How deeply this legend sank into the popular mind may be conceived from Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale.
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.
I must not suppress the fearful vengeance wreaked on the supposed perpetrators of this all-execrated crime. The Jew into whose house the child, it was said, had gone to play, tempted by the promise of life and security from mutilation, made full confession, and threw the guilt upon his brethren. The King, indignant at this unauthorized covenant of mercy, ordered him to execution. The Jew, in his despair or frenzy, entered into a still more minute and terrible denunciation of all the Jews of the realm, as consenting to the act. He was dragged, tied to a horse’s tail, to the gallows; his body and his soul delivered to the demons of the air. Ninety-one Jews of Lincoln were sent, to London as accomplices, and thrown into dungeons. If some Christians felt pity for their sufferings, their rivals, the Caorsini, beheld them with dry eyes.
The King’s inquest declared all the Jews of the realm guilty of the crime. The mother made her appeal to the King. Eighteen of the richest and most eminent of the Lincoln Jews were hung on a new gallows; twenty more were imprisoned in the Tower awaiting the same fate. But if the Jews of Lincoln were thus terribly chastised, the church of Lincoln was enriched and made famous for centuries. The victim was canonized; pilgrims crowded from all parts of the kingdom, even from foreign lands, to pay their devotions at the shrine, to witness and to receive benefit from the miracles which were wrought by the martyr of eight years old. How deeply this legend sank into the popular mind may be conceived from Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale.
The rest of the reign of Henry III passed away with the same unmitigated oppressions of the Jews; which the Jews, no doubt, in some degree revenged by their extortions from the people. The contest between the royal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the Jews was arranged by certain constitutions, set forth by the King in council. By these laws no Jew could reside in the kingdom but as king’s serf. Service was to be performed in the synagogue in a low tone, so as not to offend the ears of Christians. The Jews were forbidden to have Christian nurses for their children. The other clauses were similar to those enacted in other countries: that the Jew should pay all dues to the parson; no Jew should eat or buy meat during Lent; all disputes on religion were forbidden; sexual intercourse between Jews and Christians interdicted; no Jew might settle in any town where Jews were not accustomed to reside, without special license from the King.
The barons’ wars drew on, fatal to the Israelites as compelling the King, by the hopeless state of his finances, to new extortions, and tempting the barons to plunder and even murder them as wickedly and unconstitutionally attached to the King. How they passed back from Richard of Cornwall into the King’s jurisdiction as property appears not. It is not likely that the King redeemed the mortgage; but in 1261 they were again alienated to Prince Edward. The King’s object was apparently by this and other gifts to withdraw the Prince from his alliance with the barons. The justiciaries of the Jews are now in abeyance. The chancellor of the exchequer was to seal ail writs of Judaism, and account to the attorneys of the Prince for the amount. But this was not the worst of their sufferings or the bitterest disgrace; the Prince, in his turn, mortgaged them to certain of their dire enemies, the Caorsini, and the King ratified the assignment by his royal authority.
But for this compulsory aid, wrung from them by violence, the Jews were treated by the barons as allies and accomplices of the King. When London, at least her turbulent mayor and the populace, declared for the barons; when the Grand Justiciary, Hugh le Despenser, led the city bands to destroy the palaces of the King of the Romans at Westminster and Isleworth, threw the justices of the king’s bench and the barons of the exchequer into prison, and seized the property of the foreign merchants, five hundred of the Jews, men, women, and children, were apprehended and set apart, but not for security. Despenser chose some of the richest in order to extort a ransom for his own people, the rest were plundered, stripped, murdered by the merciless rabble. Old men, and babes plucked from their mothers’ breasts, were pitilessly slaughtered. It was on Good Friday that one of the fiercest of the barons, Fitz John, put to death Cok ben Abraham, reputed to have been the wealthiest man in the kingdom, seized his property, but, fearful of the jealousy of the other barons surrendered one-half of the plunder to Leicester in order to secure his own portion.
The Jews of other cities fared no better, were pillaged, and then abandoned to the mob by the Earl of Gloucester; many at Worcester were plundered and forced to submit to baptism by the Earl of Derby. At an earlier period the Earl of Leicester (Simon de Montfort) had expelled them from the town of Leicester; they sought refuge in the domains of the Countess of Winchester. Robert Grostête, the wisest and best churchman of the day, then Archdeacon of Leicester, hardly permitted the Countess to harbor this accursed race; their lives might be spared, but all further indulgence, especially acceptance of their ill-gotten wealth, would make her an accomplice in the wickedness of their usuries.
After the battle of Lewes, 1264, the King, with the advice of his barons — he was now a prisoner in their camp — issued a proclamation to the Lord Mayor and sheriffs of London, in favor of the Jews. Some had found refuge, during the tumult and massacre, in the Tower of London; they were permitted to return with their families to their homes. All ill-usage or further molestation was prohibited under pain of death. Orders of the same kind were issued to Lincoln; twenty-five citizens were named by the King and the barons their special protectors; so also to Northampton. The King — Prince Edward was now at war with the barons, who had the King in their power — revoked the grant of the Jews to his son; with that the grant to the Caorsini, which had not expired, was cancelled. The justiciaries appointed by the Prince to levy the tallage upon them were declared to have lost their authority; the Jews passed back to the property of the King. The King showed his power by annulling many debts and the interest due upon them to some of his faithful followers, avowedly in order to secure their attachment.
It was now clearly for the King’s interest that such profitable subjects should find, we may not say justice, but something like restitution, which might enable them again to become profitable. The King in the parliament, which commenced its sittings immediately after the battle of Lewes, and continued till after the battle of Evesham, August 4, 1265, restored the Jews to the same state in which they were before the battle of Lewes.