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An Inquiry Into the First Settlement of Jews in England

By the Rev. Abraham De Sola

(Continued from p. 211)

4. It is surprising to find, how some authors persist in modernizing this event, notwithstanding that most clear and irrefragable evidence exists in confutation of their assertions. It would almost appear, that they were possessed by some “secret dread,” that the difficulty of the subject would increase in the same ratio with its antiquity, and that they therefore studiously avoided what appeared likely to become a most unpromising inquiry. It is, perhaps, as resulting from this feeling, that some have placed the event no earlier than the Norman Conquest, (about 1066, C. E.) Latest period assigned for the first settlement of Jews in England.
But it can be shown that the grounds whereupon they form their opinion, are far less satisfactory and conclusive, than those upon which the anteriority of the event is based; since the principal, if not sole reason for this assertion, is founded upon that venality of disposition, so freely attributed to the foreign conqueror. King William, say they, first brought the Jews over from Normandy into England, and this for a pecuniary consideration. But this assertion is most incorrect; because, not only does there not exist the least warrant for this supposition, but it is clearly disproved by facts.* Norman Conquest.

* We do not say that King William did not “encourage the Jews to come over in large numbers, and settle in Rouen;” but we do say that it was not during his reign that they first settled there. From Stow. Ann, 10:103, Mag. Cent. 2, ch. 14, Holinshed, vol 3, p. 15, we would infer that the arrivals in England, during this reign, were both numerous and rapid, and we learn that a particular place was appointed for their residence. According to Peche (annals of Stamford, lib. 4), they were very numerously settled in Stamford; and Wood (in Annals and Antiquities of Oxford) says, that in the 10th year after the Conquest, the Jews resided in great numbers in that university, that they built a synagogue, and had three establishments, or halls of instruction, to wit, Moyses’ Hall, Jacob’s Hall, and Lumbard’s Hall.

In the first place, the dictum of the Centuriators, <<248>>to which it owes its existence, can never be regarded with the same consideration as that which is founded upon the teachings of authoritative laws and enactments, not that we would hereby impugn the veracity of their motives, but we think that they have too readily and too blindly adopted an opinion already propagated, but which, as might be clearly and easily shown, originated entirely in Saxon prejudice. It is not at all necessary for our inquiry, that this be proved at any great length; but we would Magdeburg Centuries
observe, that whatever tended to cast a stigma on the name of Norman, at the period immediately preceding the Conquest, was seized upon by the subjugated and oppressed Anglo-Saxons, and used by them with the greatest avidity. There exists not the least doubt that the cause of this inveterate hatred was sufficiently ample. That tyrannical cruelty, which rendered Anglo-Saxon but another name for oppression and degradation, was but little calculated to enlist the respect, or sympathies, of those against whom it was exercised.* From these considerations, therefore, would it not be unreasonable to infer that a proceeding of so unpopular a character, and so entirely repugnant to all classes, as bringing over, or rather encouraging to come over, into England, even a few of a people, should have been styled <<249>>their first introduction by Norman means, and that all the misfortunes and disasters, which afterwards came upon the nation in consequence, as they believed, of this act, should have been most readily referred to the same hated agency? Assertion probably founded on Saxon prejudice.

* The reader will no doubt here recall the very graphic manner in which Scott has delineated this state of Saxon mind and sentiment, by his personification of Cedric, in his beautiful romance of Ivanhoe. The miserable and abject state of the lower classes and serfs, in clearly shown in the conversation he introduces, in his first chapter, between the jester and swineherd. From the same trustworthy source, as well as from other historians, we learn that “although no great historical events, such as war or insurrection, mark the existence of the Anglo-Saxons as a separate people, subsequent to the reign of William II., yet the great national distinctions betwixt them and their conquerors, the recollection of what they had formerly been, and to what extent they were now reduced, continued, down to the reign of Edward III., to keep open the wounds which the conquest had inflicted, and to maintain a line of separation betwixt the descendants of the victor Normans, and the vanquished Saxons.” We have thought it necessary to add the above quotation from Sir W. Scott, so as to remind the reader, that long before the period here assigned for the disappearance of the inveterate prejudice existing between the two nations, some of the most eminent of the old English historians had appeared, and that even as early as the reign of Stephen, and the two or three succeeding monarchs, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth (Gallofridus Monumetensis), John of Salisbury, Roger of Hoveden, and Henry of Huntington lived and wrote.

