical Association in order to access these, which I don't have so I can't say how good they are. However, looking at the description of the English one for the medieval period this looks like it just covers the most (in)famous events relating to medieval Anglo-Jewry. I'll also add these links to the podcast page.

'Jewish-Christian Relations between 1100-1600' - http://www.history.org.uk/resources/general_resource_7703,7724_69.html.

'Jewish Britain' - http://www.history.org.uk/resources/student_resource_4716,5554_146.html.



Q. #3 When did the Jews arrive in medieval England and what records are there for this early period?

A. This is effectively two questions and I shall answer them in order:
This question comes from Ann in London, England. I hope that this answers your question Ann.

1.      While historians like to define the existence of medieval Anglo-Jewry between to concrete dates (1066 and 1290), the fact is that we simply don’t know when the Jews arrived in medieval England. Certainly, there has never been any serious evidence which demonstrates the presence of Jewish communities in Anglo-Saxon England, though it is possible that there were some, individual, Jews in England as traders and there was a literary tradition of writing about the Jews in Anglo-Saxon England. Therefore, it seems likely that the Jews came to England in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest – certainly the chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that the Jews came to England with the Conqueror (and it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the Jews may even have contributed financially to the conquest of England – as they would do again a century later in the case of Ireland). Beyond that, it is not possible to be more precise about the foundations of the Anglo-Jewish community. It is, however, worth noting that the Jewish community was sufficiently well established for Jews fleeing the violence in 1096, which is associated with the First Crusade to flee Rouen in favour of London. That is also a point which is worth emphasising: prior to 1035, to refer to medieval Anglo-Jewry is to refer to the London community as that was the only established community prior to the reign of King Stephen.


2.      Prior to 1200, the evidence relating to medieval Anglo-Jewry is exponentially less significant than it would be for the thirteenth-century and this problem is exacerbated prior to the reign of Henry II (r. 1154-1189). However, as I have already alluded to, there are a limited number of chronicle entries relating to the Jews of medieval England (e.g. Geoffrey of Monmouth and Eadmer of Canterbury) and some other limited types of evidence. However, it is not until 1127 that verifiable evidence survives is a survey of properties belonging to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which includes a reference to the street of the Jews. In terms of governmental records, the only entries prior to 1135 can be found in the Pipe Roll of 1130-1135 which includes references to several Jews which show that they were lending to leading Christian figures, including the earl of Chester.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

[#22] Bibliography of British and Irish History, available online at http://apps.brepolis.net/BrepolisPortal/default.aspx accessed on 28 April 2016.*

* Nota bene:  It’s my understanding that this is only available to subscribing academic institutions on networked computers though I may be wrong. However, there are links to other bibliographies in the ‘Other Online Bibliographies’ page.


One of the easiest ways to find new literature relating to your area of interest is looking at other people’s references and bibliographies. Therefore, looking for something ‘fun’ to read over the weekend, I did a search in the BBIH for literature relating to medieval Anglo-Jewry and was pleasantly surprised by the number of pieces of literature which my search yield – 168 (and I’m sure that more would be yielded by playing around with the search terms), though that includes a number of essays contained in the same volumes. It has to be acknowledged that this is a wonderful resource with which to search for literature generally, and medieval Anglo-Jewry specifically, and you, dear reader, might have more success finding material of interest to you than waiting from my rambling discussions on individual pieces. However, despite its potential I find the BBIH to be a slightly disappointing resource for literature relating to my subject area (though in general it is excellent) due to the fact that only a fraction of literature on the subject has been listed on the site (even if you factor in different variances of search terms). Therefore, while it’s wonderful that these references have been included in the BBIH, I think that the next step should be to make a concerted effort to bring this aspect of the bibliography up to the levels of excellence which are visible in other areas of the site. This would certainly go some way to making the topic of medieval Anglo-Jewry more visible to academics and students alike and would thus play an important part in perpetuating scholarship on the discipline. I must confess that I have no idea how one would go about bringing about this development, beyond the actual references themselves, but perhaps there are academic readers who might know about this.

Interim Correction (29 April 2016): The assistant editor of the BBIH, Sara Charles, hads kindly notified me that there are, in fact, more entries in results can be yielded from this website by doing an advanced search for Jews in the advanced search option and then narrowing the time-frame down to the period 0-1500 which apparently yields 415 results which seems a much more reasonable number. However, I am unable to say how representative this is until I see what the search returns when I go into university next week, so a fuller correction may well be issued then. Thus, this is very much an instance of my technological incompetence being at fault (I knew that there was a reason I was a medievalist!) and I correspondingly apologise for error.

[#21] Leonie Star, England’s Ethnic Cleansing of the Jews (Glen Waverly, Australia, 2013).

When I read a piece of literature to review on this blog, I get a piece of paper and separate it into three equal parts, which I label as ‘THE GOOD’ (top), ‘THE BAD’ (middle) ‘THE UGLY’ (bottom). Ordinarily, the top two columns are relatively easy to fill in and the bottom one tends to remain empty (or with very few minor notations). However, I had a funny feeling that this review would adopt the latter two columns much more, given that my undergraduate dissertation was effectively aimed at countering this book and arguing that it is anachronistic, reductionist and just plain wrong – though when I started this blog it was to review anything and everything on the subject so I couldn’t exclude it. That being said, it’s been a while since I read this book and, as a result of this blog, I’ve gained a new appreciation of the need to make work accessible.  (Incidentally, you, dear reader, have now learned something about me that may be to your advantage in the future: if I disagree with a point then it doesn’t matter whether it’s Mrs Random on the street or Professor Tedious in his study, I will debate the point rigorously.) Despite my low expectations for this book, I found the reading of the first chapter trying and the entire book a trial by ordeal. Indeed, the only good point that I could come up with is that its aim, to make the subject matter of medieval Jews more accessible, though I think that even that aspect of this book isn’t especially well executed given that I don’t think that it follows that general readers want more simplistic texts – I tend to think that they want more engaging texts which eliminate much of the academic apparatus and with more emphasis on the history than the historiography (though I could be guilty of academic snobbery here so it’d be interesting hear what any of the non-academic people who read this blog think of the book).

            First, and foremost, I think that is the height of hypocrisy for an author to state at the outset of a piece of writing that they are not going to use the phrase anti-Semitism because of the historical baggage (particularly from the mid-twentieth-century) that that term brings and then make use of a phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ which was born in post-war Europe in reaction to events in the former Yugoslavia (Petrovic: 1994). This is also problematic because the Jews were expelled from England but while there was some isolated violence against the Jews, this wasn’t state sponsored and certainly wasn’t condoned so the Expulsion fails to live up to an important aspect of the definition of ethnic cleansing. Another problem that I have with this book is the argument that the experience of Anglo-Jewry during this period was one of general suffering and melancholy as a result of which the Expulsion was inevitable: it wasn’t inevitable in 1275 so it certainly wasn’t during the twelfth-century (see review #1). If that wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse because Star also tries to argue that in the aftermath of the massacres of 1189-1190 Anglo-Jewry were in a state of decline until the Expulsion which isn’t a point which can be substantiated in the extant source material. Indeed, R. B. Dobson has pointed out, by the 1220s and 1230s the Jews of medieval York (and England) were experiencing ‘the halcyon years’ of their presence in England, so far from being in  a state of decline in the first half of the thirteenth-century the Jewish communities were experiencing a high point (Dobson: 1974-1978, p. 36). Equally, despite the devastating tallages of the 1240s and 1250s, Robin Mundill has convincingly (to me anyway) demonstrated that in some quarters the Jewish community was showing tentative signs of recovery (Mundill: 2003).

