- This article describes the Edict of Expulsion, given by Edward I of England in 1290, that expelled all Jews from England for 350 years. For information on the 1492 Edict of Expulsion from Spain, see the Alhambra decree. For other legislations expelling Jews from their homes, see Jewish refugees.
In 1290, King Edward I issued an edict expelling all Jews from England. Lasting for the rest of the Middle Ages, it would be over 350 years until it was formally overturned in 1656. The edict was not an isolated incident but the culmination of over 200 years of maltreatment.
Buildup to Expulsion
The first Jewish communities of significant size came to England with William the Conqueror
. On the conquest of England, William instituted a feudal system
in the country, whereby all estates formally belonged to the king, who appointed lords over vast estates, subject to duties and obligations (financial and knights) to the king. Under the lords were further subjects such as serfs, which were bound and obligated to their lords. Merchants had a special status in the system as did Jews. Jews were declared to be direct subjects of the King, unlike the rest of the population. This had advantages for Jews, in that they were not tied to any particular lord, but were subject to the whims of the king. Every successive King formally reviewed a royal charter
granting Jews the right to remain in England. Jews did not enjoy any of the guarantees of Magna Carta
Economically, Jews played a key role in the country. The church at the time strictly forbade usury
, or the lending of money for profit. This left a hole in the heart of the European economy that Jews quickly filled (canon law
was not considered to apply to Jews, and Judaism permits loans with interest
between Jews and non-Jews). As a consequence, some Jews made large amounts of money. However, taking advantage of their unique status as his direct subjects, the King could expropriate Jewish assets in the guise of taxation. He levied heavy taxes on Jews at will without having to summon Parliament
. The Jewish community acted as a kind of giant monetary filter: Jews collected interest on money loaned to the people which the King could take at his pleasure.
Jews acquired a reputation as extortionate money lenders which made them extremely unpopular with both the Church and the general public. While antisemitism
was widespread in Europe, medieval England was particularly antisemitic. An image of the Jew as a diabolical figure who hated Christ started to become widespread, and antisemitic myths such as the wandering Jew
and ritual murders originated and spread throughout England; as well as Scotland and Wales. Jews were said to hunt for children to murder before Passover
so they could use their blood to make matzah
. Antisemitism on a number of occasions sparked riots where many Jews were murdered, most famously in 1190
when over a hundred Jews were massacred in the city of York.
The situation only got worse for Jews as the 13th century progressed. In 1218
, England became the first European nation to require Jews to wear a marking badge. Taxation grew increasingly intense. Between 1219
, 49 levies were imposed on Jews for a total of 200,000 marks, a huge amount of money. The first major step towards expulsion took place in 1275
, with the Statute of Jewry
. The statute outlawed all usury and gave Jews fifteen years to readjust. However, guilds as well as popular prejudice made Jewish movement into mercantile or agricultural pursuits almost impossible.
While in Gascony
, Edward ordered English Jews expelled. All their property was seized by the crown and all outstanding debts payable to Jews were transferred to the King’s name. It was a bleak sign of things to come. Edward’s personal views on Jews are something of a mystery. In the glimpses we have of his dealings with them, he seems interested but unsympathetic. His mother, however, does seem to have been anti-semitic. Whatever his personal feelings, by the time he returned to England in 1289
Edward was deeply in debt. The next summer he summoned his knights to impose a steep tax. To make the tax more palatable, Edward in exchange essentially offered to expel all Jews. The heavy tax was passed, and three days later, on July 18, the Edict of Expulsion was issued. One official reason for the expulsion was that Jews had neglected to follow the Statute of Jewry. The edict of expulsion was widely popular and met with little resistance, and the expulsion was quickly carried out.
The Jewish population in England at the time was relatively small. While population estimates vary, probably less than 1% of England was Jewish; perhaps 3,000 people. The expulsion process went fairly smoothly, although there were a few horrific stories. One story told of a captain taking a ship full of Jews to the Thames while the tide was going out and convincing them to go out for a walk with him. He then lost them and made it back to his ship before the tide came back in, leaving them all to drown. Other stories exist of Jews being robbed or killed, but the majority of the Jews seem to have crossed the channel in safety.
The intermediate period
Between the expulsion of Jews
and their formal return
, there is no official trace of Jews as such on English soil except in connection with the Domus Conversorum
, which kept a number of them within its precincts up to 1551
and even later. An attempt was made to obtain a revocation of the edict of expulsion as early as 1310
, but in vain. Notwithstanding, a certain number of them appear to have come back; for complaints were made to the king in 1376
that some of those trading as Lombards were Jews ("Rot. Parl." ii. 332a).
Occasionally permits were given to individuals to visit England, as in the case of Dr. Elyas Sabot in 1410; but it was not until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497 that any considerable number of Sephardic Jews found refuge in England. One of these as early as 1493 attempted to recover no less a sum than 428,000 maravedis which the refugees from Spain had entrusted to Diego de Soria. In 1542 many were arrested on the suspicion of being Jews, and throughout the sixteenth century a number of persons named Lopez, possibly all of the same family, took refuge in England, the best known of them being Rodrigo Lopez, physician to Queen Elizabeth, and who is said to have been the origin of Shylock. Besides certain distinguished converts like Immanuel Tremellius and Philip Ferdinand, the most remarkable visitor was Joachim Gaunse, who introduced new methods of mining into England. Occasional visitors, like Alonzo de Herrera and Simon Palache in 1614, are recorded.