Saturday, 16 April 2016

[#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).

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post. If I wasn't visiting family I'd love to peruse the web site but alas have my nieces birthday party to go to. I'm sure I'd spend a fair few hours trolling the various records. :)

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