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Aaron of York

Rev. Michael Adler

<plain_text><page sequence="1">AARON OF YORK. 113 Aaron of York By the Rev. Michael Adler, D.S.O., B.A. Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England. November 13, 1933. " The king ordains that no Jew should remain in England unless he does some service to the king and that, as soon as possible after birth, whether male or female, every Jew should serve us in some way."1 The purpose for which Jews lived in this country in the pre-Expulsion days could not be more clearly expressed than in the words of this decree issued by Henry III. in the year 1253. As the records of the period demonstrate, the royal authority over the Jews was exercised A.E. The Jews of Angevin England, by Dr. Joseph Jacobs. Rigg, i., ii. The Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, (published for the Society by J. M. Rigg). Jenkinson, iii., do. vol. iii., by Hilary Jenkinson. S.P. Select Pleas etc., from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, edited by J. M. Rigg. Loewe. Starrs and Jewish Charters in the British Museum (published by the Society), i.-iii., edited by I. Abrahams, H. P. Stokes and H. Loewe. Trans. Transactions of the Society, i.-xii. P.R.O. Public Record Office. Stokes. Studies in Anglo-Jewish History, by Canon Dr. H. P. Stokes. M.P. Matthew Paris, English History (1235-1273). Translated by J. A. Giles, i.-iii. Ramsay. The Dawn of the Constitution, 1216-1307, by Sir J. H. Ramsay. Stubbs. Constitutional History of England, by Canon W. Stubbs. 1 Madox, The Exchequer of the Jews, i. 248, " Rex providit et statuit quod nullus Judeus maneat in Anglia nisi servitium regi faciat. Et quam cito aliquis Judeus natus fuerit, sive sit masculus sive foemina, serviat nobis in aliquo." Close Rolls, 1253, p. 312. This is one of thirteen ordinances about the Jews issued by king Henry III.</page><page sequence="2">114 AARON OF YORK. with the utmost rigour. Whilst, as Mr. Cyril Picciotto2 and Mr. Frank Schechter3 have shown, the Jews enjoyed certain rights granted to them by their royal master as against the nobles3* and the general population, they were at the absolute mercy of the king against whose demands they had no redress.4 Professor Ramsay5 points out that there were three attitudes towards the Jewry to be remarked on the part of different classes of the community. By the Crown they were regarded as domestic animals to be milked and utilised. By the common people and the Baronage, with de Montfort and Prince Edward at their head, they were regarded as wolves to be extirpated ; by the merchants who had commercial dealings with them they were respected and protected. Evidence of the close relationship of the king to " his " Jews abounds, and is particularly illustrated in the lives of the most prominent representatives of Anglo-Jewry. Aaron of Lincoln was the typical Jew of Angevin England of the twelfth century?as Dr. Joseph Jacobs has fully indicated6?and another Aaron, who was the son of Jose of the city of York, occupied a similar position in the following century in the days of Henry III. The number of references to Aaron of York in the records is so numerous as to allow a detailed narrative of his life to be compiled,?setting forth his rise, as chief capitalist to the king, to the highest position in the Jewry of England of the thirteenth century, that of Arch Presbyter, and his subsequent reduction to extreme poverty through the exactions of a merciless ruler. The city of York will always be associated in the annals of Jewish history with the massacre that took place in the year 1190.7 Before this disaster befell them, York Jewry, one of the oldest in the land, had enjoyed a high degree of prosperity. In the days of Henry IL, Benedict and Jose were the heads of the community. They were men of wealth, who, according to the chronicler,8 " had built in the middle of the city at very great expense large houses, like royal palaces, 2 Trans, ix. 67. 3 Jewish Quarterly Review (New Series), iv. 1913, p. 121. 3a ? The Jews are in my peace, and if I give my peace to a dog, it must be kept inviolate," King John (1201), Rotuli Cartarum, p. 93. 4 A.E. Introduction, p. xv. 6 Ramsay, p. 299. 6 Trans, iii. 157. 7 A.E., pp. 117-133", and pp, 385-392. 8 William of Newbury. A.E., p. 117.