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Jewish Finance in Thirteenth-Century England

Peter Elman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Finance in Thirteenth-century England1 By Peter Elman The present paper is an attempt to assess the functional importance in the contemporary English scene that is to be attributed to the financial activities of the Anglo-Jewish community in thirteenth-century England. The emphasis cannot therefore be exclusively Jewish, a feature which has marked the majority of previous such studies, nor concerned unduly with the formally legal or martyrological aspects of the story. There are studies of the economic activities of a number of prominent Jews, such as Aaron of Lincoln and Aaron of York, but admirable as these are, they tend to deal with their subjects in vacuo. A more generalized approach is required to evaluate the importance of Jewish finance in medieval English history. Whatever the case in other parts of Europe, in the special circumstances of thirteenth-century England finance alone?and not either commerce or agriculture ?was in fact the predominant economic pursuit of Anglo-Jewry. The participation of the English Jews in trade and agriculture really call for separate detailed study. Here we can only summarize the position very briefly. We may say at once that, in spite of the proximity in many towns of the Jewish quarter to the market centre, our records suggest that Jews were not active either in home or foreign trade.2 Some of them may have been petty traders in luxury articles such as furs, silk girdles, jewels, and the like, the money value of which was not significantly large in the cases that are extant.3 There is also the further possibility that such articles were actually forfeited pawns and pledges and that the trade in them was a mere by-product of moneylending.4 We do not find any of the more prominent Jews mentioned in this connection. Moreover, the greater part of the evidence for such huckstering comes from the latter part of the century, which is understandable when viewed in the light of the economic decline of the Jews, the causes for which we shall later examine. Towards the end of their stay in England, Jews also appear to have been busy in selling plate made from coin clippings and in addition in some rather obscure exchange operations seemingly connected with foreign trade.5 But it can be shown that these transactions were abnormal and a direct result of the cessation, forced or otherwise, of the " normal " Jewish money lending. The same is true of the reference to corn and wool in some of the bonds of debt which are extant for 1290.6 These may have been genuine sale credits, in which case we would expect to find in the records some instances of Jews disposing of such parcels of wool and corn, but since this is not the case?there is not one Jewish name in the various lists of wool and corn licences?the bonds of 1290 were in all probability simply fictitious loans necessitated by the prohibition of Usury in 1276. It is rather surprising that Jews were not prominent in trade because in communal and other matters there is evidence of foreign connections.7 As for agriculture, here also the paucity of evidence would appear to be con? clusive. It has not been possible to find more than a handful of cases where Jews 1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 30th May, 1940. 2 For a fuller discussion see P. Elman, Historia Judaica (New York, 1939), pp. 91-104. 3 See e.g. G.P.R. (1272-81), p. 321 ; Select Pleas, pp. 31-33, 37 ; P.R.E.J. I, pp. 142, 174, 239. 4 See P.R.E.J. I, p. 123, for a case in point. 5 G.P.R. (1281-92), pp. 56, 79, 98, 128, 187 ; C.C.R. (1272-79), PP- 9"10 6 Cp. B. L. Abrahams, T.J.H.S.E. II. The question has been reviewed in P. Elman, loc. cit. 7 Cp. P.R.O., E9/37 m. 2. Revue des Etudes Jfuives, XVIII, pp. 256-261. 8g i</page><page sequence="2">90 JEWISH FINANCE IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND were in actual economic possession of rural land, as distinct from land mortgaged to Jews.1 It may however be asked what happened in the latter case when the land fell into the hands of the Jewish lender on default of the debtor. The answer is that the mortgage was essentially usufruct,2 and that in accordance with the so-called Assize and Custom of Jewry, to which there are many references in the Jewish Plea Rolls, the holder of the mortgage could only satisfy himself from the rents and profits and was debarred from working the land (manuopere), from cutting anything down, or from selling whatsoever pertained to the land.3 There was always an action of account against the creditor.4 It follows that the Jewish " mortuum vadium 55 was no more than a rent charge as a security