Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Q #10: GCSE History

Dear Dean,

I am a new teacher and have been assigned the task of teaching the expulsion of the Jews from Medieval England to GCSE history students next year. This is a topic that I’ve only fleetingly looked at and I wonder whether you might be able to provide a bit of information as to the cause(s) of the Expulsion, in addition to the textbook.


A. Teacher

I’ve received this question a lot over the last few weeks, so am happy to answer it. First, I’ve looked up the textbook and see that it’s co-authored by Dr Sophie Ambler – she’s an expert in the thirteenth century who I couldn’t compete with in a month of Sundays, so treat whatever she’s said as gospel. That being said, I’ve outlined a few factors which have been prominently used to explain the Expulsion within the historiography over the course of the last century. They’re not all of the factors but are certainly some of them, and if there are any follow up questions, then I’d be happy to add to this.


In one of the earliest modern explorations of the Expulsion, George Leonard attributed the Expulsion to money (Leonard: 1891). More specifically, he drew attention to the fact that at the time of the Expulsion, Edward I was granted the single largest grant of taxation of the entire Middle Ages, of more than £100,000. Consequently, it is impossible not to draw a connection between the two. Leonard’s argument was revised just over a century later by the eminent medieval Anglo-Jewish historian Robert C. Stacey. According to the explanation that Stacey promulgated, whilst the grant of taxation is an important contributory factor in understanding the Expulsion, it is vital to understand the background to that tax in order to understand why Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion in July 1290 (Stacey: 1997). Stacey argues that the taxation must be understood as a negotiated settlement with the knights of the Shire. Having returned to England, after three years in Gascony, in 1289, King Edward was heavily indebted to the Italian moneylenders – as well as other debts (e.g. Charles of Salerno’s ransom). As a result of this, he was in serious need of some ready cash to pay off his creditors. In years gone by, the Crown could simply have levied a tallage upon Anglo-Jewry, however, the days when this kind of sum could have been squeezed of England’s Jewish community were long gone. Therefore, Edward set about negotiating with parliament. Now it is, at this point, important not to underestimate Edward’s position – he was still not a man who one would want to mess with, but parliament was perhaps in a stronger position that it might otherwise have been. So, according to the argument which was promulgated by Stacey, the price which was exacted by the baronial elite was the scrapping of some (very) unpopular royal policies – notably the Quo Warranto and Quia Emptores proceedings. Conversely, the knights of the Shire demanded, as the price for their support, the Expulsion. It is worth noting that the barons obtained promises in exchange for their support (promises which Edward subsequently reneged on), whilst the knights of the Shire obtained the Edict of Expulsion before consenting. For me, this is important point because, if it was only about the money then why not subsequently readmit the Jews? Certainly, this is the model which was adopted (repeatedly) by the kings of France. This is especially puzzling given that in the reign of Edward’s son, Edward II, in 1310 a Jewish delegation actually came to England, according to the annals of St. Pauls, in order to negotiate a return but this came to naught (Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, 269).

Raison d’ĂȘtre at an end

This was a particularly influential explanation for the Expulsion and it was first advanced by Peter Elman in the 1930s (Elman: 1937). According to this line of argument, the successive tallages which had been levied on Anglo-Jewry throughout the thirteenth century had drained the community of its wealth. Most famously, this argument was seized upon by one of the greatest Jewish historians of the twentieth century: Cecil Roth. Roth famously, and vividly, described that by the latter part of the thirteenth century, the ‘royal milch cow’ had been drained of its wealth (Roth: __, esp. pp. __-__). Consequently, as according to this line of argument there was really no reason for the Crown to maintain the Anglo-Jewish community. Certainly, Robert Stacey has highlighted the implications of the tallages which were levied between 1240 and 1260, even going so far as to suggest that perhaps half of the Jewish wealth in England was transferred to the Crown during the first decade of that period alone (e.g. Stacey: 1988). It has, however, been argued by Robin Mundill (an argument which is not universally accepted by any means – though I’m convinced) that in some quarters, Anglo-Jewry was showing tentative signs of recovery by 1290 and, as a result, a wholesale expulsion of the Jews from England cannot be simply explained upon by the basis of the Jews having outlived their usefulness (Mundill: 2005). Additionally,  it was suggested by Elman that the Jews were more valuable to the Crown by being expelled because it meant that the Crown could confiscate their property. As Robin Mundill has demonstrated however, the Crown obtained little financially as a direct result of the Expulsion – the Jews were allowed to retain their movable goods and whilst debts and houses subsequently defaulted to the Crown, these did not make a great deal of money.


The Jews were the only religious minority in thirteenth century England and, as a result, it would be easy to attribute the Expulsion to religion. Certainly, in a letter to the Exchequer dated 5 November 1290, King Edward himself partially attributed the Expulsion to the Jewishness of the Jews (Chazan: 1980). Certainly, as Paul Hyams long ago suggested, Anglo-Jewry enjoyed one of the longest periods as an ‘Immigrant community’ in history (Hyams: 1974, p. 270). As a result, it could be argued that Edward was fulfilling his obligations as a Christian in expelling the Jews. There is, however, one very large problem with this argument: the Church. The Expulsion ran contrary to Augustinian teaching and the Papal Bull Sicut Judaeorum both of which stipulated that whilst the Jews should be kept in submission, they should be tolerated and not persecuted until they saw the light of the one true religion. So the Expulsion cannot find support in religious teaching. Moreover, the fact that, as Sophie Menache has convincingly illustrated, the Expulsion found no support in the church chroniclers which suggests that whilst they had spent the previous two centuries vilifying the Jews, this last, final, step was to much for them to support (Menache: 1985).

The weather

I’m being slightly facetious with the sub-title here, but not entirely. A group of historians have recently attempted to make a connection between the persecution of the Jews in history and ‘weather shocks’ (Anderson, et. al.: 2016). I don’t buy this argument for a second, but according to this line of argument a weather shock could have been a contributory factor to the decision to Expel the Jews in 1290.

It’s complicated

This was the favoured argument of Robin Mundill who argued, in proper historical fashion, that a combination of short and long term factors explained the Expulsion. That is that sociological factors meant that Jews were being pushed out of an increasingly English society by 1290, as well as the factors above. Additionally, Mundill’s argument that Edward’s decision to expel the Jews from Gascony was an important event because it opened up the possibility of doing the same in England. That coupled with contemporary events, which have been touched upon above, resulted in the Expulsion.

Work Cited:

Robert Warren Anderson et. al., ‘Jewish Persecution and Weather Shocks: 1100-1800’, The Economic Journal, early view, available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ecoj.12331/pdf.  

Peter Elman, ‘The Economic Causes of the Expulsion of the Jews in 1290’, The Economic History Review, 7 (1937), pp. 145-154.

George Hare Leonard, ‘The Expulsion of the Jews by Edward I. An Essay in Explanation of the Exodus, A.D. 1290’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5 (1891), pp. 103-146.

Paul Hyams, ‘The Jewish Minority in Medieval England, 1066-1290’, Journal of Jewish Studies, 24 (1974), pp. 270-293.

Sophia Menache, ‘Faith, Myth, and Politics: The Stereotype of the Jews and Their Expulsion from England and France’, The Jewish Quarterly Review, 75 (1985), pp. 351-374.

Robin R. Mundill, ‘Changing Fortunes: Edwardian Anglo-Jewry and their Credit Operations in Late Thirteenth-Century England’, Haskins Society Journal, 14 (2005), pp. 83-90.

Robert C. Stacey, ‘1240-60: a Watershed in Anglo-Jewish Relations?’, Historical Research, 61 (1988), pp. 135-150.

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

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