< Back

A Domus Conversorum at Bristol?

Joe Hillaby

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 42, 2009 A Domus Conversorum at Bristol? JOE HILLABY In Jewish Historical Studies 41 (2007) Lauren Fogle describes how in 1216, two weeks after his coronation in the abbey of St Mary at Gloucester, the nine-year-old Henry III, accompanied by his guardian, the papal legate Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, held a council 'to inspect the work of the [Bristol] Kalendars Guild, a religious fraternity that had founded a house for converted Jews in the city around 1154 ... There is therefore every reason to believe that Henry III founded the [London] Domus Conversorum as a result of his own pious motives and experiences as a child.'1 Henry was indeed in Bristol on 12 November 1216, but the royal council held on that occasion was called to consider much more important business than the Kalendars Guild. It had to decide how best to rally the ninety seven dissident barons to the young king's cause of repelling the French invasion of his realm led by the dauphin. To secure that end the council, urged by the papal legate and William Marshal, rector regni, reissued Magna Carta, granted by John at Runnymede in June 1215, but annulled by the pope in September.2 The Kalendars Guild was a religious fraternity of clergy and lay folk with its own rule, committed to the spiritual and physical wellbeing of its members. A major concern was attendance at the funerals of members and the saying of prayers for the swift passage of the souls of dead confraters through purgatory. Thus mass was said, corporately, on the Kalends, the first Monday of each month. The statement that 'about the year 1154, with the consent of the king, two nobles', Robert fitz Harding and the earl of Gloucester, established at Bristol 'a school for converted Jews, or Domus Conversorum ... the earliest of its kind in England', was made by Michael Adler in 1939.3 This was firmly rejected in i960 by Richardson, followed by Roth four years later.4 Adler's 1 L. Fogle, 'The Domus Convenor urn: the personal interest of Henry IIP, Jewish Historical Studies 41 (2007) 1-7. 2 D. A. Carpenter, The Minority of Henry 777 (1990) 21-4; Select Charters, ed. W. Stubbs (1884) 337-43; J. C. Holt, Magna Carta (1965) 101,170, 271-2. 3 M. Adler, Jews of Medieval England (ig^g) 183-5. 4 H. G. Richardson, The English Jewry under the Angevin Kings (i960) 31, n. 6; C. Roth, A History of the Jews in England (3rd edn, 1964) 43, n. 2. I</page><page sequence="2">Joe Hillaby source was the Little Red Book of Bristol. It provides details of an enquiry into 'the liabilities and rights of the Fraternity of Kalendars of All Saints church, Bristol', which was ordered by Thomas Cobham, bishop of Worcester, and held in 1318 by Robert Hasele, rector of Dyrham and Cobham's dean of Bristol, then in the diocese of Worcester.5 What reliance can be placed on Hasele's report? Elsewhere it is recorded that 'most of the [guild's] charters, writings and letters were lost or embez? zled'.6 The verbal evidence placed before the commission came from inter? ested parties who, as Nicholas Orme points out, were 'over anxious to link the guild's history with the great figures of Bristol's past'.7 The guild's founders, it was stated, were Aylward Mean and his son, Bristric, popularly believed to have been Anglo-Saxon lords of the borough. Moving on to 'the time of Henry II [1154-89], King Stephen being dead', the report tells us that 'Robert fitz Harding, burgess of Bristol, with the consent of King Henry and Robert [ist] earl of Gloucester, moved the Guild from Holy Trinity to All Saints church'. However, the earl, a natural son of Henry I, died at Bristol in 1147, seven years before Henry II succeeded to the crown. At the same time, Hasele records, 'schools of Bristol were established for Jews and the teaching of other children under the control of the fraternity and the protection of the mayor of Bristol for the time being'. Yet Bristol did not have a mayor until 1216,8 twenty-six years after Henry IPs death. Neither 'convert' nor 'conversion' appears in the Latin text of the Little Red Book, which reads ac Scolas Bristollie pro Judeis et aliis parvulis infor mandis. A reference to 'conversion' first appears in Leland's Itinerary of f.1535-43: 'In the tyme of Kynge Henry the 2. Robert Erie of Glocestar and Robert Hardinge translatyd the Fraternitie of the Calendaries from the Trinitie onto the churche of Al-Hallows. At this tyme were scholes ordeyned in Brightstow by them ... for the conversion of the Jewes and put in the ordre of the Calenderis and the Maior.'9 The third and final section of Hasele's report refers to the events of 1216 when, we are told, the young king and Cardinal Guala 'approved and confirmed' the arrangements for the guild made in Henry IPs reign, 'on 5 The Little Red Book of Bristol, ed. F. B. Bickley (1900) I, 206-9; Bristol Record Office, MS 04718; Register of Thomas de Cobham, bishop of Worcester 1317-132], ed. E. H. Pearce, Worcestershire Historical Society XL (1930) 9. 