Friday, 25 March 2016

[#5] Robert C. Stacey, ‘The Massacres of 1189-90 and the Origins of the Jewish Exchequer, 1186-1226’ in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts (York, 2013), pp. 106-124.*

* This review was completed as a result of a request in the Facebook group (which can be found at, by Marilyn Smith, for something relating to the Exchequer of the Jews.

In his seminal work From Memory to Written Record, Michael Clanchy placed the emergence of royal regulation of the Jews during the 1190s within the wider context of the move towards a written culture and emphasised the role of Hubert Walter, in particular, in making the administrative changes which centralised and regulated many aspects of English government (Clanchy: 2013, pp. 72-75). However, Clanchy did little more than draw attention to the trend, something which is addressed by Robert Stacey’s essay which is under consideration in this review. Despite the fact that my usual historiographical instinct would be to side with Robin Mundill, who also has an essay in this volume (Mundill: 2013), I find Stacey’s essay the more convincing of the two. This is not least because I have never been convinced by the fact that the establishment of the archae and the Exchequer of the Jews was a reactionary move which was motivated by a desire to protect royal rights in the aftermath of the 1189-1190 massacres of the Jews. In this piece, Stacey provides a credible alternative argument to this reactionary argument by placing the aforementioned developments within longer term developments which had been occurring since the 1170s at the very least. One aspect of this paper which I really like, and which is a feature of Stacey’s scholarship more generally, is the way in which he places events concerning the Jews within the broader Christian context (e.g. the decline of the seigneurial Jewries and the assertion of royal rights over the Jews more generally and consistently than had been the case), rather that artificially segregating the Jews from mainstream events. Thus, when one views the developments of the 1190s within the longer term context it seems likely that they were not reactionary but part of a longer term series of developments. That being said, Stacey also demonstrates that the survival of the Exchequer of the Jews, which was to become a feature of medieval Anglo-Jewish life from the 1220s onwards, was by no means certain through King John’s reign when the institution was heavily neglected, only to enjoy a revival during the minority of Henry III.

While, on the whole, I agree with Stacey’s approach, one facet of his argument in particular needs to be challenged in the light of recent research. That is to say, Stacey follows the traditional line of argument that from the 1190s onwards all legal matters relating to the Jews were dealt with no in the ordinary courts but in the king’s court. Despite the fact that this hypothesis has remained largely unchallenged, the work of Hannah Meyer suggests that the king’s court was never able to fully assert a monopoly on court cases involving Jews and Christians (Meyer: 2009). While the evidence for England as a whole is lacking, Meyer’s work on Exeter in particularly has convincingly demonstrated that this was far from the case. Another problem that I have with this line of argument (which is not unique to Stacey) is that it does not take into account internal Jewish disputes with were handled by the bet din – fortunately that omission will be remedied later this year with a superb paper on the Jewish courts in medieval England.

Work cited:

Clanchy, M. T., From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London, 3rd ed., 2013).

Meyer, Hannah, ‘Female moneylending and wet-nursing in Jewish-Christian relation in thirteenth-century England’ (University of Cambridge, unpublished PhD diss., 2009).

Mundill, Robin R., ‘The “Archa” System and its Legacy after 1194’ in Sarah Rees Jones and Sethina Watson (eds.), Christians and Jews in Angevin England: The York Massacre of 1190, Narratives and Contexts (York, 2013), pp. 148-162.

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