The Magna Carta Project

Original Latin


Si quis mutuo ceperit aliquid a Judaeis, plus vel minus, et moriatur antequam debitum illud solvatur, debitum non usuret quamdiu haeres fuerit infra aetatem, de quocumque teneat; et si debitum illud inciderit in manus nostras, nos non capiemus nisi catallum contentum in carta.


If anyone has taken a loan from Jews, great or small, and dies before the debt is paid, the debt is not to incur interest for as long as the heir is under age, whoever he may hold from. And if the debt comes into our hands, we will take only the principal recorded in the charter.

Audio commentary

Commentary for general audience

Clauses 10, like Clause 11 immediately following it, was concerned with the effects of indebtedness to Jews (Clause 11 also dealt with debts owed to other people). In the 150 years since the Norman Conquest, Jews had gained an effective monopoly of credit transactions in England, primarily because they were not forbidden, as Christians were, to lend money at interest.  Their role as money-lenders, with the high interest rates they usually charged, along with their religious practice, made them deeply unpopular, and they needed the protection which only the king could provide.  That protection came at a high price, however, and King John, in particular, made very heavy demands on English Jews, demands which the Jews had no choice but to pass on to those who owed them money.  Eventually, indeed, John took to acting himself as a collector of Jewish debts, the more readily because many of these had in various ways come into his hands.  He taxed the Jews very heavily, and also pursued the debts owed to them, in ways which came to be greatly resented, but John persevered in his policies until Magna Carta attempted to impose limited restraints on them.  That it did not do more in this respect may have been due to an acceptance by the barons that the relationship of the Jews with the king was such as to rule out any more extensive interference with it, as well to an appreciation that Jews had financial skills which made them indispensable to England’s economic life.

Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 10 was primarily concerned to mitigate the effects on under-age heirs and children of indebtedness to Jews on the part of deceased parents.  English Jews stood in a unique relationship with the king, who gave them the protection they needed against the hostility felt for them in society at large, as a result of their religious practice and also of their activities as money-lenders.  Unlike Christians, Jews were permitted to lend money at interest, and did so at high rates – usually forty-three per cent per annum.  Royal protection was given at a price, however, in that the resources of Jews were liable to what could be heavy taxation, while debts to them frequently passed into the hands of the king, who could then collect them as if they were owed to himself.  Because they lived principally by money-lending, Jews had no option but to pass on the effects of such exactions to those with whom they dealt.

Henry II and Richard I made relatively limited use of their powers over Jews, but John exploited them to the utmost, especially in the second half of his reign.  He imposed a massive tallage – an arbitrary levy – on them in 1210, enforcing payment by brutal methods which clearly shocked contemporary chroniclers, and made every effort to secure the payment of the many Jewish debts which had come into his possession.  He also put his executive powers at the disposal of Jews who were trying to recover their debts, in return for ten per cent of the money owed.  By 1212 John’s exploitation of Jewish resources had become so deeply resented that the king himself offered to ease up on it, but his financial needs soon led to a renewal of pressure, on Jews and their debtors alike.  There is in fact very little precise evidence for the practices which Clause 10 was intended to prevent, but given the abundant record of John’s extraction of money from debtors to Jews, it is highly likely it met a genuine need.  That the Charter did not do more to restrain the crown in its exploitation of its effective control over Jews may have been due to an understanding that Jewish financial skills, and in particular their ability to provide cash to those who needed it, were essential to the country’s economic life, and also to a feeling on the part of the barons that the king’s particular relationship with English Jews was something they were only entitled to interfere with in a strictly limited way.

Commentary for academic researchers

Because it was felt necessary to provide a detailed analysis of King John’s policies towards English Jews in order to elucidate Clauses 10 and 11, they were originally discussed together, within a single extended commentary.  They have now been separated, but except at their beginnings and endings, the commentaries on the two clauses remain very largely identical.

(a) Purposes and application

Among the Articles of the Barons, numbers 34 and 35 were seemingly placed at random in a miscellaneous series of demands, occurring between one clause dealing with freedom to leave and enter the country, and another relating to the tenants of escheats.  Having regard to their content, the protection of the heirs and widows of men who died owing money to Jews, Clauses 10 and 11 of Magna Carta were much more rationally situated, in that they now came after a sequence of clauses (2-8) primarily concerned with succession to property, with a particular emphasis on the rights of widows and under-age heirs, and a single clause (9) laying down the procedure for the payment of debts.  Article 34, like Clause 11 of the `Unknown Charter’, which was probably drawn up during negotiations between King John and the barons in the months before the granting of Magna Carta, and also like Clause 10 of Magna Carta afterwards, was particularly concerned to control the accumulation of interest upon debts owed to Jews, something which the king, by virtue of his own over-riding authority where Jews were concerned, seems to have been able to exploit to an unacceptable extent.  In this – something which was not spelt out in the Charter – it was intended to benefit only free men and women.  But within that category it was to be of universal application.  In stating clearly that a debtor’s heir was to be protected `whoever he may hold from’ (de quocumque teneat), Clause 10 provided safeguards for all freeholders, not just for tenants-in-chief, and in this it differed from Clause 11 of the `Unknown’ Charter, which seemingly demanded protection only for the heirs of tenants-in-chief (aliquis hominum meorum).1  That this should have been so reflects the importance both of the point at issue – the accumulation of interest on inherited debts to Jews – and of the role that Jews had come to play in government finance during the twelfth century, and also of the consequences of these developments for landowning society as a whole.