for a loan. Its very nature precluded it from serving as a means of capital recruitment. In the event of the lender taking possession the land was not worked by him but leased to others in order to obtain repayment of the loan.5 The absence of the Jews from agriculture can be explained by the familiar arguments about the rigidity of the feudal structure. But modern research has shown that the feudal system was very fluid both in time and place, even in England where the system was one of the most regular. Further, we may observe that whatever the Jewish connection with agriculture in England, this was sub? sidiary to the main activity of money-lending. Indeed as we shall see later, the rent charges and the fee bonds possessed by Jews play an important part in explaining their fortunes during the Civil Wars and under Edward I. Jewish possession of urban land and houses figures more frequently in the records. There are numerous dealings both between Jew and Jew and Jew and non-Jew. The location of Jewish property around the market centres may suggest that the purchase of land in the towns was an indirect way of financing trade.6 In two cases at least the purchasers were prominent London merchants.7 But all this did not amount to very much. For instance, Elias P Moses who died in 1284 left movable property worth ?267, a dwelling house worth ?5 per annum, rents in London yielding ?20, and debt bonds valued at ?967.? We are therefore left by a process of elimination with Jewish finance. The subject falls naturally into two sections?public and private. The first refers to financial dealings with the state in the person of the king, the second to similar dealings with private individuals. In their working they are separate and independent but in their repercussions the effects are mutual. In one case, the problem is one of taxation. In the other, one of ordinary money-lending. But the effect of one upon the English social and political structure cannot be understood without reference to the other. The public finance of the Jews in the thirteenth century consisted essentially of contributions to the royal coffers in the form of tallage payments. There were other 1 See e.g. C.Ch.R. (1226-57), pp. 42, 113 ; (1257-1300), p. 160 ; P.R.E.J. I, pp. 25, 80, 143, 228. 2 H. D. Hazeltine, The Gage of Land in Medieval England, in Essays in Anglo-American Legal History, III. 3 See e.g. P.R.E.J. I, pp. 178, 275, 305 ; III, pp. 183, 201. 4 ibid. Ill, pp. 166, 182-184, 256-257 ; Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law II, pp. 119-120, note. 5 P.R.E.J. II, p. 45 ; III, pp. 146, 223, 283-284, 308. 6 J. Jacobs in P.A-J-H.E. III ; H. P. Stokes, Studies in Anglo-Jewish History, Cambridge Map ; T.J.H.S.E. VII, p. 23 ; Select Pleas, pp. 16-17 ; P.R.E.J. I, p. 167 ; II, pp. 234-235. 7 C.P.R. (1272-81), p. 435 ; Select Pleas, p. 45. 8 P.R.O., E9/44 m. 6.</page><page sequence="3">JEWISH FINANCE IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND 91 payments?reliefs, escheats, fines, and loans?but the first three were legally recog? nized " ordinary " sources of crown revenue which apart from occasional severity were not peculiarly Jewish. There is nothing to distinguish them in principle from similar payments made by non-Jews. For our present purpose, the severity of the tax paid by Jews and non-Jews alike is not an important consideration. Loans granted by or forced from Jews are insignificant in the thirteenth century.1 The reasons for this are rather obscure. Loans were frequent in the twelfth century but never numerous. Yet in comparison with the tallages they were then far more prominent. Possibly the experience of Richard I and John in extracting money from Jews by compulsion accounts for the negligible amount of loans in the thirteenth century. There was after all a moral obligation to repay them. It is, accordingly, only the tallages?arbitrary exactions with relatively high yields?which Jews paid qua Jews and which constituted a substantial contribution to the expenses of the State that are important for the present study. As we have said, the tallage was an arbitrary exaction levied at regular intervals, depending upon the king's need for money. In this respect it was similar to the secular tallage levied on the towns. But on two points there was a difference. First, when Jews were tallaged there was no bargaining as to the amount. There are only two apparent exceptions?the assembly of Jews in 1231 whose purpose was to arrange for the payment of the arrears of two previous tallages,2 and the so-called Jewish " Parliament " of 1241,3 which was called not to fix the amount to be paid but. was consulted as to the best means of collection. This lack of bargaining power points, of course, to a basic feature