The Legal Position of the Jews in pre-expulsion England, as shown by the Plea Rolls of the Jewish Exchequer

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By Cyril M. Picciotto, M.A.

Ladies and Gentlemen,?Your President, Sir Lionel Abrahams, by asking me to undertake the examination of the Plea Rolls of the Jewish Exchequer, has, in effect, entrusted me with a heavy task, which is no less than to attempt to give a reasoned view of the legal position of the Jews in England prior to the expulsion. While I shall make all endeavour to avoid an undue technicality, it will yet be necessary, if such a mine of material is to be adequately worked, to refer not infrequently to legal institutions and conceptions of the period ; for it would be idle to attempt to answer the question, How did the legal position of the Jews compare with that of the Gentiles ? ?unless we can say with some accuracy what that of the Gentiles was. So that while I shall reduce technicalities to a minimum, in so far as some resort to them may be necessary, in order to get at a better understanding of the question which we have to answer, I hope you will pardon me.

The Exchequer of the Jews is no novelty to the members of this Society. As long ago as 1902 Mr. J. M. Rigg published, for the Jewish Historical and Seiden Societies jointly, his volume entitled Select Pleas, Starrs, and other Records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, which contains selections from the Exchequer Rolls covering the period 1220 to 1284, a volume distinguished by a most learned and masterly introduction giving a survey of the position of the Jews in pre-expulsion history and law. In the same year (1902) Mr. Rigg read a paper on the Jewish Exchequer before this Society. In 1910 the same author began his Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews,1 a work which has provided the richest material for the


1 Two vols., Ballantyne, Hanson & Co., 1910.

remarks I shall have to offer this afternoon. Dr. Stokes, one of our former Presidents, draws plentifully from the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer in his Studies in Anglo-Jewish History.2

In the face of all this I do not think that I need do more than remind you quite briefly of the nature and functions of the Jewish Exchequer. Historically, it grew out of the Great Exchequer, perhaps the earliest administrative organ known to English law?it emerges more or less clearly in the reign of Henry I.3?which combined, in an age when State powers are imperfectly differentiated, judicial with its administrative functions in all matters relating to the imposition and collection of the King's taxes. The Barons of the Exchequer remained in our system as judges until quite recent times ; and to this day on every morrow of St. Martin, the King's judges and the Chancellor of the Exchequer take their seats together for the ceremony of the pricking of the sheriffs.

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