Testimony from the margin: the Gloucester Jewry and its neighbours, c. 1159-1290

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The foundation of Gloucester’s Jewry was but a small part of a much wider process - the Jewish colonization of twelfth-century England.1 By 1189, the end of Henry II’s reign, a network of more than twenty communities, each with its own religious and social facilities, had been established throughout England, southeast of a line from York, through Nottingham and Hereford, to Exeter. It is by close individual studies of such communities that a clearer picture of the character of Jewish society in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England can be built up. As yet only a few have been submitted to this process. At Gloucester the history of the medieval Jewry can be placed in the wider context of the neighbouring communities at Hereford and Worcester, but not, so far, of Bristol to the south.

Two major studies of English provincial Jewries have been published, Cecil Roth’s Jews of Medieval Oxford (1951) and Vivian Lipman’s Jews of Medieval Norwich (1967). Each relates to a large and wealthy community. Jurnet of Norwich, who died in 1197, and David of Oxford, who died in 1244, both had vast financial resources. Furthermore, there is impressive documentary evidence for the study of these communities. College archives provided Roth with material for a remarkable study of the topography and personalities of the Oxford Jewry. Lipman had the extensive Westminster Abbey collection of Norwich Jewry records ranging from 1225 to 1275, which afforded wide- ranging evidence for the economic activity and families of that community. He went further, raising important questions about demography, social struc- ture and family size. The London Jewry in the twelfth and thirteenth centur- ies has been the subject of two recent but more restricted surveys.2

For Gloucester there is no such wealth of documentary evidence. In so far as W. H. Stevenson edited the Calendar of the Records of the Corporation of Paper presented to the Society on 21 June 2001.

1 In this context ‘colonization’ is defined as ‘a number of people of a particular ethnic group residing in a foreign city or country, especially in one quarter or district’. J. Hillaby, ‘The Jewish Colonisation of Twelfth-Century England’, in The jews in Medieval Britain (forthcoming).

2 J. Hillaby, ‘The London Jewry: William I to John’ JHS 33 (1995) 1-44; idem, ‘London: the 13th-century Jewry revisited’ JHS 32 (1993) 89-158.

Gloucester, which included not only royal charters and letters but more than 1200 local deeds spanning the period 117 5-1690, and Robert Cole’s Rental of all Houses in Gloucester AD I455, which in not a few cases takes the record of tenure back to Henry III’s reign, Gloucester can provide a somewhat richer vein than that available at neighbouring Hereford and Worcester.

Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester were marginal in two respects. They were on the very bounds of the area colonized. There were no communities immediately to the north, at Shrewsbury or Chester, or in Wales.3 Gloucester and Worcester, and for a short time in the mid-thirteenth century Hereford, were marginal in a further sense. Apart from its great

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