(b) Kings and Jews, 1066-1199

There is no record of Jews living in England before 1066.  Their arrival after the Norman Conquest appears to have been the direct result of royal policy, arising from William I’s financial needs and his experience of dealing with a Jewish community in Rouen.  The close association of Jews with the crown proved lasting.2  Kings needed loans and taxes, Jews needed protection, against antagonisms arising both from their religion and from their financial activities, two currents of hostility which combined as a result of the near monopoly of the business of lending money at interest, a practice forbidden to Christians, which they had come to possess by around 1200.  The teaching of the Paris schools at that time, as expressed in writings like the Summa confessorum of Thomas of Chobham, was strongly disapproving of the association of kings and Jews - Thomas regarded the former as complicit in the usury of the latter, and expressed surprise that the church tolerated it.3  In fact the church had little choice but to do so, and the protection which successive English kings were able to give to Jewish communities was usually effective, so that their number grew during the twelfth century, gradually extending to most parts of the country.

Familiarity did not generate acceptance, however, and English Jews were exposed to intermittent outbursts of fierce violence, especially at times when preparations for crusades exacerbated feelings of enmity towards non-Christians.  Such feelings can only have been heightened, moreover, by repercussions from the crown’s increasingly intensive exploitation of Jewish resources.  Subservience and exploitation constituted the price which Jews paid for royal protection.  Their status in England around 1200, as recorded in the often ambiguous language of legal texts and government records, is hard to define and has often proved contentious.4  Passages in a mid-twelfth-century revision of the Leges Edwardi Confessoris, declaring that `the Jews themselves and all their possessions are the king’s ... if someone detains them or their money, the king shall demand them as his own property [tanquam suum proprium] ...’,5 in a charter for a favoured Jew issued in 1190, in which Richard I licensed Isaac, the son of Rabbi Josce, and his family to go where they wanted with all their chattels, `as our own property’ (sicut nostre res proprie),6 and in the legal treatise Bracton, of around 1230, which echoed the Leges Edwardi in stating that `The Jew can have nothing that is his own, for whatever he acquires he acquires not for himself, but for the king ...’,7 have been interpreted as treating Jews as akin to villeins.  The vulnerability of English Jews to royal demands, it is argued, resembled that of villeins with regard to their lords - `The lord could take anything his villein held, and the villein had no redress in the royal courts’.8  Efforts have been made to undermine the analogy, and though not all of them seem equally persuasive, it is certainly true that Jews had privileges, and indeed a special position in English society resulting from the inter-relationship of their religious identity and the royal protection which they needed as a result of it, unlike anything enjoyed by villeins.  What Jews and villeins did have in common was a comparative rightlessness with regard to king and lord, which even though it was not always, or even often, exploited to the full, was nonetheless always there, and capable of being manipulated to their disadvantage.  The king could impose an arbitrary levy – a tallage – on Jews, whenever and at whatever rate he pleased, could manipulate the debts owed to them, and was entitled to take a third of their possessions when they died.  Indeed, he was in a position to put well-nigh unlimited pressure on Jews, and the latter, making their living primarily by money-lending, had little option but to exert equal pressure on Christian debtors in order to raise the sums which the king demanded.

In fact, the threat to Christian resources posed by a combination of Jewish creditors and royal exactions was restricted at first.  The chronicler William of Newburgh, commenting on what he saw as Henry II’s unwarranted favour towards his Jewish subjects, associated this with the large advances he was able to extract from them,9 which until late in his reign were usually made in the form of loans.  In 1186 Henry signalled a change in policy by imposing a massive tallage, allegedly of £60,000, on Jewish communities, and swiftly followed this with two more, but not all the money was collected.10  When Aaron of Lincoln, the greatest Jewish financier of his generation, died, also in 1186, his entire fortune, in cash, valuables and bonds, was on unspecified grounds declared forfeit to the crown.  But despite a special branch of the exchequer being set up to handle Aaron’s debts, sums amounting to £15,000 were still owing when they were transferred to the regular exchequer five years later, and some £12,000 in 1201; the fact that no interest was charged on Aaron’s debts after they came into the king’s hands must have removed what might otherwise have constituted a strong incentive to debtors to clear their obligations.11  Henry II granted charters of rights to English Jews, probably early in his reign, and in 1190 these were implicitly confirmed by Richard I.12  The latter also made considerable demands on his Jewish subjects, imposing four tallages of a total of 10,000 marks during his reign,13 but his exactions were probably no greater than those which he made on everyone else.  Following the massacres of Jews at York and elsewhere in 1190, moreover, determined efforts were made to punish those responsible, and in 1194 the articles of that year’s eyre included one concerned with `the killers of Jews’, though it also attempted to secure what was due to the king from the debts and chattels of the slain.14

(c) King John: responding to opportunities, 1199-1207

The disturbances of 1190 seem to have affected only the Jewish communities of London, York, Lincolnshire and East Anglia, and for these they constituted a heavy blow.  For English Jewry as a whole, a no less important development was the appointment, in around 1194, of officials known at first as `keepers’, and then as `justices of the Jews’, who soon took charge of a special `exchequer of the Jews’, which administered many of the crown’s financial dealings with Jews and exercised jurisdiction over most disputes between Jews and Christians.15  Associated with this innovation was an ordinance commanding the listing of all the property of Jews, whether in debts, or gages, or lands and rents, and the establishment of six or seven offices at which Jewish loans were to be recorded on chirographs, of which one part was to be handed over to the lender, having first been sealed by the borrower, while the other part was stored in a specially made chest.  As a control upon their payment, all debts were also to be enrolled, and changes in their status noted.16  These measures may have originated in Hubert Walter’s concern for efficiency (since everything a Jew owned was potentially the king’s, it was essential that full records be kept of Jewish transactions and debts), but they also created what was potentially a formidable apparatus of oppression and exploitation.

