Arrivals and Departures: The Jews in England

ALTHOUGH some Jews may have been present in Ancient Britain during the Roman occupation, as well as dealing in slaves during the Anglo-Saxon period, the first recorded evidence for a settled Jewish community in England was in 1066. Jews had accompanied the invading armies of William the Conqueror (1028-1087) during the pivotal year of 1066 when, as the Domesday Book clearly attests, Anglo-Saxon England was ripe for plunder and the Normans set about evaluating and then pillaging the entire country in accordance with their long-term economic objectives. A Jewish minority, much to the detriment of ordinary Jews, had partly financed William’s expedition. For a decent return, of course.

The first Jews in England, therefore, were an extension of French Jewry and, once they had settled in London, formed a strong community at Oxford when land stolen from the Anglo-Saxon church was granted to them in 1075. This, without the consent of the bishops and monks. At that time, Jews were considered to be the property of the Crown, something which clearly indicates just how important the Jews had become to the financial wranglings of those monarchs who sought to swell their proverbial coffers by further expanding their imperial kingdoms.

According to the twelfth-century chronicler, William of Malmesbury (1095-1143), writing in his Gesta Rerum Anglicanarum, in 1090 William II (1056-1100) had even tried to persuade the Jews of England to challenge the theological beliefs of their Christian neighbours by engaging in a face-to-face debate, joking that, if successful, he would even go so far as to “join their sect”. [1] Consequently, the Jews lost this battle of religious minds and the fragile reputation of English Christianity thus remained intact. According to St. Anselm (1033-1109), who became Archbishop of Canterbury, a similar and comparatively more friendly debate took place between Jews and Christians in 1096. [2]

One of the first serious incidents involving Jews took place in 1144, when it was alleged that a Christian child – now known to be William of Norwich – was ritually murdered so that Jews could use his blood to prepare unleaved bread for their own festival of Passover. Other such cases have taken place all over the world, but ritual murder involving Jews residing in England was later perpetrated against ‘Little Hugh’ of Lincoln (1255), another child who was brutally crucified in Nottingham (1279) and the murder of a boy in Oxford (1290) by Isaac de Pulet. Modern historians persistently deny these accusations, of course, dismissing them as “blood libel,” but the incidents themselves have been faithfully recorded for posterity and the details are no less convincing than any other legal document from the late- and post-Angevin periods.

By 1182, sections of the English church began to complain that the deepening relationship between the Jews and sections of the Christian hierarchy was becoming intolerable. According to the Chronica of Jocelin de Brakelond, himself a monk of St. Edmundsbury, relations were also becoming rather strained among the ordinary rank and file and when a local sacristan had fallen into debt with the Jews it began to affect the manner in which he treated them:

The Jews, I say, to whom the sacristan was said to be a father and a patron. And they did rejoice in his protection, having freedom to enter and to leave the monastery, and wandering all over it. For they walked by the altars and round the shrine while high mass was being celebrated; their money was lodged in our treasury under the care of the sacristan; and, a thing still more foolish, their wives and little ones were entertained in our pittancy during time of war. [3]

Despite the fact that usury, or lending money at great interest, occasionally allowed Christians to manage their affairs more effectively, much of this activity was cruel, exploitative and opportunistic. One of England’s chief Jewish moneylenders, for example, Aaron of Lincoln (1125-1186), was at the head of an international operation that extended across twenty-five countries, nineteen of which were controlled and administered by his own financial agents. Aaron of Lincoln, a boastful man whose banking houses spread throughout Norman England like a plague, was said to have been the wealthiest man in the country and when he died his immense wealth exceeded that of the King himself. Aaron, therefore, was a forerunner of the parasitical Rothschild family which later rose to prominence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

However, the increasing role of Jews in economic affairs soon began to raise the hackles of the indigenous population and, by 1189, at the very beginning of the reign of Richard I (1157-1199), also known as Richard the Lionheart, Jews were being massacred in both London and York (1190). The Historia Rerum Anglicanarum of William of Newbury (1136-1198), an Augustinian canon, describes what happened after 150 Jews were brutally killed at York:

But when the slaughter was over, the conspirators immediately went to the Cathedral and caused the terrified guardians, with violent threats, to hand over the records of the debts placed there, by which the Christians were oppressed by royal Jewish usurers, and thereupon destroyed those records of profane avarice in the middle of the church with the sacred fires to release both themselves and many others. [4]

On 12th July, 1199, King John of England (1166-1216) was becoming aware of the burgeoning Jewish problem and appointed an advisor to mediate between himself and the Jewish community itself:

The King to all his subjects and to all both Jews and English greeting. Know that we have granted and by this present charter of ours have confirmed to Jacob, Jew of London, priest of the Jews, the presbyterate, of all the Jews of the whole of England, to have and to hold as long as he lives freely and quietly, honourably and fully, so that no one thereon shall presume to offer him any hurt or hindrance. Wherefore we will and firmly order that you shall guarantee and maintain and guard in peace the presbyterate of all the Jews throughout England to the same Jacob so long as he lives. [5]

John’s decision was not motivated by a desire to strengthen English-Jewish relations, however, but as a means of curtailing their growing power and influence. In 1210, just eleven years later, the King forced the Jews to pay an enormous £44,000 in tax and immediately passed this revenue on to those Christians who had fallen victim to the wiles of the Jewish moneylender. The usurious practices of the Jews themselves were making it difficult for the King to extract taxation from his own people, so it seems fairly safe to assume that his rigorous new policy was determined purely by economic factors.

In 1216, after the ascension of a young Henry III (1207-1282) at just nine years of age, Jews went through a period of comparative peace and stability, but as the King grew older he turned against them and, once he was asked to remove their presence from the environs of Bury St. Edmunds (1190), Newcastle (1234), Wycombe (1235), Southampton (1236), Berkhamsted (1242) and Newbury (1244), responded favourably and took the necessary action. In January 1275, meanwhile, Jews were also expelled from the lands of Eleanor of Leicester (1215-1275), daughter of King John.

On 31st January, 1253, Henry III went one step further by ushering in a series of new restrictions, demanding that Jews must (i) only reside in England if they were prepared to serve the King himself, (ii) lower their voices whilst performing their religious services at the synagogue, so as not to offend Christians, (iii) never allow a child to be ‘suckled’ by a Christian nurse or share food with Christians in their houses, and (iv) remain conspicuous at all times by wearing a yellow badge. Again, this was not the result of religious or ethnic hatred, but an attempt to control economic corruption and thus avoid a repeat of the massacres which had taken place earlier at both London and York.

In 1275, just after the coronation of Edward I (1239-1307), the Statutum de Judaism was introduced. Joseph Jacobs, in a typically feeble effort to account for the criminal activities of his co-racialists, tells us that:

Church laws against usury had recently been reiterated with more than usual vehemence at the Second Council of Lyon (1274), and Edward in the Statutum de Judaismo absolutely forbade Jews to lend on usury, but granted them permission to engage in commerce and handicrafts, and even to take farms for a period not exceeding ten years, though he expressly excluded them from all the feudal advantages of the possession of land. This permission, however, regarded as a means by which Jews in general could gain a livelihood, was illusory. Farming can not be taken up at a moment’s notice, nor can handicrafts be acquired at once. Moreover, in England in the 13th century the guilds were already securing a monopoly of all skilled labour, and in the majority of markets only those could buy and sell who were members of the Guild Merchant. By depriving the Jews of a resort to usury, Edward was practically preventing them from earning a living at all under the conditions of life then existing in feudal England; and in principle the “Statute of Judaism” expelled them fifteen years before the final expulsion. Some of the Jews attempted to evade the law by resorting to the tricks of the Caursines, who lent sums and extorted bonds that included both principal and interest. Some resorted to highway robbery; others joined the Domus Conversorum; while a considerable number appear to have resorted to coin clipping as a means of securing a precarious existence. As a consequence, in 1278 the whole English Jewry was imprisoned; and no fewer than 293 Jews were executed at London. [6]

Moneylending, therefore, was completely banned. In 1290, on the other hand, Edward I’s patience finally ran out and he decided to expel the Jews from England once and for all.

