Tuesday, 31 May 2016

[#29] Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, Hebrew and Hebrew-Latin Documents from Medieval England: a Diplomatic and Palaeographical Study (Turnhout, 2015).

Academic Entry:

This volume provides an extensive palaeographic and diplomatic study of the extant Hebrew documents from medieval England (or Latin documents with Hebrew elements). It includes a comprehensive introduction which fully contextualises the documents and the conditions in which they were created followed by reproducing every document (through photography and transcription) complete with full discussions of each individual document.

General Entry:

For those to whom reading is a necessary evil which is a chore, which you do for whatever reason, rather than being an enjoyable task in its own right, you will not understand what follows, and may well leave with the distinct impression that I am utterly bonkers (certainly, I wouldn’t disagree with that point). Not all books are born equal, they range from the good to the bad and the ugly, however every so often you come across a book which is so superbly researched and written that it makes you want to weep with joy, and proclaim from the rooftops how truly stunning it is. This book, or rather books (it’s printed in two tomes), is one such gem. That being said I feel that I should provide a disclaimer – and those who know that I have a sizable collection of medieval Jewish history books, which I rarely look at the price of will realise the seriousness of this disclaimer. Order this book through your library, it’s far too expensive for anybody to actually buy. That being said, now that I have both volumes on my desk (courtesy of the University of Manchester’s library), I feel that my life won’t be complete until I have my own copy on my bookcase. Unless there are any very (very, very, very) generous readers, I feel that a ‘cunning plan’ or ‘a plan so cunning that you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel’ will be required in order to ever get a copy of my own.

            In the preface to the second volume of Starrs and Jewish Charters, Herbert Loewe commented that ‘[h]owever careful be the harvest, there is the forgotten sheaf and the aftergrowth, the perquisites of the poor. May they be worthy of the barn to which they are brought!’ (1932, p. xii). There is not a page within these volumes which does not exude this philosophy by fully considering largely forgotten documents and the aftergrowth of the context in which they were produced. However, if Loewe et. al. created a ‘barn’ in which to hold the documents which were being considered, then Judith Olszowy-Schlanger creates a palace of incomparable size and beauty, through her careful introduction and meticulous palaeographic study of each document which she considers. It would be difficult, even impossible, to exaggerate the significance of this volume. In terms of the diplomatic analysis, she fully contextualises the documents and the conditions which influenced their writing  (from a Jewish perspective there is a discussion of things like the bet din, while from the Christian perspective there is a discussion of how the majority community impacted upon the minority community). Moreover, the way in which the documents themselves were produced is discussed with very exciting results – as historians we all too often focus upon the content to the detriment of the materiality of documents, something which  Olzowy-Schlanger does with superb skill and precision.  Thereafter there is a discussion of the palaeographic elements of medieval Anglo-Jewish Hebrew documents. Now, it should be noted that what I know about this this subject could be compressed onto the back of a postage stamp, however, in addition to providing a thoroughly detailed discussion of the subject while at the same time presenting it in such a way that it accessible even to the likes of me. Certainly, it would be impossible to come away from all of this discussion without having learned a great deal (regardless of the stage you are at in your academic career).

            The second section of this book presents each document considered and fully analyses every element of it, complete with transcriptions and pictures of the document in question – it is done with such precision that one cannot help but be envious at the quality of the research (and endeavour to be 1/100th of the historian that she is). This section is particularly important given that the work of the likes of Loewe, and previously Davis (Davis: 1888) had either provided transcriptions and translations or abstracts or the Hebrew. In contrast, Olzowy-Schlanger replicates every document being considered, as well as an extensive discussion of the material and contextual elements of each document. The final point which I wish to emphasise with this book is that it is not just parchment documents which are considered, but also my favourite type of source: tally sticks. It was with a great sense of elation that I read this section and there are a great many new thing which are said on the subject. Thus, this magnificent book does not simply supersede all previous scholarship which has endeavoured to present the extant Hebrew documents from medieval England, but it also makes those previous attempts look sad, even amateurish, and totally blows them out of the water. I cannot recommend this volume enough, it is a magnificent triumph which will quickly establish itself as a bastion of medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship. That being said, if you happen to be at the University of Manchester, please do not order this from the library – I currently have it and am currently working on the documents section.

