top of page
< Back

Voltaire and the Sephardi bankrupt

Norma Perry

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Voltaire and the Sephardi bankrupt* NORMA PERRY Voltaire came to London in May 1726 and stayed here until October or early November 1728. During that time he became involved, in very curious circumstances, with the Mendes da Costa family. The Mendes da Costas were among the first Sephardi merchants then resident in Portugal or Amsterdam to come over to England after the famous decision by legal experts in 1655 that there was no law in force prohibiting Jewish re-entry into the kingdom. This converso family had lived in Trancoso in Beira Alta, well to the northeast of Lisbon, from at least the end of the sixteenth century.1 Luis Henriques da Costa (bora in 1585) and his wife Leonor Mendes Gutierres had seven children between the years 1608 and 1623 (Table I). TABLE I Jorge London Antwerp Luis Henriques da Costa - b. 1585 Traneoso, Beira Alta - Leonor Mendes Gutierres Fern?o Antonio (Jacob) Joao Felipe 2 daughters Mendes da Costa Mendes da Costa London Rouen London Bayonne London The family was clearly prosperous and well respected: one of Luis' sons, Jorge, is said to have been Clerk of the Court of Trancoso at some stage, before he had to take flight from possible persecution, probably in the 1650s. At least two of the sons of Luis and Leonor, together with their wives, were suspected of judaizing and attracted the unwelcome attentions of the Holy Office. Recent enquiries by Mr Edgar Samuel, for which I am extremely grateful, have produced from the Portuguese National Archives (Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo) copies of entries in the Inquisitorial records concerning these members of the family. These provide several important facts. One son of Luis, Joao Mendes da Costa, figures on the Lista (programme) of the Coimbra auto de fe of 27 August 1663, and his wife Maria Soares on the Lista of another Coimbra auto of 31 January 1665. These are recorded in the Livro dos homens (Inq. Lisboa, fl.423). Whether they were condemned, and what punishment, if any, they received, is not in the records made available to me, but they must * Paper delivered to the Society on 9 May 1984. 39</page><page sequence="2">Norma Perry eventually have been released from custody since they are later known to have made their way with numerous children to Bayonne, where Jo?o apparently died in 1675. (Jorge, incidentally, seems to have headed for London but eventually settled in Antwerp; Felipe also settled in London; but their two sisters have left no trace.) The other two brothers, Fern?o and Antonio, also emigrated and founded between them the London dynasty of Mendes, da Costa and Mendes da Costa: these are the two who in time provided through their progeny the contact with Voltaire. TABLE II Fem?o Mendes da Costa ?lvaro (Jacob) da Costa - 1646-1716 -1 Beatriz da Costa 2Francisca Mendes da Costa 3 Branca Rodrigues (d. 1666?) -Leonor Mendes Gutierres (cousin) da Costa Anthony (Moses) 1667-1747 m. cousin Catherine Mendes Beatrice c.1670-1742 m. father's cousin John (Joseph) M. da. C. (Fern?o) Joseph 1683-1753 m. cousin Leonor Mendes lson, 4 daughters Rachel m. Baron Suasso "1 lson, 4daughters Fern?o (Table II) is the other son of Luis and Leonor, who, with his wife, was suspected of judaizing. The brief dossier on him in the Livro dos homens (Inq. Lisboa, fl.423) reports him as having been implicated by testimony in various autos in 1662, 1663, 1664, 1665-and even as late as 1673 and 1682-and also as having fled the country ('que se azentou do Reino'). One presumes him to have been an important and influential citizen, since he is referred to as 'assentista do Partido da Beira': either Commissary, or Collector of the King's Revenues, in the District of Beira. An earlier dossier in the same Livro, (fl.420) states that he was mentioned in testimony as early as 17 October 1649 and again on 3 March 1663. In the margin of this particular statement is written 'ausente'. It seems safe enough to deduce that he fled just before the Inquisition arrested him, and virtually certain from the statement just referred to that he had fled the country by early 1663. From another dossier his flight may very well even have been in 1662. This is the dossier of his third wife, Branca Rodrigues, who was finally brought to trial by the Inquisition in 1666. The full record of Branca's trial cannot now be located by Mr Samuel's informant, but a summary of the references to her name at previous trials of various persons (some of them relations of hers) is given in the Livro das Mulheres (Inq. de Lisboa, fl. 190V): she was referred to in autos in July 1662, 40</page><page sequence="3">Voltaire and the Sephardi Bankrupt February 1663, January 1664, December 1665 and April and August 1666. Since a family record states that Fern?o came to London 'about 1660' one may reasonably surmise that Fern?o left Portugal as soon as Branca was thrown into prison, which, since the investigations of the Inquisition before the trial were customarily lengthy, may possibly have been in 1662, and must certainly have been by March 1663 when Fern?o was declared absent, for she surely would have accompanied him if she had been free to do so. In other words, Fern?o managed to get out just before the Inquisition turned its serious attention in his direction; Branca was thus abandoned by the family into which she had married, presumably