Such terms are readily associated with King John, but in the early years of his reign his dealings with Jews were in most respects similar to those of his brother and father.  On 31 July 1199 he confirmed Jacob the Jew of London in his position of `presbyter of all the Jews of England’,17 and on 10 April 1201 (at a price of 4000 marks) he issued two charters in which he confirmed grants which Richard I had made to a single English Jew and extended them to all the Jews of England and Normandy.18  The first mostly upheld rights of residence, tenure and inheritance which Jews had enjoyed since Henry II’s time, while the second gave the Jewish community jurisdiction over disputes arising between its members, as long as these did not involve pleas of the crown. Two years later John responded forcefully to reports of injuries being inflicted on Jews in London, at a time when he claimed that they were living in peace elsewhere in the kingdom.  He ordered the mayor and citizens to protect Jews against attack, and warned them he would hold them responsible for any Jewish blood that was shed, `for we know well’, he concluded, `that such things occur on account of the half-wits (fatuos) of the town, and not of the prudent, and the wise ought to constrain the stupidity of fools.’

In taking so firm a line, John made it clear that he was more concerned for the maintenance of his peace than for the well-being of Jews - `nor indeed were we moved in that for the sake of the Jews but for that of our peace, because if we had given our peace to a dog, it ought to be inviolably observed ...’.19   In November 1204 he granted his peace, along with licence to come safely to England and remain there, to a Jew named Hanuchim, as reward for the latter’s good service under Roger de Lacy in the recently lost fortress of Château Gaillard,20 but at the beginning of that year, as French pressure on the duchy of Normandy intensified, John showed what treatment English Jews might be exposed to as a result of his financial needs.  On 30 January the sheriffs of several East Anglian counties were ordered to make `urgent distraints’ on Jews for their debts to the crown,21 and further exactions soon followed, intensified, perhaps, by the loss of Normandy, since the resources of Jews there, and especially of their principal community in Rouen, were no longer available for exploitation.  In April 1205 `our Jewish prisoners’ were among those excepted from the general pardon which, following the death of Queen Eleanor, and for the good of her soul, was granted to those held in the king’s gaols – their arrest is probably to be associated with some unrecorded levy.22

Here John can be seen turning the screw on the Jews themselves, but he was already well aware that indebtedness to Jews could also be exploited to his own advantage.  In 1204 – and possibly earlier, gaps in the records prevent certainty – he had begun to grant letters to Jews ordering that debts to them should be paid, and that the king should receive one bezant for every pound collected.23  The sums in question were almost always described as including interest by chirograph (cum lucro per cirographum), suggesting that the Jews concerned were taking steps to secure payments of debts recorded under the ordinance of 1194, with the interest being included with the principal when the relevant bonds were drawn up.24  No doubt the letters were directed to sheriffs, and led to their powers of coercion being put at creditors’ disposal – two Jews who in 1205 obtained letters of this kind against two men and a woman who owed them money in Dorset and Somerset subsequently accounted for the bezants they owed, specifically `for distraining’ upon their debtors.25  Since a bezant was valued at approximately two shillings, the king profited to the extent of receiving a ten per cent levy on every Jewish debt which was collected in this way, and he probably received a modest fee for issuing the initial letters as well.  This was a device capable of infinite extension – anybody who owed money to a Jew could be harassed into paying up through such means, regardless of his or her eminence.  Also in 1205, a Gloucester Jew named Bonevie accounted at the exchequer for seven bezants (valued at 14s.), payment `for having letters for ten marks [£6. 13s. 4d.] upon the earl of Hereford.’26  Perhaps the king or his agents regarded this as only fair-dealing; whether it was prudent to enable a Jewish creditor to pursue one of the great men of the realm in order to enrich the king by 14s. does not seem to have been a question they asked themselves, at any rate not for some time.  Such letters went on being issued at least until 1208, when a further lacuna concealed their use – they had ceased to be recorded by the time the sequence of surviving fine and oblate rolls resumed in 1213.

The use of letters ordering distraints upon debtors to Jews illustrates how the pressure which King John exerted upon the Jews themselves could have an impact extending far outside the Jewish community.  Their leading role as money-lenders, in an inadequately monetised society, meant that the number of men and women, of every social rank, who became indebted to Jews was always considerable, while the risks which credit transactions entailed were such as to keep interest rates high.  These were not in fact always recorded, it seems to have been common for interest to be included with the principal when the initial terms of payment were laid down, though separate payments of interest would become due if the terms were not met.  Where interest was due from the outset, the usual rate seems to have been twopence per pound per week – that is, forty-three and a third per cent per annum; threepence was not unknown, however, and in one exceptional case sixpence.27  Although evidence is scanty, the accumulation of interest on a loan could plainly be substantial.  In 1215 a debt of ten marks was found to have gathered a further seven marks in interest,28 while in 1204 one Richard de Scrupes was recorded as owing at least thirty marks in interest to Jews of Gloucester from whom he had originally borrowed twenty-five and a half marks (unfortunately in neither case is there anything to show how long it took for the interest to accrue thus).29  As already noted, when a king demanded money from Jews, it was inevitable that the latter should in turn apply pressure to their debtors for the payment of money owed to them, interest as well as capital, so that the king’s demands could be met.  The process of debt collection was itself potentially stringent and methodically carried out; when land pledged as security was seized by a creditor, everything on it was valued and then passed into the creditor’s hands, to constitute part of the repayment.

