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The Jewish Money-Lender and the Charters of English Jewry in their Historical Setting

Rev. Dr. James Parkes

<plain_text><page sequence="1">34 miscellanies. The Jewish Money-Lender and the Charters of English Jewry in their historical setting. John, by the grace of God, etc. I.?Know that we have granted to all the Jews of England and Norman -dy to have freely and honourably residence in our land, and to hold all that from us which they held from King Henry, our father's grandfather, and all that now they reasonably hold in land and fees and mortgages and goods, and that they have all their liberties and customs just as they had them in the time of the aforesaid King Henry, our father's grandfather, better and more quietly and more honourably, etc.-(1201.) Richard, by the grace of God, King of England, duke of Normandy, etc., to his archbishops, bishops etc., greeting: I.?Know ye that we have granted and, by the present charter, confirm? ed, to Ysaac, son of Rabbi Joce, and his sons and their men, all their customs and liberties just as the Lord King Henry, our father, granted and by his charter confirm -ed to the Jews of England and Nor -mandy, namely: to reside in our land freely and honourably, and to hold all those things from us which the aforesaid Isaac and his sons held in the time of Henry the King, our father, in lands, and fiefs, and pledges, and gifts, and purchases, viz., Hame, which Henry, our father, gave them for their service, and Thurroc, which the said Isaac bought of the Count of Ferrars, and all the houses, and messuages, and pledges which the said Isaac and his sons had in our land in the time of King Henry, our father, etc.-(1190.) (Joseph Jacobs. The Jews of Angevin England. Pages 134 and 212.) At the moment when Constantine made his peace with the Christian Church in 313 c.e., the Jews of the Roman Empire were equal citizens with the pagan and Christian population. Their religion was completely</page><page sequence="2">JEWISH MONEY-LENDER AND CHARTERS OF ENGLISH JEWRY 35 protected, and they were exempted from any public office the per? formance of which might offend their religious susceptibilities. In the two centuries which followed, the Christian Church, working through the medium of imperial law and edict, made the first inroads on this perfect equality. Jewish activity in the non-Jewish world was limited, sometimes with a certain show of reason, sometimes out of religious intolerance. Even the internal affairs of the Jewish community were at times submitted to control. Outward conformity to Christian rules of marriage and observance of fast days was imposed on Jews also. Justinian in the beginning of the 6th century went so far as to find heretical beliefs within the "heresy'' of Judaism, and ordered the excommunication by the Jews of those Jews who held them. But in spite of such encroachments on their position, the basic fact of citizenship was not attacked by Christian Roman law-givers. In the period of confusion which followed the break up of the Roman Empire, there were issued, for the benefit of "Roman citizens" in the barbarian kingdoms, "breviaries" of Roman Law. Several of these still exist, and in none of them is there much reference to Jews. But all of them omit the important statement, in a law of Theodosius the Great of 393 c.E. that Judaism was a lawful sect. It would be rash to assume that this omission revealed a conscious attempt of the authors of the Breviaries to exclude the Jews from the benefits of Roman law and citizenship. It is safer to assume that in the centuries which preceded the era of Charlemagne (reigned 771-814 c.E.), the memory of a past Jewish citizenship grew dim among both Jews and Christians, and that it ultimately lapsed, from disuse rather than deliberate cancellation. The gradual absorption of the Christian Roman citizens into the evolving medieval societies, and the disappearance of a Roman status separate from that of other Christians, would help to explain this lapse. It would have been out of all proportion to their numbers to have preserved Roman law for the benefit of Jews alone. With the exceptions to this situation, in southern Europe, we are not concerned. For northern Europe, it is safe to say that between the fifth century and the ninth, the Jew came to be thought of in terms of the place allotted to him in Germanic rather than in Roman law and custom.</page><page sequence="3">36 MISCELLANIES. It is this change which explains the number and nature of the charters and privileges issued to the medieval Jewries. According to Germanic custom, the Jew was a stranger, and as such, depended for his position entirely on the protection afforded him by the ruler of the territory where he dwelt, or through which he travelled. A settled stranger who did not secure this protection within a year of his arrival could be taken as a slave. The property of a stranger, travelling without some such protection, could be stolen, and he had no redress. He could himself be killed, and his murderer would not be punished. Once protection was granted to him, he became the property of the ruler who granted it. An attack upon him was an attack upon the ruler. His property, both during his life-time, and at his death, was at the disposal of his owner.1 It must not be thought that this change became simultaneously apparent to all Jews, or to all Christians who had Jews as neighbours. Society as a whole was in a very unregulated condition in the centuries during which medieval Europe was being shaped. But, when, because of special needs, or to found a new colony, Jews, individually or in groups, looked for a regulation of their position, or some special