Jews occupied a precarious position in medieval English society. They performed an invaluable service as moneylenders, a role denied to Christians on religious grounds, but this made them the subject of widespread resentment and exposed them to exploitation. The theologian William de Montibus (1140–1213) represented this view when he characterised Jews as ‘sponges of the king. They are blood-suckers of Christian purses, by whose robbery kings despoil and deprive poor men of their goods’. In 1210 King John ordered that Jews be arrested, and he commanded that they place their wealth at his disposal; two clauses of Magna Carta subsequently dealt with debts owed to Jews by under-age heirs and widows. These 13th-century charters record transactions with Jewish moneylenders. The majority are written solely in Hebrew but one, in which Isaac of Southwark renounces his claim to a debt, contains additional words in Latin (Harley Charter 43 A 68).
- Article by:
- Nicholas Vincent
- Clauses and content
A number of Magna Carta’s core principles are still fundamental to English law, but the majority of the charter’s clauses in 1215 dealt with specific medieval rights and customs. Here Professor Nicholas Vincent provides an overview of the charter’s original clauses.