because there was nothing at all her husband could do for her. The unhappy Branca was brought to trial at the Lisbon auto de fe of 4 April 1666 (her dossier refers to Fern?o as an 'homen de negocio', and to him and Branca as 'moradores [residents] nesta Cidade de Lixboa'). She was judged guilty and relaxed in the body ('em carne') to the secular arm (Autos de fe, L?2 [1629-1704], 159/6/862). Whether she was burnt at the stake, incarcerated for life, or condemned to some other of the punishments which could be inflicted by the secular arm, is unknown. Fern?o (apparently born in 1608) took with him to London Alvaro-his only child (by his first wife Brites)-who in 1662-3 would have been a youth of fifteen or sixteen, for he was born in Lisbon in 1646, whither his father had presumably moved in the furtherance of his mercantile and governmental responsibilities. This son, ?lvaro, was to be the major founder of the fortunes of the family and the first Jew to become a naturalized Englishman, at the surprisingly early age of twenty-one.2 Because of his naturalization ?lvaro became eligible to join the East India Company, and he was to conduct a successful and varied commercial career, dealing mainly, but by no means exclusively, in coral, diamonds and cotton-goods.3 To become naturalized he would have been required to swear loyalty to the English crown on his oath as a true Christian, and to take Communion as a member of the Church of England; this despite the fact that his stepmother Branca had been a victim of the Holy Office of a Christian Church, an uncle and aunt had been tried by that same body, and his father and other uncles obliged to flee for fear of it. The eldest of his sons, the well-known merchant Anthony Moses da Costa, comes into the Voltaire story in due course. But the remaining son of the five, Antonio Jacob Mendes da Costa, plays an even more central role in that story since he was the grandfather of the Mendes da Costa directly involved with Voltaire because of bankruptcy in 1725. Antonio Jacob emigrated first to Rouen and eventually moved to London (in perhaps 1669), having by this time fathered ten children (Table III).4 Of these, the most famous is Fern?o Moses Mendes (164 7-1724) who obtained a Doctorate in medicine at the University of Montpellier in December 1667 and, having arrived in England in perhaps 1669, later became Physician-in-Ordinary to the Portuguese Queen Catherine (of Braganza) and 4i</page><page sequence="4">Norma Perry also attended on King Charles II.5 Despite the prejudice against those of Jewish origins in Spain and Portugal, exceptions had always been made in high places in favour of converso physicians because of their advanced skills. Dr Mendes was not a professing Jew but a converso like the rest of his family; further, on his doctoral diploma from Montpellier he added after his name in his own hand a note to the effect that he was a Spaniard from Castile. Since at that time 'Portuguese' was invariably equated with 'Jew' in France-whereas 'Spanish' was not always so interpreted-it is clear that Dr Mendes had no intention whatsoever of incurring any suspicion of Judaism.6 And while the very Catholic Queen Catherine of England might well accept a converso doctor in her entourage, an officially Catholic physician suspected of apostasy to Judaism would incontrovertibly have been unacceptable to her and her priests. Moreover, as is well known, Fern?o Moses-known in England under the Spanish form of his name, Fernando-remained, like his cousin Alvaro, uncircumcised to the end of his days. One hypothesis is that they both may have feared the ceremonial knife; but Alvaro was a mere youth when he arrived in England, and Fernando was here by the age of about twenty-two. They had plenty of time to adjust to orthodox Judaism and be circumcised when they were still young men.7 After all, other uncircumcised immigrants did just that. Finally, Fernando's daughter Catherine is repeatedly said to have been the god-daughter of Catherine of Braganza-that is to say, baptized a Catholic. The date given for her baptism is 1679, when the Portuguese-Jewish community was well established and when it was in fact safer to be a Jew than a Catholic in England, such was the strength of anti-Catholic feeling. (It must be said, however, that I have myself found no record whatsoever of her baptism in the Registers of the Catholic Chapels Royal.) One senses that this generation was perhaps more akin in English historical terms to the 'Vicar of Bray' than to Archbishop Cranmer, although Fernando and Alvaro undoubtedly subscribed to some form of Judaism in their later years. Fernando Mendes had various children, one of whom is important in the Voltaire story: this was the supposedly baptized Catherine, who married her cousin, the successful merchant Anthony Moses, eldest son of Alvaro. But even more important is Fernando's younger brother, Jo?o Joseph Mendes da Costa, in England known as John. He too was a highly successful merchant and married his much younger second cousin and niece, Beatrice, daughter of Alvaro and Leonor, some time before 1693. They had two daughters, Sarah and Rachel, and three sons, Anthony, Abraham and Alvaro (Table III). (By the end of the seventeenth century-at the very latest-the family's Christian names, and their hitherto secret Hebrew forenames, had been anglicized and typographical accents lost.) Alvaro da Costa, and his cousins Fernando Moses Mendes and