On July 18th, 1290, by Royal decree, King Edward I and his advisory council made the expulsion official. Writs were sent out to each of the sheriffs in the county shires, informing them that by Royal edict all Jews were to leave the English realm before November 1st, 1290, and that any who remained were to be executed. Both the Parliament, as well as the population of the country in general, reacted with great relief and joy. [7] In his 1988 biography, Edward I, Michael Prestwick states that when Parliament was summoned to Westminster in July 1290, a generous subsidy was granted and collected. [8] This subsidy was an offer of gratitude for the Jewish expulsion.

As a pious and conscientious ruler, Edward I wanted the expulsion to be humane. The wardens of the Cinque Ports were to supervise the deportation of the Jews and to see that the poor were able to obtain cheap tickets for departure. No man was permitted to “injure, harm, damage or grieve” them, but whilst they were allowed to take with them all their cash and personal property, their bonds and real estate was handed over to the Crown. In accordance with the comfort (or discomfort) that their finances could allow, a total of 16,000 Jews set sail in a wide variety of seagoing vessels and left English shores for good.

Whilst England breathed a collective sigh of relief, however, a number of Jews died on the voyage when Autumn storms completely wrecked Channel shipping. According to Holinshed’s Chronicle, one particularly large group from London had arranged to be picked up from a sandbank in the Thames at low tide. After pocketing their money, the ship’s captain left them to drown in the rising waters. Nonetheless, true to his word, Edward I condemned this act and hanged the captain for his part in the murders.

The vast majority of Jews went to France, whilst others wandered through Spain, Gemany and Flanders. It remains a fact, however, that to this very day the edict of expulsion has never been revoked.

During the Elizabethan period the role of the stereotypical Jewish moneylender often became a topic of discussion in some of the country’s leading theatrical performances, not least in William Shakespeare’s well-known plays, The Jew of Malta (1590) and The Merchant of Venice (1597).

Although the Jews had returned to Gascony soon after their expulsion in 1290, apart from the secret resettlement in England of forty ‘Marranos’ who had been forced to leave Spain under duress in 1492, Jews did not return to England in significant numbers until the time of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), almost four centuries later.

By the second half of the seventeenth century, the economic demands of the English parliament were such that Cromwell decided to permit the Jews to re-enter the country. The quest to borrow money was not the only reason for Cromwell’s tolerance of the Jews, however, and after his victory in the English Civil War that had taken place between 1642 and 1651, the Cromwellian regime initiated a series of theocratic measures designed to reinforce and consolidate the Protestant religion that had held sway since the Reformation a century earlier. This led to the encouragement – often through religious violence, superstition and bigotry – of a more rigorous study and appliance of the values found in the Old Testament, something which soon led Cromwell and his henchmen to assume that the Jews, or the ‘People of the Book’, were their natural allies. For the Cromwellian establishment, therefore, philo-Semitism became the order of the day.

In 1655, Cromwell allowed a rabbi by the name of Manasseh ben Israel (1604-1657) to travel to London from his native Holland and set out the reasons why Jews should be permitted to re-enter the country. Previously, in 1649, Royalist newspapers such as the Moderate Intelligence and Mercurius Pragmaticus had attempted to deter Cromwell from re-admitting the Jews into England, arguing that they cannot be trusted in business matters and that nobody should ever shake the hands of those responsible for the death of the Saviour.

