Literary Connections between Abravanel and England

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Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, May 25, 1937.1

Isaac Abravanel was born in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, in 1437, and from the early age of 20 until his precipitate flight from Lisbon in 1484 in fear of his life?that is, for an unbroken period of over a quarter of a century?he acted as Finance Minister to Alfonso V (1443?1481) and to his successor, John II (1481-1495).

Portugal is England's oldest ally, the first commercial treaty having been signed between the Portuguese envoy Alfonso Martins Alho and the merchants of London in 1353, guaranteeing mutual good faith in all their commercial dealings, while in the previous year Edward III issued a proclamation in favour of Portuguese traders

In the hundred and thirty years between this treaty and the depar? ture of Abravanel from Portugal, the ties thus formed were cemented in various ways. John I, founder of the Portuguese royal family and grandfather of Alfonso, married Phillipa, daughter of John of Gaunt. Alfonso's grandmother was thus English and his father half-English. Nor was this the only marriage which took place between the reigning houses of England and Portugal. In addition to this, English troops were constantly despatched to Portugal during the fifteenth century,

1 The fifth centenary of the birth of Abravanel was celebrated by the Society by the delivery of two other papers on this evening: Dr. C. Roth spoke upon Abravanel as Statesman, and the Rev. D. Bueno de Mesquita upon The Abravanel Family in England.

and the commercial treaty was by no means allowed to lapse. It was confirmed and extended on various occasions, and, during the whole of this century, England was a constant market for Portuguese goods. It is by no means improbable, by the way, that the negotiation of com? mercial treaties formed part of the duty of a Finance Minister, and, in fact, in the last years of his life, Don Isaac negotiated such a treaty between the country of his adoption, the Republic of Venice, and that of his birth, Portugal.

It is probably due to this close triple connection?royal, military, and economic?that Abravanel shows in his works not only a know? ledge of England but what may, without exaggeration, be termed a definite preoccupation with it. It may fairly be said that he appears to take every opportunity of making allusions to " Angleterre ", even where the text he is illustrating, or the example he is adducing, does not justify it

A typical example of this tendency can be seen in connection with one of these idees fixes which are so characteristic of him. He very often appeared to act on the assumption that a weak argument gains strength by virtue of constant reiteration. One of these assump? tions was that the Jews settled not only in Spain, but also in France and England, after the destruction of the First Temple. Thus, at the end of his

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