Friday, 30 September 2016

The Sources for the Study of Medieval Anglo-Jewish Moneylending Activities (Part 1).

The occasion of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887 was celebrated by a plethora of public events. Among these was the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, hosted primarily at the Royal Albert Hall between April and June of that year. One of the expressed aims of the Exhibition was ‘[t]o determine the extent of the materials which exist for the compilation of a History of the Jews in England’.[1] Next year, 2017, will make the 130th anniversary of the Exhibition and I passionately believe that it is time to revisit this objective. I think this for two main reasons. First, whilst the sources which were brought to light to by the Exhibition, for the medieval period, have underpinned the historiography ever since, in the last decade or so historians have begun using new sources, or using old sources in new ways, to bring a new dimension to scholarship. I became acutely aware of this when in my time working under the guidance of Dr Robin Mundill. We were both passionate about studying medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities but we approached the study in totally different ways: he would focus in on specific sources which could relate the specific details of moneylending transactions, whilst I included these sources a whole lot more besides. In areas of literature, the law, gender and more, exactly the same debates have been occurring, and a new generation of scholars (and me) are challenging the dichotomy of medieval Anglo-Jewish studies in way which I firmly believe will shape the discipline for the next 130 years. Second, since the mid-1980s the discipline of medieval Anglo-Jewish studies has experienced a period of increased, and sustained, interest, to the point where it now features regularly in undergraduate courses, and even in high school courses and museum exhibitions (for example, the ‘Blood’ exhibition at the London Jewish Museum). I am enormously concerned, however, about the sustainability of such growth because of how accessible to field is to the novice. I was very lucky to have been introduced to the sources and the field by a leading expert in the field, but not everybody is so fortunate. A major factor which I think could seriously retard further growth is a lack of a comprehensive introduction of the sources for each aspect of the discipline.

Consequently, when I was reading one of the Routledge ‘Guides to Using Historical Sources’, I began contemplating what such a guide would look like for medieval Anglo-Jewish studies. I selected a number of the most important sources and themes which I would include in such a volume (and the historians who I would love to write them). Now I am not remotely qualified to discuss most of these themes. In the case of moneylending, however, I know as much about the sources for this area as anybody. Given that it is highly unlikely that a publisher would react favourably to such a proposal, however, I thought that I would produce a guide to the sources of moneylending for this blog. I have made two decisions in advance. First, this will not be done all at once, but will be done in stages – to make it manageable for readers. Second, wherever possible I will make use of English translations, or failing that Latin transcriptions as opposed to manuscript sources – so that readers can follow at their own pace, should they be so inclined. As a result, this should very much be treated as a first go at this task, and I will, in all likelihood, refine the sections for inclusion in a final document subsequently. Just as a final point, I will produce a final conclusion at the end rather than at the end of each section, so the pieces are not unfinished, they merely run on from each other.

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The Sources of Medieval Anglo-Jewish Moneylending, 1:1 – Regulation

Moneylending was one of the most heavily regulated aspects of medieval Anglo-Jewish life. From the end of the twelfth-century onwards, the Crown dictated how debt was to be recorded, where it was to be stored, how much interest could be charged (if at all), and where disputes should be dealt with. Additionally, the Crown could periodically take debts as fines. As a result, we know quite a lot about the way in which medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending were intended to function from a theoretical. Therefore, this section will consider the ways in which the Crown sought to regulate this aspect of Anglo-Jewish life and what the implications were for Jewish moneylending more generally. In essence, this section will trace the Crown’s attempts to legislate Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities during this period.

The earliest extant sources which allow historians to glimpse the nature of the Jews’ relationship with the Crown are the charters which were issued by Kings Richard I (r. 1189-1199) and John (r. 1199-1216) in 1190 and 1201 respectively. Regrettably, these say remarkably little on the issue of moneylending. The only thing that they do say is that in legal disputes about debt, it would be the Jewish creditor who must prove the debt, and the Christian debtor the interest.[2] Given that these documents purport to be reiterations of a charter issued to the Jews by Henry I (r. 1100-1135), it would seem reasonable to reflect that this reflected the custom of the twelfth century. An additional piece of legislation which was issued during the reign of Richard I provide us with a much more significant glimpse into the Crown’s attempts to regulate Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities. The ‘Form of Pleas’ issued in 1194, probably by Hubert Walter, includes a section of regulations which Jewish financiers were to adhere to. These stipulated that debts should be recorded upon a bipartite chirograph (discussed in 1.2), with one part, sealed by the debtor, being retained by the creditor, with the second part being deposited in one of the archa which were to be established at individual locations. Additionally, this legislation stated that chirographers, or administrators, should be appointed to each archa (two Jews, two Christians, and two scribes). These chirographers, or as many as were available, were to be present when debts were produced and that three pence should be paid (half by the creditor and half by the debtor) – two pence to the scribes and one penny to the clerk who entered the particulars of the transaction onto a roll.[3] Also, in 1201, King John stipulated that whilst the majority of internal matters could be settled by the Jewish legal system, cases involving Christians (including those over moneylending) were to be heard by the Justices of the Jews, which set the precedent for the thirteenth century.[4] As will be seen in future sections, this means that the records of the Exchequer of the Jews are particularly rich in cases involving medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending.

