Thursday, 17 November 2016

(Jewish) OTD: 17 November


During the twelfth century, the English coinage was among the best in Christendom. By the final decades of the thirteenth century, however, the coinage had been considerably debased. One of the obvious ways in which this was done was through the process of coin clipping. This might seem like a novel concept in the modern world where all of our coins are quite substantive. In contrast, medieval coins had to be thin enough to cut into legitimate segments (for when what you wanted to purchase cost, for example, only half a penny). This has obvious implications for the coinage when the value is directly proportionate to the weight of the coins in question. Consequently, Edward I set about remedying the situation. In usual tactful manner, he ordered a clampdown on coin clipping, and dealt with the culprits severely. Innevitably, the investigations quickly focused upon the Jews – they had long been associated with the coinage and the trade in precious metals, and people with an axe to grind against them, duly did so. This culminated in the trials of 1278-1279. I’ll go into the full implications of these trials, which Suzanne Bartlet described as a “coin clipping pogrom”, in a future entry. Suffice it to say here, however, Zefira Entin Rokeah traced fifty-seven instances where a Jews’ property had been forfeited on account of their having been found guilty. This provides the background to this entry in the Patent Rolls, dated 17 November 1279. The order appoints men in York, Lincoln, Stamford and Warwick to sell the houses of those Jews whose properties had defaulted to the Crown. There are quite a few names, so you, dear reader, can look them up at your leisure. I would, however, like to draw your attention two individuals. The first is Hugh of Kendal. He can only be described, in the vein of Terry Jones, as “a very naughty boy”. He was heavily involved in the investigations into coin clipping, until it was eventually realised that many innocent Jews were probably being implicated. Additionally, at the time of the Expulsion he was appointed to dispose of all the Jewish houses in England – as a result of a bit of dodgy dealing in which he sought to line his own pockets he became involved in a couple of scandals. The second figure is Hamo Hauteyn, a leading Jew who was complicit in this act.

Robin R. Mundill, “The Jewish entries from the Patent Rolls, 1272-1292”, Jewish Historical Studies, 32 (1990-1992), pp. 64-65.

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