Work Cited:


Loewe, Herbert, Starrs and Jewish Charters Preserved in the British Museum (London, 1932).

Saturday, 28 May 2016

[#28] Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain (London, 2009), esp. pp. 85-88, 125-128, 170-171, 226-228.

Academic Entry:

Not appropriate.

General Entry:

After writing a review of Dan Jones’ book Realm Divided [#15], I received a number of messages requesting that I review more popular / narrative history. There is, I am afraid, remarkably little of this on my bookcase, however, having just re-read this biography of Edward I by Marc Morris I thought that I would write up a few comments on the key sections of that book which consider the Jews. I should stress that my comments do not extend to the book in its entirety – in and of themselves, medieval kings do not capture my imagination or excite me, so I would inevitably do a disservice to Morris’ excellent biography were I to attempt to do so. It would, however, be impossible to write a biography of Edward I without reference to the Jews and there are several key sections in this book where Morris touches upon them. Given that these sections draw are heavily influenced by the work of Robert C. Stacey and, to a lesser extent, Gavin Langmuir, it hardly need be said that, from a historiographical point of view, I disagree with a number of Morris’ conclusions, in line with the arguments which have been promulgated by the late great Robin Mundill and, in this particular instance, I shall not regurgitate these arguments (not least because this is not a specifically Jewish study and as such there would not have been space to get into the historiography and Morris has presumably selected the arguments which he found most convincing).

            In the first major foray into a discussion on the Jews, Morris provides a summary of the Jewish presence in England, particularly during the reign of Henry III. For me, this is also the least successful of the Jewish sections. That is not to say that there is anything technically wrong with it, merely that I feel that it misses the reality of the Anglo-Jewish experiance. For example, it is pointed out that upon their deaths, the property of Jews should default to the Crown (as it would with any other usurers), and while this is legally true, in reality the convention emerged (and was largely observed) that the heirs of a Jew would pay one-third of the value of their estate to the Crown instead in order to retain control of it – something which was not all that different from Christian methods of inheritance. This is followed, about fifty-pages later, by a discussion of the Statute of the Jewry which conforms to traditional narratives of the Statute and in this section Morris provides a brief but erudite summary of the impacts and implications of the statute. A similarly competent discussion is provided of the coin-clipping allegations of 1278-1279, though I think that more could have been said on the proportionality of the impacts upon the Jews. Finally, as one would expect there is a discussion of the Expulsion. (It should be noted here that, having learned my craft from the man who, quite literally, wrote the book on the Expulsion, it would take a superhuman, and impractical level of detail for me to think that this topic was examined in sufficient detail.) For me, this was much to brief discussion of the Expulsion. That being said, what is produced, though succinct, does cover the finer points which a reader would need to gain an understanding of the event, including comparative events on an international and domestic level. In its detail this passage follows the narrative which was promulgated by Robert Stacey (Stacey: 1997) which I struggle to come agree with for obvious reasons.

            To conclude, this is a splendid, chronological survey of the reign of one of England’s more colourful medieval monarchs. The level of the scholarship, in my opinion, is amplified by the fact that it engages with issues, such as the Jews, which fall outside traditional mainstream history. Ultimately, the nature of the book prohibits a wider discourse on the Jews but what is there is, on the whole, of a high standard and I would highly recommend this book. Sadly, I do not have a copy of Morris’ biography of King John but it would be an interesting exercise to see how the two compare (given John’s treatment of the Jews, I would expect some good material on this in that book as well).

Work Cited


Stacey, Robert C., ‘Parliamentary Negotiation and the Expulsion of the Jews from England’, Thirteenth-Century England, 6 (1997), pp. 77-102.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

[#27] Sara Lipton, ‘Issac and the Antichrist in the Archives’, Past and Present, Advance Access, available online at http://past.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/05/19/pastj.gtw009.full?keytype=ref&ijkey=B9MIEjz8pv84nbx accessed on 26 May 2016.