protec? tion, then it was as "strangers" that they had to seek it. It would appear that from the beginning there was this distinction between Jews and other strangers, that whereas the latter sought only the protection of the local ruler, it was the Emperor and the national kings who were considered the protectors of the Jews. Whether this was due to the fact that the Jewish merchant made journeys which carried him through many local baronies, and needed a higher protection than one of these could afford, or whether the initiative lay with the givers of protection, the existing documents are too vague to establish; but it is certain that by the twelfth century the idea was current in Germany and in England there is no evidence of the Jews ever having looked elsewhere than to the Crown for their privileges, or of any baron having assumed to himself the right to possess his own Jews. The earliest letters of protection which exist were granted by Louis 2For further details on the position of the stranger, see H. Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, I, 2nd edition, 1906, pp. 399 ff.</page><page sequence="4">JEWISH MONEY-LENDER AND CHARTERS OF ENGLISH JEWRY. 37 the Pious in the first quarter of the ninth century.2 From their content it is evident that their recipients were merchants, accustomed to travelling long distances, and needing protection against innumerable tolls and taxes upon the roads. But they were not merely travellers, for they were granted the essential basis of settled communal life, their own jurisdiction through their own Beth Din. While in later centuries it was common for settled communities of foreigners to possess their own courts, this early grant of such autonomy, not normally made to "strangers," is probably a relic of the tradition of Roman days jealously preserved by the memory and practice of the Jews themselves. Following the documents of Louis the Pious, there is silence for two and a half centuries. During this period the area of Jewish settlement was steadily spreading northwards, and at the end of this period Jews entered England. It may be guessed that it was, broadly speaking, on the basis of the Carolingian privileges that the new settlements were established, for the earliest imperial charters, dating from 1090, are reminiscent even in language of the documents of Louis. Moreover the class of persons to whom they were granted was the same?travelling merchants. These merchant charters were repeated and confirmed for several centuries more, but in France, at the end of the twelfth century, an entirely new type appeared?financial charters granted to royal usurers. The manner in which the Jews came to be associated with usury is so often misconceived that it merits a few words of explanation. The statement is constantly made that there were no Christian usurers in the Middle Ages because the Church forbade usury. It would be equally exact to say that there was no immorality in the Middle Ages, because the Church forbade adultery. In actual fact the Church fought a running engagement with economic necessity throughout the whole period, and scored but few successes in the battle, and those only partial. Thus, "the Order of the Knights Templars became the exchange brokers of the day, and the system of international banking which it founded was remarkably complete for the thirteenth century. The Church condemned usury but the Templars 2 Text in Bouquet, Receuil des Historiens de Gaule et de la France, vi., pp. 624, 649-651.</page><page sequence="5">38 MISCELLANIES. lent money to kings and merchants and collected its interest under the guise of rent, and the Holy See made no protest, though the Church never ceased to condemn Jewish money-lenders."3 The Jew was never the chief usurer of the period, rarely the richest financier, and only on a few occasions, and in limited areas, the monopolist of usury.3a But he possessed two special qualities which have given his financial dealings prominence. If the Jews were never the only usurers, and never all of them usurers, it was possible to associate the word "usury" with "Jew," in a way in which it was obviously impossible to associate it with "Christian." The percentage of Jews who lived by finance was much higher than the percentage of Christians. In the second place, he was a peculiarly protected usurer. He enjoyed royal privileges. He could carry on his business openly at times when Christians could only do it under cover. This protection he enjoyed because of his status in Germanic custom. All that he had was the property of his owner?and medieval princes were permanently short of money. By the enforced registration of his loans, the extent of his transactions was easily ascertained, and the amount which could be extorted from him calculated. And it was extorted at regular and frequent intervals. It is in political, not commercial, economics that the Jewish financier attained his importance. He was an indirect tax collector for the King. The new type of charter, which appears first in France, became common in later centuries all over Europe. The interest of the two English charters which survive, is that they show the transition in the character of the Jewish community; for they deal equally with merchants and financiers. In other words they show that it was during the course of the twelfth century only that money-lending became an important Jewish occupation. 3 From The Knights Templars, Their Rise and Fall, by G. A. Campbell, p. 148. 