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Miscellanies: 'Sir Thomas Shirley's Project for Jewes'

Edgar R. Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">'Sir Thomas Shirley's Project for Jewes'?the Earliest Known Proposal for the Resettlement EDGAR R. SAMUEL In 1607 Sir Thomas Shirley, the younger, submitted the following memorandum to King James I:1 'The profit that may be raised to your Majesty out of the Jews is different three manner of ways. First, I entertained them with a promise to become a suitor to your Majesty for privilege for them to inhabit in Ireland, seeking to draw them thither, because doubtless their being there would have made that country very rich, and your Majesty's revenue in Ireland would in short time have risen almost to equal the customs of England. For, first, they were willing to pay your Majesty a yearly tribute of two ducats for every head; and they, being most of them merchants, would have raised great customs where now are none; and they would have brought into the realm great store of bullion of gold and silver by issuing of Irish com? modities into Spain, which will be of high esteem there considering their natures, viz. salted salmons, corn, hides, wool and tallow; of all which there will be great abundance if once the people give themselves to that industry, which doubtless they will do as soon as they find that their labours will procure them money. '2. The second course is to give them privilege to be and inhabit in England, and have synagogues, and for that I suppose I could have drawn them to pay a greater annual tribute for every head, because their chief desire is to be here. '3. But sith your Majesty (like a most zealous and religious Christian prince) is not pleased that they should have any synagogue within any of your dominions, there is a third course to be taken with them, which is this: they must give your Majesty a fine for leave to trade for so much the year, within any of your ports. This I know they will purchase at a high rate when they see that they can obtain no more. I saw a precedent of this at Naples this summer passed, because the Jews being banished out of all the King of Spain's dominions they desired leave to trade for 500,000 ducats the year only within the kingdom of Naples, for 5 years, and to have their bodies and goods secured; and for this they gave to the King 100,000 ducats. Now you may if you please give licence for much more, and there is no synagogue allowed in this kind. 'You shall reap many extraordinary commodities out of the Jews, besides the customs and fines. And the first and greatest is that if the Eastern Jews once find that liking of your countries which I am sure they will, then many of them of Portugal (which call themselves Morani and yet are Jews) will come fleeing hither, and they will bring more wealth than all the rest; and by them the most part of the trade of Brazil will be converted hither; wherein your Majesty may give the King of Spain (who is your secret enemy) a greater blow in peace than Queen Elizabeth of glorious memory did with all her long and tedious war. The King of Spain cannot justly accept [sic] against this; and if he do, he knows not how to mend it. 'The second commodity will be that if your Majesty shall have any occasion to be at a great extraordinary charge, you may at any time borrow a million of the Jews with great facility, where your merchants of London will hardly be drawn to lend you 10,000 1. There is experience of both: one, in your Majesty, for the Londoners; the other in the Duke of Mantua for the Jews. His estate is one of the least of all Italy, and 1 Vol. XIX of the Historical Manuscripts Commission's Catalogue of the Marquess of Salisbury's Manuscripts. 195</page><page sequence="2">196 Edgar R. Samuel therefore cannot contain the tenth part of those Jews that may very well be in your dominions, by privilege of trade only, without a synagogue; and yet once in three years he picks 300,000 or 400,000 crowns out of his Jews. The Duke of Savoy were not able to maintain his estate without their help and the benefit he reaps by them. 