6 English Gilds, ed. Toulmin Smith (1892 ed.) 287. 7 N. Orme, 'The Guild of Kalendars, Bristol', Trans Bristol &amp; Gloucs. Archaeol Soc. 96 (1978) 33 8 Rotuli litterarum clausarum (Record Commission 1833-4) I&gt; 281b; 'The maire of Bristowe is kalendar, by Robert Ricart, ed. L. Toulmin Smith, Camden Soc, NS 5 (1872) 27; J. Latimer, 'The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar: Its List of Civic officers ...', Trans Bristol &amp; Gloucs. Archaeol. Soc. 26 (1903) 108-37. 2</page><page sequence="3">A Domus Conversorum at Bristol? account of its antiquity and goodness'. The legate then 'commanded and enjoined William de Blois, bishop of Worcester, and his successors to protect the guild'. Such a command could not have been addressed to Blois, who was not consecrated until 1218. Nor is there reference to any such approval or confirmation by his predecessor, Sylvester, 1216-18,10 or in the papal registers of Honorius III, 1216-27. Taken at face value, the critical passage relating to 'the schools of Bristol established for Jews and the teaching of other children' - who could only be Christian - means interfaith education, anathema to both Christians and Jews. This was the era of Pope Innocent III who, at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, sought to segregate European Jewry by a series of meas? ures, including the imposition of a distinctive badge. Guala himself, follow? ing papal policy, tried to enforce the wearing of the badge on the English community.11 His efforts were thwarted by leading members of the council of regency. Anxious to revive the Jewry wasted by John, they adopted the simple administrative measure of offering licences of dispensation for a small fine. Thus in 1218 the commune of Stamford paid 18s iod, London 13s, Hereford 12s 5d, Canterbury 8s 4d and Oxford 5s 6d. The 1221 Receipt roll records that Diaie, leader of the Worcester Jewry, paid the considerable sum of ?2 is, probably for the whole community.12 A small Jewry had been established at Worcester as early as 1158-9.13 The bishops of this diocese were notably anti-Semitic, a tradition established by John de Coutances, 1196-8. In a letter to Peter de Blois, archdeacon of Bath, he 'made long and anxious complaint ... that surrounded by Jews and heretics [he was] attacked by them and had not ready the authorities in the sacred Scripture by which [he] can refute their calumnies and answer their cunning sleights'. In response Peter wrote Contra Perfidiam jfudaeorum.14 Bishop Sylvester of Worcester, consecrated by Innocent III in July 1216, played a prominent role in the political events of the two years following King John's death in October.15 An executor of the king's will, he was present at John's burial in Worcester cathedral16 and assisted at his 9 The Itinerary of John Leland, ed. L. Toulmin Smith (1964) V, 92. 10 English Episcopal Acta 34. Worcester, 1186-1218, ed. M. Cheney et al. (2008) xxxix-xliii, 110-25. 11 Rot. litt, claus. (see n. 8) I, 378b. 12 Richardson (see n. 4) 179. 13 Pipe Roll 1158-9, 24; ; J. Hillaby, 'The Worcester Jewry, 1158-1290: Portrait of a Lost Community', Trans Worcs. Archaeol. Soc. 3S 12 (1990) 81. 14 Patrologia Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, 207 (1855) 825-70: Petrus Blesensis: Contra Perfidiam Judaeorum. 15 Annales Monastici, ed. H. R. Luard, RS 36 (1864-9) I? 62; IV, 406. 16 Roger of Wendover: Flores Historiarum, ed. H. O. Coxe, III (1842) 385-6. 3</page><page sequence="4">Joe Hillaby nine-year-old son's coronation at Gloucester Abbey on 28 October.17 It was thus Sylvester, not William de Blois, who attended the royal council at Bristol and signed Magna Carta, reissued there in November. Having attended the Fourth Lateran Council, like Guala he would have been a strange candidate to protect the guild of Kalends in a supposed project for interfaith schooling.18 William de Blois, his successor, consecrated in October 1218, was the appointee of the legate Guala.19 In 1219 Blois was the first English bishop to incorporate a number of the Fourth Lateran Council's enactments concerning the Jewry into a series of statutes issued by his diocesan council. These he re-enacted at a further council in 1229. They were also adopted by Walter de Cantilupe, his successor, at the 1240 diocesan synod which enjoined 'the firm observance of the Lateran statutes'.20 The reference in the 1318 report to 'the schools of Bristol ... established for Jews and the teaching of other children' may represent confusion on the