Throughout his reign John used the king’s controlling interest in Jews as an instrument of patronage.  He might grant a respite on the payment of, or pardon the interest due from, Jewish debts, perhaps in consideration of the overseas service which had led to those debts being contracted, or even remit a debt entirely – on 8 August 1202 the stroke of a pen cleared the earl of Arundel of all his debts to Jews up to the beginning of the month.30  He might accept payment for rescheduling a Jewish debt.  In 1205 Henry Bec undertook to pay the king either a horse or twenty marks, whichever John preferred, in return for an order that Henry’s debt to Ivo the Jew of Lincoln be paid off at the rate of £50 per annum.31  He might grant Jewish property to a friend or ally.  Several of the keepers, or justices, of the Jews, benefited in this way, for instance Simon of Pattishall, who was given two messuages in Northampton in 1200,32 and Thomas de Neville, who in around 1212  disposed of `houses which belonged to Aaron the Jew of Lincoln which I have by gift of the Lord King John ...’.33  In 1214 John gave his henchman William Brewer three Jewish houses, in London, Northampton and Oxford, in a single grant.34  The properties in question were already in the hands of the king when he disposed of them, but John’s opportunities for making such gifts could be augmented if land pledged to a Jew for a debt escheated to the king when the Jew died – in 1201 Maurice of Askern, a Yorkshire landowner, gave ten marks and a palfrey for a searching inquiry into debts owed to Josce of York by his father, who had pledged land in Askern to him, `and if that land came into the king’s hand for any other reason than as an escheat by Josce’s death.’35

(d) Tightening pressure: the measures of 1207

During the first half of John’s reign his exploitation of Jewish resources was mostly opportunistic and occasional, while the collection of Jewish debts which had become the property of the crown remained the responsibility of the exchequer of the Jews, which seems to have approached its task with a notable lack of urgency.  Prior Geoffrey of Canterbury, detailing in 1198 the wrongs suffered by his monks in a bitter dispute with Archbishop Walter, alleged that `Jews are compelled against their will (etiam inviti) to extort violently from us what we owe them ...’36 – the impression conveyed is of faceless bureaucrats exploiting their control of Jewish creditors to exert pressure from afar.  From 1207 the advantages of an oblique approach to debt collection were increasingly discarded, and King John’s own direct responsibility for fiscal pressure became all too clear.  That year saw both further demands on the English Jewish community, and determined efforts to collect Jewish debts which had passed into the king’s hands.  One tallage, of 4000 marks, was of less consequence than another, of a tenth of the value of each Jew’s bonds, this being backed by a record of those bonds which was to be deposited in the exchequer – from now on John had immediate access, at the centre of government, to up-to-date information about the resources of English Jews.37

The possible consequences for John’s subjects, Jews and Christians alike, can be illustrated from the case of Henry Lovel, who in 1208 proffered eighty marks and a palfrey to be cleared of the debt which his father, another Henry, who died in 1194, and his brother Ralph, who had died in the previous year, owed to Vives, a son of Aaron of Lincoln.38  For the purposes of the tenth Vives had valued the debt at 200 marks (£133. 6s. 8d.), and as part of the deal Lovel agreed to pay £78. 1s. 4½d. to the king, thereby settling a debt which Vives owed the crown, while he negotiated a settlement with Vives over the rest of the money (£55. 5s. 3½d.) – it may be doubted if Vives received so much, however, since it was stipulated that when he accounted with Lovel the latter was to be allowed any money already paid towards the settlement of his family’s debt, and three years earlier Ralph Lovel complained that Vives had been holding the Lovel barony of Castle Cary but had failed to acknowledge his receipts from it.  The net result was that John gained by accepting Henry Lovel’s fine, and also by being paid money owed him by Vives.  Lovel became clear of an inherited debt to Vives, but at the price of becoming more heavily indebted to the king than he had been before, altogether owing £331. 3s. 7d. and seven palfreys, which he was expected to pay off at the rate of 100 marks per annum.  Vives was cleared of a debt he had owed the king, but probably lost on the Lovel family debt – perhaps John or his advisers reckoned that he had understated the amount owed, and punished him by accepting his own estimate, so that he received, or was allowed, less than the full value of the debt.

At the same time the collection of the debts of Aaron of Lincoln was reactivated.  Although some of them were by now so old as to be regarded as well-nigh hopeless,  Aaron’s son Elyas, most likely yielding to force majeure,  gave 200 marks for having £400 worth of his father’s `worse bonds’, ones which had not been cleared `and which are worth less to the lord king’, and then a further three gold marks for a better deal, `for having such bonds as may be productive and from which profit may accrue to him’.39  Recorded payments show that while some of the bonds which Elyas chose were indeed likely to yield a safe return – Roger de Ginges, for instance, charged with £7 in 1208, had owed £26. 11s. in 1197, and had been steadily paying off his debt in the intervening years – others had done little to clear their debts since these were first recorded.  But it was essential for Elyas, if he was to profit from his bargain with the crown, that other men, for instance Robert de Gant, who had owed Aaron £26 in 1191, but had paid nothing at all since then, and Gilbert de Coleville, whose original debt of £70. 6s. 8d. (recorded in no less than nine bonds) had been reduced by just £5. 6s. 8d. in twenty-one years, should now pay up.40  Such men must have found the pressure they now came under to settle these aging debts, after years of tacit acquiescence in their non-payment, to be highly unwelcome if not actually offensive.

Jewish creditors and their debtors alike looked to the king for support and protection, which John duly supplied, at a price, at least once to both parties to the same contract.  In 1207 Isaac the son of Cresselinus gave £5 to be put in possession of the estate at Rushall, Wiltshire, of Fulk de Alno, who owed Isaac money, only for Fulk to give four palfreys to have the order revoked, by reference to a deal he had previously made with the king for paying his debt.41  When in 1208 Samuel son of Dieudonné made an agreement with the king to have royal support in raising money owed him by Richard Basset of Great Weldon, the fact that John’s price was a third of the entire debt gave him an interest in its collection almost as great as Samuel’s, and identified him closely with the methods used to raise the money – unsurprisingly, Basset was among the baronial rebels at the end of the reign.42  Another such rebel was Henry d’Oilli of Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, who accounted for £1015. 7s. 11d. for a debt to Simon the Jew of Oxford which had been taken into the king’s hand, probably in the previous year.  After making an initial payment of fifty marks, Henry agreed to pay 100 marks per annum until the debt was cleared, on condition that if he fell behind in his payments the bond recording the debt was to be returned to Simon, and whatever Henry had paid the king was to be regarded as lost, while Simon would presumably start exacting what was owed him all over again.43  Henry d’Oilli’s bond was entrusted to the chancellor, Walter de Gray, who as another Oxfordshire man would have been well placed to know the details of Henry’s circumstances.  Gray was just one of John’s agents to be active at this time on their master’s behalf, targeting Jews – in 1207 year Simon son of Jacob, a Jew of Northampton, gave 100 marks to have all his father’s lands, chattels and debts, reserving to the king `his debts and tallages and his third which Jacob owed the lord king, and his gold and silver found after his death’ (perhaps Simon was suspected of having tried to conceal some of his late father’s valuables)44 – and Christians alike, especially those who had owed money to Aaron of Lincoln.  Late in 1208 order was given that all the lands of those in arrears with such debts should be taken into the king’s hand.45