of Jewish medieval history, the dependence of the Jews upon their political masters. The second difference is that the tallage was assessed upon movable property on an ad valorem basis?" secundam valentiam cattalorum suorum ".4 There are indications that attempts were made to equalize the burden of the tax by a progressive assessment. The main bulk of Jewish " cattala " was, of course, composed of bonds of debt, a fact which has a place in the explanation of the economic decline of the Jews.5 There is a further point that each tallage was subject to a separate assessment. In the majority of cases, the royal clerks, usually officials of the Exchequer of the Jews, who were responsible for the particular tallage, made fresh examinations of the lists of Jewish owned debts enrolled in the different local centres. This procedure was in sharp contrast to that of the secular taxes which always became conventionalized upon the original assessment. A great deal of the history of medieval taxation consists of attempts to overcome this uneconomical practice. The assessment on personal movables and the non-conventional basis of assess? ment are both significant and have an important bearing on the general development of the principles of English taxation. During the thirteenth century the old land taxes, scutage, and carucage, fell into obsolescence and were replaced by the more " modern " tax upon personal property, because being only partial in incidence they provoked opposition and because their yield was small. It is perhaps not too much to say that the experience gained in the administration of the Jewish tallages must have proved of some use in these fiscal innovations. 1 Cp. G.L.R. (1226-40), p. 227 ; (1240-45), p. 47 ; G.R. (1242-47), p. 87. 2 CR. (1227-3O, P. 580. 3 G.R. (1237-42), p. 346. 4 See e.g. G.R. (1234-37), P- 302 ; (1247-52), p. 523. 6 P. Elman, Economic History Review VII, 2 (1937), pp. 145-154.</page><page sequence="4">92 JEWISH FINANCE IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND Such then was the Jewish tallage. To assess its importance necessitates a careful examination of each one of them in its contemporary historical setting, a task beyond the limits of the present paper. But it is a task which establishes beyond doubt an almost day to day reliance placed upon Jewish money by Henry III in particular to help him out of his monetary difficulties, whether it was to furnish a dowry for his sister, to pay off some of his favourites, or to carry on a particular campaign in France.1 Clearly there is a very close connection between the rise and fall of the tallages and the major constitutional and political developments in England. Stated in general terms that is the importance of the Jewish tallages.2 In the first twenty years of the reign of Henry III?chiefly the years of his minority?the imposition of the tallage is regular and not too severe. During the middle period of his reign, however, when the king is occupied with costly foreign wars, the tallages rise very steeply ; and then for the period of the baronial wars with their aftermath they disappear almost completely. Under Edward I the tallage collections revive but only to a very slight degree. There is only one important tallage in these twenty years, the capital levy of a third of 1287, which seems to be the final turn of the screw and for the collection of which there is in fact very little evidence.3 Obviously the Jewish tallages played a significant role in the baronial struggles of the time. Modern historians tend to the view that in the thirteenth century the barons were always acting on the defensive. It was the king who was the revolutionary, attempting to storm the privileged positions of his vassals and to build a national state, towards which all the social and economic forces of the later Middle Ages were driving. Even in Magna Carta, despite the traditional view, the barons were endeavouring to conserve their feudal rights and no more than that. Nor did Simon de Montfort and his party insist on more than their due rights. Their main preoccupation was with the government machine but they also had a keen appreciation of the power of the purse. The Jewish tallage was beyond their direct control and the king therefore drew upon it as much as he could. In so doing he killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. Henry III never realised this fact. His son Edward I did and he discovered more indirect ways of circumventing the barons by allying himself with other forces hostile to the barons, the rising trading classes and the lower tenantry. Such a brief summary does not do justice to the close reaction of the Jewish tallages to the interplay of royal and baronial thrust and counterthrust. We shall return to this subject later. There is another point to which attention must be drawn. Just at the moment when the Jews as a source of money begin to recede into the background, another alien group becomes prominent. As E. A. Bond pointed out many years ago, the Italian financiers and merchants grew to importance in the reign of Edward I.4 Is this merely coincidence or is there an intimate connection between the two develop? ments ? This problem of substitution is very complicated but it has been demon 1 See P. Elman, Jewish Finance in Thirteenth Century England, etc. 1935. Unpublished M.A. Thesis of London University. 