Not only the Jews were hurt by these policies but economic growth, too.
Continuing England Expels the Jews,
our selection from History of the Jews by Henry Hart Milman published in 1829. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in England Expels the Jews.
As to the Jews in London, the constable of the Tower was to see not only that those who had taken refuge in the Tower, but those who had fled to other places, were to return to their houses, which were to be restored, except such as had been granted away by the King; and even all their property which could be recovered from the King’s enemies. Excepting that some of the barons’ troops, flying from the battle of Evesham, under the younger Simon de Montfort, broke open and plundered the synagogue at Lincoln, where they found much wealth, and some excesses committed at Cambridge, the Jews had time to breathe. The King, enriched by the forfeited estates of the barons, spared the Jews. We only find a tallage of one thousand pounds, with promise of exemption for three years, unless the King or his son should undertake a crusade.
Their wrongs had, no doubt, sunk deep into the hearts of the Jews. It has been observed that oppression, which drives even wise men mad, may instigate fanatics to the wildest acts of frenzy; an incident at Oxford will illustrate this. Throughout these times the Jews still flourished, if they may be said to have flourished, at Oxford. In 1244 certain clerks of the university broke into the houses of the Jews and carried away enormous wealth. The magistrates seized and imprisoned some of the offenders. Grostete, as bishop of the diocese — Oxford was then in the diocese of Lincoln — commanded their release, because there was no proof of felony against them. We hear nothing of restitution. The scholars might indeed hate the Jews whose interest on loans was limited by Bishop Grostete to twopence weekly in the pound — between 40 and 50 per cent. Probably the poor scholars’ security was not overgood. Later, the studies in the university are said to have been interrupted, the scholars being unable to redeem their books pledged to the Jews.
Twenty-four years after the outbreak of the scholars, years of bitterness and spoliation and suffering, while the chancellor and the whole body of the university were in solemn procession to the reliques of St. Frideswide, they were horror-struck by beholding a Jew rush forth, seize the cross which was borne before them, dash it to the ground, and trample upon it with the most furious contempt. The offender seems to have made his escape in the tumult, but his people suffered for his crime. Prince Edward was then at Oxford; and, by the royal decree, the Jews were imprisoned, and forced, notwithstanding much artful delay on their part, to erect a beautiful cross of white marble, with an image of the Virgin and Child, gilt all over, in the area of Merton College, and to present to the proctors another cross of silver to be borne at all future processions of the university. The Jews endeavored to elude this penalty by making over their effects to other persons. The King empowered the sheriff to levy the fine on all their property.
The last solemn act of Henry of Winchester was a statute of great importance. Complaints had arisen that the Jews, by purchase, or probably foreclosure of mortgage, might become possessed of all the rights of lords of manors, escheat wardships, even of presentation to churches. They might hold entire baronies with all their appurtenances. The whole was swept away by one remorseless clause. The act disqualified the Jews altogether from holding lands or even tenements, except the houses of which they were actually possessed, particularly in the city of London, where they might only pull down and rebuild on the old foundations. All lands or manors were actually taken away; those which they held by mortgage were to be restored to the Christian owners, without any interest on such bonds. Henry almost died in the act of extortion; he had ordered the arrears of all charges to be peremptorily paid, under pain of imprisonment. Such was the distress caused by this inexorable mandate that even the rival bankers, the Caorsini, and the friars themselves, were moved to commiseration, though some complained that the wild outcries raised in the synagogue on this doleful occasion disturbed the devotion of the Christians in the neighboring churches.
The death of Henry released the Jews from this Egyptian bondage; but they changed their master, not their fortune. The first act of Edward’s reign, after his return from the Holy Land, regulated the affairs of the Jews exactly in the same spirit; a new tallage was demanded, which was to extend to the women and children; the penalty of nonpayment, even of arrears, was exile, not imprisonment. The defaulter was to proceed immediately to Dover, with his wife and children, leaving his house and property to the use of the King. The execution of this edict was committed, not to the ordinary civil authorities, but to an Irish bishop (elect) and to two friars.
This edict was followed up by the celebrated Act of Parliament Concerning Judaism, the object of which seems to have been the same with the policy of Louis IX of France, to force the Jews to abandon usury, and betake themselves to traffic, manufactures, or the cultivation of land. It positively prohibited all usury and cancelled all debts on payment of the principal. No Jew might distress beyond the moiety of a Christian’s land and goods; they were to wear their badge, a badge now of yellow, not white, and pay an Easter offering of threepence, men and women, to the King. They were permitted to practice merchandise or labor with their hands, and — some of them, it seems, were still addicted to husbandry — to hire farms for cultivation for fifteen years. On these terms they were assured of the royal protection. But manual labor and traffic were not sources sufficiently expeditious for the enterprising avarice of the Jews. Many of them, thus reduced, took again to a more unlawful and dangerous occupation, clipping and adulterating the coin. In one day, November 17, 1279, all the Jews in the kingdom were arrested. In London alone two hundred and eighty were executed after a full trial; many more in other parts of the kingdom. A vast quantity of clipped coin was found and confiscated to the King’s use. The King granted their estates and forfeitures with lavish hand.
But law, though merciless and probably not over-scrupulous in the investigation of crime, did not satisfy the popular passions, which had been let loose by these wide and general accusations. The populace took the law into their own hands.