</page><page sequence="3">AARON OF YORK. 115 and there they dwelt like two princes of their own people and tyrants of the Christians, behaving with almost royal state and pomp and exercising harsji tyranny against those whom they oppressed with their usuries." The extent of Benedict's riches may be estimated by the fact that three years after his death his sons paid the sum of 700 marks (i.e. ?424 13s. id., equal to-day to about ?12,720) " to have the lands of their father and of his debts according to his charters."9 These death duties represented the one-third of the estate that was usually paid to the royal exchequer.10 Jose was also a famous money? lender, among his debtors being the Abbot and monks of York Minster,11 and he held many estates in different parts of Yorkshire in pledge.12 He had been a partner of Aaron of Lincoln13 and once purchased from his friend a silver vessel for which, after his death, the sum of 12J marks was still unpaid, which debt was collected for the king by the royal officials.14 Debts due to Benedict and Jose to the value of ?40 and 7 marks are recorded in the first year of king John,15 the latter being the payment for a palfrey, and in 1201 there escheated to John a debt of ?60 owing to Jose and Benedict and another of ?30 to Benedict alone.16 The wife of Jose was named Hannah17 and three of his sons are known, Aaron, the subject of this study, Benedict and Samuel. Whilst his colleague Benedict lived in Spen Lane,18 Jose's house was in the centre of the city in Coney (or Conyng) Street19 later called Via Regia, and was built of stone,20 both for comfort and defence, being described as "having rivalled a noble citadel in the scale and stoutness of its con? struction."21 This building was attacked and partially destroyed in the riots, but was later occupied by Aaron. 9 A.E., p. 145. 10 Gross, Papers of the Anglo-Jewish Exhibition, p. 192. 11 Ibid., p. 267. 12 Pipe Roll, 1192, p. 223. 13 A.E., p. 58. Jose is mentioned in 1176 in the first Starr on record. 14 Ibid., p. 143. Other debts are reported in Pipe Roll, 1191, pp. 24 and 223. 15 A.E., p. 195. 16 Ibid., p. 211. 17 Ibid., p. 126. 18 R. Davies, The Medieval Jews of York (Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, iii. (1875), p. 153. This article is a most valuable study of York Jewry. 19 Ibid., See Davies, Walks in the City of York, p. 49. " To this day, foundations of massive stone walls are visible upon that site." 20 Jews were the first in England to build private houses of stone. (Turner, Domestic Architecture, 7.) See my Paper, " Jews of Canterbury." Trans., vii. 63, Note 46. 21 A.E., p. 119.</page><page sequence="4">116 AARON OF YORK. The coronation of Richard I. on September 3rd, 1189, at West? minster Abbey drew representatives of the Jews from all parts, " who," according to William of Newbury, the chronicler, " feared that the good fortune they had under the former king might be less favourable to them under the new, and who therefore brought presents, most decorous and honourable, and hoped to find favour equal to the multitude of their gifts."22 York sent Benedict and Jose, who were in London when the mob attacked the Jews who had come to the Abbey, many lives being lost and considerable property destroyed. Benedict was seriously wounded, and, in order to escape death, accepted baptism at the hands of a friend, William the Prior of the Church of St. Mary of York, who had accompanied him to the capital.23 The following day, the king sent for Benedict, who had been re-named William, and said to him, " Who art thou ? " The wounded man replied, " I am Benedict, the Jew, from York." The narrative then continues, " And the king, turning to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest who had said that Benedict had become a Christian, said to them, ' Did ye not tell me he was a Christian ? ' And they said, ' Yes, sire.' And he said to them, ' What then shall we do about him % ' And the Archbishop of Canterbury answered him in a spirit of fury, less prudently than he ought, ' Since he does not wish to be a Christian, let him be the Devil's man.' So Benedict returned to the ' Jewish depravity ' " and, on his way home, died at Northampton, where he possessed property,?the chronicler stating, most probably incorrectly, that neither Jewish nor Christian cemetery would receive his body. Jose escaped to York where he lived quietly until the following March when a fierce outbreak of violence almost exterminated the Jews of the northern city. King Richard had left England for the Holy Land and a number of local Crusaders took the opportunity of destroying all evidence of their debts by slaying the Jews who lived in their midst. Their leader was Sir Richard Malebis,24 whose name was fittingly rendered in a Hebrew bond still extant by the words HSn rpfi "evil beast."25 They first attacked the stone house 22 Ibid., p. 100. 23 Ibid., p. 105. 24 Davies, I.e., p. 167; A.E., p. 388. 25 A.E., p. 77, with photograph of the Starr; Loewe, i. 119 ; ii. 300 ; Davis, Shetaroth, p. 288.</page><page sequence="