2 For a list of the tallages as complete as the records allow, see P. Elman, Economic History Review VII, 2 (1937), pp-153-154 3 The approximate average annual figures are as follows : 1221-31, 3,000 marks ; 1233-57, 7,000 marks ; 1259-69, 600 marks ; 1271-90, 2,500 marks. For the whole period, 1216-90, the average annual revenue of the Grown was ?35-40,000, except for the period 1259-69 when the figure fell below ?30,000. The latter figures are based on J. H. Ramsay, The Revenue of the Kings of England. 4 Archoeologia XXVIII, p. 236 ; R. J. Whitwell, T.R.H.S., new series, XVII, p. 177.</page><page sequence="5">JEWISH FINANCE IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND 93 strated that the widening of the activities of the Italians is to be directly associated with the decline in those of the Jews.1 As long as the Jews could provide sufficient funds, the Italians were not greatly needed. When the former had been sucked almost dry, the Italians took their place. The substitution itself bears witness to the part played by Jewish tallages in the royal finances and indicates in general terms the limits of their importance. The private financial activity of the Jews is important in itself. It becomes still more so when viewed as an operative factor in the Jewish decline. There is no need to enter here into any prolonged description of the organization set up by the Grown to deal with the registration of the bonds of Jewish debts. The more obvious facts of the local " archae " and their internal organization have already been fairly exhaustively investigated.2 There are still some problems which require further analysis but they belong to the realm of administrative history. For our present purpose all that need be said is that in 1194 six or seven " archae " were set up. During the thirteenth century 26 such centres are mentioned, while in 1290 there were only 17. The expansion of the " archa 55 system in the thirteenth century is noteworthy as a possible indication of a simultaneous increase in the range of Jewish moneylending. The system of registration is also significant in the development of the " recognizance " of debts which became a common non-Jewish practice only in the following century. This together with the parallel comparative easing of the assignment of debts assuredly led the way in the attack on the feudal restraints on alienation and the requirement of livery of seisin for the conveyance of land.3 The question of the " mobility " of land, we may add in parenthesis, is vital for the study of the growth of capitalism. Jewish moneylending was carried on with private individuals. To appreciate the ultimate importance of this fact, it is necessary to inquire into the class structure of the clients of the Jews. " A priori " arguments 4 are here of little value. Judging from continental conditions, we should expect Jewish moneylending to be active in financing trade, commerce, and agriculture. Most generalizations on this topic have been conditioned by the demonstrably fallacious view that the medieval economy was a natural or subsistence economy, in which money, if at all, played only a minor part. If this condition ever prevailed, it must be antedated, so far as concerns England, to pre-Conquest times. Certainly in the thirteenth century money was increasingly playing a " modern " role. An examination of the debtors appearing on the Cambridge Rolls extant for 1240, 1262, and 1290 which give a cross-section view for the whole century, as well as of those in the list of debts in 1255 belonging to Abraham de Berkhamsted who carried on business all over the country, shows that over seventy per cent of the debtors belonged to the agricultural group and more particularly the lower tenantry.5 Only two out of about 300 names have been definitely identified as merchants. Similar conclusions would appear to emerge from an examination of the Oxford records.6 The whole course of Anglo-Jewish history in the thirteenth century is 1 P. Elman, ibid. 2 J- Jacobs, Jews in Angevin England ; G. Gross, P.A.J.H.E. III ; B. L. Abrahams, T.J.H.S.E. III. 3 H. D. Hazel tine, op. cit. ; Pollock and Maitland, op. cit. ; S. J. Bailey, Law Quarterly Review XLVII. 