Finally, it is oft remarked that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’, something which I agree wholeheartedly with but if you can’t judge a book by its cover what can you judge it by quickly? As far as I’m concerned, the answer to that question is its bibliography or references – I think of academic history like cooking, you can’t turn bad ingredients into a good finished product but if you start with good ingredients then the meal takes care of itself. So when I removed this book from my bookcase, I immediately flicked to the back and read the bibliography – not an inspiring experience (the basics were there but a number of significant pieces of literature were omitted and there were a few Wikipedia entries which I look at aghast – there’s no doubt about it, that definitely is academic snobbery – as well as some other utterly bizarre references given the subject matter). Then I read the text of the book and corresponding references and was even more irritated: the references didn’t necessarily correspond to the text. Thus, I find it impossible to recommend this book to you, dear reader, although I would certainly never suggest that you shouldn’t read something and if you do pick it up then just be cautious about what it is that you’re reading.

Work Cited:

Dobson, R. B., ‘The Decline and Expulsion of the Medieval Jews of York’, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 26 (1974-1978), pp. 34-52.

Mundill, Robin R., ‘Changing Fortunes: Edwardian Anglo-Jewry and their Credit Operations in Late Thirteenth-Century England’, Haskins Society Journal, 14 (2003), pp. 83-90.


Petrovic, D., `Ethnic Cleansing – An Attempt at Methodology`, European Journal of International Law, 5 (1994), pp. 242-259.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Q. #2 Do you have a favourite person, theme or event to study about the Jews of medieval England?

This question comes from an anonymous reader.

Short answer: Yes I do.

Long answer: The individual who I always end up coming back to is Aaron of York (c. 1190-1268). Aaron’s story is on of major contrasts. During by the 1230s he rose to the highest rank a Jew could occupy in medieval England: that of Arch-presbyter of the Jews (presbyter Judaeorum). However, Aaron was particularly heavily hit by the tallages of the 1240s to the point that during the 1260s he couldn’t even afford a £5 tallage payment. As far as I am concerned it’s one of the most tragic stories in English history and one which has never been told properly. Indeed, while three basic surveys of Aaron’s life have been produced (Adler: 1939, pp. 127-173; Stacey: 2004; Hillaby: 2013, pp. 427-431), I don’t think any of them are ambitious enough. This is not least because I have collected a plethora of references to Aaron in the published records alone over the last two years and while this started out as an attempt to understand more about Aaron, it’s developed a great deal since its inception to include Aaron’s extended family and his interactions with other Jews which has revealed an awful lot about the way that gender and social structures were integrated into Aaron’s family. Not that anybody would want to read it – or that any publisher would want to publish it for that matter – but it’s my dream to write a book entitled ‘Aaron of York: From Super-Plutocrat to Penury’ (or some derivative thereof) which actually explores Aaron properly to the extent that he deserves. I think that such an exploration would answer a lot of unanswered questions about Anglo-Jewish life and raise a whole host of other questions.

Just a thought, it’d be interesting if any of the other people who work on the Jews of medieval England (to some extent or another) wanted to write an answer to this question (I know there are at least half-a-dozen if any of you have time) to show the range of interest in this subject.

Work Cited:

Adler, Michael, Jews of Medieval Britain (London, 1939).

Hillaby, Joe and Caroline, The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History (London, 2013).

Stacey, Robert, ‘York, Aaron of’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38612 accessed on 27 April 2016.


New Page

I have now set up a new page to acknowledge those who donate to the blog, it really is appreciated and this seemed like the best way way to acknowledge the help that donors give. (http://anglo-jewishbibliography.blogspot.co.uk/p/acknowledgment-of-financial-assistance.html)

[#20] Emma Cavell, ‘Death in Gloucester: the strange case of Solomon and Comitissa Turb’, Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice: Britain and Ireland c. 1000-1750, online blog, 11 Dec. 2015, available online at http://womenhistorylaw.org.uk/en/blog/1/9/death-in-gloucester-the-strange-case-of-solomon-and-comitissa-turbe accessed 27 Apr. 16.*

* Nota bene: If you want to read the references discussed in Cavell’s piece for yourself then The Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, vol. 1, has been digitised here: https://archive.org/stream/calendarplearol00britgoog#page/n8/mode/2up. I haven’t checked this version specifically, but in my print copy (reprinted in 1971) the page references are pp. 33, 42, 42-43, 45, 50, 51 (or at least these are all of the references that I could find quickly, but from memory I think I’ve missed a couple).

I’ve always had an interest in women’s history, which has recently developed into an interest in gender history (which I believe is often hijacked by women’s history). I suspect that this could be one factor which has resulted in me carrying on with medieval Anglo-Jewish history because gender manifests itself in the extant source material for the Jews radically differently than in the Christian source material. While it would be anachronistic to suggest that there was a gender balance, I don’t think that it’s going too far to suggest that, in many instances, the gender disparity was not as obvious in the public sphere as it was for Christians at this point. However, among mainstream historians of medieval women’s history, during the High Middle Ages, there is a tendency to ignore this fact to the detriment of their studies. For example, in Louise Wilkinson’s book Women in Thirteenth-Century Lincolnshire despite the fact that there was a thriving Jewish community in Lincolnshire, there is only, as far as I can tell, a single reference to the Jews in the book (2015, p. 10, fn. 68) – it also happens to be the only error that I could detect in the book given that the Jews were expelled in 1290 not 1291. Therefore, I think that it is splendid that the Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice project actually includes somebody working on this area because a) it is an incredibly neglected facet medieval women’s history and b) as something which is the focus of my research, it’s always nice to know that other people are also doing the same thing.

            Emma Cavell is not the first person to draw attention to the Solomon Turbe murder case because of the astounding level of detail which it contains (see, for example, Hillaby: 2001, pp. 65-66), but I think that Cavell’s is perhaps the most successful exploration because of the amount of consideration that she gives to the case. Indeed, whereas this, and many other cases, are often treated as novelties in medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship, Cavell has given due care and attention to these remarkable entries, the benfits of this approach can be seen in the finished result. For me, what is intriguing about these entries, aside from the level of detail, is the fact that the protagonist, who initiates these legal proceedings against Abraham Gabbay, is Comitissa. It is not overly surprising to see a woman initiating proceedings in the court of the Exchequer of the Jews, as Victoria Hoyle has demonstrated (2008), however I think that it is the gender interplay which is fascinating – something which is beyond the scope of Cavell’s discussion but is nevertheless intriguing. This piece provides a coherent discussion not only of the case in question, but also of the standardised aspects of the case and for me that is one of its great strengths. That being said, I do think that Cavell failed to address one significant element of the case: what it meant to be a witness at this point and how Christian and Jewish standards differed – this is a particularly important oversight (in my opinion) because Comitissa’s case effectively hinged upon what she heard rather than what she saw.