John Joseph Mendes da Costa, apparently lived in amity and prosperity for many a long year together with other members of the family who do not concern us here. Alvaro, as a naturalized Englishman, was legally free to acquire and bequeath 42</page><page sequence="5">Voltaire and the Sephardi Bankrupt freehold property, and in the late 1670s bought Cromwell House which still exists on Highgate Hill (number 104). He added two wings, acquired substantial acreage,8 and lived there in gentlemanly style together with his two cousins, who as denizens had not quite the same legal rights to property as their fully naturalized relation. The fact that his two cousins did not become fully naturalized might seem to suggest that their allegiance to Judaism was stronger than Alvaro's and that they could not bring themselves to communi? cate in the Anglican Church or take an oath as Christians; on the other hand, it may have been a common decision that Alvaro would be the one to conceal his Judaism in the interests of the family. But Fernando too was abjuring or concealing his Judaism, since he remained a professing Catholic for many a long year. Only John seems to have been a professing Jew from quite early on. All three men, incidentally, also had houses near one another in the City of London, rented, in the cases of Fernando and John.9 Their children were brought up in close contact, and there were other intermarriages besides the ones already mentioned. Alvaro eventually died in 1716 and Fernando in 1724, before Voltaire came to London. Thus the significant figures on the stage when Voltaire was making plans to visit England in 1725 were the ageing John Mendes da Costa, his fifteen-years younger wife Beatrice, his sons Anthony Jacob, Abraham, and Alvaro, and his second cousin and his niece Anthony Moses da Costa and Catherine, Anthony's wife. John was now seventy years old. But because of his late marriage his sons were all under the age of thirty-two. Anthony Jacob, the eldest, had been born in 1693, whereas John's second cousin, or nephew as he called him, Anthony Moses da Costa, was over twenty years older than Anthony Jacob and was now about fifty-eight. John had become rich by the end of the seventeenth century. When the Bank of England was established in 1695 he and other members of the Mendes da Costa family were among the first stockholders. In comparison with the even richer native-born English investors, the Sephardim had small holdings; but among the seventeen Jews who subscribed, John was the second biggest investor, with the sum of ?5000 (which might be considered to be the equivalent of as much as ?150,000 today).10 His marriage in about 1690 to his second cousin Beatrice, sister of Anthony Moses, must have brought him a fair-sized dowry from her father, the wealthy Alvaro. In 1710 John was rich enough to be one of the three merchants who lent the government that year the funds required to approvision the English armies in Flanders.11 In 1713 he was one of the seven Jewish merchants who negotiated with the East India Company the conditions on which the Company would allow Jews to participate anew in the diamond trade, and in 1718 he was still active for he is known to have been importing gold from Brazil.12 After Alvaro's death in 1716, the Highgate property, Cromwell House, had gone to his eldest son Anthony Moses, but John (and Fernando until his death in 1724) apparently continued to share it. In the City, John had a house in St 43</page><page sequence="6">Norma Perry 2 2 ? d 3 I &lt; tN. ed -a ?9 3 44</page><page sequence="7">Voltaire and the Sephardi Bankrupt Mary Axe.13 The principal care of the elder generation seems, understandably, to have been to acquire substantial fortunes, and they and their children profited from this to live in the style of English ladies and gentlemen. Book-subscriptions that they took out, and references in various wills, indicate that they had the normal accomplishments and interests of the cultivated gentry, including horse-riding, history, music and painting. Anthony Moses' wife Catherine was, as is well known, a painter and miniaturist of some talent.14 His younger brother Joseph bought, or had built, an elegant and substantial country property in Totteridge, called Copped Hall, and employed a fair-sized staff which included a resident French tutor for his children.15 Not long after Alvaro's death, however, reverses of fortune began to occur. Anthony Moses lost heavily when the South Sea Bubble burst, although clearly not to the extent of losing any of his credit as a merchant. His financial circumstances recovered; he remained prosperous, but he was no longer as rich as before.16 John Mendes da Costa, on the other hand, was to die virtually ruined and, worse, ruined by his own sons. He was buried on 24 June 1726 (O.S.) and his will of 21 June makes the state of affairs plain. He disinherited his male progeny: 'To my sons Anthony Mendes da Costa Alvaro Mendes da Costa and Abraham Mendes da Costa I give and bequeath to each of them one guinea and not more and I give them no more by reason of their extravagancies'. He was able to leave ?500 to his young daughter Rachel, but nothing to his elder daughter Sarah (who had fortunately married well in 1720), and the residue of his estate went to his wife Beatrice.17 It would seem that it was Anthony Jacob who was chiefly responsible for what had happened, although the treatment meted out in the will to Abraham and