Academic Entry:

In this article, Lipton provides a comprehensive discussion of the caricature of Jews on the 1233 tallage roll. In particular, she discusses the specific iconographical significance of each aspect of the caricature before expounding upon the socio-political conditions of the time.  

General Entry:

A contributory factor which convinced me to start this blog was because, occasionally, I just want to use a phrase which I cannot use in conventional academic discourse: ‘IT’S ABOUT TIME!’ [insert own applause]. As I pointed out in my brief discussion of thetallage roll itself, this caricature has long been in need of proper contextualisation and examination.  This is not least because, of the three discussions of caricatures which have been produced, one only discussed the caricature very briefly alongside other caricatures (Roth: rpt. 1962), the second did not discuss the caricature (Rokeah: 1972) and the third merely followed Roth’s outline (Hillaby: 2013, pp. 86-87). Therefore, it was with excitement, even jubilation, that I came across this article on Past and Present’s website. In it, Sara Lipton, whose book Dark Mirror did a great deal to make the key tropes of Jewish iconography in medieval Christian art accessible, seeks to properly contextualise this most famous of anti-Jewish caricatures for the first time.

            In her close examination of the individual figures, Lipton challenges most of the traditionally held assumptions about the piece, some of which are more convincing than others. For example, I find her way in which she outlines that the figure of Isaac of Norwich to the Antichrist to be very convincing. Conversely, Lipton’s suggestion that the ‘Jewish usurer’ on the far left of the document is not a Jew at all but a clerk of the lower exchequer is intriguing, but I am not convinced by the suggestion that this could be the clerk who drew the caricature himself – without any particularly strong evidence either way I do not find this kind of speculation to be particularly useful. There is, however, one aspect of the caricature which I would have expected a larger discussion on given Lipton’s previous work (esp. Lipton: 2008): the figure of Abigail. While there is a brief discussion surrounding her, I still think that she could repay closer scrutiny greatly. That being said, while I disagree with some of the finer details of this article, I find the overarching argument, that this was a satirical piece which was as much an attack on the establishment as it was upon the Jews, to be a highly convincing one. This is not least because of the erudite way in which Lipton contextualises the caricature not just in relation to its iconographical significance but in relation to its contemporary context.

One point which confuses me slightly is Lipton’s assertion that the caricature was first published by Cecil Roth in 1950. I am not entirely sure whether this means within the specific context of caricatures or whether this is, in fact, an error, because the caricature had previously been published as the frontispiece for Michael Adler’s book (1939). A second point, which is based upon personal preference rather than anything wrong with the article, is that I, personally, would have liked a larger discussion of the main, identifiable, characters rather than the brief synopsis which is provided at the beginning – though I am one of those who puts a great deal of emphasis on the textual records of England’s Jewish communities.

To conclude, while I agree with Joe Hillaby’s assertion that caricatures such as this one have ‘[i]t is now well nigh obligatory for publications relating to the English Jewry to include one of the caricatures penned by royal clerks in the margins of their documents’ (Hillaby, p. 86), I think that this article demonstrates that when historians treat the caricatures as credible sources, rather than interesting novelties, the results can be remarkable. I also think that this article demonstrates art history at its best in that it combines both artistic interpretations with traditional historical approaches which serves to fully contextualise the source under question and shed new light on it from both perspectives.

Work Cited:

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

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

Lipton, Sara, ‘Where are the Gothic Jewish Women? On the Non-Iconography of the Jewess in the Cantigas de Santa Maria’, Jewish History, 22 (2008), pp. 139-177.

Lipton, Sara, Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography (London, 2014).

Rokeah, Zefira Entin, ‘Drawings of Jewish Interest in some 13th-Century English Public Records’, Scriptorium, 26 (1972), pp. 55-62.