            To conclude, I find this to be a highly enjoyable piece which makes the case which is under consideration much more accessible to a general readership and despite the fact that the hyperlink at the end of her piece does not appear to work, there are other ways to engage with this case. Moreover, the fact that this piece appears in conjunction with a mainstream history project is very encouraging for the outcomes as a whole and I look forward to following the developments of that project. Finally, given that this is a website entry, there’s absolutely no reason why you, dear reader, cannot go off and read this piece for yourself rather than paying attention to my ramblings.

Work Cited:

Hillaby, Joe, ‘Testimony from the margin: the Gloucester Jewry and its neighbours, c. 1159-1290’, Jewish Historical Studies, 37 (2001), pp. 41-112.

Hoyle, Victoria, ‘The bonds that bind: money lending between Anglo-Jewish and Christian women in the plea rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, 1218-1280’, Journal of Medieval History, 34 (2008), pp. 119-129.


Wilkinson, Louise, Women in Thirteenth-Century Lincolnshire (Woodbridge, 2015).

Monday, 25 April 2016

Q. #1: How many Jews were there in medieval Britain?

This question comes from Steve in the USA - Hope this helps.

A. The first thing to point out is that you must distinguish between 'England' and 'Britain' at this point - despite the irritating recent tendency by historians to lump the British Isles together as though medieval England and Scotland, for example, are comparable. There is a scant amount of evidence for a Jewish presence in Wales but this isn't particularly significant or even conclusive and also evidence that some Jews were involved in the funding of the invasion of Ireland (though it doesn't naturally follow that they subsequently migrated there), so my answer is based on the English evidence. Figures are notoriously difficult to come by for the medieval period (and accurate ones even more so). However, it has been suggested that it's height in 1200 the Jewish community probably numbered no more that 5,000 and that figure was to decline by 1290, for various reasons, to 2,000-3,000. To put that into some kind of crude perspective, that's roughly 1.25% of the urban population or 0.25% of the overall population. Moreover, it should be noted that the population of medieval England was still, on the whole, agrarian in nature while a (growing) minority throughout the period would have been urban dwellers. As a result  Jews composed a minority within this minority and, by extension, only a tiny proportion of the population would have come into daily contact with Jews.

UPDATE (25/4/16): Dr Pinchas Roth has kindly drawn to my attention that the use of the 0.25% figure is not entirely accurate. The reason for this is that I erroneously failed to specify that that figure applies to the size of the Jewish community in 1200 (this is based upon the figure provided in Vivian D. Lipman, 'The Anatomy of Medieval Anglo-Jewry', Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 21 (1962-1967), p. 65). By 1290 this figure was probably more like 0.1%.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

[#19] Kathy Lavezzo, ‘Shifting geographies of antisemitism: Mapping Jew and Christian in Thomas of Monmouth’s Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich’ in Keith D. Lilley (ed.), Mapping Medieval Geographies: Geographical Encounters in the Latin West and Beyond (Cambridge, 2013), pp. 250-270.

Whenever I see a new piece of scholarship produced on William of Norwich, I get this inexplicable urge to bang my head thrice upon my desk in the hope that when that ordeal has been completed I will realise that I imagined it. Experience has taught me that such pieces usually adopt a reductionist approach which focuses upon Books 1 (in which Thomas of Monmouth recounts the abduction, murder and discovery of William’s body) and Book 2 (where Thomas of Monmouth provides the ‘evidence’ for his narrative) and they don’t usually do anything particularly innovative. However, despite my reservations I had high hopes (or at least higher hopes than usual) for this piece given that some excellent work has been done by scholars on the urban history of thirteenth-century Anglo-Jewry (e.g. Meyer: 2009, pp. 31-55) but the nature of the extant source material has made historians reluctant to do the same for the twelfth-century, and I have long thought that one possible remedy to this is Thomas of Monmouth’s Life and Passion of William of Norwich. Sadly, the essay itself does not seem to have been written for the title given that there is no concerted effort to integrate the Life into the piece. Indeed, if I were to submit a piece like this as a postgraduate essay then I’d (rightly) expect to be ripped to shreds by the marker for not focusing on the source that I’d explicitly singled out.

            It should be noted at the outset that I come at this review from a historical rather than a literary background. By and large, this isn’t as much of a problem as it could be given that I think that literature is just as valid a source as governmental records. However, for me, in addition to the theoretical framework that Lavezzo places the narrative within, I think that more literal readings can be just as beneficial – something which is not attempted within this piece. In her article Lavezzo attemps to demonstrate that there were Jewish and Christian spaces in twelfth-century Norwich. I have to say that the former aspect wasn’t particularly well executed due to the lack of the reference to the Life but to be brutally honest, I couldn’t use the Life to support this thesis, not least because of the scale of cross cultural interactions which are evident in the narrative (lest we forget that William’s work had taken him into the Jewry so often that his uncle had had to forbid it) or the basis of urban history more generally. The second aim of the article is again, wide of the mark, and I think, in the light of recent developments, perhaps a more literal reading of these sections would have been similarly beneficial and as a result of that Lavezzo would have reached a radically different conclusion.

            To be fair to Lavezzo, she is unlucky in the fact that shortly after her article was published, a new edition of Thomas of Monmouth’s text and a monograph (Rose: 2015) considering it in renewed detail. However, despite that I find this a really disappointing piece. In her discussion of the city of Norwich, Lavezzo makes absolutely no attempt to discuss how the post-Conquest changes to the city (which were considerable) impacted upon Thomas of Monmouth’s writing, nor does she engage with the work of Simon Yarrow who has convincingly demonstrated that the political and economic landscape of Norwich by the middle of the twelfth-century (Yarrow: 2006, pp. 122-168). Moreover, Lavezzo assumes that the Jews who came to inhabit Norwich by 1144 would have been unwelcome and resented. However, this is to overlook the fact that Norwich was a major (national and international) mercantile centre at this point and as such the populous would have been much more accustomed to all manner of ‘aliens’ than their rural brethren. Equally, Book 2 of the Life tells us that remarkably few people believed the allegations levied against the Jews: surely if the situation was that bad then they would have been attacked and rejected by the burghers of Norwich – they were not.

So, to conclude the concept behind this article is good, the execution is not. That is not to say that this is a bad piece of writing. On the contrary it is a perfectly decent piece of scholarship, but ultimately, that’s all it is: decent. That is small step from saying that it is mediocre and surely academic writing should do more, or we might as well call it a day, and retire to the pub.