Alvaro implies that they were equally reprehensible. Born in 1693, and presumably set up in business by his father with substantial funds, Anthony Jacob had made a good marriage in 1718 with the probably orphaned Siporah Teixera de Matos: the marriage had taken place in Amsterdam with Siporah's uncle Manuel as her witness; the young couple lived on their return to London in St Mary Axe.18 And yet seven years later Anthony Jacob had dissipated his patrimony and was declared a bankrupt on 10 December 1725, with his father named as 'Creditor'.19 He and his brothers fled to France and as far as one knows never returned. The middle brother, Alvaro, died in Paris four years later in November 1729.20 As will be seen, Anthony Jacob and Abraham were still alive in 1742. This is where Voltaire became involved: Anthony Jacob's bankruptcy involved the Frenchman in a financial loss which embittered him and may well have contributed to an element of anti-Semitism on his part, the full nature of which is still discussed but which can hardly now be said not to have existed. Voltaire came over to London in early May 1726, made a secret return to France in July, was back in London by the end of that month, and on 26 October wrote to his close friend Thieriot the following (in English, and referring to his return to England): 'I had about me onely some bills of 45</page><page sequence="8">Norma Perry exchange upon a Jew called Medina for the sum of about eight or nine thousand French livres, rekoning all. At my coming to London I found my damned Jew was broken'.21 Voltaireans and Jewish historians, from Gustave Lanson to Oskar Rabinowicz, have tried to identify the bankrupt and put the record straight; but the complexities of the Mendes da Costa family and of identifying its members correctly have made the matter very difficult.22 The first point to be made is that the name 'Medina' can only have been a mistake, a confusion with 'Mendes', on Voltaire's part. This must be so, since the records of the London Court of Bankruptcy show that no one called Medina went bankrupt at any time in 1725 or 1726. Moreover, in his old age Voltaire referred to the bankrupt in a printed work of 1776 as 'Acosta' (pretty well correct). There is therefore no uncertainty at all about who the bankrupt was: it was Anthony Jacob Mendes da Costa, who was declared bankrupt on 10 December 1725.23 His father John was his principal creditor, and John died on 24 June 1726. There is still an unresolved mystery, however, about Voltaire's connexions with the bankrupt. If he came to England in early May 1726, why did he bear with him letters of credit drawn on a merchant who had gone bankrupt in December 1725? Why did he not present those letters until early August 1726? Further, to whom did he present them, since Anthony Jacob and his brothers had fled the country in December 1725, and their father John, responsible for their debts, died in June 1726? Of the three questions, the second may have a simple answer: Voltaire would surely have come to London with some ready cash; this, one has to presume, was enough to cover his expenses until the beginning of August. The first question of the three is more difficult to resolve and requires an explanation of the cirumstances of Voltaire's visit. The future philosopher was famous at the beginning of his career as a brilliant young poet, the star of his generation. He had made his name in 1718 with his verse-tragedy Oedipe, and a year later, in response to a suitably fulsome dedication of a copy of the play to George I, he had received a gold watch and a gold medal from the English monarch. A little later he made the acquaintance of the famous (or notorious) Henry St John, ex-Viscount Bolingbroke, who was currently in exile in France and who became his admirer and for a time a friend. These two circumstances had probably sown the seed of a desire to visit the English; in addition, he now had virtually ready for publication a revised version of an epic poem on the subject of Henry V of France (to be called La Henriade) which was unlikely to pass the French censors because of its implicit suggestions of intolerance and decadence in contemporary France, as contrasted with its state under the wise rule of Henry V. A letter from Voltaire to George I, soliciting his patronage for the publication, shows that he was apparently thinking of publishing his work in England in person as early as 6 October 1725.24 He may therefore have made financial arrangements for the visit during the next two months (that is, before Anthony Jacob went bankrupt in December), intending to leave Paris as soon as was convenient. Near the end of January 1726, however, he was 46</page><page sequence="9">Voltaire and the Sephardi Bankrupt involved in a quarrel with a dissolute young nobleman, Rohan-Chabot, supposedly a friend of his, but one who did not take kindly to a harsh retort (in response to a gibe) from a middleelass upstart, however good a poet, and who therefore a week or so later had Voltaire drubbed by his lackeys. The poet, justifiably indignant, sought legal redress and, failing to obtain it, tried to call the noble aggressor out. This attitude alienated the sympathy of Voltaire's many noble friends and admirers who closed their ranks against the com? moner; by mid-April he was cooling his heels in the Bastille. The price of his release, after a brief fortnight's incarceration, was exile from Paris; he had to remove himself