3aFor examples of Christian money-lending activities see the articles on William Cade, the twelfth-century financier, by H. Jenkinson and M. T. Stead in the English Historical Review, vol. xxviii, pp. 209 ff,?and by H. Jenkinson in " Essays in History, Reginald Lane Poole Tribute Volume," pp. 190 ff; also cf. the Provisions of Oxford (Stubbs, Select Charters, 2nd edition, p. 386), ?26, " Item petunt remedium de Christianis usurariis ..." and ?11 of Magm Carta, " simili modo fiat de debitis quae debentur aliis quam Judaeis." (Ibid, p 298.)</page><page sequence="6">JEWISH MONEY-LENDER AND CHARTERS OF ENGLISH JEWRY. 39 The earlier of the two was granted by Richard I in 1190 to "Isaac son of Rabbi Joce and his sons and their men." But though it is not directly a charter to the whole Jewish community, neither is it merely a personal privilege. For it was based on the charter issued to the Jews of England and Normandy by Henry II. This carries it back to a period some twenty or thirty years earlier. But it is possible to go farther than that. A general charter was issued by John in 1201, in terms almost exactly similar to that of Richard's. But, instead of referring to the latter, or to that of Henry II, John bases its conditions on the grant of Henry I, thus carrying the tradition back to the very beginning of the twelfth century. A medieval "copy" is so loosely attached to the original, that it would be unsafe to assume an exact agreement between these two charters and their prototype of a hundred years earlier. But it may perhaps be hazarded that the main lines were the same, for it was in England that the financial value to the Crown of Jewish merchants was most quickly realised, regulated and exploited. The clauses which concern merchants cover the usual exemp? tions from tolls "just as our own chattels," and permission to buy and sell everything except church property or blood-stained articles. The regulations affecting money-lending are also normal. Complaints against Jews must be supported by Jewish and Christian testimony. In cases of loans, the Jew proves the capital and the Christian the interest?an extremely fair division, and one which would help to control the two chief irregularities in medieval money-lending. The onus was on the Jew to prove that he had lent the amount actually stated in the bond, and on the Christian to prove that he had paid his interest. Pledges kept for a year and a day might be sold by the creditor. Loans were protected in cases where the debtor died before repayment. The similarity of these clauses with those inserted in charters granted to other Jewries on the Continent suggests that the Jews them? selves took a share in evolving the best conditions for the business of money-lending. Of particular interest in the English situation is the rapidity with which the Crown evolved precise rules for a control of the profession in its own interest. While this is not evident in the charters themselves, it is evinced by the detailed ordinance issued by</page><page sequence="7">40 miscellanies. Richard I in 1194,4 in which the form, the control and the custody of Jewish loans are minutely specified. There is nothing in Continental regulations of this period which is anything like as precise. On the other hand, many problems which vexed Continental princes are passed over in England. The maximum rate of interest is left unfixed by both Richard and John. It is not stated for how long the interest may run, and whether it may exceed the capital. The difficult problem as to compensation in case goods received by a Jew turn out to be stolen is not faced. These omissions confirm the idea that the charters are early, and belong to a period when the profession was still in its infancy. Probably such matters were regulated in practice, for it is also significant of the English situation that the "Justices of the Jews" seem to have been more regular and more effective in their functioning than similar officials on the Continent. We can presume at least that the omission of precision on these points did not create serious difficulties for either creditor or debtor. For in France the period between the granting of a charter and its cancellation in response to popular clamour was rarely as long as half a century, whereas the English kings continued to exploit to the full this inefficient method of taxing their subjects just at the moment when they were least able to pay up, for more than a century without serious trouble. It is not until the reign of Edward I that abortive measures were taken to try and stop the business, and that the Jews were solemnly ordered to live by other occupations. In France this situation had been reached half a century earlier. While these few notes on the setting of the English charters are enough to show their place in the general setting of medieval Jewry it would require far more space to examine them clause by clause than is here available. It is to be hoped that such a detailed examination will some day be made. James Parkes. Bibliographical Note: Those interested in the further study of this subject should consult the recent essay by Guido Kisch on "The Jewry-Law of the Medieval 4 Capitula de Judaeis. See Jews of Angevin England, p. 156. Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 262.</page><page sequence="8">BIBLIOGRAPHY OF "i.A." 41 German Law Books" (published in the Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, VII, 1935-36, pp. 61 fT.), where full reference to the literature will be found. Useful material on medieval usury is contained in G. Caro, Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Juden im Mittelalter und der Neuzeit, vol. I (special reference to conditions in England on pp. 313 ff.); W. J. Ashley, English Economic History and Theory; and R. H. Tawney's Introduction to his edition of Thomas Wilson's Discourse upon Usury.?See also I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, pp. 256-264.</page></plain_text>