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Miscellanies: Spanish Jews in London in 1494

A. Schischa

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Spanish Jews in London in 1494 A. SCHISCHA Under the rather emotive headline Tnter national Anti-Semitism in 1498' Lucien Wolf published a Spanish document, a communi? cation dispatched from London by the Sub Prior of Santa Cruz to his Monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.1 This important document is dated 18 July 1498. It is part of a series of communications dealing with the arrangements of the commission that was sent to London in connection with the wedding of Catharine of Aragon to Arthur, Prince of Wales, the son of Henry VII. The conclusion Wolf drew from that document was that the commission was also 'apparently instructed to deal with the Jewish Question'. Dr Cecil Roth does not accept Wolf's conclu? sions, and is of the opinion that 'the inferences drawn [by Lucien Wolf] are more than the documents justify'. He is much nearer the truth when he states 'there is evidence that in 1492 some of the exiles came to London with Bills of Exchange on local Spanish Merchants'.2 Dr Roth gives no indication of the source for his assertion that some Jews had in fact arrived in London as early as 1492. The earliest substantiated date proving the presence of Spanish Jews in London was that of the docu? ment published by Lucien Wolf?namely, 1498. However, the information contained in the document to be printed herewith will antedate that year definitely by four years?that is to say, Jews were in evidence in London in August 1494. If we are to take into account the mode of travelling, the time taken for communi? cations to pass between England and Spain in those days, and of course the time the events took which are detailed in the document, we may justly assume that their arrival in London was much earlier than August 1494. The early date is surprising enough, but more significant is the fact that these fugitives from the Spanish Inquisition apparently lived in London openly as Jews, and that even King Henry VII was aware of their identity and of their religious loyalties. Royal Letter to Henry VII Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, in an inti? mate communication dated at Segovia 18 August 1494 and addressed to Henry VII, inform 'Serenissimo Rey' that some Jews (whom they do not name), who left Spain and came to London, were in possession of Bills of Exchange to the amount of 428,000 mara vedis, drawn against a Spanish merchant, Diego de Soria, of Segovia.3 In London they successfully laid claim to a credit account held in favour of Diego de Soria with Fernand Lorenzo, a merchant established in the City of London. As the Spanish Crown sequestrated all the possessions of Jews who, rather than renounce the faith of their ancestors, fled the country, and declared that all debts owed by Christians to Jews at the time of the expulsion were to be deemed debts owing to the Crown, Ferdinand and Isabella claimed, therefore, the Bills of Exchange in the hands of the Jews were invalid, and in particular the claim on Diego de Soria's moneys in London should not have been adjudicated to the Jews, because, the King and Queen of Spain asserted, the Crown had already received the 428,000 maravedis in full in settlement of the claim. Therefore they request Henry VII to put the matter right by returning the said sum of money to Diego de Soria. 1 Luden Wolf: Notes on the Diplomatie History of the Jewish Question. J.H.S.E., London, 1919, p. 126. 2 Dr. Cecil Roth: History of the Jews in England. 2nd edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1949, p. 136 and ibid., fn.2. 3 G. A. Bergenroth: Calendar of Letters, Dispatches and State Papers, 1485-1509. H.M. Stationery Office, London, 1862, p. 51. In footnote *, the compiler of the Calendar writes, '. . . Diego de Soria was a Spanish merchant established in Burgos, Bristol, London, as is apparent from the other papers in the same collection.' 214</page><page sequence="2">Spanish Jews in London in 1494 215 On the evidence available4 it seems unlikely that Henry complied with the wishes of Ferdi? nand and Isabella. In a long dispatch (London, 18 July 1498) the above-mentioned special envoy, the Sub-Prior of Santa-Cruz, reports to his King on his arrival in London, on his vari? ous audiences with King Henry VII, and on the discussions that had taken place. Among many other things, he reports that the reputa? tion of the Spanish Ambassador in London, De Pueblo, is very low. He asserts that the English King is supposed to have said that De Pueblo ' ... is a liar, a flatterer, a calumniator, a beg? gar, and does not seem to be a good Christian'. On the same occasion, the report goes on to say, Henry 'expressed his astonishment that there are no other merchants in Spain besides the Jews'.5 This suggests that Henry was informed, and was prepared to express an opinion, about the status of Spanish Jews as merchants, infor? mation he would hardly have been able to garner from official Spanish sources. The docu? ment published by Lucien Wolf, quoted above, proves that the Spanish King and Queen in 1498 were still expressing their dissatisfaction with the favourable treatment Spanish Jews were receiving in London. Ferdinand's Letter Archivo General de la Corona di Aragon? Registos. Vol. 3573 fol. 55v-56* Most Serene King and our very dear and much beloved Brother.?We the King of Castille, Leon, Aragon, etc., send you our greetings, expressing the great love and value we have for you, and praying that God will give you all the life, health and honour that you desire. We wish to inform you that it has come to our knowledge, through the petition con? cerning certain Jews (who were among those who left our realm), that 428 thousand maravedis have been sequestrated by your orders against Diego de Soria, merchant, our vassal, and which he actually holds in your country in the hands of Fernand Lorenzo?this petition saying that the said Diego de Soria owes certain sums of money to the said Jews on certain Bills of Exchange which they should have met at the time they left our Kingdom, and because the said Jews are liable to have lost the said maravedis because they took forbidden things out of our country. And the said Diego de Soria has paid the money to us, justly in full. For this reason we ask you kindly to order the release and repayment to the said Diego de Soria of the 428 thousand maravedis? which all the more because it will be so just an act will give us very singular pleasure. From Segovia the 18th August 1494 I the King? I the Queen? By order of the King and Queen mp. Perez D'Almaya. 4 The evidence available to me is limited to the Calendar volume just quoted. Further research should include, besides the documents copied in the State Papers Spanish series at the Public Record Office, also those which were not copied and are still available at the Archivo del Stato de Aragon, in Barcelona. 5 Calendar, etc., p. 163, copy No. 204, 'Londono and the Sub-Prior of Santa Cruz [Fray Johannes de Matienzo] to Ferdinand and Isabella'. The date is the same as that of the document published by Lucien Wolf (fn.l). 6 The document bears the ref. No. of the original to be found in the Archivo General de la Corona de Aragon, Barcelona. It is copied in full and calen? dared as above, p. 51 et seq. I am indebted to the Controller of H.M. Station? ery Office, London, for permission to Xerox the document and for its subsequent publication. I am also much indebted to the Director of the Archivo de la Corona da Aragon, Barcelona, for a photo? graphic copy of the original, from which the P.R.O. copy was made. The translation is from the P.R.O. text and was done for me by Miss M. Franklin.</page></plain_text>