Timetable logoThe Jew, in medieval England, was considered an alien and held but very few legal rights. Those of Jewish faith were, in law, the chattel of the King!

One of the laws of Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) held:

"Be it known that all Jews wheresoever they may be in the realm are of right under the tutelage and protection of the king, nor is it lawful for any of them to subject himself to any wealthy person without the king's license. Jews and all their effects are the king's property...."

Carter writes:

"After the Conquest (1066), the Jews came to this country in considerable numbers.... The Jews could and did lend their money. The ordinary rate of interest was apparently 43 per cent (%) per annum.

"The Jews ... were the honey bees of the King."

To protect his "property", the English royalty wasted little time. A Charter in 1201, under King John, gave Jews the exclusive right to lend money at high interest rates (usury) and the right to live where they pleased.

In law, the Jew was given important debt collection and litigation tools. In a contest between a Jew and a Christian, the Christian was required to produce at least one Jewish witness. The Jew who showed up in court without any evidence could take an oath to defend the claim while the Christian had to make a wager of law, which required eleven compurgators. Jew v Jew cases were resolved by Jewish tribunals.

Starting in 1168, with Henry II (1136-1189), the English king's began the process of taxing the Jews.

Then, an unusual event occurred which would have long-lasting consequence. A crowd of Jews crashed the coronation of Richard I (1157-1199), causing a donnybrook (affray). The Jews were chased by the Christian crowd deep into the Jewish quarters and stores and houses looted, and many Jews killed. The mob then marched to the depository of Jewish loan records and burned the lot of them.

Richard was no dummy. First he created an official registry of the assets of the Jews, including the record of their loans to others. This was called the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews. Unless a Jew's loan was registered with the Jewish Plase Rolls, it was unenforceable.

Secondly, Richard set up a special court to have jurisdiction over the Jews in civil matters and especially the enforcement of their loans, the Exchequer of the Jews (sometimes known by the Latin name, Scaccarium Judaeorum).

The beauty of this system, for Richard and his successors, was that by controlling the registry and the inside information in regards to what Jew owned what, they could efficiently tax the Jews.

The Exchequer of the Jews also served as a probate court for the Jews. As soon as possible after death, a commission of judges of the Exchequer of the Jews would descend upon the residence of the deceased and make an inventory of assets, to which would be set upon a death tax of at least one third.

Early record of the Exchequer of the Jews shows that the first bench of four included two Jews, Benjamin de Talemunt and Joseph Aaron, but no Jew sat on the Exchequer of the Jews Court after these two.

By 1267, trouble was brewing. The commoners resentment of the Jews and their legal privileges had no abated since the riot of Richad I's coronation. In 1267, the seal of the Exchequer of the Jews was stolen and many of the records again destroyed.

The ultimate expression of antisemitism occurred in 1290 which in any event extinguished the raison d'etre of the Exchequer of the Jews, as King Edward I (1239-1307) ordered all Jews to leave England.

REFERENCES:

  • Carter, A. T., A History of English Legal Institutions (London: Butterworth & Co., 1902), pages 271-276.
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Duhaime's Timetable of World Legal History
  • Rigg, J. M., Calendar of the Public Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews (London: MacMillan & Co., 1905).