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Jewish Entries in the Curia Regis and Elsewhere

Hilary Jenkinson

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Entries in the Curia Regis Rolls and Elsewhere By Hilary Jenkinson, C.B., F.S.A. I have more than once called attention 1 to the fact that the information available in the Public Records for the history of the Jews in England during the medieval period was not confined to the two classes of Records specifically relating to Jewish affairs? the Jewish Receipt Rolls and Jewish Plea Rolls?nor even to the miscellaneous subsidiary documents, relating exclusively to Jewish business though they do not form special Jewish classes, which are to be found among the Records of the King's Remembrancer and elsewhere. In the thirteenth century, and especially during its earlier part, administrative institutions were still fluid. Even when special machinery had been set up to deal with some particular type of business a case which should properly have come to it would sometimes, for reasons of con? venience or even through mere ignorance of what was the correct procedure, be handled in some other way and con? sequently recorded in some place other than the one in which we should naturally look for it. In the case of the Jews there is the added complication that what was primarily at least Jewish business, particularly in the case of land engaged as security for a debt, might upon occasion resolve itself into an affair between Christians, with no mention of Jewish names. In this last-named case we must probably resign ourselves for the most part to the loss : though at times patience and a 1 cp. Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews ..., vol. iii (1929), p. xviii. 128</page><page sequence="2">JEWISH ENTRIES IN THE CURIA REGIS ROLLS 129 little luck may produce the clue which will enable us to identify the Jewish element and place the information where it belongs in relation to other Jewish business. In the other cases (where Jewish matters having been dealt with by machinery not normally used for the purpose, or at least not specially designed for it, figure in Records mainly devoted to non-Jewish affairs) what the historian of the medieval Jewry has to face is that almost every Record within his period, at any rate so soon as it becomes available in an indexed form, will be worth his searching : and this means more perhaps than is at present generally realized. There is (to take the most obvious example) the great series of Memoranda Rolls of the Exchequer. This is represented, for the reign of John, by two somewhat primitive specimens only, to which I called attention in 1917 2 ; noting the occurrence in both of Jewish matter 3 : but a regular and continuous series begins early in the reign of Henry III. Publication of the Memoranda Rolls has long been one of the mcst urgent tasks awaiting the Public Record Office and there is now reason to hope that it may be put in hand : and when these Records (com? plicated and difficult to search) become available in a printed and indexed form I shall be surprised if the stray references, at least, of Jewish interest do not amount to a considerable total. At any rate, they must be looked for. The other great series of non-Jewish records which may yet, I suggest, be found to yield considerable gleanings for Anglo Jewish history are, of course, the legal. Here we are not quite so badly off as in the case of the Exchequer. The Rolls of the King's Court?the single Curia Regis, before its differentiation into the two separate Institutions known later as the Courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas?have been published during the last twenty years for the period from 1196 to 1220 : and already from the indexes to these eight volumes enough may be 2 In Magna Carta Commemoration Essays, published by the Royal Historical Society. 3 The first of these rolls has been printed recently (1943) by the Pipe Roll Society.</page><page sequence="3">I?O ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM gathered to show that the series, which is to be continued, is at any rate worth watching for the Jewish medievalist. It is true that the entries are for the most part of an ordinary type arising from the ordinary business of money-lending, but here and there we get cases of a more unusual kind : enough to show that, at least in the earlier part of the reign of Henry III, any irregularity of the times may lead to an abnormality of procedure which may leave a mark in the records that will concern us. There could hardly be a better example of this than the long case (it extends to two membranes of a Plea Roll) which Mr. Michael Adler printed 4 during the war from the as yet unpublished Curia Regis Roll5 for 1234, in which are set out the sworn statements of eighteen Jews from the London Jewry in regard to the alleged extortionate and oppressive practices of members of the ' Poitevin ' ? party who had just fallen from power after two years of practical omnipotence : principally, Peter des Rivaux, who had held simultaneously an incredible number of high offices and the Sheriffdom in twenty-one counties, Stephen de Segrave (Justiciar), and Robert Passelewe (Treasurer of the Receipt). Mr. Adler has set out a full text and translation of this remarkable document, prefaced by a general introduction on the historical background of the time ; there is, therefore, no need for me to comment upon the interesting list of jewels, moneys, and what not which the Jews were alleged to have been forced to ' give ' to one or other of the three (Passelewe is the most commonly accused) in order to obtain favours or escape ill-treatment; nor upon the even more interesting particulars of the form those favours or ill treatment took. There are, however, certain incidental or secondary matters which call, I think, for further investigation. There is, for example, the problem of the make-up of this curious Plea Roll 4 The Testimony of the London Jewry against the Ministers of Henry III, in Jewish Historical Society, Transactions vol. xiv (1940), p. 141. 5 No. 115 B.