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