4 See e.g. W. Cunningham, Growth of English Industry, p. 202. 5 See J. P. Stokes, op. cit., App. IV, and C.R. (1254-56), pp. 172-174 for these lists. 6 Miss S. Cohen, T.J.H.S.E. XIII.</page><page sequence="6">94 JEWISH FINANCE IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND based on this fact that Jews dealt predominantly with the lower ranges of the agri? cultural community. It is here that Jewish public and private finance react on one another. The first part of the reign of Henry III was for the Jews a time of relative freedom under royal protection. In 1218 for instance Jewish immigration was made easier.1 The Grown vigorously countered the attempts at an economic boycott made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Lincoln in 1223 and the city of London authorities in 1235.2 The favourable attitude of the Grown is also illustrated by the consultations which prefaced the tallages of 1231 and 1241. Then just midway through the century, Jewish activity, financial and otherwise, begins to be restricted. The change is coincidental with a decline in the capacity of the Jews to pay high tallages. At this stage the policy of the Grown is contradictory. At times efforts are made to ease the Jewish position. At times the reverse occurs. To explain this we must bear two things in mind. First, the king was in great need of funds ; previously he had been able to extort substantial sums from the Jews who were now becoming less and less able to respond adequately. Second, there was a growing opposition to the king and an important element of this opposition had itself grievances intimately connected with Jewish moneylending. To split the opposition the king abandoned the Jews, but until it became quite clear that the latter had lost their usefulness and that there existed an alternative source of money, the Italians, royal policy wavered between the two extremes. Broadly speaking, the baronial opposition comprised two main sections, the barons and the lower tenantry, between which there was little harmony of interests or aims. The former were concerned with royal encroachment upon their feudal rights and privileges, the extravagance of the Crown and its policy of ruling through foreign favourites and subservient officials. Their primary purpose was to obtain control of the government machine, including of course the Jewish Exchequer, by means of which, as we have already seen, the king was able to secure some measure of financial independence to enable him to get round the baronial refusal to grant supplies. The latter had closer social and economic grievances which they tried to remedy by measures aimed at abuses and maladministration and by direct action in conjunction with the townspeople, beginning during the civil wars and including among other outrages the breaking open and burning of the local " archae ".3 What was the cause of this anti-Jewish activity ? Through the agency of the Jewish moneylender, the minor tenants were being expropriated of their land by the barons and more particularly by the monasteries. The manner in which this took place is indicated in the account of the coronation of Richard I found in the Melsa Chronicle.4 It is also indicated by Article 25 of the Petition of Oxford, 1258. The need for money among the lower tenantry and others of equal rank arose from a variety of reasons, chiefly the duty to serve the king abroad and royal taxation. Under Henry III the need increased beyond normal bounds. The Jews lent the money on the security of land. This in itself was sufficiently distressing, as all debts are. We may recall the frequent papal injunctions and restrictions to safeguard the interests of those who went on crusade. Similar orders were promulgated by Henry 1 P.R. (1216-25), p. 180. 2 W. Prynne, A Short Demurrer, etc. (1655), p. 20 and G.R. (1234-37), p. 329. 3 See e.g. P.R.E.J. I, p. 160, G.P.R. (1258-66), p. 470 ; (1266-72), pp. 13, 21 ; Select Pleas, PP- 38-39? 40, 77 ; Annales Monastici II, pp. 101, 363, 371 ; III, p. 230 ; IV, pp. 141-143? 449* 45? * Rolls Series I, p. 244. See also Cartulary of Abbey of Old Wardon, ed. G. H. Fowler, p. 360.