The Statute of Jewry & the Expulsion of English Jewry

It is likely that the first Jewish communities in England came from Normandy, where one had existed since Roman times. In general terms they were very successful in England through hard work and a mercantile nature, and a large amount of English land passed into Jewish hands, along with plenty of English coin. They were often blamed for social ills, ritual murder, and rapacity - as groups of immigrants and people that are "different" are often blamed for society's ills. But it seems the Jewish banking community got a bit lazy and corrupt, and when the put-upon debtors realised this, they refused to pay their loans back. A general push against usury and those who practiced it by Pope Gregory X led to Edward conducting a survey of the Jewish bankers and cracking down on Jewish quarters. He sent hundreds to the tower and confiscated their property and revived the allegations of ritual murder.

As a result of the act, which banned usury (for both Jews and Christians), a lot of formerly wealthy Jews were deprived of their livelihood. Some took the 'clipping' of the coinage (cutting bits of coins and melting them down to make new coins or selling the bullion), which led to Jews been banned from dealing in bullion.

This was one of the first acts of the English Parliament which the commons had a say in, as of course the ignorant masses often mobilise against perceived evils. Seen as evil and anti-Christian, the Jews were an easy target for the peasantry. It was a law of King Edward I, who is otherwise remembered rightly as a sagacious lawmaker.

As if the below wasn't enough, they were all actually expelled in 1290 (a 'strategy' that had been used against the Jews since the 7th century) by an Act of King in His Council. This was justified by blaming their clipping of the coinage, making allegations of ritual murder and generally blaming social ills on them. They were expelled on the fast of the ninth of Ab, which is the anniversary of many disasters for Judaism.

I have emboldened the most interesting phrases in the Statute if you don't like ploughing through 1000 words of Middle English. Check out the bit about them wearing badges.

Forasmuch as the King hath seen that divers evils and the disinheriting of good men of his land have happened by the usuries which the Jews have made in time past, and that divers sins have followed thereupon albeit that he and his ancestors have received much benefit from the Jewish people in all times past, neverthless, for the honour of God and the common benefit of the people the King hath ordained and established, that from henceforth no Jew shall lend anything at usury either upon land, or upon rent or upon other thing.

And that no usuries shall run in time coming from the feast of St. Edward last past. Notwithstanding the covenants before made shall be observed, saving that the usuries shall cease. But all those who owe debts to Jews upon pledge of moveables shall acquit them between this and Easter; if not they shall be forfeited. And if any Jew shall lend at usury contrary to this Ordinance, the King will not lend his aid, neither by himself or his officers for the recovering of his loan; but will punish him at his discretion for the offence and will do justice to the Christian that he may obtain his pledges again.

And that the distress for debts due unto Jews from henceforth shall not be so grievous but that the moiety of lands and chattels of the Christians shall remain for their maintenance; and that no distress shall be made for a Jewry debt upon the heir of the debtor named in the Jew's deed, nor upon any other person holding the land that was the debtor's before that the debt be put in suit and allowed in court.

And if the sheriff or other bailiff by the King's command hath to give Saisin to a Jew be it one or more, for their debt, the chattels shall be valued by the oaths of good men and be delivered to the Jew or Jews or to their proxy to the amount of the debt; and if the chattels be not sufficient, the lands shall be extended by the same oath before the delivery of Saisin to the Jew or Jews, to each in his due proportion, so that it may be certainly known that the debt is quit, and the Christian may have his land again; saving always to the Christian the moiety of his land and chattels for his maintenance as aforesaid, and the chief mansion.

And if any moveable hereafter be found in possession of a Jew, and any man shall sue him the Jew shall be allowed his warranty if he may have it; and if not let him answer therefor so that he be not therein otherwise privileged than a Christian.

And that all Jews shall dwell in the King's own cities and boroughs where the chests of the chirographs of Jews are wont to be.

And that each Jew after he shall be seven years old, shall wear a badge on his outer garment that is to say in the form of two tables joined of yellow fait of the length of six inches and of the breadth of three inches.

And that each one, after he shall be twelve years old pay three pence yearly at Easter of tax to the King whose bond-man he is; and this shall hold place as well for a woman as for a man.

And that no Jew shall have the power to infeoff another whether Jew or Christian of houses, rents, or tenements, that he now hath, nor to alien in any other manner, nor to make acquittance to any Christian of his debt without the special licence of the King, until the King shall have otherwise or ordained therein.

And forasmuch as it is the will and sufferance of Holy Church that they may live and be preserved, the King taketh them under his protection, and granteth them his peace; and willeth that they be safely preserved and defended by his sheriffs and other bailiffs and by his liege man, and commandeth that none shall do them harm or damage or wrong in their bodies or in their goods, moveable or immovable, and they shall neither plead not be impeaded in any court nor be challenged or troubled in any court except in the the court of the King whose bondmen they are; and that none shall owe obedience, or service or rent except to the King or his bailiffs in his name unless it be for their dwelling which they now hold by paying rent; saving the right of Holy Church.

And the King granteth unto them that they may gain their living by lawful merchandise and their labour, and that they may have intercourse with Christians in order to carry on lawful trade by selling and buying. But that no Christian for this cause or any other shall dwell among them. And the King willeth that they shall not be reason of their merchandise be put to lot and soot nor in taxes with the men of the cities and boroughs where they abide; for that they are taxable to the King as his bondmen and to none other but the King.

Moreover, the King granteth unto them that they may buy houses and castilages in the cities and boroughs where they abide, so that they hold them in chief of the King; saving unto the lords of the fee their services due and accustomed. And that they may take and buy farms or land for the term of ten years or less without taking homages or fealties or such sort of obedience from Christians and without having advowsons of churches, and that they may be able to gain their living in the world, if they have not the means of trading or cannot labour; and this licence to take land to farm shall endure to them for fifteen years from this time forward.

You can find the text at or The Statutes of the Realm vol. I, pp. 220-1

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