History of Jews

Pre-16th c. England

Early Jews in England

  • When the Normans conquered England in 1066, William the Conqueror encouraged Jewish people to move from France to England.
  • Most of these Jews had fiscal jobs, such as coin dealers.
  • They quickly built segregated communities in England.

Subsequent Persecution

  • The Crown watched over Jews, but taxed them highly.
  • Henry I delineated the liberties that they were given.
  • Jews were the object of much hate in England, and many Jewish people were charged of crimes which they did not commit.
  • Pope Innocent IV protested against this treatment, but the general people thought that Jewish people were all criminals.
  • Jews were taxed at a substantially larger rate to finance the 3rd Crusade, and because of this, rioting ensued in England.

Killings and Riots

  • In 1189, King Henry II died, and Richard I (Richard the Lionhearted) succeded him.
  • Jewish people came to Westminster Abbey to offer him gifts, but he declined them.
  • Riots began all over England, most notably in York, and later Richard ordered protection for the Jewish people.
  • When Richard left for the Crusades, many Jews were attacked.
  • After Richard returned, he was angry, because the Jews were his primary source of money.
  • In 1194, Richard created the Exchequer of the Jews, which allowed the Crown to collect taxes on the Jews.


  • Started in 1232, with Henry III's reign.
  • Jews controlled disproportionate amounts of money; king taxed them greatly.
  • In 1253, a law was passed forbidding Jews from settling in places that did not already have a Jewish community.
  • In 1255, Jews asked to leave, but due to them being considered to be royal property, they couldn't.
  • England started trading with Italian banks, removing need for Jewish financial services.
  • In 1275, Edward I issued the Jewish Affairs Bill, forbidding money loan on interest.
  • On July 18, 1290, Edward I banished the Jewish people from England.

Connection to "The Merchant of Venice"

In "The Merchant of Venice," Bassanio is in need of money, and so he asks Antonio to be the guarantor of the loan. He gets a loan from one of the lenders, Shylock, a Jewish man. Shylock bears a grudge against Antonio, because Antonio calls him out for usury, charging money for interest (a sin in the Catholic church). Shylock agrees to pay Bassanio a loan for no interest, on the condition that if the loan is not repaid in time, Shylock would take a pound of Antonio's flesh. This story is similar to how events conspired in real life, with the Jewish being wealthy and having fiscal jobs. Also, usury existed at the time, with Jews being hated for practicing this. Also, Shylock represents the stereotypical Jew for people in Medieval England. He is rich, deceitful, and bloodthirsty.
Jew's in Medieval England

Works Cited

"The Merchant of Venice Summary." Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. http://www.shmoop.com/merchant-of-venice/summary.html.

MrHistoryhelp. "Jew's in Medieval England." YouTube. YouTube, 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stFsSee2j20.

"United Kingdom: Virtual Jewish History Tour." United Kingdom: Virtual Jewish History Tour. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/England.html>.