</page><page sequence="7">JEWISH FINANCE IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND 95 III. The procedure became still more distressing when as a result of the heavy demands made by the imposition of the tallage the Jews had to come down heavily upon their clients for repayment of the debts or of the interest instalments. The latter had no option but to appeal for aid to their more affluent neighbours, in most cases the local monastery. Such appeals were likely to end with their losing their land. Whatever the moral aspect of the situation, those who responded to the appeals regarded the matter as one of business and in effect simply changed places with the Jews, becoming probably more exacting. The process is somewhat akin to the practice of commendation of the early days of feudalism. A similar result was achieved when instead the Jews sold their debts to a third person. This was done either at the express desire of the debtor or without his knowledge. In either case the end was the same. Again in this type of transaction the monasteries were very prominent. There are indications of a strong tendency on the part of the latter to consolidate their land into large contiguous parcels as a preliminary to the rationali? zation of farming methods, in which they were the medieval pioneers. Noteworthy in this direction was the abbey of Melsa, one of the more important wool-producing monasteries of England.1 Members of the Royal family, royal officials, individual barons, and prominent merchants are also to be found engaged in such dealings.2 Even such a bald summary is enough to show the disruptive influence exerted through the agency of the Jews upon the formal feudal structure which, whatever its shortcomings, protected those who lived within its framework. The different legislative and administrative attacks upon the Jews, first seriously begun with the Provisions of Jewry of 1269, can only be explained as royal concessions to the tenantry in the contemporary political manoeuvring for their support. Such attacks played havoc with Jewish business. Great losses were incurred by the arbitrary release of debtors and by the severe restrictions placed upon the sale of debts.3 The attack was then extended to include debt-secured land held by Jews.4 With the accession of Edward I, the force of the Jews was clearly spent. According to one monastic chronicle, Edward had originally counselled a clear-cut anti-Jewish policy to his father.5 Another important point arises from the fact that Jews dealt chiefly with the lower tenantry. Since a very large part of the money the Jews acquired in this way eventually found its way into the royal purse through the tallages, the latter were indirectly a land tax and this is indeed their ultimate economic significance and also a further reason for anti-Jewish hostility. What brought home the reality of the situation to everyone concerned was the process by which the King received tallage payments by a transfer of debts.6 With the accession of Edward I, the realization that the Jews were to all intents and purposes a bankrupt force and that in any case there were the Italians to fall back upon was already clear. The policy of the Grown is now no longer in doubt. In 1275 the justices of the Jews received a royal writ which, in order to protect 1 J' Jacobs, op. cit., p. 58 ; Chronica Monasterii de Melsa (Rolls Series) passim; P.R.E.J. I, p. 161 ; C.P.R. (1266-72), p. 330. 2 The evidence is too full to be given here. It is sufficient to glance through P.R. and P.R.E.J. for the period of the baronial revolt. 3 C.P.R. (1266-72), p. 376 ; Select Pleas, p. 6 ; M. Adler, T.J.H.S.E. XII, pp. 177-178. 4 Rymer, Foedera I, i, p. 489 ; Select Pleas, pp. li-lv. 6 Annales Monastici IV, p. 221. ? See e.g. P.R.E.J. II, p. 306 ; III, p. 65 ; G. H. Fowler, op. cit., p. 363.</page><page sequence="8">96 JEWISH FINANCE IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND Christian debtors, commanded them that when provision was being made for acquittance of debt such terms were to be allowed that sufficient was left for the reasonable subsistence of the debtor.1 This decree, substantially a re-enactment of Chapter n of Magna Carta, became a part of the Statute of Jewry of 1276 which prohibited usury,2 and marks the effective end of medieval Anglo-Jewry. Usury was forbidden, the movement and habitation of Jews was restricted, an order of 1218 imposing the Jew badge was revived, and a poll tax introduced.3 On the other hand, Jews were allowed to carry on trade and agriculture but these two concessions were never acted upon because to do so required large capital resources which the Jews no longer possessed. Further, to do so would have involved a fundamental re? orientation. For 200 years Jews had been substantially moneylenders. Whatever the resiliency of their enterprise, at least a generation would have been required successfully to effect the fundamental change which the situation required. The Jews were expelled within fifteen years. 1 P.R.E.J. II, p. 246. See also I, pp. 198, 199 ; II, pp. 240, 247, 248. 2 It was not specifically anti-Jewish since there is a similar provision in Acton Burnell and Mer? chants, which did not extend to Jews, Statutes of the Realm I, pp. 53-54, 98-100. 3 ibid. I, p. 221.</page></plain_text>