(e) Going to extremes, 1210-1215

All this was bad enough, both for the Jews and for those who owed them money, but the pressure exerted upon both became heavier still in 1210.  In the spring of that year order was given for the arrest of Jews throughout England and their imprisonment at Bristol,46 where, according to Wendover, they were harassed and tormented into putting their wealth at the king’s disposal; one unhappy man, who refused to pay the 10,000 marks demanded of him, had one of his teeth knocked out each day for a week, finally saving the rest when on the eighth day he agreed to pay up.47  According to Gervase of Canterbury (one of a number of chroniclers to record the financial assault on English Jews, which clearly made a considerable impression), others were hanged or blinded, presumably for resisting the king’s demands.48  This brutality was accompanied by the seizure of all records of debts owed to Jews, and was followed, late in the year, by an unprecedentedly heavy tallage, said during pleadings in the exchequer of Jews in 1218 to have amounted to £40,000.49  The cruelty of the initial attack on Jews may have been randomly inflicted, but the tallage was methodically raised.  Presumably in order to benefit from their inside knowledge, Jews were themselves employed as agents of collection (something which can only have further demoralised the Jewish community),50 and doubtful cases were carefully investigated.  Uncertain, following the arrest of Jews, as to which of two men named Walter of Thorpe owed £14 to Isaac of Norwich, the king’s justices sent messengers, seemingly from Bristol, to Isaac, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, to discover the identity of the debtor `from his own mouth’.51  Unable either to hide from the king’s collectors, or to meet the king’s demands, many poor Jews fled overseas.52

Debts to Jews which were taken over by the king were no less assiduously pursued.  Although the wording of the records is often perfunctory and obscure, it would appear that lands pledged to Jews for the payment of debts, and the estates of debtors to Jews whose obligations had come under the king’s control, were alike liable to seizure.  In 1211 three west-country men undertook to pay 500 marks on behalf of John de Montagu, lord of the Somerset barony of Chiselborough, and obtained possession of his land quia in rotulo Judeorum,53  and in the same year William of Windsor had to find £100 to recover his lands, taken into the king’s hand de debitis Judeorum, and then pay 100 marks per annum to clear the debts themselves.54  Some men, indeed, had to sell their lands in order to meet royal demands arising from Jewish debts.  Gilbert FitzReinfrey, the sheriff of Yorkshire, paid £100 to Richard of Middleton for all his land at Middleton and Kneeton `in clearance of the debt he owed the king for debts to Jews’, and then gave 6s. 8d. to have the transaction entered on the pipe roll as an authoritative record (Gilbert was later recorded as paying Richard’s debt into the exchequer).55  In the aftermath of the 1210 tallage a great many debts to Jews had fallen into the king’s hands, and these, too, were methodically pursued.  A surviving roll from around 1212, although damaged, records the regularised payments made by Jews, but also, and in far greater numbers, by Christians, from Norfolk and Suffolk, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Essex and Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, Sussex, London and Middlesex, Surrey, Devon, Oxfordshire, Kent, Warwickshire and Leicestershire, and the city of York.56  Only the far north, the far south west, and the Welsh marches are unrepresented.  A few of the sums involved were relatively substantial, between £15 and £45, but many were small, recorded only in shillings.  Among the debtors from East Anglia, for instance, were Stephen Blundus, owing 4s. for his mother Agnes, Henry the son of Robert of Bungay, owing 6s. 8d., and Basilea de Friville, who owed 10s.  None of the debts entered on this roll can be identified among those owing to Aaron of Lincoln, rather they all appear to have been recently incurred, but whatever their size they were all now being collected.  The process is unlikely to have made King John any friends, and indeed, in the insignificance of the debtors, and the smallness of the sums they owed, it shows how far down society the impact of Jewish money-lending, and also of the king’s pursuit of the resulting debts, had by now extended.

The king seems to have sensed that his exploitation of Jewish debt was arousing resentment, for on 18 August 1212 he instructed all the sheriffs of England to cause `all debtors of Jewish debts’, except earls and barons, to come before him, so that their debts could be lightened, possibly by confining them to the principal owed.57  But the relief seems to have been short-lived, for in the same year Richard Marsh, one of John’s leading advisers, was recorded as `shamelessly’ (improbissime) collecting Jewish debts, with interest, from everyone,58 and in February 1213 John seems to have been planning further demands on Jews and their debtors, for he appointed commissioners who were not only to investigate official misconduct in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire but were also to inquire into `who have held the gages [vadia] of Jews and from what time and by what have they held them and how much they are worth and the names of each of the pledges.  And do you also let us know the houses and demesnes of Jews and which demesnes they have held at fee and which yearly and of whom they have held them and how much they have rendered for them and how much they are worth more than they have rendered ...’.59  In July that year efforts were being made to collect arrears from the tallage of 1210.60  There could be some easing of pressure in favoured cases, for instance Robert de Ros, cleared of Jewish debts worth eighty marks in November 1213,61 or Simon of Kyme, who in around 1212 negotiated a settlement of an accumulated debt of nearly £1275, of which £419. 11s. 6d. was interest, and who in 1214 was also granted respite of payment of a Jewish debt of 700 marks inherited from his father.62  But others enjoyed no such let-up.  There is no evidence, for instance, that any remission was granted to Eustace de Vescy of his alleged debt of £50 de Judeis.63