                The 1194 regulations were conspicuously silent upon the topic of interest, however. This would, however, come to dominate attempts to regulate Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities. Famously, chapters ten and eleven of Magna Carta sought to protect underage heirs from the accumulation of interest, and widows’ inheritance.[5] Historians have traditionally discounted these clauses on the basis that the chapters were omitted from every subsequent reissue of Magna Carta. There were, however, echoes of Magna Carta throughout the thirteenth century. For example, chapter five of the Statute of Merton (1235), again stipulated that interest should not accrue upon debts which fell into the hands of minors – though this was speaking in general terms rather than specifically about Jews.[6] Interest also comes to the fore in the legislation of the thirteenth century. In the Statute of the Jewry (1233), the Crown limited the interst which could be charged by the Jews to two pence in the pound per week. Additionally, this Statute also stipulated records of debt should be produced in a tripartite, rather than a bipartite, format, with the additional part being retained by the creditor.[7] The next significant piece of Anglo-Jewish legislation, the Provisions of the Jewry (1253) did not explicitly refer to moneylending, however, it appears to implicitly support the activity with the opening phrase ‘no Jew [shall] remain in England unless he do the King service’. In other words, unless Jews were engaged in an activity which was profitable to the Crown, as moneylending was given that the profits could be taxed or the debts seized, then they were out.[8] Subsequently, in 1269, another document entitled the Provisions of the Jewry, outlawed the practice of fee debts, or debts which charged an annual fee in perpetuity. Additionally, the Provisions placed a moratorium upon Jews selling debts to Christians without a licence.[9] This was a particularly vicious aspect of the thirteenth century moneylending market because whereas a Jew could not hold the land which was used as surety, if they sold it on to a Christian then that person could demand immediate repayment or take the land. Equally, through this system a debtor might well find him/herself indebted to a great lord or lady, putting them in a much more difficult position.

                 Perhaps the most famous piece of legislation which sought to regulate medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities was the Statute of the Jewry (1275), issued by Edward I (r. 1272-1307). With this piece of legislation, the Edwardian government placed a moratorium upon Jewish usurious activities.[10] There has been a great deal of debate within the historiography as to whether this was adhered to. Certainly, Edward I stated that it had not been in a letter dated 5 November 1290 (just days after the Expulsion).[11] Within the context of understanding the sources, and the environment in which they were produced, however, it is enough to simply know that the Crown outlawed the Jewish practice of lending money at interest. Where the historiographical debates do matter, however, is in relation to the final major piece of legislation which relates to the Jews: the Articles Touching the Jewry (late 1270s). This legislation reintroduced a limited form of usury for Jewish transactions.[12] There is, however, debate as to whether this legislation was ever enacted – Paul Brand would argue that it was, whilst Robin Mundill argued that this was only a draft. As a consequence, it is clear that throughout the thirteenth century, at least, medieval Anglo-Jewish moneylending activities, and the sources, cannot be understood in isolation but, rather, must be considered in relation to the Crown’s attempts to regulate that activity.



[1] Joseph Jacobs and Lucien Wolf, Catalogue of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1887), p. vii.
[2] Robert Chazan, Church, State and Jew in the Middle Ages (New York: Behrman, 1980), pp. 66-69; J. M. Rigg, Select Pleas, Starrs, and Other Records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, A.D. 1220-1284 (London: Bernard Quaritch), pp. 1-2.
[3] Harry Rothwell, English Historical Documents: 1189-1327 (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1975), pp. 305-306.
[4] Rigg, Select Pleas, pp. 2-3.
[5] J. C. Holt, Magna Carta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3, 2015), p. 383.
[6] English Historical Documents, p. 351.
[7] English Historical Documents, p. 350.
[8] Rigg, Select Pleas, pp. xlxiii-xlix.
[9] Rigg, Select Pleas, pp. xlix-li.
[10] Robin R. Mundill, England Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 291-293.
[11] Chazan, Church, State and Jew, pp. 318-319.
[12] Mundill, England’s Jewish Solution, pp. 294-298.

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