'Dally occasions will be offered to make greater commodities out of them if once you have hold of their persons and goods. But at the first they must be tenderly used, for there is great difference in alluring wild birds and handling them when they are caught; and your agent that treats with them must be a man of credit and acquaintance amongst them, who must know how to manage them, because they are very subtile people. The politique Duke of Florence will not leave his Jews for all other merchants whatsoever.' Economic Justification Sir Thomas Shirley well understood and stated the very strong economic case for admitting Jews to England but he justifiably expected fiscal motives to have the greatest appeal to King James, and these he particularly stressed?albeit in a crude and tactless fashion. The first question the proposal raises is whether the scheme suggested arose from a Jewish initiative or whether it was originated by Shirley himself. He clearly states that it was desired by the Jews and that he had discussed it and reached agreement with some of them, though whether in Turkey, Italy, or elsewhere he does not say. Persecution of Portuguese Jews The difficulties of the persecuted Portuguese Jews were intense. In 1605, they had bought from King Philip III permission to emigrate from Portugal, a General Pardon for all prisoners of the Inquisition, and a suspension of the activities of the Holy Office, but this lull in their persecution would not last long and more cities of refuge were badly needed to receive the flood of emigrants. France allowed some immigration, but insisted on outward conformity to Christianity. Hamburg, Amster? dam, Venice, and Leghorn admitted Jews and allowed them full religious freedom, as did the Moslem Kingdoms of Morocco and Turkey, but even so, if James I agreed to allow Jews to settle in England?or even Ireland?it would have been highly convenient to them. However, it seems almost incredible that the well-informed and well-organised Portuguese Jewish mer? chants of Amsterdam and Leghorn should choose such a hopelessly unsuitable emissary as Sir Thomas Shirley to put their case to the King. Sir Thomas Shirley, the Younger Sir Thomas Shirley, the younger (his father, Sir Thomas Shirley, the elder, was still alive and active), was an impoverished adventurer. Though a gentleman and Member of Parlia? ment, he was, in 1607, in the lowest possible favour with the Government. This was the year after the Gunpowder Plot. He and his brothers were believed to be of suspect loyalty. He had entered the service of the Duke of Tuscany and led a naval expedition for him against the Turks which had ended with his defeat and capture. Since his father was insolvent and the Duke of Tuscany indifferent, the English Government was put to the trouble and expense of ransoming him from the Turks, and he had just arrived back after his release. His adventurous brother, Sir Anthony Shirley ?of Persian fame?with whom he was in regular correspondence, was then at Naples in the service of the King of Spain. In the summer of 1607 the English Ambassador at Venice intercepted a letter written in Italian by Sir Thomas to one Giovanni Bassadoni at Venice which proposed 'to shake the foundation of the trade of the English' in Turkey. This led to Shirley's arrest, questioning, and imprisonment in the Tower on suspicion of treason. An Unsuitable Advocate It seems more likely that it was Sir Thomas Shirley, desperate as he was for both money</page><page sequence="3">eSir Thomas Shirley's Project for Jewes' 197 and the Royal favour, who had made the first approach to the Portuguese Jews, in Leghorn or Venice, rather than that they approached him, and that he sought this means of both proving his loyalty and replenishing his purse. From the Jews' point of view, his support could at least be bought cheaply! As a much-travelled and well-informed Englishman, Shirley had seen how much the Jews of Leghorn had benefited the trade and revenues of the Duke of Tuscany without affecting the authority of either the Church or the State, and he had the perception to see?even before Amsterdam's rise to com? mercial supremacy?that the readmission of the Jews to England, because of their connexions in the Brazil and India trades, would be a gain both for the country and for King James. A Sephardi colony in Jacobean Cork or Wexford to balance the Protestant plantations in Ulster does not seem a very likely historical 'might have been'. If established, would it have encountered acceptance or hostility from the Irish ? Would it have survived the arbitrary and erratic taxation methods of James I and Charles I? Would it have led to an earlier Resettlement in England? We can never know, for neither the Earl of Salisbury nor the King seems to have thought the suggestion a practical one. If James and his Government had tolerated Judaism, it would have made it yet more difficult for them to enforce the religious uniformity which they unsuccessfully sought to impose on the three Kingdoms. It took a hard-fought Civil War and many other vicissitudes before the philosophy of the sixteenth-century French Politiques of tolerating religious pluralism in the interests of national peace and prosperity became acceptable to an English Government. In the meantime, the Dutch Republic carried all before it.</page></plain_text>