(f) Magna Carta and the Jews

Vescy, Ros and Kyme all rebelled in 1215, along with many other landowners who had suffered from John’s exploitation of Jews and the debts owed to them.  As for the Jews themselves, they suffered both from that exploitation and from the enforced closeness of their association with the king’s money-raising methods, which can only have intensified the antagonism already felt towards them on religious grounds.  The theologian William de Montibus, who was for some twenty years chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, pinpointed this aspect of the relationship between king and Jews when he characterised the latter as `the sponges of the king.  They are blood-suckers of Christian purses, by whose robbery kings despoil and deprive poor men of their goods.’64  When the barons captured London on 17 May 1215, they immediately demolished Jewish houses and used the materials to strengthen the city’s defences.65  (According to the sixteenth-century antiquary John Stow, when the Ludgate gate was rebuilt in 1586, a stone engraved in Hebrew letters with the name of Rabbi Moses, the son of Rabbi Isaac, was found embedded in the ancient masonry, a discovery associated by Stow with the baronial action.)66  But although the king’s enemies must have felt that they had more than sufficient reason for resenting the ways in which John had used his control of English Jews and their resources at his subjects’ expense, they placed remarkably few constraints upon them in Magna Carta – Clause 10 dealt with only one weapon in the formidable armoury of extortion and oppression which control of Jewish finance had placed at King John’s disposal.67  Provision was made for the dismissal of the king’s foreign mercenaries, but no similar order was given for the expulsion of Jews, although the idea seems to have been in the air, and had indeed been briefly implemented in the Île-de-France in 1182 (the Jews expelled in that year were allowed to return in 1198).68

One reason for the near total absence of references to Jews in Magna Carta may have been an understanding that their financial skills, particularly where credit transactions were concerned, and their ability to provide ready money at a time when supplies of hard cash were limited, were socially and economically indispensable.  Landowners of all ranks needed access to their expertise and resources, and were certainly not above exploiting the indebtedness to Jews of their Christian neighbours in much the same way that the king did.  Among the men who owed Jewish debts to the king in the years immediately before  Magna Carta were Roger Bigot, earl of Norfolk (one of the twenty-five barons charged with overseeing the implementation of the Charter), recorded as paying £20 on behalf of the heirs of William de Pirho and debts totalling £9 10s. for Robert de Auvilers, William d’Aubigny, earl of Arundel, who paid £10 of the debts of the Lincolnshire baron Robert of Tattershall, and the justice Simon of Patteshall, charged with £15 `for the fine of Robert de Broy’;69 these men, and others like them, had presumably been buying up Jewish debts, no doubt at a discount, and then either collecting them or foreclosing on them, in either case to their own advantage.  Religious houses notoriously expanded their estates in the same way.70  It was unlikely that lay and ecclesiastical lords would willingly forego the employment of such techniques, even though they might also be used to their own detriment, and they might well have been reluctant to deny the king practices which they exploited themselves.  It is also possible that there was a growing feeling that action against Jewish usury was something best left to the church, which had more than once forbidden Jews to take interest on loans made to crusaders,71 while a ban on the taking of excessive interest from Christians by Jews appeared among a number of restrictions placed upon the latter by the decrees of the fourth Lateran Council later in 1215.72

But the main reason for the lack of substantive action was most likely a feeling – one surely felt, and vigorously expressed, by King John - that the treatment, and exploitation, of Jews was too integrally a part of the royal prerogative to be easily separated from it. Writing to the sheriff of Herefordshire in June 1218 (and also to a number of other sheriffs and officials), Henry III’s minority government ordered him to ensure that `our Jews’ were able to live in Hereford, `as they used to do in the time of King J. our father’, and that he was to permit nobody to molest them, not least the bishop of Hereford, `because our Jews are no concern of his.’73  In every respect Jews were to be treated as they had been in the previous reign, when they had been no less `our Jews’, and when the king’s charter of 1201 had licensed Jews to go wherever they wished `with all their chattels as [if they were] our own’.  It was probably because they shared John’s belief that Jews were in some sense a royal monopoly, or at any rate were forced by the king’s recalcitrance to accept it, that the barons confined themselves to protecting only the most vulnerable of the potential victims of Jewish money-lending, with the result that action against other debtors continued to be taken as before.  When he was at Gloucester in August 1216 John was no doubt happy to receive a payment of 60s. to have a Jewish widow provided with a writ `for making distraint for the debt of £9 with interest which Henry the burgess owes her, as she says.’74  Even Clause 10 may quickly have come to be regarded as amounting to an unwarranted infringement of royal rights, for no equivalent clause appeared in any of the reissues of Magna Carta.

(g) Clause 10

Clause 10 ordered that following the death of anyone who had borrowed money from Jews, his debt was not to incur interest for as long as the heir was under age, while if the debt came into the hands of the king, the latter would only require payment of the principal, without any interest at all (or at any rate additional interest – the term catallum may have meant the combination of principal and fixed interest specified in some bonds).  As already noticed, the king often remitted payments of interest on debts to Jews, and the pope did the same for crusaders.  On 11 November 1206 John granted to Robert of Tattershall the wardship, as his right, of the lands and heirs of John of Ingham, directing that he was to have it until the heirs came of age, and that none of them should be troubled for John’s debt to Jews until the heirs came of age.75  In this case nothing was said about interest, and it is possible that it was left to accumulate during the years which followed, but the grant does at least show one of the ways in which the king could protect under-age heirs against the exactions contingent upon inherited Jewish debt.  The specific prohibition of interest was intended to prevent heirs from coming into their inheritances to find them massively encumbered with such debt.  Warin de Mountchesney of Swanscombe, Kent, a man of near-baronial rank, who after coming of age in 1213 proffered 2000 marks to have his inheritance, `and that he may be quit of all debts to Jews’ (the sum presumably also covered the interest attendant on those debts), was prepared to incur one obligation in order to avoid another.76  But not every debtor to Jews enjoyed Warin’s resources, and though no instances have been found precisely illustrating the abuse remedied by Clause 10, it can still be shown that the burdens of inherited Jewish debt could be heavy, even when the sums involved were not especially large, not least if they were methodically pursued by the king’s officers.

