The Jews of medieval England have long been described as “the King’s Jews”. Whilst Julie Mell may have recently challenged the concept of serfdom, it cannot be denied that the Crown certainly used the Jews to its advantage. One of the ways that it did this was by granting individual Jews to members of the royal family (and from researching the OTD feature I think leading nobles also). These were the “personal Jews” of the individual. On the one hand the Jew got the protection of their patron, on the other hand all of their goods and properties technically belonged to the patron. This was not a theoretical relationship – if the Jew failed to prove profitable patrons had no problems seizing goods, debts and properties. One such personal Jew was Aaron son of Vives. Aaron was a particularly interesting figure, and I look forward to introducing you to him in future entries. For our purposes, however, it is sufficient to say that Edmund Crouchback, second son of Henry III, acknowledged his patronage of Aaron in 1265. This relationship continued into the following decade as this order from 15 November 1275 testifies. The letter starts by outlining the relationship between Edmund and Aaron, and stating that Edward I had reiterated Henry III’s grant of the latter to the former. Thereafter, it goes on to say that everything of Aaron’s belonged to Edmund so nobody should interfere with it. Finally, and most interestingly, the order concludes by saying that “all matters concerning him and needing judicial examination shall be heard and determined before the king and the said Edmund”. For all that the granting of a “personal Jew” might seem barbaric to a modern audience, this last point was vital. It effectively meant that Aaron would not be tried by the Justices of the Jews but by the King and his brother. Time and again, the records reveal that “personal Jews” had been protected by their patrons in such cases – including in a case of murder and desecrating the image of the Virgin Mary in a lavatory. As a result, this clause made the status quo beneficial for the Jew in question – they could earn for themselves as well as their patrons and have a powerful patron should it become necessary.
Robin R. Mundill, “The Jewish entries from the Patent Rolls, 1272-1292”, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), pp. 64-65.