part of either the jurors or the clerk who drew up the record. It brings together two quite separate matters. Scola was the medieval Latin term for school. William, 2nd earl of Gloucester, founded the Augustinian priory at Keynsham between 1167 and 1172 and, according to Leland, 'gave the praefecture and mastarshipe of the schole in Brightstow to Cainesham, and tooke it from the Calenderies'.21 The Keynsham Augustinians were of the Victorine branch who, Nicholas Orme points out, were 'often involved with the government of schools in the 12th century'. He cites examples at Bedford, Derby, Gloucester and Huntingdon, where they were given control by charter.22 In Bristol a large stone house is recorded as 'the school' in 1243.23 Leland was therefore probably correct in his statement about the transfer of a school from the fraternity of the Kalendars to the canons of Keynsham c. 1167-72. The school was situated in the eastern extension of St Mary le Port Street, known in 1396 as 'St Mary Street'.24 St Mary le Port, or in foro, in the market-place, was an appropriated church of Keynsham priory.25 17 Annales Monastici, RS 36 (see n. 15) III, 48. 18 Stubbs (see n. 2) 340. 19 N. Vincent, Peter des Roches, an Alien in English Politics 1205-1238 (1996) 166; English Episcopal Acta 13. Worcester, 1218-65, ed- R M. Haskin (1997) xxv-xxvii. 20 Councils and Synods Iii, ed. F. M. Powicke and C. R. Cheney (1964) 55,177-8, 318. 21 See n. 9 above. 22 N. Orme, Education in the West of England (1976) 36, 209. 23 A Calendar of Bristol Deeds, ed. F. B. Bickley (1899) no. 4. 24 R. H. Leech, The Topography of Medieval and Early Modern Bristol: Part 1, Bristol Record Soc. 48 (1997) no, 116. 25 Calendar of the Register of Simon de Montacute, Bishop of Worcester, 1334-37, ed- R- M. Haines, Worcestershire Historical Society, NS 15 (1996) nos 213, 220, p. 293; Register Wolstan de Bransford, 1339-49, ed. R. M. Haines, Worcestershire Historical Society, NS 4 (1966) p. 398; 4</page><page sequence="5">A Domus Conversorum at Bristol? This being the case, the jurors empanelled before Hasele some century and a half later would have been justified in claiming that in Henry IPs reign a school was established in Bristol for 'the teaching of... children'. However, the link to the Jewry cannot be sustained. Scolajudeorum is the term used in secular medieval Latin documents for synagogue. This reflected its dual function as bet tefilah, house of prayer, and bet midrash, house of study. It stands in contrast to the clerical use of synagoga and eccle sia as allegorical figures for the Old and New Law in literature and art. At Worcester Cathedral &lt;r.uoo, long before the establishment of a Jewish community in the city, the inscription on a picture on one of the vaults of its circular chapter-house read: 'O Synagogue, with the advent of Faith, see the reality. Let Synagogue be made new in the refashioned cloak of the [New] Law, let Grace adorn her with the garment of Faith.'26 An early sculptural example is at St Gilles du Gard, a major embarkation port for pilgrims and crusaders. English examples can be seen on either side of the south portal of Lincoln cathedral and at the entry to Rochester Cathedral chapter-house. The context suggests that at Bristol, within three decades of the 1290 expulsion, the true meaning of scolajudeorum was lost, and that, by includ? ing the Jews, the jurors were crudely seeking to enhance their claims as educators. 'In the time of Henry IP, however, the fraternity had no author? ity in relation to either the Jewry or its synagogue. Provincial Jewries were independent communities, underwritten by charters of Henry II, Richard I and John.27 Indeed, in June 1218 the Council of Regency, acting for the young Henry III, re-established these independent communes, with the other rights the Jewry had enjoyed 'in the days of our father, John', and in the king's name reminded the interfering bishops that 'No action taken by them is of any effect. Our Jews are no concern of theirs.'28 Register Henry Wakefield, 1375-95, ed- W. P. Marrett, Worcestershire Historical Society, NS 7 (1972) no. 447. 26 T. A. Heslop, 'Worcester Cathedral Chapterhouse and the Harmony of the Testaments', in P. Binski and N. Willliam (eds) New Offerings, Ancient Treasures, Studies in Medieval Art for George Henderson (2001) 280-311; T. A. Heslop, 'The English Origins of the Coronation of the Virgin', Burlington Magazine 147 (2005) 790-7. 27 R. Chazan, Church, State and Jew in the Middle Ages (1979) 67-9; Rotuli Chartarum (Record Commission, 1836) Ii, 93; J. M. Rigg (ed.) Select Pleas, Starrs, and other Records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews A.D. 1220-1284, Seiden Soc. 15 (1902) 1-2; Richardson (see n.4) 84, 109-12, 176. 28 Patent Rolls 1218, 157. 5</page></plain_text>