A number of heirs were recorded as debtors on the roll of Jewish obligations drawn up around 1212.  In Lincolnshire, for instance, the heirs of Ralph de Aubeny and Walter de Preston were debited with 13s. 4d., those of Ralph of Washingborough with 5s., and those of Ralph de Fenna with 11s. 8d.77  By this time some of these debts may have been distinctly elderly – Ralph de Fenna was presumably identical with the man of that name for whose daughter William de Budeville had proffered £20 in 1191, implying that he was dead by then.78  But if William and his wife were the heirs referred to twenty years later, the mere passage of time was clearly not going to be allowed to expunge Ralph’s debt   A more recent encumbrance was that upon the Sussex landowner Hugh of Lunsford, recorded on the 1211 pipe roll as having owed £70 to Samson the Jew of Canterbury, a debt which had come into the king’s hands some time before the general arrest of Jews and their bonds made early in the previous year.79  Of this sum Hugh paid £9. 6s. 8d. in 1211, £4 in 1212, £1. 5s. 2½d. in 1213 and 13s. in 1214.  The steady fall in the sums accounted for may reflect failing health, for by Michaelmas 1214 Hugh appears to have been dead.  But the remaining debt went on being exacted from his heirs (later named as his daughter Matilda), seemingly at the rate of 25s. 2½d. per quarter,80 or just over £5 per annum, a markedly higher amount than any Hugh had himself paid in any year except the first (in the 1220s Matilda was expected to pay just 20s. each year).

There is no way of telling how old Matilda of Lunsford was when she became responsible for her father’s debt, but such terms would have been onerous at any age, and no doubt appeared all the more so for the relentlessness with which they might be enforced.  Among the Norfolk debtors to Aaron of York was William le Vealtre of Burnham Overey, recorded in 1195 as owing a total of £191. 19s. 9d., and as paying 29s. 8d.81  Similarly modest payments were made in the years immediately following, and in 1201 his debt, which like other debts to Aaron was not inflated by accumulations of interest, still amounted to £186. 0s. 1d.  At this point, therefore, pressure began to be applied to William’s five pledges, who were required to pay five marks per annum towards the clearance of the debt, and often did so.  Although assisted by a clerical error in the compilation of the 1205 pipe roll, which resulted in a payment of 71s. 8d. being mistaken for one of £70. 1s. 8d. and the debt being reduced to £116. 8s. 4d., William and his pledges still owed £95. 13s. 4d. in 1212, at which point William died.  But the residue went on being demanded from his heirs (he had two daughters), who were still paying five marks per annum in 1242, when £12. 13s. 4d. had yet to be paid.  At least eight people – the debtor, his heirs and his pledges - had been made to pay just under £180 (in reality only about £110) in dribs and drabs over nearly fifty years.  For people like William and his daughters, a burden of Jewish debt, and the need to satisfy the king who had taken possession of it, must have been a constant cause of anxiety, one transmitted across generations, explaining why in 1215 the barons should have demanded that such exactions be brought under control.


J.C. Holt, Magna Carta (2nd edn., Cambridge , 1992), 428. 


For context I have relied throughout principally on H.G. Richardson, The English Jewry under Angevin kings (1960), and R. Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin kings, 1075-1225 (Oxford, 2000), 346-60.


J.W. Baldwin, Masters, princes and merchants: the social views of Peter the Chanter and his circle, 2 vols. ( Princeton , 1970), i, 298-9; F. Broomfield (ed.), Thomae de Chobham summa confessorum, Analecta Medievalia Namurensia 25 (Louvain and Paris, 1968), 510.


See particularly P.R. Hyams, `The Jewish minority in medieval England, 1066-1290’, Journal of Jewish Studies 25 (1974), 270-93, at 287-8; id., `The Jews in medieval England’, A. Haverkamp and H. Vollrath (eds.), England and Germany in the high middle ages (Oxford,1996), 173-92, at 182; A. Patschovsky, `The relationship between the Jews of Germany and the king (11th-14th centuries).  A European study’, ib., 193-218, at 208 n. 50, 215-16; G. Langmuir, `Tamquam servi: the change in Jewish status in French law about 1200’, M. Yardeni (ed.), Les Juifs dans l’histoire de France: premier colloque international de Haïfa (Leiden, 1980), 24-54, at 34-5.  Langmuir draws attention to possible ambiguities in texts and records, but his own interpretation of them often seems strained and unconvincing..


B.R. O’Brien, God’s peace and king’s peace: the laws of Edward the Confessor (Philadelphia, 1999), 184-5, with comment at 93-7.


T. Rymer (ed.), Foedera I:i (1816), 51


Sir F. Pollock and F.W. Maitland, The history of English law, 2 vols. (2nd edn., Cambridge, 1898), i, 468.


Hyams, King, lords, and peasants, 20.


R. Howlett (ed.), Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I, 4 vols. (Rolls Series, 1884-9), i: William of Newburgh, Historia rerum Anglicarum, i, 280.


Richardson, English Jewry, 162-3.


R.R. Mundill, The king’s Jews: money, massacre and exodus in medieval England (2010), 21-2.


