Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Edict of Expulsion

The Edict of Expulsion

Some events in history may be celebrated for the change they brought about or their ultimate impact. Other events must simply be acknowledged for the misery that flowed therefrom. The Edict of Expulsion, issued this day in 1290 by King Edward I of England, is clearly in the second category. Under the Edict, all Jews were required to either convert to Catholicism or leave the country not later than All Saints Day (November 1). Almost the entirety of the Jewish community in England, probably counting 2,000, chose the second option.

While medieval Europe with a fairly be characterized as being anti-Semitic, England was particularly so. While there appears to be no Jewish community in England until after the Norman Conquest of 1066, a community soon thrived. Precluded from owning land or engaging in most trades, many members of the community, the archetype being Aaron of Lincoln, probably the richest man in the country, turned to moneylending as a trade. Under then existing Canon Law, interest could not be charged to or by Catholics. Canon Law did not, of course, govern Jews. Jewish law permitted the lending of money on the interest between Jews and non-Jews. Meanwhile, all Jews were declared direct subjects of the king, with the effect that they could be taxed (or compelled to make “loans”) without the need to go through Parliament. Meanwhile, particularly despicable anti-Semitic views, often based upon allegations of either ritual murder of children and continuing allegations of deicide, were all too common. These views led to occasional pograms, including that in 1190 when a significant portion of the Jewish community in York was killed.

The 1290 Edict of Expulsion was only the last in a chain of events. In 1218, Jews had been required to wear a badge.  By the middle of the century there were not only expanded requirements with respect to identification, but also segregation of residences. Then, in 1275, the lending of interest by Jews was forbidden, depriving the community of its primary source of income. The hypocrisy of these events was evidenced by the actions of certain nobles to buy the debt and, upon default, to seize the land of the borrowers that had been pledged as collateral. Meanwhile monasteries and abbeys were regular borrowers.

In the course of the expulsion, the Jewish community was forbidden to take much of its property, including gold, rendering them effectively penniless as they dispersed to Scotland, what is today the Netherlands, France and Poland. It was not until 1660 that is was acknowledged that Jews were permitted to return to England.

The King’s Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval England by Robin R. Mundill is a good review of this history.

The Edict of Expulsion was issued in 1290. Comfort should not be taken that, in the 730 years since then, that much has changed.

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