top of page
< Back

Notes on the Leicester Jewry

Rev. S. Levy

<plain_text><page sequence="1">NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY By the Rev. S. LEVY, M.A. (Read before the Society on March 1, 1902.) I. Jewry Wall. My interest in Jewry Wall is the result of a recent visit to Leicester, and the short paper I am about to read consists of a summary of a few notes I have collected on the history of the Jews of Leicester in the thirteenth century. Jewry Wall closely adjoins St. Nicholas's Church. As it stands at present it is about twenty-five yards in length and five feet in height, and is judged by antiquarians to be one of the most perfect relics of Rofnan masonry preserved in Britain. In its own way, Jewry Wall has been for long a fragment of renown, but its original purpose has hitherto baffled a solution which would be universally accepted. This vestige of antiquity, dating from the Roman occupation of Britain, has been regarded by some authorities as a portion of a Roman bath, by others as part of a temple dedicated to Janus, and by others as the site of sacrifices offered up by Jews, but the view which now finds most favour is that it was a piece of the Janua Wall of the old city of Leicester. The modern tablet affixed to the wall steers clear of these conflicting theories, and simply states: " This fragment of masonry known as Jewry Wall, because in former times the place where the Jews of Leicester dwelt, is a relic of the period when the Romans occupied Leicester, between the first and the fifth century." We may exercise a like prudence and skip over the centuries following upon the departure of the Romans until we reach the thirteenth century, when the wall acquired Jewish associations. J. Throsby, a Leicester antiquarian, writing on April 12, 1793,1 1 J. Throsby, Letter to the Earl of Leicester . . . with some thoughts on Jewry Wall. Leicester, 1793, p. 35. 34</page><page sequence="2">NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. 35 explains the origin of the name Jewry Wall as follows: " As to its retaining the name of Jewry Wall, that might happen from the circumstance of the Jews, some centuries ago, being compelled to live together in certain districts of every city in England : in Leicester they might be compelled to live together in habitations, near this wall, and Jew or Jewry might of course afterwards be added to Wet 11." 1 Curiously enough, a month later, May 2, 1793, the Rev. T. Robin North-East View of the Leicester Jewry-Wall by Bass, 1777. (From Nichol's History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, vol. i. p. 7.) son, also of Leicester, placed a different interpretation upon the name. "The name Jewry Wall,', he writes, " is more likely to be a transition from Janua, than from the Jews inhabiting thereabout, for can we imagine they would be permitted to dwell betwixt the city and the greatest thoroughfare, or on that side the city which was 1 J. Throsby, Letter to the Earl of Leicester . . . with some thoughts 011 Jewry Wall. Leicester, 1793, pp. 26, 27. Cf. Murray's New English Dictionary, s.v. " Jewry," sec. 2 :?"The district inhabited by Jews in a town or city ; the Jews' quarter ; the Ghetto. Hence the Old Jewry in London."</page><page sequence="3">36 NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. the most commodiously situated for water and recreation."1 Jewry Wall a transition from Janua Wall, what a delightful gem of per? verse etymology ! At all events, the name Jewry Wall is very old, is found in the ancient records of Leicester, and has persisted without a break from the thirteenth century unto the present day. We know that in all great towns in England in the pre-Expulsion period, the Jews were limited to a particular district, for instance, Old Jewry in London, and the Jewry of Oxford, and there is no reason for suppos? ing that Leicester was an enviable exception to the rule. We are therefore justified in assuming that Jewry Wall was the name given to the old fragment of Roman masonry, then surrounded by other ruins of large Roman structures, when that part of Leicester was assigned as the peculiar residence of the Jews, where no Christian would care to intrude except for the purpose of plunder. The financial operations of Aaron of Lincoln were conducted on an extensive scale, and Leicester was included in the field of his activity. In the list of Aaron's debts, published in the third volume of the Transactions of this Society, p. 174, there are fifteen entries under the heading of Leicester, and the names of the debtors include Robert, Earl of Leicester, for the amount of ?500, a very large sum in those days. But it is the relations of Simon de Montfort with the Jews