Work Cited:

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

Rose, E. M., The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe (Oxford, 2015).

Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Passion of William of Norwich, ed. Miri Rubin (London, 2014).


Yarrow, Simon, Saints and Their Communities: Miracle Stories in Twelfth-Century England (London, 2006).

Thursday, 21 April 2016

[#18] Robin R. Mundill, ‘Out of the Shadow and Into the Light – the Impact and Implications of Recent Scholarship on the Jews of Medieval England’, History Compass, 9 (2011), pp. 572-601.

First and foremost, the same disclaimer that was outlined in review #13 applies here – in fact it applies even more given that it was as a direct consequence of this article that I came to make Robin’s acquaintance and, thus, as a result be in my present situation. That being said, this article isn’t the best written piece in the world but it nevertheless serves as an important ‘state of the field’ survey, something which is made more significant by the fact that it comes twenty years after two other historiographic survey appeared, prior to the taking off of the discipline (Stacey: 1987; Mundill; 1991). Moreover, in many ways, the bibliography which Mundill included at the end of this piece, which includes many of the more obvious works on the subject, is, in essence, the precursor to this blog and the inspiration behind much of the thought process which created it. That being said I would still love the opportunity to update this article at some point to reflect the important changes that have occurred in the last five years (I know Robin had thought a number of times about the possibility of regularly updating this article). Incidentally, I may write (or see if I can coerce any actual historians) some individual essays on each aspect of medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship for the blog if the opportunity doesn’t present itself to write an article for a journal.  

            In terms of content, I think that Mundill’s article should be the go to piece for anybody starting to think about the Jews of medieval England in any kind of detail. This is because Mundill succinctly (as was his way) outlines the different strands which are presently at the heart of medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship. In particular he highlights the lines of inquiry which Professor Dobson felt were still worthy of further exploration (‘Jewish capital accumulation’; ‘the distribution of Jewish settlement’; and ‘relations between Jews and Gentiles’ – Dobson: 2010, xxi) – this is hardly surprising that Mundill followed this line given that he shared Dobson’s approach (if not his conclusions) and his research was heavily informed by Dobson (who had been on the panel when Mundill did his PhD vita). However, he also discusses other aspects, such as the Expulsion which he himself helped to pioneer and it is hard surprising that these are the most detailed and considered sections. In each section Mundill discusses some of the major themes which have dominated that area of scholarship in recent years and then signposts some of the most important on that area from which it would be possible to discern the more specific publications and thus construct a reasonable image of the historiography.

            One issue that I do take with this article is the assumption that what was once an ‘exotic and esoteric footnote’ has now developed beyond that to being much closer to mainstream history. While I would be the last person to denigrate the accomplishments of the last two decades, I think that we are still a long way off from the point where we can put up the bunting and celebrate. As the bibliography which Mundill produced to accompany his article demonstrates the vast majority of those publications were written by specialist in Jewish history. Moreover, I was reading Michael Prestwich’s volume on thirteenth-century England for ‘The New Oxford History of England’ (2005) and there was hardly a mention of the Jews. Surely, when we’re still in a situation that even the most broad studies written by incredibly prestigious historians hardly mention the Jews then that is an illustrative of just how far we still have to go. As with all publications of this nature, in place it has become quickly dated by subsequent publications (such as Miri Rubin’s now published new translation of the Life and Passion of William of Norwich: 2014, which Mundill mentions as a work in progress).

Work Cited:

Dobson, R. B., ‘The Jews of Medieval York in the context of some other English Jewish Communities’ in Helen Birkett (ed.), The Jewish Communities of Medieval England: The Collected Essays of R. B. Dobson (York, 2010), pp. xix-xxvii.

Mundill, Robin R., ‘English Medieval Ashkenazim – Literature and Progress’, Aschkenas,1 (1991), pp. 203-210.

Prestwich, Michael, Plantagenet England, 1225-1360 (Oxford, 2005).

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


Thomas of Monmouth, The Lifer and Passion of William of Norwich, ed. and trans. Miri Rubin (London, 2014).

[#17] Cecil Roth, ‘Portraits and Caricatures of Medieval English Jews’ in Cecil Roth, Essays and Portraits in Anglo-Jewish History (Philadelphia, 1962), pp. 22-25.

During my second year as an undergraduate (on a modern history course) I went on a trip to The National Archives, Kew. That was my first time in an archive and I was still finding my feet as far as research was concerned, so I thought that I would order up some of the documents containing caricatures of medieval Jews. I must confess that this was of the most rewarding archival experiences that I’ve ever had (and I have frequented a number, including The National Archives, since). I shall never forget my astonishment as the archivist opened the archival box which now contains the 1233 tallage roll (now unrolled) to reveal the caricature of Isaac of Norwich and others at the top (TNA E/401/1565). Indeed, my surprise was made inexplicable because I’d seen the image hundreds of times reprinted in literature and duplicated – it was just something about seeing the document in the flesh. I’ve grown a lot since that visit but two things remain the same. First, I am always like a child in a sweet shop when I first visit a new archive: I look forward to going from the moment that I start planning the trip and I don’t know what to order up first when I get there. Second, I make it a point to always look up at least one caricature when I’m in the TNA.

            In this very brief article Cecil Roth provides a brief survey of some of the caricatures of Jews. I get the impression, reading the piece, that Roth chose to write this piece in order to show off the fact that he himself owned a manuscript containing a caricature of a Jew named Hake (now the Roth-Hake Manuscript, University of Leeds). In its day, this essay was important because it shone light on caricatures which were not well known (as well as those which were best known) but, as with much of Roth’s scholarship this has now been superseded – in this case by the discussions of the caricatures which have subsequently been produced by Zefira Entin Rokeah (1972) and Joe Hillaby. This is not least because, in this essay, Roth didn’t make any kind of concerted effort to analyse the caricatures to which he referred. That being said, the child in me, which often struggles (successfully) against the academic in me, still grins at the thought that I’ve actually viewed some of the same manuscripts as the great Cecil Roth and the paper is evidence of that fact. However, while I hesitate to rain on my own parade, I would suggest that this essay is of more interest as a brief, easy, summary to the better known caricatures rather than an analysis of them.

Work Cited:

TNA E/401/1565 (1233 tallage roll – Isaac of Norwich).

Hillaby, Joe and Caroline, The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History (London, 2013), pp. 86-87.


Rokeah, Zefira Entin, ‘Drawings of Jewish Interst in Some Thirteenth-Century English Public Records’, Scriptorium, 26 (1972), pp. 55-62.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

[#16] Julie Mell, ‘Hybridity in a medieval key: the paradox of Jewish participation in self-representative political processes’, Jewish Historical Studies, 44 (2012), pp. 127-138.*

*Nota bene: If you purchase a subscription to the Jewish Historical Society of England (which is very reasonably priced, and goes towards a good cause) then you get access to this, and all other articles that have been published in the Society’s journals. For full details see of how to become a member of the JHSE see: https://jhse.org/product-category/membership/.