beyond a fifty-league radius of Paris and stay away until Louis XV relented towards him. Rather than live in the provinces, Voltaire chose to ask permission to go to England. It was granted, and he arrived here on about ii May.25 In the light of the bankruptcy of December 1725, it seems to me not unreasonable to surmise that the Rohan-Chabot affair delayed Voltaire's visit to England, rather than precipitating it as Voltaireans have formerly thought. But why did the Frenchman remain ignorant of Anthony Jacob's bankrupt? cy? In default of evidence, speculation is unfortunately the only resource: the news could have been kept from him either through an intentional connivance by Anthony Jacob's Paris associates, or because after the Rohan-Chabot quarrel Voltaire was on the move in Paris, slipping quietly from place to place and keeping well away from the authorities in case of trouble, until he was consigned to the Bastille. Unfortunately, the first supposition seems the more likely: John's death-bed attitude to his sons suggests an inflexible hostility which could surely have been due only to their total untrustworthiness. Now to the final question: to whom did Voltaire present the letters of credit? For present them he did, clearly unaware both of the bankruptcy and of the subsequent flight of the three brothers. We have his own accounts of the meeting, published in 1771 and 1776.26 In the first he states that he met his creditor ('Medina') in person, exaggerates the sum lost to twenty thousand francs, and claims that the Jew said that it was not his fault, that he was unfortunate, that he had never been a son of Belial, that he had always tried to live as a son of God-that is, as an honest man-and as a good Jew. Voltaire adds: 'he moved me to tears, I embraced him, we praised God together, and I lost eighty per cent of my money'.27 In the second account, Voltaire more temperately says that he arrived too late with his letter of credit, to be told by 'Acosta' that he had gone bankrupt the day before, and to be given a few guineas which, he says, Acosta could have refused him. This was all written nearly fifty years after the event, and the first is clearly malicious in tone. It does not ring true: apart from the impossible detail of a bankruptcy the very day before (whatever the date of the encounter), the Jew described is a caricatural, fawning, stereotyped figure, far removed from the proud, respect? ed, very 'English', and upper-crust Mendes da Costas. I indeed wonder whether Voltaire did lose most of his capital: if John Mendes da Costa was ruined by his sons it was probably because much of his fortune went to pay their debts. 47</page><page sequence="10">Norma Perry Suffer financially Voltaire must of course have done; suffer to that extent, one doubts. What is certainly true, however, is that Voltaire met one of the family, for he must have presented the letters of credit to someone. Until recently I have thought that it must have been John Mendes da Costa whom he met, sometime between his arrival on 11 May and John's death on 24 June.28 But why in that case did Voltaire tell his friend Thieriot that he lost his money at the beginning of August! There is no possible reason for a lie to his friend that I can think of, prone as Voltaire was to equivocation and prevarication when it came to financial affairs. I now suggest that Voltaire presented his letters of credit not in May or June but in early August, having had enough ready cash to live on until then. The Jew he met would be either Anthony Moses da Costa or his brother Joseph; probably the former. The putative evidence for this is in John's will. In it he names as executors his 'two loving nephews [strictly speaking his second cousins] Anthony Da Costa and Joseph Da Costa'. Anthony Moses, as the elder, would be likely to take charge, and indeed the will was proved first by him on 5 July, and only on 7 July by Joseph. Thus I suggest that Voltaire met Anthony Moses da Costa, who would have been even more unlike the caricatural Shylock-figure of Voltaire's 1771 account than old John. However, despite the story Voltaire elaborated in later life, the ironic aspect of this sad tale is that Anthony da Costa must have got on well enough with Voltaire, at the embarrassing interview or later, for he became his host, and, in a minor way, patron. When La Henriade was finally published by subscription in London in March 1728, eight members of the Mendes da Costa family figured on the list of subscribers:29 Baron Antonio Lopes Suasso (nephew of Anthony Moses da Costa) and his wife Lady Suasso (that is, Leonor Rachel da Costa, daughter of Anthony Moses); Joseph da Costa; Anthony Moses da Costa himself and his wife Catherine (daughter of Dr Fernando Mendes); Anthony and James Mendes (Catherine's brothers); and Alvaro Lopes Suasso (brother of the Baron). Further, Voltaire records in the Notebook he kept while in England an authentic-sounding anecdote (in French) concerning Mrs Catherine da Costa. He writes that in his presence a cleric was trying to convert 'Madame Acosta' to Christianity. 'Was your God born a Jew?' countered Catherine. 'Yes.' 'Did he live as a Jew?' 'Yes.' 'Did he die a Jew?' 'Yes.' 