that will claim our chief attention. In England as in France there were minor expulsions of the Jews from localities before the greater expulsions from the whole country. Leicester did not escape the tide of persecution which set in against the Jews of England in the earlier half of the thirteenth century. Simon de Montfort, the otherwise liberal Earl of Leicester, had been accustomed from childhood to regard the Jews as legitimate victims of cruelty. For in the year 1216, when he was a boy of eight, his mother, Alice of Montmorency, ordered all the Jews of Toulouse?over which town she had charge?to be arrested, and allowed them only the choice between death and conversion. At the same time, says Graetz,2 she ordered that Jewish children under the 1 T[homas] Robinson, An Historical Narrative of that Renowned Piece of Anti? quity, the Jewry Wall in Leicester. Leicester, 1793. Preface, p. viii and pp. 42, 43. 2 English translation, iii. 530, 531.</page><page sequence="4">NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. 37 age of six should be torn away from their parents'and given over to the priests in order to be baptized and brought up as Christians. When, however, Simon de Montfort, who was away on the Crusades, heard of this cruel persecution of the Jews by his wife, he ordered the prisoners to be released and to be allowed to practise their religion in freedom. But our Simon de Montfort, the famous protagonist in the Barons' War and the fight for parliamentary institutions, followed in the traditions of his mother. Armed with the recollections of his childhood, he readily succumbed to the cruel spirit of the times, easily yielded to the demands of Leicester bigots, and in 1231 granted a charter to his faithful burgesses, giving them liberty entire to banish the Jews from Leicester. This expulsion from Leicester in 1231, however, happened to synchronise with a more liberal movement relating to the Jews. A proposal was just then attracting attention which was the outcome apparently of individual initiative on the part of certain great landowners. It was suggested by these country magnates that the Jews who were expelled from certain estates should be gathered together on other estates, where they would be encouraged to work with their hands. Margaret de Quincy, widow of the Earl of Winchester and aunt to Simon de Montfort, sympa? thised with this more liberal tendency of her age, and out of the goodness of her heart formed the plan of sheltering on her property all those Jews whom her nephew Simon de Montfort had expelled from the town of Leicester. But prior to translating her views into actual performance, Margaret de Quincy consulted her spiritual adviser, Robert Grossteste, then Archdeacon of Leicester, afterwards the great Bishop of Lincoln, and asked him to furnish her with his opinion on her project. Grossteste's written reply is preserved in the collection of his letters. After a brief review of the history of the Jews since the dispersion, as well as of the causes which led to their dispersion, and after some reference to the fulfilment of scriptural prophecies, Grossteste laid down the two following pro? positions. First, with the recollection of the massacre of 1189-90 still vivid in his mind, he protested against the notion that the Jews should be injured, still less exterminated ; for it was to the Jews that the Law and the Prophets had been given, and consequently they bore</page><page sequence="5">38 NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. unconscious testimony to the truth of Christianity, and it was to be expected that they would ultimately embrace the Christian faith. In the meantime they were undergoing a second captivity, in which it was their lot to be subservient to princes, and their duty to work with their hands in order to maintain their existence. The second proposition was that if the punishment of the Jews should not be increased, neither should it be diminished; and the Jews should not be encouraged by Christian princes to oppress Christians with usury and live in luxury on the proceeds, the first duty of Christian rulers being to their Christian subjects. Princes who acted on a contrary principle and gave to the Jews special facilities for lending money to Christians at an exorbitant rate of interest should be regarded as their accomplices, and be compelled to share their punishment. Worst of all were the princes who acted thus in order that they might derive their share of profit from the moneys which the Jews were able to extort from Christians. Gross teste's object appears to have been not so much to deter the Countess of Winchester from the execution of her plan as to warn her not to encourage