I agonised at length about whether I should write and upload this review because while I find the piece itself to be problematic, I have a great deal of time and respect for the historian who wrote it. However, I now know that Dr Mell has the capacity to defend herself if she so wishes so I feel more comfortable about throwing my thoughts out there. I should also stress, as there seems to have been some confusion in the messages I’ve received, that my expression of a different historiographical position is not an attack on the research contained within the piece under review – that’s particularly important to remember in the case of this article which I most certainly differ with. Trust me, I’m a man with all the subtlety and tact of a sledge hammer and when we get to a piece of literature which I think is built upon poor research foundations, you will have absolutely no problems discerning it, not least because as far as I am concerned shoddy research is unforgivable and should, correspondingly, be condemned to Tartarus for all eternity!

            In this article Mell attempts to argue that the Jews of medieval England were not on par with serfs in terms of their status as has traditionally been argued by historians (for whatever reason) but were much more akin to freemen (e.g. Watt: 1991). As I’ve already suggested, I find this to be a highly problematic piece. That being said, there are aspects of this article that I really like and are features of my own approach to the discipline – for example, not differentiating between context of Christians and Jews on the basis of their differing religions. For me, this is one of the great strengths of this article and particularly in her analysis of the administration of the Worcester tallage (1241) and the way in which common law was integrated into the Exchequer of the Jews. However, unlike Mell, I don’t find these features especially surprising facet of Anglo-Jewish life given that England had an incredibly sophisticated bureaucracy and it makes sense that the Jews would be fitted into these structures. To focus specifically upon the case of the common law (though I have strong opinions on all aspects of the article, but I leave those points to you, dear reader), I think that Mell would need to address two key points before I could even come close to agreeing with her on this argument. First, the Exchequer of the Jews was established, and given authority, by the king so presumably, the king could make an exception in favour of ‘his’ Jews so as to more effectively regulate them. Second, and more important, I’m not convinced that the use of the common law in the court of the Exchequer of the Jews was intended for the Jews, due to the fact that it seems to me that many internal Jewish disputes were probably resolved in the bet din, and as such it was only in a setting where cases involving Christians (i.e. freemen / freewomen) where the common law was applied (and it would have been a very messy affair for two different legal standards to be applied there. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a legal historian by any stretch of the imagination, and the only thing I’ve really read on the subject of the common law is the work of Professor Brand (1992), but these seem like glaring issues which require resolution.

            However, while I don’t agree with the conclusion that the Jews I still really like this article. It’s written with style and panache and I would much rather a historian consider the evidence and draw their own conclusions, rather than a historian who timidly puts forward an argument like a puppy seeking approval. Moreover, I have absolutely no problems with challenging traditional approaches to topics – again I would rather read that than somebody regurgitating the same old arguments. Finally, and most significantly, this was an article which really made me think. Don’t get me wrong, I love an material which is an easy read, that I can read on the train into university, where I nod and smile politely, but this is the type of literature that I love. Not only does it force the reader to either agree or disagree with the authors stance but it is also such a brilliantly written that you can’t just say ‘I disagree with that’ – you really have to work at a counter-argument. Thus, despite all of the problems that I have with it, I would still much rather read this article than much of the sycophantic material which is produced by historians who are two worried about what other historians will think of their work to come up with their own arguments.

Work Cited:

Brand, Paul, The Making of the Common Law (London, 1992).


Watt, J. A., ‘The Jews, the Law, and the Church: The Concept of Jewish Serfdom in Thirteenth-Century England’, in Diana Wood (ed.), Studies in Church and Sovereignty c. 590-1918: Essays in Honour of Michael Wilks (Oxford, 1991), pp. 153-172.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

[# 15] Dan Jones, Realm Divided: A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England (London, 2015), pp. 7, 115, 138-139, 143, 255.

For many of those who pursue history at an academic level, the terms ‘popular history’ and ‘narrative history’ are viewed as abhorrently vulgar expletives. I must confess that I don’t have a problem with this type of historical writing and find these terms to be synonymous with ‘accessible history’ which I think can never be a bad thing. As with academic scholarship, I find that the results can range from the brilliant to the abysmal (and everything in between) and I would never dream of dismissing a piece of writing just because it did not conform to traditional academic standards. The perfect example of this kind of scholarship at its best, which relates to the medieval period, is undoubtedly produced by Dan Jones and for the last few evenings his Divided Realm has been my bedtime reading. Though it is not even remotely Jewish orientated, Jones touches on the Jews in several places and I thought it was worth providing a review of these sections relating to the Jews (rather than the book as a whole, given that mainstream history is really just a hobby for me. I did agonise over whether to include this review on the blog, given that it is, after all, aimed specifically at the Jews, and I do so because I am conscious that I’ve been reviewing some very academic Jewish orientated scholarship, much of which may be daunting to the layman / laywoman.

            As regular readers will know, I’m willing to forgive a great deal in a text with a strong historiography section and which is properly referenced. However, in the case of popular history I think that the latter cancels out the need for the former. This is because real people (as opposed to academics – a distinction that was taught to me by the man who inspired this blog) often don’t care for historiographical debate but, in my opinion, expect the author to do the leg work in this department during the research stage and then present the argument which the author finds the most convincing. While Jones does this, his book is well referenced and I’m familiar enough with a number of his sources to know that Jones has really engaged with historiography so I do not begrudge him for being confident enough to assert his own opinions (certainly many academic historians are intimidated by that prospect). For me, in this book Jones does a wonderful thing that most historians forget: he remembers that 1215 was not just important for the Jews in terms of two chapters which were included in Magna Carta at Runneymede, but also that there were real term ramifications for them, as a result of the baronial occupation of London which saw many of their houses pillaged and their stone building blocks used to bolster the defences of London. While Jones doesn’t expand upon this (in fairness Joe Hillaby’s study of the London Jewry during the thirteenth-century did little more than this (1990-1992, p. 102)) the fact that Jones even bothered to say anything on the topic says something about the calibre of his scholarship. Moreover, Jones includes one of my favourite quotations attributed to a (imaginary) Jew from the chronicle of Richard of Devizes, where he draws on that Jew’s description of London which always makes me laugh, and for that alone I would be willing to write a positive review of this book.

One issue that I have with this text, is that at the beginning Jones notes that the Fourth Lateran Council issued ‘commands’ which included orders relating to Jewish clothing. While this is technically true, the emphatic ‘commands’ suggests that Lateran IV had the power to enforce the proclamations which it issued. However, this was simply not the case and it was up to individual territories to impose the reforms which were ordered – something that was good in theory but was problematic in practice. Moreover, in the case of England (which I know best), while it did become the first country to enforce the requirement for the wearing of the so-called tabula in 1218, in accordance with Lateran IV, it was possible to purchase individual and communal exemptions which makes it unlikely that Jews actually wore the badge until the Statute of the Jewry (1253) enforced this requirement (e.g. Hillaby: 2013, pp. 46-47).