Details in P.A. Brand, `Jews and the law in England, 1275-90’, English Historical Review 115 (2000), 1138-58, at 1138-9.


Richardson, English Jewry, 164-5.


Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin kings, 360; W. Stubbs (ed.), Chronica Rogeri de Houedene, 4 vols. (Rolls Series, 1868-71), iii, 263-4.


R.C. Stacey, `Jews and Christians in twelfth-century England’, M.A. Signer and J. Van Engen (eds.), Jews and Christians in twelfth-century Europe (Notre Dame, 2001), 340-54, at 348-9.


Chronica Rogeri de Houedene iii, 266-7.


T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli chartarum, 1199-1216 (Record Commission, 1837 – hereafter Rot.Chart.), 6-7.


Ib., 93; T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli de oblatis et finibus ... tempore regis Johannis (Record Commission, 1835 – hereafter Rot.Ob.Fin.), 133.


 T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum patentium 1201-1216 (Record Commission, 1835 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Pat.), 33.


Ib., 47.


Ib., 38.


Ib., 58.


The earliest noticed is Rot.Ob.Fin., 197.


See Richardson, English Jewry, 69.


PR 7 John (1205), 140; Rot.Ob.Fin., 296-7.


PR 7 John (1205), 98.


Details from Richardson, English Jewry, 70.


T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum clausarum i, 1204-1224 (Record Commission, 1833 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Claus.), 220.


PR 6 John (1204), 150.


Rot.Lit.Pat., 16.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 52.


Rot.Chart., 52.


J.C. Davies (ed.), The cartae antiquae, rolls 11-20, Pipe Roll Society new series 33 (1960), no. 366 (pp. 50-1)


Rot.Chart., 200.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 122.


W. Stubbs (ed.), Chronicles and memorials of the reign of Richard I, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1864-5), ii: Epistolae Cantuarienses, 450.


R.C. Stacey, `The English Jews under Henry III’, P. Skinner (ed.), The Jews in medieval Britain: historical, literary and archaeological perspectives (Woodbridge, 2003), 41-54, at 41.


Details from PR 10 John (1208), 113; Rot.Ob.Fin., 314; Rot.Lit.Claus., 112-13; R.A. Brown (ed.), The memoranda roll for the tenth year of the reign of King John, 1207-8, Pipe Roll Society new series 31 (1956), 36-7.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 420, 436.


PR 10 John (1208), 4, 27, 80-1.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 378, 390.


Ib., 425.  For Basset as rebel see Rot.Lit.Claus., 327.


PR 10 John (1208), 139.  D’Oilli was n rebellion by November 1215 – Rot.Lit.Claus., 237.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 391.


Rot.Lit.Claus., 98.


Richardson, English Jewry, 168-72; Stacey, `English Jews under Henry III’, 43.


H.G. Hewlett (ed.), Rogeri de Wendover liber qui dicitur flores historiarum, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1886-9), ii, 54-5.


 W.Stubbs (ed.), The historical works of Gervase of Canterbury, 2 vols.  (Rolls Series, 1879-80), ii, 105.  Other chronicles which record these events include H.R. Luard (ed.), Annales Monastici, 5 vols. (1864-9), i (Annals of Margam), 29, and W. Stubbs (ed.), Memoriale fratris Walteri de Coventria, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1872-3), ii, 203.


J.M. Rigg (ed.), Calendar of the plea rolls of the exchequer of the Jews i: 1218-1272 (Jewish Historical Society of England, 1905), 4.


Mundill, King’s Jews, 149.


J.M. Rigg (ed.), Select pleas, starrs and other records from the rolls of the exchequer of the Jews, A.D. 1220-1284, Selden Society 15 (1902 for 1901), 3-4.


They were licensed to return in 1215 – Rot.Lit.Claus., 186.


PR 13 John (1211), 64.


Ib., 148.


Ib., 49.


Details from TNA, E 401/1564.


Rot.Lit.Claus., 132.


T. Arnold (ed.), Memorials of St Edmund’s Abbey, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1890-6), ii, 23.


Rot.Lit.Pat., 97.


Ib., 102.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 496-7.


TNA, E 163/1/8B, m. 4; Rot.Ob.Fin., 539.


Curia Regis Rolls vi, 1210-1212 (1932), 136, 217.


Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin kings, 353-4.


J. Stevenson (ed.), Radulphi de Coggeshall Chronicon Anglicanum (Rolls Series, 1875), 171.


J. Stow, A survey of London, ed. C.L. Kingsford, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1971), i, 38.


Holt, Magna Carta, 335-6.


J. Bradbury, Philip Augustus, king of France, 1180-1223 (1998), 51-3, 266.  The demands of the Lincolnshire knight Roger of Asterby, for which he claimed heavenly inspiration and which he communicated to Henry II, included the expulsion of the Jews from England – Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin kings, 357.


E 401/1564, mm. 3, 4.


See, for example, J.C. Holt, The northerners: a study in the reign of King John (Oxford, 1961), 166, 169-70.


Richardson, English Jewry, 139-41.


H. Rothwell (ed.), English Historical Documents iii, 1189-1327 (1975), 672.


Patent rolls of the reign of Henry III, 1216-1225, 157.


Rot.Ob.Fin., 600.


Rot.Chart., 165.


PR 16 John (1214), 31.


E 401/1564, m. 4d.


PR 3 and 4 Richard I (1191-2), 11.


PR 13 John (1211), 129.


Recorded E 401/1564, mm. 1d, 2d.


The principal stages in the development of this debt are recorded PR 7 Richard I (1195), 69; PR 3 John (1201), 131; PR 7 John (1205), 244; PR 16 John (1214), 169; PR 26 Henry III (1242), 192.

Referenced in

John deals with Loretta de Braose and Isaac of Norwich (The Itinerary of King John)

Magna Carta 1215
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