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

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Open Floor Blog Posts


As a result of impending deadlines, there was, unfortunately, no upload last week. However, I have now finished with the taught element of my degree and will have much more time to spend pursuing my own research interests, and reading fun, medieval Anglo-Jewish related, texts - which will mean that I can write more blog reviews. However, given that I have a lot more time, it seems only fair to open up the floor to suggestions and I can review material which relates specifically to things that interest you. To get the creative juices flowing, I've uploaded a couple of pictures of two of my bookcases (the ones exclusively for medieval stuff - though they're ordered chronologically so it doesn't really mater). So, if you're interested in something let me know and I'll see if I can do something in relation to that regardless of whether it's general or specific - with that number of books (combined with journal articles stored digitally) it's a fair bet that I'll have something relating to most interests.

Friday, 13 May 2016

[#26] Matthew Mesley, ‘“De Judaea, muta et surda”: Jewish Conversion in Gerald of Wales’s Life of Saint Remigius’ 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. 238-249.

Academic Entry:

Here Mesley explore the role that gender had upon the representation of Jews in literature with particular emphasis on a miracle story in Gerald of Wales’ Life of Saint Remigius, written between 1197 and 1199 which presents the story of the blind, deaf and dumb Jewess who went to Lincoln cathedral with blasphemous intent but was cured and subsequently converted.

General Entry:

The first time that I read this essay, I expected it to be a trial by ordeal which had to be endured in order to progress through the edited collection. Indeed, there was one sure indicator in the title that I wouldn’t like it: ‘Gerald of Wales’ – not one of my favourite medieval writers by any stretch. However, sort of like that last chocolate in the box which you’ve convinced yourself you wouldn’t like, and as such leave until last, but find it to be the most enjoyable of all the chocolates, I found when I actually read this essay I really loved it and wanted more of writing relating to this topic. Looking back at my notes as well, this essay proved to be a watershed moment for me when I became interested in gender history to a major extent and that is in no small part due to the themes raised by Matthew Mesley in this piece (and as such is to blame for my ‘obsession’ with the subject).

            In this essay, Mesley provides a discussion of a miracle story in the Life of Saint Remigius which contains a blind, deaf and dumb Jewess who, by Remigius’ miracle, had her senses healed, and promptly converted to Christianity (for a very competent discussion of this see Mesley: 2009, pp. 178-240). In particular, Mesley considers the way in which gender impacted upon traditional constructions of the Jews. Moreover, Mesley provides a very competent discussion of the factors which influenced the traditional construction of the Jew and how these can vary for Jewesses. Similarly, he places his narrative within the context of other examples of the Jewess in English literature, like those in the Life of Christina of Markyate (2009) and who associates with Godleiva of Canterbury (incidentally, the Christina of Markyate description made such an impact on me that the passage is pinned on my wall). Like Mesley, I agree that this narrative was directed at a Christian rather than a Jewish audience, however I find his discussion of dating the miracle less convincing. That it not to say that there is anything wrong with it, merely that it assumes that the Jewess was not an artificial construction of Gerald’s.

I only have one problem with this essay and two things which I would have liked. Mesley’s essay focuses heavily on women and I would have liked to have seen a more nuanced gender analysis. In terms of what I would have liked in addition to what Mesely presents: first, there is a tantalising section towards the end whereby he touches upon Jewish visitations to Christian shrines and this could have been developed further, in my opinion, to suggest ways in which local custom and general belief interacted with each other. My second problem is that this is a standalone piece, and this is made worse by the fact that historians in general, and historians of medieval Jews in particular, have been slow to consider the role of the miraculous in the medieval world (for exceptions see, for example, Yarrow: 2006 and Mesley and Wilson: 2014) – in other words this essay is very good but, the glutton that I am, I want more of it.

Work Cited:

Mesley, Matthew M., ‘The Construction of Episcopal Identity: The Meaning and Function of Episcopal Depictions within Latin Saints’ Lives of the Long Twelfth Century’ (Exeter, unpublished PhD diss., 2009).