In December 1655, Manasseh ben Israel and those ‘Marrano’ families which had been living in England under assumed names since 1492, issued a petition openly declaring their Jewish identity. In a country where Catholics had been so viciously persecuted, it was naturally considered safer for them to be seen as Jewish immigrants, rather than as potential Spanish ‘papists’.

Oliver Cromwell, himself a mere ‘commoner’ in a country that had only recently committed an act of regicide against the English monarch, Charles I (1600-1649), did not have the power to revoke Edward I’s royal edict of expulsion and, therefore, in 1658 he gave the Jewish leader, Antonio Fernandez Cavajal (1590-1659), a verbal assurance that he and his people would be protected. This, in defiance of his former recommendations to the Council that Jews should only be permitted to attain the status of ordinary aliens. Given that Edward I’s edict remains on the statute books, Cromwell’s rather vague assurances still hold true today. Indeed, according to Joan Comay, wife of the one-time Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, in a book originally published in 1974 and then hurriedly withdrawn in 1977:

Although Edward I’s 1290 edict of expulsion was not formally revoked as Manasseh [Ben Israel] had hoped, the resumption of open Jewish worship achieved the same practical result. The edict has actually not been revoked to this day. [9]

As a result, Jewish power in England was permitted to grow and prosper – some might say fester – with the first synagogue having already been founded in 1657 at London’s Creechurch Lane by Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal. Meanwhile, the first Ashkenazi synagogue was established in 1690 and the famous Great Synagogue of London opened its doors in 1722. The latter was finally destroyed in a bombing raid in 1941.

One of the first significant manifestations of Jewish power in the British Isles was the establishment of the Bank of England by William Paterson and his Jewish associates in 1694. Professor Carroll Quigley (1910-1977) of Harvard University, who, in many ways, was himself an insider on such matters, remarked that this event

is one of the great dates in world history. For generations men had sought to avoid the one drawback of gold, its heaviness, by using pieces of paper to represent specific pieces of gold. Today we call such pieces of paper gold certificates. Such a certificate entitles its bearer to exchange it for its piece of gold on demand, but in view of the convenience of paper, only a small fraction of certificate holders ever did make such demands. It early became clear that gold need be held on hand only to the amount needed to cover the fraction of certificates likely to he presented for payment; accordingly, the rest of the gold could be used for business purposes, or, what amounts to the same thing, a volume of certificates could be issued greater than the volume of gold reserved for payment of demands against them. Such an excess volume of paper claims against reserves we now call bank notes. In effect, this creation of paper claims greater than the reserves available means that bankers were creating money out of nothing. The same thing could be done in another way, not by note-issuing banks but by deposit banks. Deposit bankers discovered that orders and checks drawn against deposits by depositors and given to third persons were often not cashed by the latter but were deposited to their own accounts. Thus there were no actual movements of funds, and payments were made simply by bookkeeping transactions on the accounts. Accordingly, it was necessary for the banker to keep on hand in actual money (gold, certificates, and notes) no more than the fraction of deposits likely to be drawn upon and cashed; the rest could be used for loans, and if these loans were made by creating a deposit for the borrower, who in turn would draw checks upon it rather than withdraw it in money, such “created deposits” or loans could also be covered adequately by retaining reserves to only a fraction of their value. Such created deposits also were a creation of money out of nothing, although hankers usually refused o express their actions, either note issuing or deposit lending, in these terms. William Paterson, however, on obtaining the charter of the Bank of England in 1694, to use the moneys he had won in privateering, said, “The Bank hath benefit of interest on all moneys which it creates out of nothing.” This was repeated by Sir Edward Holden, founder of the Midland Bank, on December 18, 1907, and is, of course, generally admitted today. [10]

It was no accident, either, that King William III (1650-1702), had become embroiled in costly wars against Catholic France and plunged England into debt. As a result, a powerful clique of Jews in Amsterdam persuaded the Treasury to borrow £1.25 million from the Jewish bankers who had helped him to the throne. William’s huge debts were continuing to mount and the government had no choice but to accept. However, the names of the lenders were to be kept secret and they would be granted a Charter to establish a Central Bank of England. Consequently, Parliament accepted these recommendations and the Jews now controlled the British economy.

