Attacks on the Jews

There were a variety of reasons behind the attacks on the Jews during the Angevin Period. These stemmed from the hatreds held or perpetuated by several different groups, all of whom caused of carried out these attacks. These groups were the ordinary people of England, the church, both in England and abroad, the Crusaders who passed through England and the Nobility of England. It must also be added that these attacks were not exclusive to England. However, the way the attacks were carried out in England, and the special causes that lay behind several of them, were actually unique.

Ordinary people hated Jews because of the Jews wealth. Although Jews and their neighbors got on reasonably well for the majority of the time, particularly in London, when tensions and religious fervor rose, these basic hatreds and jealousies could come to the fore. Also, some poorer people did owe the Jews money. Although these loans were usually very small, they were usually given by poorer Jews. As such, these loans usually had a higher rate of interest and these Jews went to greater extremes to make sure the money was paid back. They could be quite ruthless, refusing to give any extra time for repayment, going immediately to the authorities if the loan wasnt paid on time rather than going to the debtor, or simply taking the law into their own hands and extracting the money by force. As such, there was a lot of resentment among the poor towards poorer Jews whom they were more likely to mix with.

The church hated Jews for obvious religious reasons, but also for fiscal reasons. The Jews were hated as those responsible for the death of Christ. As such, the church felt duty bound to perpetuate this myth, and also to create others. This they did with alarming skill and alacrity. It was an English Monk, William of Newburgh, who came up with the story of blood libel; although it was true that a local boy had been found dead, there had been absolutely no proof that the killers were Jews. Despite this, Newburgh and his family attempted to prosecute the local Jews, based on no evidence; thankfully the case was dismissed. However, other Jews who were subjugated to this treatment were not so lucky; many were prosecuted successfully or else simply lynched. This tradition of blood libel then spread from England across Europe like a virus. This was due to the church taking the tales at face value and spreading them themselves. However, those churchman higher up in the churches hierarchy did not encourage Jewish persecution. Although this was partly on theological grounds, it was mainly because for these churchmen, the Jews were useful, providing a ready source of income. However, people still thought that the Jews were worthy of persecution. The stories told about them were told by friars or preachers, which meant that people were far more likely to believe them. However, there were other reasons why churchmen would hate the Jews. These were the same as everyone else; the Jews leant money. Although the church, perhaps more than anyone save the king, realized that the Jews could be very useful to society in the role of usurers, they still hated them because the church had to use them. A surprisingly large number of Jewish loans were made to churches or abbeys; constant building work was costing the church very large sums of money. Thus, they needed a ready source of cash, which the Jews provided. The church tended to borrow from the richer more powerful Jews, although some smaller houses or individuals did borrow from other, poorer Jews.

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The Crusades unleashed an entirely new and unprecedented wave of racial hatred towards the Jews. There were almost no other racial minorities in Europe besides the Jews; there were certainly none in England. As a result, they were far more vulnerable to attack from the Crusaders as they moved around england; York in 1190 was the result of a large number of crusaders, heading south to cross the channel, gathering at York. They, and the priests who were traveling with them, incited the local people to greater acts of persecution than were already being committed. Whilst the reasons of the crusaders for attacking the Jews were no different form those of the church, the crusaders were far more likely to use violence against the Jews for two reasons; their own specific mindset and the financial gains of doing so. The majority of crusaders believed that by attacking non christians they would appease god; thus attacking Jews was a good thing for their souls. The second reason was simply that going on crusade costed a lot of money, and so by attacking the wealthy Jewish community in england, the crusaders could get their hands on some much needed cash.

Of all the different groups in English society, it was the probably the nobles of England who hated the Jews the most. It was the nobles who used the Jewish moneylending services most. The Jews provided a ready and available source of cash for the nobility; however, there was no set level of interest. Also, if a noble failed to repay his loan, then the crown would be very quick to encourage the Jews to reclaiming the debt in other ways, i.e. land seizures. This would mean that, as Jews could not officially own land, that the crown effectively won these lands; the crown always took a cut of any money handed over to the jews, as well as other assets.

Also, the nobles saw a definite link between the Jews and the crown. This would manifest itself very violently during the First Barons War. Also, the barons inserted a clause in Magna Carta which stated that the process of usury should be banned; although this was technically simply following the orders of the Pope, it is clear that this measure was taken out of self interest and not out of any pious feeling the nobles had. The nobles also resented the fact that only the king could control the Jews. They wanted to return to the situation before Henry IIs reign, were the nobility had been able to take advantage of the Jews vulnerability and exploit them themselves. These settlements of so called ???baronial Jews??? had been treated far worse then when they had been under royal control, despite Stephens best attempts to protect them.

After Henry II??™s accession they were brought back under royal control. This meant that the Jews were mainly confined to the cities. However, some still moved out into the countryside, were they were again vulnerable. When this occurred, the barons quickly tried to move in and bring these Jews under their own control. This usually meant that the nobles would use violence; more often than not these Jews would be poor, and thus would have far greater difficulty bringing their grievances before the kings court. Thus even Jews in Henry II??™s reign found that they were threatened by noble persecution. One of the greatest threats to Jewish safety was when nobles were forced to forfeit land to the Jews as failure to pay for off a loan. Jews were not allowed to own land. As such, when lands were forfeited, another christian nobleman had to be found to run the land for the Jews. This could either be a crown official, a local nobleman (who usually had some cause to dislike the former owner) who was hired on a temporary basis by the crown, or another christian hired by the Jews themselves. Generally, the crown preferred the second option; although they probably wouldn??™t get as much of the estates yield as they would had a royal official had run the estate, this process was far more expensive, and in any case, the crown could sell of these rights to a nobleman, thus allowing them to make a quick profit. However, there was still a massive problem with this system from the Jews point of view; the security that would have been provided from working with an official royal officer was not provided. The former owners of the estates would thus effectively be at liberty to terrorize the people running the estate and the Jews themselves. It was very rare that the nobleman who was in the crowns pay would provide the security themselves; they would either not have the means to do so, or would not really care about the Jews or the estate. Both were simply a means to an end. However, slightly unusually it was the church that provided protection for the Jews in these cases. The church, realizing they would fair far better if the crown held the majority of power in the realm, and realizing how important the Jews were for this to happen, decided to limit the nobles power. In many cases, and particularly during John??™s reign, the church attempted to protect the Jews who were holding land as payment. However, despite this, many Jews were attacked and persecuted during Johns reign.

In conclusion therefore, I believe I can say this. The attacks on the Jews that occurred during the 12th and earlier 13th centuries resulted from the prejudices of the different parts of English society. The ordinary people held primitive and basic jealousies and prejudices against a group who they felt were unjustifiably richer than them. The church were responsible for exacerbating the problem by preaching that usury was evil, whilst still using the process themselves. They were the originators of many of the negative stereotypes that surrounded the Jews and resulted in many persecutions. The Crusaders claimed that by killing non believers, they were saving their own souls. The persecution of Jews allowed the crusaders access to a ready supply of cash as well to fund their expeditions. Finally, the nobility of the kingdom either aimed to remove the Jews altogether or bring them under their own control. Either seeing the Jews as an instrument of Crown control, or as something which threatened them and limited their own power, the nobles hated the Jews without needing to resort to the excuses provided by the church or the crusaders, although they often did. Despite the best efforts of the Crown and, in some cases, the Church, the Jews were regularly and needlessly persecuted during this period.


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