Mesley, Matthew M. and Wilson, Louise E. (eds.), Contextualizing Miracles in the Christian West, 1100-1500 (Oxford, 2014).

The Life of Christina of Markyate, ed. and trans. C. H. Talbot, et. al. (Oxford, 2009).

Yarrow, Simon, Saints and Their Communities: Miracle Stories in Twelfth-Century England (Oxford, 2006, rpt. 2010).

Thursday, 5 May 2016

[#22.1] Bibliography of British and Irish History, available online at http://apps.brepolis.net/BrepolisPortal/default.aspx accessed on 5 May 2016.*

Academic Entry

This database provides the references to c.450 pieces of literature relating to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry and is a relatively comprehensive survey of the literature produced on the subject.

General Entry


As the eagle eyed among you will notice, I have already reviewed the BBIH [#22] but I feel that I did a grave disservice to that wonderful site as a result of my technological incompetence (I am grateful to Sara Charles for advising me of a much more fruitful way of using it). Originally, I just did a basic search for ‘medieval Jews’ which yielded a mere 168 results, however, if you do an advanced search for ‘Jews’ and set the dates to ‘0-1500’ you receive 447 results which is much more  representative of the body of literature on the subject of medieval Anglo-Jewry. Thus, my previous statements about the BBIH’s selection of medieval Anglo-Jewish references should be treated as erroneous and I am happy (even glad) to issue the revision that the selection of medieval Anglo-Jewish references measures up to the impeccable standards which are evident in other, mainstream, topics of historical academia. Indeed, in terms of publications I could only detect a handful of (specialised) omissions, which when I get more time, might turn out to be present, although there are a number of PhD and MA dissertations which are not referenced, but given that these are not published this is hardly surprising – especially given that some of them are not widely known. (I did wonder if these resources would be included at all but given that Lauren Fogle’s PhD and MA dissertations on the Domus Conversorum are both listed, I can only assume that they should be). Therefore, if it’s references that you’re looking for then I highly recommend this resource – it certainly would have made life much easier for me when I was beginning to read more widely on the subject, chasing references in specialised publications rather than using this bibliographic database as my starting point.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

[#25] Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Passion of William of Norwich, ed. and trans. Miri Rubin (London, 2014).

Academic Entry

Here Rubin provides an updated translation of Thomas of Monmouth’s Life and Passion of William of Norwich, complete with a comprehensive introduction which considers the context in which the Life was written and the implications of the allegations for Jews more generally. In addition, through the use of footnotes, Rubin draws attention to Thomas of Monmouth’s sources and to those facets of the narrative which are not readily understandable in the modern context.

General Entry

In review #19 I noted my general pessimism concerning scholarship upon Thomas of Monmouth’s Life and Passion of William of Norwich. It does not, however, follow that I have a problem with the source itself. On the contrary, I find it to be a very rich historical source which historians have, on the whole, not given due care and attention to – rather they insist on focusing solely on the implications books 1 and 2. However, thanks to Miri Rubin’s stunning recent edition of the Life I am hopeful that this will remedied in future studies of the narrative. This is not least because it was relatively easy to get lost in the previous published edition of the narrative (Jessopp and James: 1896). In contrast, Rubin’s edition is clear, modern, and expertly commented upon – a consistent feature of the Penguin Classics series generally and Rubin’s work specifically. Rubin’s references, which act as a commentary on the text, make this updated edition of the Life incredibly accessible to academic and lay readers by pointing out what Thomas’ probable sources were and highlighting the significance of specific terms and phrases, the meaning of which might otherwise be lost to modern readers. As a result it is now going to be much harder for scholars working on the text to ignore large swathes of the narrative. This edition is more than simply a translation of, and commentary upon, the Life though given that Rubin provides a highly competent survey of the manuscript, the narrative and the context in the form of her introduction which really helps to bring the text to life. The only criticism that I have ever heard of this edition came from a rather pompous historian, who shall remain nameless, who noted that he would have liked the original Latin text, in response to him, and anybody who shares that issue, I would direct you to Rubin’s equally brillaint transcription of the Life, in the original Latin, which is hosted on the ‘Youth, Violence and Cult’ website (http://yvc.history.qmul.ac.uk/WN-joined-17-08-09.pdf).