'Well then, be a Jew yourself.'30 Such a lively exchange could have taken place only at a mixed social gathering of some sort, doubtless at Cromwell House, although not impossibly at brother Joseph's country-residence, Copped Hall, Totteridge, or even at one of their City houses in Winchester Street or Budge Row. It would be difficult not to assume that Voltaire was there as a guest, and therefore on friendly terms with the family.31 Still, the affair of the bankruptcy evidently rankled, and Voltaire never forgot it, as we have seen. I have tried without success to trace the subsequent fortunes of Anthony Jacob Mendes da Costa and his brothers in France. Another member of the family, Emanuel Mendes da Costa, a son of one of Anthony Jacob's cousins and 48</page><page sequence="11">Voltaire and the Sephardi Bankrupt the well-known (although later disgraced) naturalist and Fellow of the Royal Society, later in the century records Anthony Jacob simply and charitably as 'an unfortunate man that fled to France and died, leaving no issue'; gives the name of Abraham, with no details; and does not even mention the name of Alvaro.32 These three brothers, who had brought disgrace on the family name, were presumably little discussed within the family. Their mother, however, was, eventually at least, less harsh towards them than their father had been. Beatrice Mendes da Costa survived her husband for fifteen years, dying in the autumn of 1742; she left what she possessed to her surviving sons, Anthony Jacob and his younger brother Abraham. Her assets in England (South Sea Company stock and her furniture and effects) she ordered to be sold and the proceeds to be divided equally between Anthony Jacob and Abraham. Her goods and effects in Spain were to be realized, and one third of the consequent sum to be given to Anthony, and two thirds to Abraham. The interest on her stocks and shares in France was to be divided equally between Anthony Jacob and Abraham during their life-time, the reversion of Anthony's part being to his wife Siporah; after the deaths of all three, the capital was to go to her widowed daughter, Sarah Mendes da Silva of Amsterdam, and the children of her dead daughter Rachel Bueno de Mesquita.33 Thus we can gather that Siporah remained with her husband in his exile, and deduce that Anthony Jacob and Siporah indeed, as Emanuel Mendes da Costa later said, had no children, and that Abraham had remained a bachelor. Alvaro (see note 20) had died in 1729, it will be remembered, and Letters of administration of his English estate were taken out by his wife, Anna; it would seem that she too was dead by 1742 and had been childless: she does not figure in Beatrice's will. The fact that Abraham, although the younger son and a bachelor, was slightly more favoured in the will might suggest either that Beatrice preferred him, or that Anthony Jacob was more prosperous. (Normal Jewish practice of the time would of course have been to leave more of the estate to the elder son.) At least Beatrice, unlike her husband, had apparently forgiven the sons their misdeeds. But then she had had seventeen years to do it in. She had also evidently remained on good terms with her brothers Anthony Moses and Joseph da Costa, for she names them as her executors. The inventory of her assets and effects has (somewhat unusually for the eighteenth century) survived.34 Her South Sea stock was under ?500 (perhaps about ?15,000 today) and her French stock only ?150 (about ?4500 today): a small capital compared with what she could have expected in her early days, and some of that due, perhaps, to savings made from the respectable ?250 annuity left her by her mother, Alvaro da Costa's widow Leonora, on her death in 1727,35 a year or more after the bankruptcy of the extravagant trio, their flight to France and the death of their father. Beatrice was not poor, but was no longer a wealthy woman. Her sons had indeed, in 1725, virtually ruined their father by their 'extravagancies'. It may have been some small 49</page><page sequence="12">Norma Perry consolation to Beatrice and her brothers and other kin that on John's death in June 1726 he was referred to in The Historical Register and the Daily Journal simply as 'an eminent Jewish merchant' and as 'one of the eldest Jew merchants in this kingdom'.36 His personal reputation and credit apparently remained intact and the story of his son's recent bankruptcy and its disastrous effects fortunately did not make the headlines.37 NOTES 1 Many of the following details come from the enormous and detailed genealogical table established by Mr A. Mendes da Costa of New Zealand and kindly shown and elucidated to me by Mr Edgar Samuel. I have been able to correct, or add to, this table by research at the Public Record Office (PRO), and elsewhere, but some details remain undocumented. The com? ments are my own. 2 PRO, SPD, Patent Roll 19, Car II, n?9, 30 October 1667. See also A Calendar of the Court Minutes ...of the East India Company, 1668-1670, ed. E. B. Sainsbury (Oxford 1929) 82. 3 See M. Woolf, 'Foreign Trade of London Jews in the Seventeenth Century', Trans JHSE XXIV (1974) 38-58, at p. 51; Gedalia Yogev, Diamonds and Coral: Anglo-Dutch Jews and Eight? eenth-Century Trade (Leicester 1978) 84-6 and 106; E. R. Samuel, 'The Diamond Trade in the Late Seventeenth Century with Special Refer? ence to London' (unpublished M.Phil, disserta? tion, University of London, 1978) passim. 4 The dates of arrival of some of the immigrants are not certain. The articles in the Jewish Encyclopedias and the Dictionary of National Biography are not completely reliable. 