Monday, 2 May 2016

[#24] Archie Baron, ‘All the King’s Jews’, Timewatch, BBC 2, 31 October 1990.*

* Nota bene – I am grateful to Mr Archie Baron for providing me with a copy of this documentary which otherwise seems to be unavailable anywhere else which is a terrible shame given its quality.

The dream of making the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry accessible to a much more general audience did not begin with this blog, but it might be said to owe a great deal to this documentary which was produced in conjunction with leading scholars, notably a very young Dr Robin Mundill, produced in relation to the nine-hundredth anniversary commemorations of the York massacre of 1190. As far as I’m concerned, it would be difficult to find a better introduction to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry than this documentary – regardless of how much you already know about medieval Jews – and one of its great strengths is that it has the capacity to appeal to a very broad audience, be that people who know nothing of medieval Jews in England to those who know a great deal about the subject. Indeed, while a comprehensive written survey of medieval Anglo-Jewry would not appear until 2006 (Huscroft: 2006), I think that this documentary is a worthy (if unacknowledged) predecessor which provides a reasonably full exploration of the subject. As one might expect of a programme which condenses two centuries of history into a one hour documentary, this documentary focuses upon the most famous / infamous events in the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry (e.g. William of Norwich’s death, the massacres of 1189-90 and the Expulsion). However, I think that an amazing amount of material has been squeezed into this documentary which introduces the viewer to as many themes as physically possible within the time constraints. Moreover, the fact that historian like Robin Mundill, Jonathan Romain, Zefira Entin Rokeah and Anna Sapir Abulafia makes it an incredibly powerful documentary in terms of scholarship (although it should be noted that I’m incredibly biased on this point given that these happen to be some of my favourite historians).

I think it is a tragedy (even criminal) that this documentary is so little known (it took me three years to track down a copy I was only successful thanks to a chance footnote – Mundill: 2011, fn. 99) because it is a wonderful piece of television which embodies all the hopes that I have for the field of medieval Anglo-Jewish scholarship. I also know that Robin M, who was involved in this project, had hoped that it might be possible to update this documentary with a series for television (we discussed it when Robert Bartlett’s series was on the BBC and we both thought that that format would be brilliant for medieval Jews – Bartlett: 2014). However, while I’m determined to see as many of Robin’s unfinished academic endeavours completed as far as possible, I wouldn’t have the first clue about approaching somebody with this project (though I would love to do it if ever the chance appeared, or enjoy watching it if some talented historian wanted to take a crack at it).

Work Cited:

Bartlett, Robert, The Plantagenets, BBC 2, 2014.

Huscroft, Richard, Expulsion: England’s Jewish Solution (Stroud, 2006).


Mundill, Robin R., ‘Out of the Shadows and into the Light – the Impact and Implication of Recent Scholarship on the Jews of Medieval England 1066-1290’, History Compass, 9 (2011), pp. 572-601.

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