</page><page sequence="4">JEWISH ENTRIES IN THE CURIA REGIS ROLLS I31 and, coupled with it, the question whether there were (as there should have been) any similar inquiries elsewhere, whether Records of these survive, and if not, why not. There is the question?upon which we cannot have too much evidence?of the tenure by Jews of land in gage, raised in a most interesting form by the very first entry, that concerning Benedict Crespin and the Manor of Boosted' ; and there is the equally interesting matter of rates of interest, upon which more than one complaint offers some evidence. There are inferences to be drawn about the diplomatic of Jewish Documents : what, for example, were those ' Feet of Cheirographs ' which were offered for sale in West Cheap ? does the expression imply a triplicate form ?6 And there is one other matter upon which I should like to comment at a little more length. This is not the place to discuss the merits or demerits of Peter des Rivaux?wdiether we are to conclude, as Miss Mills 7 would have us, that he combined with less estimable qualities an element of administrative genius ; or, with Mr. Adler, to set him down as just a bad man ; or to take the modified views of the late Professor Tout 8 and Sir Maurice Powicke 9 on both sides ; I should like, however, to venture a single general comment. There is no case, I think, for discrediting the accuracy of the statements made : except in regard to the charge against Passelewe of carrying off an Archa and tampering with the Jewish Cheirographs and other documents which it contained, upon which all make much the same reply, the variation in the wrongs of which the witnesses complain, and the particular person to whom they attribute them, carries conviction. We may take it that Benedict Crespin and the rest did make those 6 I must so far honour old associations as to add that there is mention of Tallies as well as Charters: and that the rare word dica is used. 7 Royal Historical Society Transactions, fourth series, vol. x (1927), p. m. 8 T. F. Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Medieval England, vol. i (Manchester, 1920), p. 216. 9 F. M. Powicke, King Henry HI and the Lord Edward (Oxford, 1947), p. 97, et seq. I fancy Sir Maurice has missed (see a footnote on p. 137) Mr. Adler's article, upon which I should have liked to have had his comments.</page><page sequence="5">132 ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM ' gifts ' of ' camaews ' and other matters and that they would much rather not have done so : that Passelewe and his servants probably did take what would now be called a ' rake-off' from the Northampton Tallage ; that it was possible for a single Jew by a suitable payment to avoid too close an ' inspection ' of the bonds of his debtors, and for the Community to compliment a newly appointed Justice with a little present of fifty marks and another hundred when a tallage was to be assessed. But are we quite correct in the deductions we make from these facts ? I hope I shall not be misunderstood if I say that when dealing with the thirteenth or any other early century wre have to try and view the actions and practices of which we find evidence? even when they are such as, done or practised in our own day, we should view with horror and stigmatise as ' extortion ' and ' corruption '?in relation to the moral and administrative concepts of the time. Now the particular shape taken by the attack upon Rivaux and his associates in 1234 by their political opponents, that is to say, a widespread invitation to all and sundry (Christians as well as Jews) to come forward with iheir complaints of maladministration, is, one might almost say, common form in the medieval period : whenever criticism of any particular element in public administration comes to a head it produces a crop of such accusations.10 Moreover, there is another common feature in such cases?that even if the offender is convicted, and compelled perhaps to pay a heavy fine, even though he may be driven from office, none of these facts carries with it the conclusion that he cannot hold public office again. There has been some comment on the fact that it was possible for Rivaux to be Lord Treasurer in 1257 after having these charges made against him (probably quite correctly) in 1234 : but it is not more surprising than that sixty years later Ralph de Hengham, that learned Judge, having been convicted of ' corruption ' (I use the modern word) in his Office as Chief 10 See some remarks on this subject in Seiden Society, Select Cases in the Exchequer of Pleas (1932), p. ciii.</page><page sequence="6">JEWISH ENTRIES IN THE CURIA REGIS ROLLS !33 Justice of the King's Bench, and having paid an enormous fine?to the King?should have been, a few years after, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. The truth is that a considerable measure of what we should now call corruption, and perhaps an even larger amount of rather loose allegations of it, are inevitable accompaniments of the system of paying officials of all kinds, high and low, by fees (and between ' fees ' and ' presents ' the boundary is ill-defined) rather than by salary ; they continued, in fact, to accompany that system down to the nineteenth century. I am not condoning the bad habits of our ancestors when I say that in assigning their proper value to those instances of ' corruption ' of which we find evidence in the medieval period we have to remember that they form only a very small proportion of the acts of this character which were perpetrated but which in general were not complained of; partly because the opportunity to complain was not offered, but still more because the giving of presents by the administered to the administrator was, quite literally, regarded as normal so long as it did not assume outrageous proportions. My reason for making these remarks in the present connexion is that, for a considerable part at least of the period of the English medieval Jewry, they apply to Jews as well as to Christians. Thus in the document before us we have to sort out from the actions complained of those?unjust imprisonment, for instance, threats of violence, and perhaps the enforced reduction of the capital of outstanding debts?which represent genuine oppression even according to the standards of the time. If we had (as apparently we ought to have) surviving Records of similar sworn statements by Christians, and in places other than London, we should almost certainly find quantities of allegations of' gifts ' of money or valuables accepted by Rivaux and his associates ; differing perhaps from those of the Jews in amount and variety (for not many Christians would be in a position to offer gold or ' obols of muse ') but not different in essential character and not conveying, to the ordinary man of K</page><page sequence="7">134 ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM that day, any very serious suggestion of moral turpitude. There is plenty of evidence, unfortunately, of genuine and deliberate oppression of the medieval Jewry : but there is no need to assume that the element of oppression enters into every relation of medieval Christian and medieval Jew of which we find record, and in fact we shall form a wrong conception of Jewish History if we do so.</page></plain_text>