The City of London
Marcus Roberts


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After the accession of King John, events continued on their downwards slide for the Jews of London and these islands. At the start of his reign he had reaffirmed the Jewish charter of rights and even protected the Jews in 1201 and 1204. However in 1210, John found himself in financial desperation and levied the Bristol tallage which effectively ruined many of the Jews of London and elsewhere. Many, if not most, of the Jews found themselves imprisoned; some fled back to Rouen or elsewhere.

In 1213 a house of converts was built near Bermondsey priory and later another was built at Chancery Lane.

Things went from desperate to worse when the Barons took London in 1215. Their occupation of the city lead to very severe conditions for Jews and many died or had to escape. Stow relates that "...They broke into the houses of the Jews, and searched their coffers, to stuff their own purses that had long been empty: after this...[they] applied all diligence to repair the walls of the city with the stones of the Jews broken houses."

There is evidence that they may have even removed Jewish tombstones as building material at Aldgate. A contemporary chronicler also relates that the Jews who were left were reduced to a very bad state as he says that they were left "prowling about the city like dogs".

When John died in 1216, the Jews had a brief respite, even revival, until the tallage of 1221 resumed the downwards slide that ended in their expulsion from the realm.

Under Henry III the Jews of London were sorely oppressed and mulcted and events reached another tragic crescendo in 1244 when a Christian boy was found murdered and allegations were made that cuts on the body were in the form of Hebrew characters. This allegation of ritual murder led to all the Anglo-Jews being savagely fined some 60,000 marks.

The Barons War led to more suffering. In 1263 a trifling dispute about interest levied on one citizen escalated and led to the Barons despoiling the Jewry and killing many Jews.

In 1266 the "disinherited knights" occupied London with the agreement of Londoners and attacked the Jewry. The Jews took shelter in the Tower of London which was held by the Papal Legate Ottobini. They apparently took their defensive duties seriously, encouraged no doubt by the previous outrages by the Barons against the Jewry.

The peace following the end of the Baron's War helped the Jews. But again Edward I statute of the Jews in 1275 brought an end to official Jewish usury, depriving many of making a living. Perhaps some Jews were forced into dishonest doctoring of the coinage, but it was also an easy allegation that could enrich the king. In consequence many were accused of coin clipping in 1278, and 680 Jews from around the country, including many from London were imprisoned in the Tower. Some 300 were said to have been executed, including London Jews.

The pace of persecution continued un-relented and in 1281 Jews were forced to reside solely in the Jewry, having already suffered the indignity of having to attend conversionist sermons by the Dominicans. In 1283 the Bishop of London had all the synagogues in London closed down, though one was allowed to be reopened. Doubtlessly, the closure affected the private synagogues belonging to Jewish magnates. In 1287 the whole community was arrested again and fined a huge sum.

Finally in 1290 the whole of the Anglo-Jewry was expelled and this was the official end of the London Jewry. However there were a number of Jewish converts remaining at the houses of converts. Additionally some Jews visited London from time to time with the permission of the king. These Jews were frequently physicians - for example in the reign of Henry IV three were resident in England, and one a Master Sampson de Mirabeau saw to the wife of the Lord Mayor of London, Richard ("Dick") Wittington.

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