In 1714, John Toland (1670-1722) – a leading rationalist philosopher and freethinker – argued that Jews should be naturalised and permitted to seek employment both with the State and in the handicrafts, farming and building industries, something which might deter them from their usurious practices. In 1753, the so-called ‘Jew Bill’ or Jewish Naturalisation Act was forced through parliament and enabled a minority of Jews to become completely naturalised after a period of three years. The fact that the bill only related to wealthy Jews tells us something about the true motives that lay behind this politically-charged decision.

In 1760, George III (1738-1820) came to the throne and a council of powerful Jews was established to pledge their allegiance to the British monarchy. The council, known as the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews, still exists today and has performed a major role in concealing the nefarious activities of Organised Jewry across three centuries. By 1835 the Committee and its President, Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784-1885), had become extremely powerful and drew up a Constitution in which he and his cohorts expressed their commitment to advance “the interests of the Jews of Britain.” Montefiore, who was an immensely powerful banker and financier, was later honoured by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and given his own coat of arms in the wake of his attempt to defend ten Jews in Damascus who had ritually murdered a Catholic monk and his servant in 1840. As always, and despite much evidence to the contrary, modern historians dismiss all such claims as ‘blood libel’ and ‘patent nonsense’.

Some time earlier, in 1833, Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) – an historian and leading Whig politician – campaigned to have the Jews admitted to Parliament, despite the fact that the MP for Oldham and fierce anti-usury campaigner, William Cobbett (1763-1835), had described the Jews as

a mean race, a sordid race, a money-getting race; that they are averse to all honourable callings; that they neither sow nor reap; that they have neither flocks nor herds; that usury is the only pursuit for which they are fit; that they are destitute of all elevated and amiable sentiments. [11]

To a large extent Cobbett, a champion of the people and a leading proponent of the English Radical tradition, was correct in his analysis and, not content with their economic domination, a minority of the wealthiest and most influential Jews were now seeking to gain political, power. At the same time, and as we shall discover in a subsequent chapter, one of the world’s most notorious Jewish banking families was embarking upon its own unconscionable rise to prominence.


1. Malmesbury, William of; Gesta Rerum Anglicanarum, quoted in Joe Hillaby & Caroline Hillaby’s The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), p.1.

2. Anselm, St.; Opera Omnia, ii, 255, quoted in Joseph Jacobs (Trans.), The Jews of Angevin England (University Press of the Pacific, 2004), p.338.

3. Brakelond, Jocelin of; The Chronical of Jocelin of Brakelond, Monk of St. Edmundsbury (Cooper Square Publishers, 1966), p.15.

4. Newbury, William of; Historia Rerum Anglicanorum, quoted in Jonathan A. Romain’s The Jews of England: A Portrait of Anglo-Jewry Through Original Sources and Illustrations (Michael Goulston Educational Foundation, 1988), p.44.

5. John, King; Charter Rolls, quoted in Romain, op. Cit., The Jews of England: A Portrait of Anglo-Jewry through Original Sources and Illustrations (Michael Goulston Educational Foundation, 1988), pp.18-19.

6. Jacobs, Joseph; “England” in The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume I (Funk & Wagnalls, 1902), p.257.

7. Calendar of Close Rolls, 18, Edward I, Public Records Office, London.

8. Prestwick, Michael; Edward I (London, 1988), p.343.

9. Comay, Joan; Who’s Who in Jewish History after the Period of the Old Testament (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974), p.246.

10. Quigley, Professor Carroll; Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time (Macmillan, 1966), pp.48-9

11. Macaulay, Lord; quoted in Maurice Shock & Alan Bullock (Eds.), The Liberal Tradition from Fox to Keynes (A. & C. Black, 1956), p.71.

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