            Ultimately, I picked up this book to gain a brief respite from the trials and tribulations of academic writing, as well as to reminisce about the times when I could read as much popular history as I liked (in those days I could also have weekends, evenings and school holidays to myself – but such talk now seems apocryphal). However, for general readers of this blog in particular, I think that this book provides a really good introduction upon which to build, particularly as a social history. While this book doesn’t contain much in the way of Jewish scholarship, what little is there is good (and if I got a pound for every time that I said a book / article / chapter could do with more Jewish material, then I’d never have to worry about money again!). While I don’t have access to Jones’ Magna Carta book, I would suggest that that might have more in the way of Jewish material if he provides a discussion of Chapters 10 and 11 (it would be unfair of me to comment on these given that I’m currently working on these two chapters and have quite a controversial viewpoint about their content). I’m conscious that Dan Jones is perfectly capable of marketing his own books but I’ll go ahead and highly recommend this book. Also, I’m not sure if readers actually want reviews of this type (i.e. general / popular history which include material on the Jews) so if you could let me know if you have any thoughts on this (good, bad or ugly) then do let me know.

Work Cited:

Hillaby, Joe, ‘London: the 13th-century Jewry revisited’, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), pp. 89-158.


Hillaby, Joe and Caroline, The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History (London, 2013).

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Conference Paper

As I alluded to in my review of Meir Davis' article 'An Anglo-Jewish Divorce, A.D. 1242' (Review #9) I shall be presenting some of my research, on David of Oxford's (eventually successful) efforts to obtain a divorce his wife Muriel, at a conference in June. The title of the paper is 'On the Margins of Historiography: Bringing a Medieval Divorce Case from the Periphery to the Centre' and that will be delivered at the University of Huddersfield's 'Perspectives on the Past: History, Heritage, and Identity' 20-21 June 2016 (I'm not sure which day my paper will be on yet). This paper, and the research contained therein, really embody my entire approach to medieval Anglo-Jewry in terms of not treating the Christian and Jewish context within which I shall place this case as inseparable and, by extension, considering the English context. I must confess that this approach, which I first began to develop under the tutelage of Robin M was one which he found invigorating and infuriating - though given his roots as a rebellious upstart, I suspect it was more of the former than the latter! If you are interested in the things that I waffle on about on this blog then you could do worse than attend the conference, I'm not sure what other speakers will be speaking about but it promises to be a good conference. As my conference paper this is also a very daunting prospect for me, especially because it isn't clear at the moment whether this will mark the pinnacle of my life in higher education, or whether this will simply be the end of the beginning phase of that career (I'd like to think the latter but it all depends on funding), so if any academics have tips on how to write this paper, I'm all ears!

[#14] Henry III Fine Rolls Project: A Window into English history, 1216-1272, available online at http://www.finerollshenry3.org.uk/index.html accessed on 16 Apr. 2015.

Update (17/04/2016) - I have been informed by a PhD candidate working on the topic of medieval Anglo-Jewry, the number of entries relating to Jews that I list below is not congruous with the total number of Jews listed in the Fine Rolls, so doing a bulk search would only get you part way, and undoubtedly there'd still be many things to discover.

I don’t know whether I’m the only person who does this but when I have an unusually long to-do-list for the day, I often find a way to procrastinate profusely in such a way that I can give it, at the very least, the feeling of legitimacy. Today was one such day and the first note on the to-do-list to tackle when I got up bright and early this morning (or at an ungodly hour on a Saturday as I actually phrased it) was ‘1. Check Fine Rolls of H3 [Henry III] for links to Jewish WAM [Westminster Abbey Muniments] chiros [chirographs]’. This is nothing new. Indeed, over the last few years the Fine Rolls of Henry III website has become the second place that I usually check for primary source references (the first being the published Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews). However, I discovered something very dangerous today, which turned a thirty minute task into a three hour one. That is: if you enter the search term ‘Jews’ into the ‘Search for a Subject’ box on the ‘Advanced Search’ page, then 283 search results are returned. This may seem like a good thing, but rest assured, it isn’t if you have plans (if you don’t then it’s a stupendously good thing): as a result of this discovery, my plans for a highly productive morning have gone out of the window and what is worse I can justify that by the fact that I’ve technically been working and don’t feel bad about it because I’ve had a much more enjoyable morning than would otherwise have been the case (it’s only 11am so I’ll make up the hours later).

            I think the first thing that is worth noting about these entries, is that there is a great deal of overlap between these and other governmental records (with quite a few of them, I had the nagging feeling that I’d read them before and, upon checking my notes on the Liberate Rolls and the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, realised that there was a considerable overlap). This appears to have occurred as a result of the fact that as a result of the nature of the case, different departments needed the case enrolled on their records, though there was a different focus depending on the record in question – it is certainly reminiscent of the wonderfully vivid discussion of the intricacies of the English bureaucracy which Michael Clanchy provides (2013, pp. 58-64). Obviously, the nature of these records, recording the fines as they do, means that there are many unique Jewish entries as well (for a definition of medieval ‘fines’ and the function of the ‘Fine Rolls’ see Carpenter: 2015, pp. 10-11). I think that one thing that might surprise those who aren’t overly familiar with English governmental records and the Jewish ones in particular is the sheer diversity of people to which these entries relate. Certainly, you have a plethora of entries which relate to (what I term as) the super-plutocrats of thirteenth-century England: people like Aaron of York, David of Oxford and Hamo of Hereford. However, below that level you get a great variety of entries, some relating to individuals and others to communities, which reveals much more about the mundane reality of Jewish life in medieval England. I could give you a lot of examples that I have lifted from the website this morning to highlight this but why bother? The creators of this site have done such an epic job of making these records available, and accessible, that there is absolutely no need, you can do so yourself (though I suggest that you not do it when you have plans because it’s a really addictive website – or perhaps I’m just really sad, both are perfectly possible).

            I tend to recommend this website to everybody looking at this period anyway because it is well designed, easy to use and contains high quality scholarship (which is now being made accessible in book form – something that I always advocate). Having said that, for some reason, historians of medieval Anglo-Jewry have been slow to make use of this wonderful resource and I can’t fathom why. Certainly, having made the leap today from entering individual names to doing a bulk search (to be fair, I’m technologically incompetent) I can see even more value in this resource than I could before which is saying something. So this weekend, why not spend some time perusing these documents (search for whatever you want, though obviously I’m biased so would love it if you chose to look for Jews). If you do spend some time on the website this weekend then I’d love to know what you uncover, particularly if you have a favourite entry. To do this you can leave a comment on this page or there is a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/163168817403014/?ref=bookmarks), I’m also on Twitter @medievaljews  (though I’m not entirely sure how to use the ruddy thing) or you can e-mail me at deanantonyirwin@yahoo.co.uk – I also love receiving comments on the blog (of which I’ve received a number from academics and general readers), which have helped to influence the way the blog has (and will continue to) evolved, so either way you don’t have to be a stranger.