            Ultimately, I recommend that you, dear reader, try to access as many of the pieces of literature which I review as possible. However, there’s obviously a hierarchy of recommendation as to what should be read. Therefore, I emphatically recommend that if you haven’t already, then you put this book at towards the very top of your ‘to be read’ pile – indeed I would recommend that of any publication of Miri Rubin’s. Finally, if you are interested in learning more about this topic then Professor Rubin is giving a conference paper on the Life at the Leeds International Medieval Congress in July 2016 which, I for one, am really looking forward to.

Work Cited:

Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Miracles of William of Norwich, ed. Augustus Jessopp and M. R. James (Cambridge, 1896).


Thomas of Monmouth, Vita et Miraculi Sancti Willelmi Martyris Norwicensis, ed. Miri Rubin, available online at http://yvc.history.qmul.ac.uk/WN-joined-17-08-09.pdf

Change in Blog Format Notification

As a result of comments on the blog made by a proper historian, there will be a slight change in format to this blog. In its current format the blog doesn’t really comply with conventional notions of an academic bibliography. There is a very good reason for this, I have a serious problem with conventional academia being inaccessible to all and regardless of whether I or Robin Mundill completed this project, it was always going to target as large an audience as possible. That is not to say that I couldn’t do that style of bibliography, I just don’t think many people beyond (or arguably within) the Academy would want to read it and that would be counter-productive to the blog. Having said that, I’m flexible in terms of format, particularly in this early stage of the blog and as such future blog entries will start with an academic style description of the piece of literature followed by the entries for general readers which I’ve been producing thus far. I must stress that there is no moratorium on academic readers reading the general entry or vice versa (in fact I’d encourage both), merely that the difference is there if you want it. I shall start a general academic bibliography document which includes those comments and try and maintain that as a working document (if my technological ability permits that).


            I also just want to emphasise that I make absolutely no apologies for engaging with literature and expressing my own opinion on those (whether that be positive or negative). I adopt the approach that the only thing that I wouldn’t be willing to put on this blog is things that I wouldn’t be willing to say to the scholars face. However, I wish to emphasise that anybody can respond to comments on this blog, and that I don’t have a monopoly on opinions – though I like to think that I’ve spent enough time working on this material not to change my opinion every third document (although as a historian I reserve the right to do so).The simple fact is that I’m a man with all the tact and diplomacy of a sledge hammer and I really don’t have the time or the patience for the academic backstabbing which is predominant in some quarters, and as such I would much rather say what I think rather than avoiding difficult issues (as somebody who works on Jewish history a lot the perils of dancing around issues are much clearer than perhaps might otherwise be the case). This is the approach that I take to primary source material and I see no reason to change that for modern literature – and some of my best academic friends are also people who I’ve never agreed with on anything (it makes for wonderful debates over a pint!). 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Q. #4 Is there anyway that you could also compile a timeline of the events which are important to the Jews of Medieval England?

This question comes from Mary in the south of England.

A. If that's what you want then yes I can, I've made a brief start on the compilation of just such a timeline in the new page entitled 'Working Timeline of Medieval Anglo-Jewry' at the top of this page. It'll take a while due to my other commitments but feel free to check it regularly.

Monday, 2 May 2016

[#24] Archie Baron, ‘All the King’s Jews’, Timewatch, BBC 2, 31 October 1990.*

* Nota bene – I am grateful to Mr Archie Baron for providing me with a copy of this documentary which otherwise seems to be unavailable anywhere else which is a terrible shame given its quality.

