Jewish presence in, and absence from, Wales in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

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Writing at Winchester in the late twelfth century, the chronicler Richard of Devizes includes in his narrative a story of a French Jew who took into his service a Christian youth who was apprenticed to a cobbler. After some time, the Jew persuaded his assistant to travel to England where he told him he would prosper. As they parted, the Jew gave the young man some advice about where he should settle in England. He was, for example, to avoid London, every quarter of which abounded with lamentable obscenities. He was to avoid Canterbury and the region of Ely, which stank perpetually of the surrounding fens. Most other cities were similarly damned and in par? ticular he was advised not to settle in the northern parts, Worcester, Chester or Hereford, because of the danger from the Welsh who were prodigal with the lives of others.1 Modern scholars have tended to accept that this view of the Welsh was shared by those Jews who were resident in England. The basic pattern of settlement is fairly clear: Jews arrived in England in the wake of the Norman conquest; initially resident only in London, they began to establish communities elsewhere in the twelfth century. Although there was a pre? ponderance of Jewish settlement in the south and east, there were significant Jewish communities in some of the English towns that lay close to the Welsh Marches.2 Yet most commentators have seen such settlements as the fur? thest limits of Jewish westward penetration. Writing in 1992, John Gillingham probed the significance of the fact that 'there were no Jewish set? tlements anywhere in Scotland, Wales, or Ireland'.3 More recently, in the introduction to a volume entitled Jews in Medieval Britain, Patricia Skinner comments that 'had English rule spread faster to Wales, Scotland and

I am indebted to Dr Rhian Andrews for a number of helpful references to, and discussion and sug? gested translations of, literary texts.

1 J. T. Appleby (ed.) The Chronicle of Richard of Devizes (London 1963) 66.

2 For a list of the English Jewries in the later twelfth century see J. Hillaby, 'Jewish Colonization in the Twelfth Century' in P. Skinner (ed.) The Jews in Medieval Britain (Woodbridge 2003) 33.

3 J. Gillingham, 'Conquering the Barbarians: War and Chivalry in Twelfth-Century Britain' The Haskins Society JournalTV (1992) 83.

Ireland, then the remit of the Jewish Exchequer might well have extended to those territories too'.4 She is forced to concede that the volume's title, in referring to Britain rather than England, is 'rather ambitious', but goes on to note that 'there is some fragmentary evidence for a Welsh and Irish pres? ence or involvement by Jews before their departure' (the 'departure' of course refers to the expulsion of the entire Jewish community from the realm of England by Edward I in 1290). Writing in the same volume, Joe Hillaby, who has done more than any other scholar to illuminate the history of the Jewries close to the Welsh Marches with his studies of the communities of

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