5. But let us suppose that this case, intended to show that a “a pecuniary consideration” was not “the principal of action” with William, be not made out, and that we, therefore, dismiss it, with a verdict of “not proven,” (which we, however, do not:) other evidence can be adduced, to show that there were Jews resident in England, anterior to the Conquest, and this we shall find in the following quotation, from the laws and statistics of Edward the Confessor.  
* “Be it known, says the law, that the Jews, in whatever part of the kingdom they be, are under the guard and protection (tutela et defensione) of the King; nor shall any one of them, put himself under the protection of any rich man without royal license. For the Jews and all they have belong to the King.† Therefore, if any one shall detain either them, or their money, the King may claim them if he will, as his own.” This law, proving as it does, that there were Jews (and in all probability great numbers too) settled in England, nearly a quarter of a century before the Conquest, supplies us with the additional information, that it is as early as this period (the early part of the eleventh century) that we can date that ancient vassalage of British Jews, which rendered them, as the villains, or serfs, of the monarch, a property and not a people, and which was the sole warrant, if any such there could be, for the numerous exactions, and bloodthirsty persecution, they afterwards endured. Statute of Edward the Confessor

* “Sciendum est quoque, quod omnes Judaei, ubicunque in regno sint, sub tutela et defensione Domini Regis (ligie) sunt, (debent esse) nec quilibet eorum alicui diviti se protest subdere, sine regis licentia. Judaei et omnia sua suum proprium.”—Spelm. Concil p. 623. The readings between parenthesis are, according to the “Ancient Laws and Institutes of England,” reprinted by command of his late Majesty William IV. Lond. 1840.

† Jost thinks that this declaration was made, as in Germany, at the entreaty of the Jews themselves, “in order to obtain the king’s protection against his subjects, especially in time of war, when individual barons were unable to protect them. The same they did when the Danes, and after them, the Normans, conquered.” Ges. der Isr., vol. 7.

<<250>>6. It is of small importance, that the genuineness of this law, should have been questioned by Prynne,* when it is supported by the high authority of Spelman.† Were it not that it becomes of interest, as being one of the few items of information, which have reached us concerning the Jews of England at this period, we might consider as superfluous anything now said on the matter, especially as the fact of the Jews having been settled in England at this time, is entirely independent of the proof afforded by this ordinance.‡ But it is, because it does become of interest, as forming part of the scanty information we possess of the early history of British Jews, and that, “without such a law, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to account for their ancient vassalage,”§ that we will now adduce those reasons, why this law may, and does, lay claim to the title of genuineness, and why the opinion of Sir Henry Spelman should be preferred to that of Mr. William Prynne. Its genuineness.

* William Prynne was an eminent compiler of records, living under Charles I. and Cromwell. He becomes notorious as the author of the “Demurrers” against the Jews. He was one of the most violent and pertinacious opponents to their readmission into England.

† Sir Henry Spelman was a celebrated Antiquary of the 17th century, and esteemed friend of King James I., by whom he was knighted.

‡ The inquiry becomes of some service, however, in showing the groundlessness of the assertion made by Basnage, that the Jews were expelled from England in the year 1020, and that they did not return until the Conquest. In his Histoire des Juifs, (tom. v. p. 1660) he says, “Ils avaient ete chasses d’Angleterre, des le commencement de l’onzieme siecle et c’est la un des grands exils, dont ils se plaignent parcequ’ils suffrirent beaucoup.” Authority for this assertion he advances none, nor have we, so far as our long and deliberate inquiry has led us, met with any elsewhere. On the contrary, we are compelled to conclude with Dr. Jost, that not only is this assertion unfounded, but that historical evidence rather tends to prove the contrary, (See the Appendix to his vol. 7, p. 103.) It is a pity then, although not at all surprising, that modern authors should have taken such pains to promulgate this error, and that they should have so readily copied what, to say the least of it, was a very doubtful assertion. See par ex. Segue Hist. des Juifs, and Maynard’s Continuation, &c., p. 595.

§ See Anglia Judaica pass.

In the first place, because “this law is the only one we know of that vests the crown with the property of the Jews.” Secondly, Prynne as an authority, cannot be regarded with the same respect as Spelman, both because on account of the vast contrast between the acquirements of the two, generally, and more particularly, because Spelman was a <<251>>Saxon scholar,* which Prynne was not. Thirdly, because Sir Henry Spelman has declared, that the laws of Edward the Confessor as published in Hoveden, agree with a MS. copy, in his own possession. Fourthly, because of the mere ipse dixit of Prynne, cannot at all compete with the weighty and respectable character of the evidence produced by Spelman and others. And lastly, because, although William Prynne has denied the genuineness of this law, he has neglected to furnish us with the satisfactory solution of a question which must naturally arise from the adoption of his theory, viz.: how we are otherwise to account, on authoritative grounds, for the ancient vassalage of the Jews in England. Had he supplied us with satisfactory information on this important and interesting point, his assertion might be more deserving our attention, but failing this, we cannot but think the opinion of Sir Henry Spelman and his followers as deserving most credit. Opinions of Spelman and Prynne thereon.

* Johnson, in his collection of Ecclesiastical Laws (general preface), says, “The Saxonic text of the Memorials published by Sir H. S., is full of faults,” but with reference to Spelman’s acquaintance with the Saxon language, Chalmers (Biog. Dic.) says, that “by dint of industry, he acquired a very considerable knowledge of the Saxon language, and before 1626, prepared his Glossary for the press.”

(To be continued.)