the settlers in usurious practices, and still less to derive any indirect benefit from them herself, but rather to induce them to earn their livelihood by manual labour. For the period in which he lived, Grossteste shows a rather kindly feeling towards the Jews. He calls the Caursines the pests of society, and condemns their terms as worse than those imposed by Jews. He writes: " When you return to a Jew the money he has lent you, he will receive it with good grace, and with interest commensurate only with the time during which the money has been advanced; but the Caursin, on the other hand, lends you, say, one hundred metrics (a mark being 13s. 4d. sterling), in return for which you sign an acknowledgment that you owe him one hundred 2^ounds (20s. to the pound), to be paid at the year's end, and if you wish to pay him back within a month, or some such shorter period, he makes no allowance, but exacts the full sum of one hundred 'pounds" 1 The influence of Grossteste's letter to Margaret de Quincy, Countess of Winchester, in favour of the Jews, was great enough 1 This account of the action of Margaret de Quincy and the views of Robert Grossteste is summarised from F. S. Stevenson, Robert Grossteste, pp. 99-103.</page><page sequence="6">NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. 39 to mitigate the severity of Simon de Montfort's decree of banish? ment. The edict of expulsion was not rigorously enforced, and the Jews of Leicester had comparative peace for twenty years. Simon de Montfort acted leniently towards the Jews all the days that Robert Grossteste, the Bishop of Lincoln, lived. But after the death of Grossteste in the year 1253, he immediately walked again in the sins of his youth. Grossteste's breath was hardly out of his body when Simon cle Montfort issued a charter for the final and perpetual banishment of the Jews from the town of Leicester. The following is the text of the edict:? "Simon de Montfort, son of Earl Simon de Montfort, Lord of Leicester, to all the faithful in Christ, who may see and hear the present page, health in the Lord. Know all of you that I, for the good of my soul, and the souls of my ancestors and successors, have granted, and by this my present charter have confirmed, on behalf of me and my heirs for ever, to my burgesses of Leicester and their heirs, that no Jew or Jewess, in my time or in the time of any of my heirs to the end of the world, shall within the liberty of the town of Leicester, inhabit or remain or obtain a residence. I also wish and command that my heirs after me observe and warrant for ever that liberty entire and inviolate to the aforesaid burgesses. And in testi? mony of this I have confirmed the present charter with my seal. Witnesses, Sir Aumery of Mittun, Sir Walter de Aquila, Sir Boger Blund, Chaplain, William de Anet, then bailiff of Leicester, William Bassett, William of Miravall and others."1 And here endeth the first chapter, for in due course the general expulsion of the Jews from England followed the local expulsion from Leicester, and the subsequent return of the Jews is another story. But when I was examining Jewry Wall, and saw in the near distance a statue erected to the memory of Simon de Montfort, I imagined I detected a look of anger and disappointment steal over the marble features, for the visit of a Jew to the Jewish community of Leicester six and a half centuries after the great earl's death was hardly a con? vincing proof of the efficacy of the decree of perpetual banishment. And such is the irony of history. 1 See infra, p. 41, for the original Latin text.</page><page sequence="7">40 NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. II. Simon de Montfort's Anti-Jewish Charter. The existence of a charter by Simon de Montfort expelling Jews from Leicester had been known for a considerable time, but it is only within quite recent years that attempts to trace its whereabouts have proved successful. The document is mentioned in John Oordy Jeaffreson, An Index to the Ancient Manuscripts of the Borough of Leicester, 1878, pp. 11, 12, and is described in the list of charters, No. 12, as follows:?44 Simon de Montfort's Charter for the banish? ment of the Jews for ever from the borough of Leicester. [N.B.? This charter is not in the Muniment Room at the present time; but there are reasons for hoping that the missing document will be dis? covered and restored to its proper custodians.] " Fortunately, this hope has lately been realised. The lost charter has been found, and is once more included in the archives of the Borough of Leicester. I am indebted to Mr. E. V. Hiley, the Town Clerk of Leicester, for having kindly supplied me with the following particulars relating to the