5 According to Emanuel Mendes da Costa, Fern?o Mendes arrived in England on 25 October 1669 (BL, Add. Mss 29, 868 f2o). The papers of the Lord Steward of the Royal House? hold record his appointment as Physician to Queen Catherine from 25 March 1678 (PRO, LS.13.253 [151, 158]), 'in consideration of good and faithful services'. In other words, he had been in attendance on her for some time before receiving official recognition. 6 Bibliotheque de la Faculte de Medecine de l'Universite de Montpellier. Fern?o register? ed on 27 July 1666 as 'Ferdinandus Mendesius Hispanus' (Registre S.55, f.49), and was admit? ted as Bachelor of Medicine on 22 November 1666 (Registre S.21, f.8V), identifying himself again 'Hispanus' and giving his place of origin as 'Trancoso en Espagne'. He obtained his Licence on 8 August 1667 (Registre S.55, f.49) and was admitted as Doctor of Medicine on 22 December 1667; the register gives his name and nationality as 'Ferdinandus Mendes His pano Trancozensis', and he added in his own hand 'Trancoze dans la Vielle [sic] Castille' (16 January 1668, Registre S.55, f.98; S.68 unfoli ated). His thesis was published later in 1668 by Daniel Gayet at Lyon; the title-page reads: Stadium Apollinare sive progymnasmata medica, ad Monspeliensis Apollinis. Habita, propugnataque a Ferdinando Mendez Hispano Trancozensis, eius dem Universitatis Conciliario (Bibliotheque Nation ale, Paris, 4?T [3] 264). The question of Mendes's origins is discussed by Diogo Barbosa Machado in 'Natural da Provincia da Beira', Bibliotheca Lusitana, 3rd ed. II (Coimbra 1967) and by Joaquim Verissimo Serr?o in Les Portugals ? VUniversite de Montpellier (XII-XVIle siecles), Memorias e documentos para a historia luso francesa, VIII (Fundac?o Calouste Gulbenkian, Centro Cultural Portugues, Paris 1971). Mach ado holds (p. 38) that Mendes was Portuguese, but Serr?o maintains (pp. 133-4) that the evidence of the Registers of the Faculty of Medicine provide indisputable evidence that he was Spanish. Machado ignores the fact that there is, and has been, only one Trancoso in the Iberian peninsula, in Beira Alta. It was not, never had been and geographically could not be in Old Castile. Hence my own hypothesis that in Montpellier Fern?o claimed to be a Spaniard from Castile in order to avoid the charge of being a Jew. 7 A. M. Hyamson, The Sephardim of Eng? land (London 1951) suggests 'a shrinking from circumcision' as Marranos (p. 33), but given the early age at which Fern?o and Alvaro arrived here one would think that firm convic? tions would speedily have over-ridden initial reluctance. Moreover Fern?o refused circum? cision even when his obduracy became a source of family discord and deprived him of a share in his uncle-in-law's will (see Lucien Wolf, 'The Jewry of the Restoration 1660 1664', Trans JHSE V (1902) 2-16, at p. 12, who also remarks that Fern?o was 'not at all anxious to throw off his Marranism and enter the synagogue'). 50</page><page sequence="13">Voltaire and the Sephardi Bankrupt 8 See Philip Norman, Cromwell House, Highgate (London 1926). 9 Neither Fernando (PRO, Prob. 11, 1724 Bolton 278) nor John (PRO, Prob.11, 1726 Plymouth 149) had real estate to leave in their wills. 10 See J. A. Giuseppi, 'Sephardi Jews and the Early Years of the Bank of England', Trans JHSE XIX (i960) 53-63 at pp. 57-9. 11 See C. Roth, History of the Jews in England [1941] (London 3rd ed. 1964) 287. 12 Yogev (see n. 3) 101 and 38. 13 Guildhall Mss 4134, Tithe Rates and Tithe Arrears Books for St Andrew Undershaft, 1722-1748. 14 See Daphne Foskett, A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters (London 1972). 15 Land Tax Assessments for Totteridge, Hertfordshire County Record Office. Joseph paid Land Tax for Copped Hall from 1722 to 1738. He had purchased it in March 1721, and conveyed it to his son (Anthony) Moses da Costa in March 1733 (Hertfordshire County Records Office, D/ERm Ti). The witnesses produced at the hearing of the notorious breach of promise case brought by (Philip) Jacob Mendes da Costa against his cousin Kitty da Costa Villareal reveal the size and status of her father Joseph's household. The most access? ible version of this trial is in the transcript published with malicious intent by the Suitor, J. Mendes da Costa, The Proceedings at Large in the Arches Court of Canterbury between J. Mendes da Costa and Mrs C. da Costa Villareal... relating to a marriage contract (London 1734), (BL 498.D.13). 16 He refers to these losses in his will (PRO, PCC 68 Potter): he regrets that he cannot now leave his children as much as they would expect from their position in the world: 'on account of that pernicious scheme to the nation in the South Sea in the year 1720 which ruined so many honourable and honest families (amongst whom I was a very great sufferer)'. His low point was 1722/3 when he was rated in the Synagogue for flnta for only ?2.18.6, in contrast with ?10.16.0 the pre? vious years. However in 1723/4 he was rated for ?18.6.0, in 1724/5 for ?15.16.0 and in 1725/6 for ? am grateful to Dr R. D. Barnett for kindly providing me with these figures. 17 Burial Register of the Spanish and Portu? guese Jews ed. R. D. Barnett (London 1962), Entry 779, 'John Joseph Mendes da Costa, buried Mile End, 6 Tamuz 5486 (24 June 1726 OS)'; PRO, Prob.11, 1726 Plymouth 149. 