Work Cited:

Carpenter, David, ‘Between Magna Carta and the Parliamentary State: The Fine Rolls of King Henry III, 1216-72’ in David Crook and Louise J. Wilkinson (eds.), The Growth of Royal Government Under Henry III (Woodbridge, 2015), pp. 9-29.


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

Friday, 15 April 2016

[#13] Robin R. Mundill, ‘The Medieval Anglo-Jewish Community: Organization and Royal Control’ in Alfred Haverkamp et. al. (eds.), Jüdische Gemeinden und ihr christlicher Kontext in kulturräumlich vergleichender Betrachtung: von der Spätantike bis zum 18. Jahrhundert (Hannover, 2003), pp. 267-281.*

* My tutor at the University of Manchester, Dr Stephen Mossman, who works on late medieval Germany, reliably informs me that a rough, though not totally accurate, translation of the title of this German edited collection is Jewish Communities and their Christian Contexts in Comparative Perspective of Cultural Milieux from Late Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (his rough translations are to be taken as exponentially better than my best attempt).

As regular readers of the blog (or those who have been subjected to my many eccentricities in other ways) will know, I was lucky enough to be spend the formative years of my research into medieval Anglo-Jewry working under the gentle tutelage of Robin Mundill whose mentoring has impacted immensely upon my approach to history generally and this subject specifically. This means that I tend to side with Robin in the majority of historiographical cases and, consequently, that while I usually strive to read academic literature with a critical eye (something which I’m rather good at, as those historians who suffered the ignominy of having their work subjected to the nib of my acid pen as I proof read their work will testify to), my spectacles are somewhat rose tinted when it comes to Robin’s work, particularly those pieces which were published in the fifteen-years after 1987. As a result I am willing to forgive Robin many things which I would use to crucify other historians, so my comments below should be read in such a light. (In my defence: I don’t know a single historian who doesn’t attribute their own success to the impact that a mentor(s) and, as a result, treat them more kindly than they would other scholars.) Therefore, when I say: ‘this is a particularly good article produced by an exceptional historian’, as I do now, you can interpret that how you will – and, as always, the best thing to do would be to read the piece in question for yourself and decide accordingly.

There is often the tendency to assume, given the extent of governmental control of Anglo-Jewry during the thirteenth-century, that all aspects of Jewish life were regulated by the State. However, this article by Mundill demonstrates that, in many ways, the internal workings of daily Jewish life were automatous from the machinery of government. This is a facet of Anglo-Jewry which is likely to become much more obvious in the coming years as a result of the work being done on the Hebrew source material by scholars like Pinchas Roth, whose work I have reviewed previously (review #10). I think that this will provide an important point of context given that Mundill’s essay under review here was informed, almost entirely, by reference to the Latin source material – though in 2003, when the essay was published, few would have thought it necessary (or even possible) to adopt a different approach. This article is effectively divided into two sections. The first expounds upon what we can learn from the extant (mainly Latin) source material about the daily life of the Anglo-Jewish community, while the second part considers the interaction of the Jews with the structures of Christian government (and vice versa). I think that it’s fair to say that the second aspect of the article is stronger than the first – as anybody who knows Mundill’s work would expect. In the first section, Mundill argues that the synagogues were central to Jewish life in medieval England. In addition to being places of worship, Mundill convincingly demonstrates that they were also used for communal / social regulation (and the officers of the synagogue played important roles in that regulation), education of children (though he doesn’t say so, I believe that this was for both males and females – though the former received education to a higher level), the imposition of law (kosha law, for example). As a result of this, the significance of the synagogue (whether it was an individual building or just a room in the house of a wealthy member) to daily Jewish life in medieval England. The second section effectively recounts the procedures for governmental regulation of the Jews, terms of just and the collection of taxes, but what is most interesting about this section is the way in which Mundill demonstrates, on the basis of the Canterbury evidence, that a) Jews had quite a lot of influence over this and b) that these structures, in many instances, were not all that dissimilar to the treatment of Christians (something which has taken on significance over the last decade of scholarship in the light of the work of scholars like Elisheva Baumgarten – e.g. Baumgarten: 2007).

While this essay was ostensibly adapted for publication in Mundill’s The King’s Jews (2010, chapter 3), I think that this essay is well worth reading. This is not least because, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that it was produced during a transitional period when medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship was moving away from the purely political, legal and economic analysis of previous generations and instead started asking questions relating to the Jewish ‘experience’ in medieval England from a number of inter-disciplinary angles.

Work Cited:

Baumgarten, Eleshiva, ‘“A Separate People”? Some Directions for comparative research on medieval women’, Journal of Medieval History, 34 (2008), pp. 212-228.


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

Thursday, 14 April 2016

PhD Funding

It's a long shot, but I know representatives of a couple of academic societies, focused on the history of Jews generally Anglo-Jewry specifically read this blog. If you have (or know of any) funding available for PhD study then could you please an e-mail? (My contact details can be found on the 'A Longwinded, and Bombastic, Introduction' page.) I have obtained a conditional offer from the University of Manchester, but am struggling to find funding for my project, without which I will be unable to pursue this line of study. There are a couple of other lines that I can chase up, but I'm rapidly running out of options. At the heart of my proposal is the desire to investigate the impact that gender, life-cycle and 'Jewishness' had upon Jewish business activities in medieval England (a complete copy of my proposal can be obtained upon request).

I realise that this is a highly cheeky request, but I'm running out of options if I am to start a PhD in September which would be ideal.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

[#12] V. D. Lipman, ‘The jurisdiction of the Tower authorities outside the walls’ in John Charlton (ed.), The Tower of London: its Buildings and Institutions (London, 1978), pp. 144-152 (esp. pp. 144-146).

Few buildings in England are as evocative of our medieval past (real and imagined) as the Tower of London. Constructed on the orders William the Conqueror in the wake of the Norman Conquest, the Tower would dominate the contemporary landscape for centuries. However, the Tower was more than just an imposing sight intended to remind those who thought about stepping out of line. It was also a royal residence and, significantly for us, an important part of local politics. As a result of this latter status, the Constable of the Tower had jurisdiction over certain parts of London life – most notably over the Jewry. Thus, as well as periodically being a shelter / prison for the Jews, the Tower also played an in important role in the daily life of the London Jewry. This Jewish past is something that you really have to work hard to discover when you visit the tourist-centric Tower today. Indeed, I was flicking through my copy of the Tower’s guidebook in search of inspiration when I was about to start writing this review and I couldn’t find a reference to medieval Jews in there (Kilby and Murphy: 2007) – though I didn’t have time to read through it thoroughly so there could well be a few brief references. Therefore, in the unlikely event that anybody from Historic Royal Palaces is reading this, then surely it is time that that omission is remedied and it is high time that a supplementary volume to the guidebook appeared on the medieval Jews who interacted, voluntarily or otherwise, with the Tower to bedeck the shelves of the gift shop (just to put it out there: I’m free at the moment).