recovery of the document. In April 1904, the Corporation of Leicester was informed by Mr. E. Gay of Oxford, who had been instructed to look over the papers of the late Mr. F. Benthall, F.S.A., of Flexton Ampthill, Bedfordshire, that a charter of Simon de Montfort forbidding Jews to live in Leicester, and purchased by Mr. Benthall, was included in a sale of his books and manuscripts to be held by Messrs. Sotheby &amp; Co., of 13 Welling? ton Street, Strand, W.C., on April 15, 1904. The box containing the charter was endorsed with a memo? randum by Mr. Benthall, " To be handed to the Corporation when called for," written probably in 1886-7, at which date correspondence passed between gentlemen in Leicester and Mr. Benthall with a view to recovering the charter. No explanation is given of the disappear? ance of the charter from the Leicester muniments, nor is any infor? mation available as to the manner of its acquisition by the late Mr. Benthall. A representative of the Corporation attended the sale and purchased the charter, and, as already stated, it is now once more with the muniments of the Borough. The charter is written in Latin, and the usual abbreviations in official documents of the period are employed. Part of the original</page><page sequence="8">j^tnW ?|S$^W?^?w-^* , ... ^_... p?.?._ CHARTER OF SIMON DE MONTFORT</page><page sequence="9">NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. 41 Latin text is quoted in John Nichols, History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, vol. i. pt. i. p. 7. The whole of the Latin text is given in the same work, vol. i. pt. ii. Appendix, p. 38, No. 13, and also in John Throsby, The History and Antiquities of the Ancient Toicn of Leicester, p. 40. An English translation of the document is to be found in Throsby, loc. cit., as a footnote to the Latin text. There is a later English translation in James Thompson, An Essay on English Muni? cipal History, London, 1867, p. 62. Thompson published another English translation, differing but slightly from his first rendering, in a paper on " The Jews and Jewry Wall" in the Transactions of the Leicester Architectural and Archceological Society, iv. 48-49. The charter is assigned to the year 1253, on the authority of Charles Bemont, Simon de Montfort, Paris, 1884, p. 62. The seal is regarded by antiquaries as a very fine specimen of its kind, and should be compared with the copy of Simon de Montfort's seal in the possession of the British Museum, reproduced in W. H. Hutton, Simon of Montfort and his Cause, p. 20. An English translation of the charter has already been given supra, p. 39. The following is an extended transcript of the original Latin:? " Simon de Montefort filius Comitis Simonis de Montefort, Dominus Leycestrie, omnibus Christi fidelibus, presentem paginam visuris et audituris, salutem in Domino. Noverit universitas vestra, me pro salute anime mee et antecessorum et successorum meorum, concessisse, et presenti carta mea confirmasse, de me et heredibus rneis in perpetuum burgensibus meis Leycestrie et eorum heredibus, quod nullus Judeus neque Judea in tempore meo, sive in tempore alicuius heredum meorum usque in finem mundi, infra libertatem ville Leycestrie habitabit neque manebit nec residenciam obtinebit. Volo etiam et precipio quod heredes mei post me istam libertatem, integram et illesam burgensibus prenominatis observent et in per? petuum warrentizent. Et in hujus rei testimonium presentem cartam sigillo meo munivi. Hiis testibus, Domino Almarico de Mittun, Domino Waltero de Aquila, Domino Rogero Blundo capellano, Willelmo de Anet tune bailliuo Leic', Willelmo Basset, Willelmo de Mira vail et aliis."</page><page sequence="10">42 NOTES ON LEICESTER JEWRY. III. Miscellanea. The following miscellaneous references to the history of the Jews of Leicester, some of which have not been directly used in the preceding notes, may be found useful by the student. Jacobs and Wolf, Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica, Nos. 79, 83, 87, 185. Charles Gross, The Exchequer of the Jews of England in the Middle Ages, in " Papers read at the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition," p. 190. G. H. Leonard, "The Expulsion of the Jews by Edward I,," in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society for 1891, pp. 135, 136. James Thompson, The History of Leicester, 1849, p. 72. M. D. Davis, Hebrew Deeds of English Jews, Nos. 148, 169. Joseph Jacobs, Jeios of Angevin England, 377. The Jewish Chronicle, March 7, 1902. The Leicester Daily Post, June 2, 1904. J. M. Rigg, Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jeius, 1905, &amp;c.; see Index, s.v. Leicester and Montfort.</page></plain_text>

bottom of page