18 Gemeentelijke Archiefdienst van Amster dam: Request for publication of banns of marriage, 24 March 1718, of Jacob alias Anthonio Mendes da Costa from London, aged 25 years, living on the Raamsgracht, assisted by his father Joseph alias Johannes Mendes da Costa, and Sipora Texera de Matos {sic) from London, aged 21 years, living on the Heren gracht, assisted by her uncle, Manuel Texera de Matos, alias Manuel Texera Jr. Ketubah of Jacob de Joseph Mendes da Costa and Sipora de Jacob Teixera de Mattos (sic) on 7 April 1718. 19 PRO, Records of the Court of Bankrupt? cy, Docket Book B4/5, n?i82, 10 December 1725: Commission of Bankruptcy awarded against Anthony Mendes da Costa of St Mary Axe, London, Merchant. 20 PRO, 1729 May A. Prob.6 105: Letters of administration of the estate of Alvaro Men? des da Costa, of the City of Paris in the kingdom of France, died 7 November 1729, granted to his widow Anna Mendez da Costa, 31 May 1730. The document is in Latin. 21 The Complete Works of Voltaire (Geneva, Banbury, Oxford 1968-), vols. 85-135, Corres pondance de Voltaire, ed. T. Besterman (1968-9), Best. D303. Nine thousand French livres would be a little under ?200 sterling at the time. 22 In particular, G. Lanson, 'Voltaire et son banqueroutier juif en 1726', Revue Latine, 25 January 1908, Vol. vii, pp. 33-41; L. Foulet, Correspondance de Voltaire (1726-1729) (Paris 1913) 55-7; Oskar Rabinowicz, Solomon de Medina (London 1974) 70_3- Rabinowicz cor? rectly identities Anthony Jacob as the bankrupt and refutes the notion that Solomon de Medina could have been so, but confuses Anthony Jacob with his father John Joseph, and thus states incorrectly that he died on 24 June 1726. Lanson had endeavoured to identify the bankrupt with help from A. M. Hyamson and E. N. Adler, but all the identificaitons are incorrect. 23 Foulet (see n. 22) 55, suggested that Voltaire suffered losses from two successive bankruptcies of separate individuals called Medina and Acosta in May and August 1726 and this possibility has never been disputed. It now seems to me so unlikely that it should be discarded. Foulet based his hypothesis on the references to the two names 'Medina' and 'Acosta' and on a reference in the plural to 'les banquerouttes sans ressources que j'ai essuiez en Angleterre' by Voltaire to Thieriot on 2 February 1726 O.S. (Best. D308). The last point is certainly disquieting, but the balance of evidence nevertheless seems to me against the idea: Voltaire did not refer to any loss of money 51</page><page sequence="14">Norma Perry through a bankruptcy in his letter of 12 August 1726 to Thieriot (Best. D299); in fact, he refers to '[sa] petite fortune, tres derangee par tant de voyages'; he never later on referred to two bankruptcies; no one of the name of 'Medina' went bankrupt in London in 1725 or 1726. My own hypothesis is that 'Medina' (a well-known name in the 1720 s, and sounding vaguely similar to 'Mendes') was a simple lapsus calumi or memoriae on the part of Voltaire in the October letter, and that there? after he remained confused. 24 Best. D250. 25 A succinct and reliable presentation of these well-established details of the early career of Voltaire is given in H. Mason, Voltaire. A Biography (London 1981), Ch.I, 'Youth and England'; but the brief reference to the bank? ruptcy episode on p. 13 is based on the incorrect information provided by Foulet and Lanson, as is the index reference to Sir Solo? mon de Medina. 26 Questions sur VEncyclopedie, 'Juifs', Vol? taire, Oeuvres completes, ed. L. Moland (Paris 1877-85, 52 vols) vol. XIX, 528; and Un Chretien contre six Juifs, Moland, vol. XXIX, 558. 27 'II m'attendrit, je l'embrassai, nous lou?mes Dieu ensemble, et je perdis quatre vingts pour cent.' 28 'La Chute d'une famille sefardie: Les Mendes da Costa de Londres'. Dix-huitieme Siede XIII (1981) 11-25, on which part of the present article is based. 29 The subscription-list is printed in the first edition. 30 Notebooks, The Complete Works of Voltaire (vols 81 and 82) vol. 81, p. 233. 31 R Pomeau, 'Voltaire en Angleterre: Les enseignements d'une liste de souscription', Annales publiees par la Faculte des Lettres de Toulouse, Litterature III (January 1955) 67-76, tentatively suggested that the subscriptions were taken out by the da Costas by way of some compensation to Voltaire for his financial loss (p. 69) but felt that the 'Madame Acosta' story suggested a warmer relationship. I entire? ly agree. It would in any case have been a peculiarly unbusiness-like way of making re? paration; but the pleasant and relaxed nature of the anecdote strongly indicates social inter? course. The da Costas, Mendeses and Suassos were worldly and cultivated; used to mingling in good society, they were probably by no means averse to receiving the famous poet and being the patrons of a foreign literary lion. 32 In the genealogical notes he left (see n.5). 33 PRO, Prob. 11,1742 Trenley 302. 34 PRO, Prob.31, 1742, 230. 35 PRO, Prob. 11, 1727 Farrant 111. Leon? ora left ?1200 to be divided among her six daughters equally, for their own use. Beatrice was the only daughter singled out for a further legacy. It is made without comment, but must imply that Beatrice was in need; leaving it as an annuity instead of as an outright sum suggests that it had perhaps to be protected from squandering... by her sons? 36 The Historical Register London, 1716-32, vol. XI (1726) 26; the Daily Journal, 29 June 1726. 37 I am grateful to my colleagues at Exeter, Professor K. Whinnom and Dr G. L. Williams, and to Dr R. W. Truman of the University of Oxford, for assistance in my understanding of the Portuguese text furnished through the good offices of Mr Edgar Samuel. 52</page></plain_text>

bottom of page