Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England,
June 15, 1937.
Henry III believed in the absolute power of the Crown . . . and this claim was maintained by his favourite advisers in the royal council. The death of Archbishop Langton (in 1228) followed by the fall of Hubert de Burgh (1232) left him free to surround him selfw ith dependent ministers, mere agents of the royal will. Hosts of hungry Poitevins and Bretons were at once summoned over to occupy the royal castles and to fill the judicial and administrative posts about the Court. . . .T he whole machinery of administration passed into the hands of men ignorant and contemptuous of English
government or English law. Their rule was a mere anarchy; the very retainers of the royal household turned robbers, . . . corruption invaded the judicature and judges openly took bribe........................
This description of what took place in the days of King Henry III, written by Green, in his Short History of the English People (p. 144, ed. 1889) forms an accurate background of the story I propose to relate to you. My narrative is based upon the recent discovery in the
Public Record Office of a document that has hitherto remained unpublished,1 and that gives in detail the testimony of the London Jews in the year 1234 against the crimes of the King's ministers. When Hubert de Burgh, the Chief Justice, was driven from power by his
i Public Record Office. K.B. 26. No. 115. B.
French rivals in the year 1232, Henry determined on a radical change of policy. He concentrated all government in the hands of his Poite vin friends. He thus practically surrendered the rule of his realm to the French courtier-prelate, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Win? chester.2 The Bishop was apparently a wealthy man, as at different times he lent the King the sum of 20,000 marks ( ? over ^400,000 to-day).3 In his hands lay all the official appointments, which he distributed among his associates. Sir Stephen de Segrave,4 who was a judge as well as being Constable of the Tower of London and other castles, was given the office of Chief Justice in place of de Burgh. He was a native of England, a " yielding man ", as Matthew Paris5 calls him, but nearly all the other State officials were French? men, tools of des Roches. Upon his son, or as others style him, his nephew, Peter de Rivaux,6 the Bishop showered profitable honours in abundance. To him was delivered for life the custody of the " Wardrobe ", which was the Treasury of the King's household, and he was later created also Treasurer of the national Exchequer. This post had previously been held by Walter Mauclerc, Bishop of Car? lisle,7 who, together with des Roches and de Burgh, had encouraged King Henry in the same year to found the London House of Con? verts.8 Peter further became the