King ordered all Jews still in England after All Saints Day to be hanged.
Today’s installment concludes England Expels the Jews,
our selection from History of the Jews by Henry Hart Milman published in 1829.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations! For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in England Expels the Jews.
Everywhere there was full license for plunder and worse than plunder. The King was obliged to interpose. A writ was issued, addressed to the justiciaries who had presided at the trials for the adulteration of the coin, Peter of Pentecester, Walter of Heylynn, John of Cobham, appointed justiciaries for the occasion. It recited that many Jews had been indicted and legally condemned to death and to the forfeiture of their goods and chattels; but that certain Christians, solely on account of religious differences, were raising up false and frivolous charges against men who had not been legally arraigned, in order to extort money from them by fear. No Jew against whom a legal indictment had not been issued before May 1, 1280, was to be molested or subject to accusation. Those only arrested on grave suspicion before that time were to be put upon their trial. Jewish tradition attributes the final expulsion of the Jews to these charges, which the King, it avers, did not believe, yet was compelled to yield to popular clamor.
But not all the statutes, nor public executions, nor the active preaching of the Dominican friars, who undertook to convert them if they were constrained to hear their sermons — the king’s bailiffs, on the petition of the friars, were ordered to induce the Jews to become quiet, meek, and uncontentious hearers — could either alter the Jewish character, still patient of all evil so that they could extort wealth, or suppress the still increasing clamor of public detestation, which demanded that the land should cast forth from its indignant bosom this irreclaimable race of rapacious infidels. Still worse, if we may trust a papal bull, the presence and intercourse of the Jews were dangerous to the religion of England. In the year 1286 the Pope (Honorius IV) addressed a bull to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his suffragans, rebuking them for the remissness of the clergy in not watching more closely the proceedings of the Jews. The Archbishop, indeed, had not been altogether so neglectful in the duty of persecution. The number and the splendor of the synagogues in London had moved the indignation, perhaps the jealousy, of Primate Peckham. He issued his monition to the Bishop of London to inhibit the building any more of these offensively sumptuous edifices, and to compel the Jews to destroy those built within a prescribed time.
The zeal of the Bishop of London (Robert de Gravesend) outran that of the Archbishop; he ordered them all to be leveled to the ground. The Archbishop, prevailed on by the urgent supplications of the Jews, graciously informed the Bishop that he might conscientiously allow one synagogue, if that synagogue did not wound the eyes of pious Christians by its magnificence.
But the bull of Honorius IV was something more than a stern condemnation of the usurious and extortionate practices of the Jews; it was a complaint of their progress, not merely in inducing Jewish converts to Christianity to apostatize back to Judaism, but of their not unsuccessful endeavors to tempt Christians to Judaism. “These Jews lure them to their synagogues on the Sabbath — are we to suppose that there was something splendid and attractive in the synagogue worship of the day? — and in their friendly intercourse at common banquets, the souls of Christians, softened by wine and good eating and social enjoyment, are endangered.” The Talmud of the Jews, which they still persist in studying, is especially denounced as full of abomination, falsehood, and infidelity.
The King at length listened to the public voice, and the irrevocable edict of total expulsion from the realm was issued. Their whole property was seized at once, and just money enough left to discharge their expenses to foreign lands, perhaps equally inhospitable. The 10th of October was the fatal day. The King benignantly allowed them till All Saints’ Day; after which all who delayed were to be hanged without mercy. The King, in the execution of this barbarous proceeding, put on the appearance both of religion and moderation. Safe-conducts were to be granted to the sea-shore from all parts of the kingdom. The wardens of the Cinque Ports were to provide shipping and receive the exiles with civility and kindness. The King expressed his intention of converting great part of his gains to pious uses, but the Church looked in vain for the fulfillment of his vows.
He issued orders that the Jews should be treated with kindness and courtesy on their journey to the sea-shore.
But where the Prince by his laws thus gave countenance to the worst passions of human nature, it was not likely that they would be suppressed by his proclamations. The Jews were pursued from the kingdom with every mark of popular triumph in their sufferings; one man, indeed, the master of a vessel at Queenborough, was punished for leaving a considerable number on the shore at the mouth of the river, when, as they prayed to him to rescue them from their perilous situation, he answered that they had better call on Moses, who had made them pass safe through the Red Sea, and, sailing away with their remaining property, left them to their fate. The number of exiles is variously estimated at fifteen thousand and sixty and sixteen thousand five hundred and eleven; all their property, debts, obligations, mortgages, escheated to the King.
Yet some, even in those days, presumed to doubt whether the nation gained by the act of expulsion, and even ventured to assert that the public burdens on the Christians only became heavier and more intolerable. Catholics suffered in the place of the enemies of the Cross of Christ. The loss to the Crown was enormous. The convents made themselves masters of the valuable libraries of the Jews, one at Stamford, another at Oxford, from which the celebrated Roger Bacon is said to have derived great information; and long after, the common people would dig in the places they had frequented, in hopes of finding buried treasure.
This ends our series of passages on England Expels the Jews by Henry Hart Milman from his book History of the Jews published in 1829. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.