The Middle Period of Anglo-Jewish History (1290-1655) Reconsidered

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The Jewish Historical Society could have bestowed on me no greater honour than it has done by electing me to preside over its destinies and deliberations, for the eighth time, in this memorable year when we are to celebrate the Tercentenary of the Resettle? ment of the Jews in this country. The honour is enhanced by the fact that I now succeed in this chair one of the most eminent of British medievalists. It seems to me appropriate therefore that in this Presidential Address I should take Anglo-Jewry of the Middle Ages as my point of departure and lead up to the period of the Resettlement: that is to say, that I should attempt to reassess, in readiness for the Tercentennial lectures which will be delivered from this platform and others throughout the country, what Lucien Wolf its first investigator?happily termed the 'Middle Period' of Anglo-Jewish history, intervening between the Expulsion of the Jews by Edward I in 1290 and the authorisation of Jewish worship anew, however informally, under Oliver Cromwell in 1656.

It was in the eighteen-eighties that Sir Sydney Lee, later to be Editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, began his investigations on the Jews of Elizabethan England, mainly in order to illustrate the possible historical background of Shakespeare's delineation of a Jew in The Merchant of Venice? Simultaneously, Lucien Wolf started his researches along broader lines, embracing the whole of the period in question, his conclusions being summed up in the comprehensive paper which he delivered at the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition in 1887.3 Some forty years later, genially exasperated by the emergence in his field of a couple of juvenile parvenus, myself and Mr. Wilfred Samuel, he produced his two remarkable supplementary studies, based on unpublished materials (principally from the Inquisitional archives) on the Marrano community in Tudor England.4 It is on a combination of this material with that which is comprised in his earlier paper that our knowledge of the Middle Period mainly rests, though a number of us have made trivial additions to one aspect or other of the subject. In the sixth chapter of my History of the Jews in England (Oxford, 1941) I tried to give a general picture of the period, taking into account for the first time the latest investigations, and I managed to introduce a few corrections into the second edition (1949). But in a work of this sort I could not high-light the new discoveries, and of course further information has accumulated since then in a number of sources. In the present survey, I will try to call attention to some new, or unfamiliar, or neglected, facets of the subject.

The medieval Jewish chroniclers were impressed by the fact that the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 on the national fast-day of the Ninth of Ab, anniversary of the Destruction of the Temple : and indeed the melancholy celebration fell that year

1 Presidential address delivered before The Jewish Historical Society of England on 26th October 1955.

2 'Elizabethan England and

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