Jewish Finance in Thirteenth-century England

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The present paper is an attempt to assess the functional importance in the contemporary English scene that is to be attributed to the financial activities of the Anglo-Jewish community in thirteenth-century England. The emphasis cannot therefore be exclusively Jewish, a feature which has marked the majority of previous such studies, nor concerned unduly with the formally legal or martyrological aspects of the story. There are studies of the economic activities of a number of prominent Jews, such as Aaron of Lincoln and Aaron of York, but admirable as these are, they tend to deal with their subjects in vacuo. A more generalized approach is required to evaluate the importance of Jewish finance in medieval English history

Whatever the case in other parts of Europe, in the special circumstances of thirteenth-century England finance alone?and not either commerce or agriculture ?was in fact the predominant economic pursuit of Anglo-Jewry. The participation of the English Jews in trade and agriculture really call for separate detailed study. Here we can only summarize the position very briefly.

We may say at once that, in spite of the proximity in many towns of the Jewish quarter to the market centre, our records suggest that Jews were not active either in home or foreign trade.2 Some of them may have been petty traders in luxury articles such as furs, silk girdles, jewels, and the like, the money value of which was not significantly large in the cases that are extant.3 There is also the further possibility that such articles were actually forfeited pawns and pledges and that the trade in them was a mere by-product of moneylending.4 We do not find any of the more prominent Jews mentioned in this connection. Moreover, the greater part of the evidence for such huckstering comes from the latter part of the century, which is understandable when viewed in the light of the economic decline of the Jews, the causes for which we shall later examine. Towards the end of their stay in England, Jews also appear to have been busy in selling plate made from coin clippings and in addition in some rather obscure exchange operations seemingly connected with foreign trade.5 But it can be shown that these transactions were abnormal and a direct result of the cessation, forced or otherwise, of the " normal " Jewish money lending. The same is true of the reference to corn and wool in some of the bonds of debt which are extant for 1290.6 These may have been genuine sale credits, in which case we would expect to find in the records some instances of Jews disposing of such parcels of wool and corn, but since this is not the case?there is not one Jewish name in the various lists of wool and corn licences?the bonds of 1290 were in all probability simply fictitious loans necessitated by the prohibition of Usury in 1276. It is rather surprising that Jews were not prominent in trade because in communal and other matters there is evidence of

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