The dream of making the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry accessible to a much more general audience did not begin with this blog, but it might be said to owe a great deal to this documentary which was produced in conjunction with leading scholars, notably a very young Dr Robin Mundill, produced in relation to the nine-hundredth anniversary commemorations of the York massacre of 1190. As far as I’m concerned, it would be difficult to find a better introduction to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry than this documentary – regardless of how much you already know about medieval Jews – and one of its great strengths is that it has the capacity to appeal to a very broad audience, be that people who know nothing of medieval Jews in England to those who know a great deal about the subject. Indeed, while a comprehensive written survey of medieval Anglo-Jewry would not appear until 2006 (Huscroft: 2006), I think that this documentary is a worthy (if unacknowledged) predecessor which provides a reasonably full exploration of the subject. As one might expect of a programme which condenses two centuries of history into a one hour documentary, this documentary focuses upon the most famous / infamous events in the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry (e.g. William of Norwich’s death, the massacres of 1189-90 and the Expulsion). However, I think that an amazing amount of material has been squeezed into this documentary which introduces the viewer to as many themes as physically possible within the time constraints. Moreover, the fact that historian like Robin Mundill, Jonathan Romain, Zefira Entin Rokeah and Anna Sapir Abulafia makes it an incredibly powerful documentary in terms of scholarship (although it should be noted that I’m incredibly biased on this point given that these happen to be some of my favourite historians).

I think it is a tragedy (even criminal) that this documentary is so little known (it took me three years to track down a copy I was only successful thanks to a chance footnote – Mundill: 2011, fn. 99) because it is a wonderful piece of television which embodies all the hopes that I have for the field of medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship. I also know that Robin M, who was involved in this project, had hoped that it might be possible to update this documentary with a series for television (we discussed it when Robert Bartlett’s series was on the BBC and we both thought that that format would be brilliant for medieval Jews – Bartlett: 2014). However, while I’m determined to see as many of Robin’s unfinished academic endeavours completed as far as possible, I wouldn’t have the first clue about approaching somebody with this project (though I would love to do it if ever the chance appeared, or enjoy watching it if some talented historian wanted to take a crack at it).

Work Cited:

Bartlett, Robert, The Plantagenets, BBC 2, 2014.

Huscroft, Richard, Expulsion: England’s Jewish Solution (Stroud, 2006).


Mundill, Robin R., ‘Out of the Shadows and into the Light – the Impact and Implication of Recent Scholarship on the Jews of Medieval England 1066-1290’, History Compass, 9 (2011), pp. 572-601.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

‘[T]he Norwich tallage roll’ (TNA E/401/1565), a red herring

I was reading something today and came across a reference to the caricature of Isaac of Norwich and his family ‘at the head of a 1233 Norwich tallage roll’. This reference was in a piece of literature by a historian that I greatly respect and admire and perpetuates an assumption which is common in the literature: i.e. that TNA E/401/1565 relates to the Jews of medieval Norwich. To make such an important oversight which suggests that those who refer to the tallage roll thus only look at pictures of the caricature which are available in a plethora of locations and formats. The problem with these duplicates is that the text on the roll is not similarly reproduced. Though not especially substantive (especially in comparison with other Jewish tallage rolls), this text does include an important feature: there is no entry for Norwich (the entries relate to Gloucester, Lincoln, London and Middlesex, Northampton, Nottingham and Derby, Oxford, and Wiltshire). Moreover, I cannot see a reference to Isaac of Norwich listed in any of the columns. That being said, there are a couple of references to which could be to Mosse Mokke or Abigail but my photographs aren’t of high enough quality to be able to discern the ‘surname’. However, this does seem to suggest that far to much attention has been given by historians to the caricature at the top of the tallage roll to the detriment of the study of the roll itself, which is for me an important oversight and brings into question why the caricature was included on the roll in the first place. It also brings me back to the philosophy that I try to live by with my own research: always go back to the original documents for yourself rather than relying on an intermediary.

The caricature can be found here: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/medieval-mystery/ 

For more on the Jewish caricatures see review #17.

