Saturday, 30 April 2016

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.

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