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The first significant migration of Jews to England came after the Norman Invasion in 1066. By the late 1200s, England had a small Jewish population of around 3000 people. Throughout this period, the Jews suffered from anti-Semitic prejudice, often scapegoated or wrongly accused of crimes. There were frequent riots against them, in which their property was destroyed and citizens murdered.
Many Jews were employed as money lenders. The Jews took these jobs because the Christian Church traditionally ruled that usury (money lending for interest) was illegal for Christians, but not for Jews. The Jews were taxed heavily, so the wealth earned in the usury trade benefited the Crown directly.
By the late 1200s, a series of laws had been created restricting the rights of the Jewish people. For instance, they were not allowed to own land, and after death their money went, not to their children, but directly to the Crown. In 1275 King Edward I passed a law forbidding the Jews from usury. They were entitled to earn a living as tradesmen or farmers, but were not allowed to be part of guilds or to own farmland. The Jews became poor and the king could no longer collect taxes from them. Many hundreds were arrested, hanged or imprisoned. And then finally in 1290, they were banished from England altogether. Jews were not allowed to return to England until 1656. The illustration shown here is from the margins of The Rochester Chronicle, created in 1355.
Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero D II.