Wednesday, 2 March 2016

[#1] Robin R. Mundill, ‘Banishment from the edge of the world: the Jewish experience of Expulsion from England in 1290’ in John Tolan (ed.), Expulsion and Diaspora Formation: Religious and Ethnic Identities Flux from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century (Turnhout, 2015), pp. 85-101.

In a career which spanned three decades, Dr Robin Mundill fundamentally changed the way that historians consider the final years of the Jewish presence in medieval England and their expulsion in 1290. Such was the significance of his 1998 monograph on the Expulsion that it became an instant classic and the go to text for the final years of medieval Anglo-Jewry (Mundill: 2002). As a result of this, Mundill is well qualified to provide this brief exploration of the Expulsion. In ‘Banishment from the edge of the world’, Mundill provides a discussion of how the Expulsion has been percieved by both contemporaries and modern historians (particularly in relation to the arguments which have been advanced in the past decade by Ira Katznelson and Mark Koyama) before reiterating his opinion of the causes of the Expulsion. Subsequently, Mundill provides a chronology of the lead up to, and execution of, the Expulsion with particular emphasis on the actions of the Church and contemporary events relating to Edward.

                As he has repeatedly so over his long and distinguished career, Mundill advances the argument here that the Expulsion was not a reactionary event, motivated by political expediency and financial necessity, but rather the idea had a longer germination period. Mundill posits two dates which, he argues are, significant in terms of a longer history of the Expulsion: 1275, when the idea of the Expulsion was originally conceived, and 1287, when the Expulsion was decided upon as a course of action. While I agree with the latter date as the significant point in the narrative of the Expulsion, Mundill fails to convince me that 1275 should be regarded as the point when the idea was first conceived. I take this stance for two reasons. First, in 1275 Edward I was still a new King, having only just returned from crusade, and as such the political situation was very different than it would be fifteen-years later when he had stamped his authority on the English political landscape (Stacey: 1997). As a result it would have been exponentially easier to exact the Edict of Expulsion from Edward at this earlier point if the idea had even been on the political cards. Second, I do not interpret the Statute of the Jewry (1275) as a precursor to Expulsion but rather as a concerted effort to move the Jews away from their usurious activities and towards conversion to Christianity. However, 1287 seems to me the correct date to consider the start of the Expulsion – not least because had the Expulsion been a reactionary event then there was no reason that Edward would have continued enforcing it after he got what he wanted (certainly Edward had no problem reneging on his deal with the barons with regards to the quo warrant proceedings – Stacey: 1997).

                Ultimately, Mundill does not advance any new arguments in this piece. Rather, he provides something of a state of the field summary. It is helpful, after the period of intense scholarship which has focused upon the Expulsion, for such a summary to be provided. In pulling together some of the major themes of this scholarship, and restating his own well known views on the subject, Mundill illustrates how the scholarship on this topic has been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, and also highlights how much detail can be gleaned from the extant source material about the final five-months of medieval Anglo-Jewry. With his usual skill and dexterity, Mundill strikes right at the heart of the issues which have fascinated (and continue to fascinate) generations of historians.

Work cited:

Mundill, Robin R., England’s Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion 1262-1290 (Cambridge, 1998, rpt. 2002).

Stacey, Robert C., ‘Parliamentary Negotiation and the Expulsion of the Jews from England’, Thirteenth Century England, 6 (1997), pp. 77-101.

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