Monday, 13 June 2016

[#34] Select Pleas, Starrs, and Other Records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, A.D. 1220-1284, ed. and trans. J. M. Rigg (London, 1902).*

* Nota bene – This volume has been digistised and is available here: accessed on 13 June 2016.

Academic Entry:

This volume is a compendium which includes a comprehensive introduction to thirteenth-century Anglo-Jewry, the most significant pieces of legislation, and important excerpts from the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews.

General Entry:

Looking at one of my bookcases, one set of books immediately stands out: the six (well used) volumes of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews (PREJ). These volumes have underpinned the last century of scholarship of on the subject of medieval Anglo-Jewry. That being said, there is a book, which is sadly absent from my collection, which I use just as much and would argue is just as important as these full volumes of the PREJ volumes. That is J. M. Rigg’s (who edited the first two volumes of PREJ in released in 1905 and 1910 respectively) volume of the most significant entries in the PREJ rolls, published by the Seldon Society in 1902. Indeed, I might even be tempted to argue that this volume was an even more important contribution to medieval Anglo-Jewish history than the respective, relatively comprehensive, PREJ volumes for several reasons. First, looking at the introduction, which provides a very detailed history of thirteenth-century Anglo-Jewry, this seems to me to be a more substantive contribution to the historiography, than the book which was produced by Albert Montefiore Hyamson six years later (1908) and which would become the standard textbook for decades to come. Indeed, such is the calibre of this introduction that even in the light of more than a century of historical research, I feel that a great deal can still be gained from this section, providing that it treated with caution. Second, the provision of some of the most important pieces of legislation concerning the Jews during the thirteenth-century, with the original Latin and an English translation, which has yet to be surpassed (though I am currently attempting something which revises these translations, so that may change in the coming years). While minor amendments might be made to these translations, in light of contemporary standards, in terms of content these do not impact upon the reading of these pieces of legislation – hence the Latin and English version are commonly cited in scholarship and have been since this appearance of this volume. Third, and finally, the documents which are reproduced (again in Latin transcription and English translation) are nothing short of a masterpiece. Naturally they have an inherent significance in their own right, however context provides them with even more significance. That is to say, while the first two PREJ volumes appeared in a relatively short space of time, the same cannot be said of the other volumes (volume six, the most recent volume, only appeared in 2005 and there is still on more volume to appear, which Professor Brand informed me that he was working on).  As a consequence, for a great span of the twentieth-century these excerpts were the only way to access the PREJ rolls short of visting the rolls in person which would be a difficult task for most. Thus, individually these elements are each worthy of commendation, but collectively they amount to a work so magnificent that the work of many other, superb, historians is rendered pale in comparison. It therefore goes without saying that I cannot recommend this book enough.

Work Cited:

Albert Montefiore Hyamson, A History of the Jews in England (London, 1908).

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