            The names of some historians are practically synonymous with medieval Anglo-Jewry – few more so than the great Vivian Lipman. As one would expect from his work, in this brief essay Lipman eruditely discusses the relationship between the Jews of London and the Tower (as well as a couple of other things which do not fall under my consideration – mainly because I don’t know enough about them to pass comment). I’m always fascinated by the fact that the (Christian) citizens City of London refused, in 1242, to allow the Jews to be considered in the returns of the City, thus drawing a very clear line between the mercantile Christian elite on the one hand and the Jews on the other. This isn’t the place to consider the implications that this had for local government, though I know which piece of literature I will use to discuss those implications. However, suffice it to say, as a result the London Jewry was administered on a daily basis was administered by the Constable of the Tower and his deputy – except in cases where more than forty shillings was in dispute in which case this automatically elevated the case to the Justices of the Jews. The Tower also had had important implications for the Jews in times of trouble because, although we tend to think of them being imprisoned within the Tower at times such as the so-called Coin-Clipping Pogrom (1278-1279), the reality was that the walls of the Tower could also serve to protect the Jews, as it did on many occasions. Thus, as a result of Lipman’s concise discussion it becomes clear that the Tower had a three-fold impact on the Jews of medieval London. That is to say, the Tower could serve as protection for the Jews in times of trouble, a gaol for the Jews at other times and as the authority responsible for the administration of the Jews generally.

Undoubtedly, this brief discussion has subsequently been advanced upon by Joe Hillaby, generally (1990-1992, 1992-1994), and Jeremy Ashbee specifically (Ashbee: 2004). However, I think that this little piece draws attention to a much neglected aspect of the Tower’s history and, coming as it does at the end of a splendid little edited collection, reminds us that Tower was more than just a fortress, palace or gaol in the medieval past but rather was an important part of London life more generally.

Work Cited:
Ashbee, Jeremy, ‘The Tower of London and the Jewish expulsion of 1290’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, 55 (2004), pp. 35-38.
Hillaby, Joe, ‘London: the 13th-century Jewry revisited’, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), pp. 89-158.
Hillaby, Joe, ‘The London Jewry: William I to John’, Jewish Historical Studies, 33 (1992-1994), pp. 1-44.

Kilby, Sarah and Murphy, Clare (eds.), Experience the Tower of London (London, 2007).

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

[#11] Gavin I. Langmuir, ‘At the Frontiers of Faith’ in Anna Sapir Abulafia (ed.), Religious Violence Between Christians and Jews: Medieval Roots, Modern Perspectives (Basingstoke, 2002), pp. 138-156.

I should probably provide this review with something of a preamble, given that the text that is under consideration here has nothing to do with medieval Anglo-Jewry specifically, though there are two very good reasons for considering it here – please pick which one you want to justify the reading of this piece.

1.    Academic Reason: This article contains conclusions which are pertinent to England given its theoretical nature and makes some important points which I would like to address.

2.      Non-Academic Reason: It’s my blog and I can review it if I want to (please insert childish noise / gesture of your choice)!


At the risk of sounding like a corny (American) situation comedy, my comments in this piece are presented under the guidance of the phrase ‘honesty is the best policy’. While I acknowledge Langmuir’s immense contribution to the field of medieval Anglo-Jewish history, I tend to take issue with his work, and the work of other scholars working on Christian-Jewish relations in medieval England, including Anna Sapir Abulafia who is currently the most established scholar working on the topic. As the essays of Langmuir demonstrate, which have largely been collated into two volumes (one of the exceptions is the one under review here), he was primarily concerned with demonstrating that there were increasing levels of anti-Semitism in thirteenth-century England (incidentally I also have serious misgivings with the use of the word anti-Semitism in a medieval context, but that shall wait for another day) (Langmuir: 1990; 1996). I have two problems with this. First, searching for anti-Semitism in medieval Christendom is sort of like searching for needles in a needle production factory. Of course it’s present, and of course there were times when it could be found in higher concentrations, let’s acknowledge that and move on! Second, this approach favours those occasions upon which tensions flared up rather than the bulk of the Jewish experience and this tends to assume that B. L. Abraham’s statement, that it is rarely possible ‘to realise what a medieval English Jew was in the moments when he was not lending money, making payments to the king’s exchequer, or being plundered and massacred’, (Abrahams: 1894-1894, p. 79 – emphasis mine) is correct – an assumption which contradicts every historiographical instinct that I have. However, just because I operate from a different historiographical starting point to Langmuir that does not mean that I don’t find many aspects of this article which I agree with or find thought provoking and, rant over, I shall now consider some of these points.

            Langmuir makes three important points at the outset of this article. First, despite the fact that most of Christian Europe is often labelled as Christendom, to assume uniformity of religion throughout Christian territories is erroneous (I often wonder whether this tendency has been exacerbated in the age of the European Union). Second, that despite the fact Christians and Jews believed in the same ‘one, true God’, it would be better to see them as ‘polymonotheistic’ religions (I’m not sure if that is oxymoronic or brilliance on the part of Langmuir) because the traditions in which the two viewed their God were very different. Third, Langmuir’s distinction between frontiers: domestically, where Christians and non-Christians came into direct contact; on the boarders between Christian states; and those non-Christian territories which bordered Christendom. For me, this is an important distinction to make because, as Langmuir demonstrates, it speaks to the nature of the violence which could transpire in those areas. However, Langmuir also argues that violence which was specifically motivated by religion can only really be seen from the mid-eleventh-century, after the growth in the power of the papacy which could wield the blade of Christendom against outsiders. That being said, Langmuir convincing concludes that even this sword wielding was short lived and by the end of the thirteenth-century, religiously motivated violence against non-Christians was to become largely confined to being associated with the blood libel accusations (I don’t see the need to differentiate between the ritual murder accusation which I see as part of this allegation) – something which was condemned by the secular authorities, though never rejected by the papacy which Langmuir sees as complicit approval.

            To conclude, given the rant with which I commenced this review you might not be surprised to discover that I find this to be a highly problematic essay. However, I would not go so far as throwing the baby out with the bath water by saying that I disagree with every facet of this paper. On the contrary, as I’ve highlighted, I find a number of the points raised here to be interesting and convincing. I also think that this review, better than any review I’ve completed thus far, demonstrates why you, dear reader (and particularly non-academic readers), should take what I say with a pinch of salt. My comments are informed by my views and as such may differ radically from your perception of them: texts that I like, you may dislike and vice versa. As a result, you should treat these (often rambling) entries as nothing more than an entry point and I would urge each of you to read as many of these pieces as possible (if you struggle to get hold of anything, then drop me a line and I might be able to help).

Work Cited:

Abrahams, B. L., ‘The Condition of the Jews at the Time of their Expulsion in 1290’, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 2 (1894-1895), pp. 76-105.

Langmuir, Gavin I., History, Relgion, and Antisemitism (Berkley, 1990).


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