History of Jews

In Pre-16th Century England

By: Reyaan Shah

The Jews Arrive

  • According to 17th century antiquarian Anthony Wood, the Jewish people came to oxford in 1075. This is not known for sure, but there is evidence such as a spike in trade and introduction of jewelry that supports this.
  • It is known however that William the Conquerer ordered Jews in to establish trade and promote economic integration between his English and French settlements.
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Benefits of the Jews

  • The Jewish people were wards of the king, meaning that they were protected by the crown so long as they lived under the laws of the crown.
  • This would grant them exemptions from tolls, freedom to practice their religion, and ability to seek refuge in castles among other things.
  • During conflicts between Jews and Christians, the crown was able to offer strong royal protection for the Jews and their families.

Benefits of the Crown

  • The Jewish people heavily facilitated trade for the kingdom as they were brought in to do, generating a very attractive amount of wealth for the crown.
  • In addition, the crown could keep the Jews on a bit of a tight leash, being able to seize their property at will and extract special taxes from them at any time.

King Edward

  • What was once a fair life of work and reward from the crown for the Jewish people in England was now a nightmare of restrictions and taxes under the rule of King Edward.
  • The Jewish people were drained dry of all their wealth and forced into the tedious job of coin clipping. Then the coin clipping purges occurred, resulting in the hangings of hundreds of innocent Jews in England.

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Blood Libel

  • In 1144, a rumor "Blood Libel" spread throughout Europe. It was the accusation that Jews were taking Christian children and forcefully crucifying them as a practice of their religion.
  • Although this was not true, many Jews in England were killed, and as the rumor spread to France, an entire Jewry was burned.
  • As a result of the rumor, the death of a Christian child, regardless of the cause, was blamed on the Jewish people, and Jewish priests and innocent Jews were killed as a result.

The Merchant of Venice

As many Jewish People in this era were money lenders, so is the character of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. He offers the Christian Antonio 3000 ducats with no interest, so long as he is payed back within three months. Otherwise, he shall have a pound of flesh.

The show captures the "judeophobic" society that was England prior to the removal of the Jewish people in 1290.

Merchant of Venice Act I, Scene III and Act IV, Scene I-clip