Saturday, 7 January 2017

[#60] Victoria Hoyle, “The bonds that bind: money lending between Anglo-Jewish and Christian women in the plea rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, 1218-1280”, Journal of Medieval History, 34 (2008), pp. 119-129.

I must begin with an apology. In recent weeks I haven’t had the time to devote to this blog that I would like. In my defence, however, I have been active with research into medieval Anglo-Jewry, most of which should come to fruition in 2017. Thus, I shall be giving two conferences papers this year: “Keeping it in the Family: The Business Activities of a Thirteenth Century Anglo-Jewish Family” (Family and Power in the Middle Ages Conference – Canterbury, April 2017) and “Mapping Christian Debtors and Jewish Creditors in the Medieval English Landscape” (Leeds International Medieval Congress – Leeds, July 2017). Additionally, I have two papers in progress which I intend to submit to journals at some point this year with the working titles of: “The Jews of Caerleon (Wales)” and “Medieval Anglo-Jewry in Modern Historical Novels, 1945-2017”. I hope that this convinces you, dear reader, that it wasn’t idleness which prevented me from posting, only incompetence for not having found the time. I do, however, have many plans for the blog for the coming year so do keep reading, asking questions, and contributing.

                One of my primary research interests is the role of women and gender within the medieval Anglo-Jewish community. For those of you who are familiar with the historiography upon this topic, you might expect me to say that I am influenced by Adler, Dobson or Bartlet. Whilst these are certainly very good they are also very general. I tend to prefer the empirical elegance of the scholarship produced by people like Hannah Meyer and Victoria Hoyle. It is the latter who concerns us here today. Her article in the 2008 volume of the Journal of Medieval History, which is based upon her MA thesis completed at the University of York in 2006 (which is also well worth a read). Speaking from a personal perspective, this article has had a profound impact upon the direction of my research.

                After situating her research within the historiography, Hoyle provides the obligatory political overview of Anglo-Jewish history and the legislation which governed them. While this section must, of necessity, be included in a range of publications, not everybody is capable of writing such a survey in a way which engages the reader. Thereafter we get to the good stuff! The basic premise of this article is to consider the ways in which Christian and Jewish women came into contact in the court rolls of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews (PREJ), using moneylending as an entry point. This section includes a particularly good discussion of the way in which women featured in PREJ, in what numbers, and in what capacity. As Hoyle notes, however, there is an inherent problem to using PREJ because “all of the cases in the rolls represent credit agreements gone wrong and sour. Amiable borrowing does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Exchequer of the Jews” (p. 123). Additionally, Hoyle provides a section of case studies which, for me, is the best part of the article, particularly because of the calibre of the contextualisation and explanation. I want to draw attention to one of these cases, not least because I will be giving a conference paper later this year which relates to it (if you’ll excuse the shameless self-promotion). That is, Hoyle draws attention to Genta daughter of Cresse, son of Genta. Although this particular entry doesn’t reflect it, Genta was part of a major family business which centred upon her father, but which saw his children (male and female) engage in the family business. I’d like to finish this section by noting an important point that Hoyle makes which I have always endeavoured to avoid (successfully or not is another matter) in my explorations of moneylending: “Jewish historians, and women’s historians too, have traditionally made an unnatural distinction between economic activities and socio-cultural and familial life, which is only just beginning to break down” (p. 128).

                Whilst I like this article enormously, it does have its problems. As Hannah Meyer pointed out in her 2009 doctoral thesis, in using PREJ on its own, in the absence of evidence like tallage rolls and scrutinies, there was the serious potential to gain a false interpretation of the evidence. Moreover, in my own research I treat PREJ with hostility and always try to back up a point using the other governmental rolls which would have had interesting implications for the arguments presented in this article. Having said that, Hoyle was a pioneer. She invariably had to try new things which had never been applied to the medieval Anglo-Jewess before and I think that it was remarkably successful and laid the foundations for further scholarship.

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