[#23] Henry Summerson, ‘The 1215 Magna Carta: Clause 10, Academic Commentary’, The Magna Carta Project, http://magnacartaresearch.org/read/magna_carta_1215/Clause_10 accessed 1 May 2016 and idem, ‘The 1215 Magna Carta: Clause 11, Academic Commentary’, The Magna Carta Project, available online at http://magnacartaresearch.org/read/magna_carta_1215/Clause_11 accessed on 1 May 2016.*


* Nota bene – my comments are based upon  Summerson’s ‘academic’ commentary of the Jewish Chapters but other, more basic, versions are available.

One of the most famous documents in English constitutional history is Magna Carta (1215) – despite the fact that this version lasted for only a few months and it is the 1225 version which was perpetuated throughout the thirteenth-century. For me, the most intriguing chapters of Magna Carta are chapters 10 and 11, or the Jewish Chapters. This is despite the fact that these chapters were absent from the Charter in every subsequent reissue (more on this below) and the fact that the Jews were significant enough to be included in Magna Carta at this point. Looking back at a previous commentary of Magna Carta, I see that the Jewish Chapters were treated as something of a novelty which doesn’t really give much of an insight into the chapters (McKechnie: 1914, pp. 223-231). In contrast, Summerson’s commentary of these chapters ticks every box that I judge a piece of literature on: it’s well researched, well written, clearly argued, is interesting to read and fulfils Cecil Roth’s criteria of Anglo-Jewish history being ‘fun’ (Roth: 1968-1969, p.29). Thus, in order to find any problem with this piece, I’ve had to draw on the fact that I’ve been working on the Jewish chapters on and off for the last year in relation to another commentary which was (and I hope still is) being prepared for publication on these chapters, which is an impressive feat because I don’t usually struggle in the slightest finding holes in any argument.

The bulk of the commentary on both chapters ten and eleven are the same and include a very competent discussion of the Jewish position in medieval England as well as their treatment under King John. This erudite and succinct discussion provides the basis upon which to consider the Jewish chapters of Magna Carta. As far as the commentary specific to Chapters 10 and 11 are concerned I think that Summerson’s placing of this chapter within the context of the Articles of the Barons and the Unkown Charter is significant because it demonstrates the significance of the linguistic differences between the these incarnations of the chapter and thus how wide ranging the chapters agreed upon in 1215 actually were. That being said, I have two major problems with Summerson’s discussion of Chapter 11. First, I think that while his discussion at the Jewish elements is superb, the final sentence of chapter 11 stating that ‘Debts owed to others besides Jews…’ could have benefitted from more focus. Indeed, for me this is a crucial aspect of this chapter which can be used as a partial explanation as to the reasons which motivated these chapters to be included in Magna Carta where they are and who insisted upon their inclusion. Second, Summerson points out that the Jewish chapters were subsequently omitted from subsequent reissues of Magna Carta which, although technically accurate, ignores the fact that the sentiment embodied in these chapters would remain at issue of Christian-Jewish relations throughout the century and can be seen in subsequent Jewish legislation.

            To conclude, having met and chatted with Dr Summerson about these chapters last year at the Magna Carta Project Conference, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that he was the person to produce such epic (in all senses of the word) commentaries on the Jewish chapters of 1215 Magna Carta, or the other chapters for that matter. As a result of Summerson’s incredible grasp of the topic, historians of medieval Anglo-Jewry will not have cause to describe his discussion of the Jewish Chapters as being informed by ‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’ as was the case with one of the greatest Magna Carta scholars of all time: Sir James Holt (Richmond: 1992, pp. 52-53). Rather, I suspect that this commentary of the Jewish chapters will remain the gold standard in medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship for decades to come (and short of some remarkable piece of evidence being uncovered, I can’t see how it will easily be superseded).

Work Cited:

McKechnie, William Sharp, Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John with an Historical Introduction (Glasgow, 2nd ed, 1914).


Richmond, Colin, ‘Englishness and Medieval Anglo-Jewry’ in Tony Kushner (ed.), The Jewish Heritage in British History: Englishness and Britishness (London, 1992), pp. 42-59.