The Shameful Edict

On 18 July 1290, King Edward I of England issued the Edict of Expulsion, a despicable bit of legislation that expelled all Jews from England. It would be over 350 years before it was overturned by Oliver Cromwell.

Not long after William the Conqueror came to England in 1066, Jewish communities started cropping up around the country, and Jews, along with merchants, were granted special status under the feudal system William established. As the all-powerful church forbade Christians from lending money for profit, moneylending became the domain of the country’s Jewish population, as it did throughout Europe. Using special rights, the kings of England tended to levy heavy taxes on the Jews.

The Jews’ reputation as extortionate moneylenders, whether deserved or not, made them unpopular with the public and the church, fostering significant anti-Semitism and rumors of ritual child murders. Anti-Jewish feelings were so high in some places they actually sparked riots where Jews were murdered. In 1190, over a hundred Jews were killed in the city of York.

Things continued to deteriorate. In 1218, England became the first country to require Jews to wear a special badge, and taxation on them increased. In 1275, the Statue of Jewry outlawed usury and gave the Jews just 15 years to find another way to make their livings. Unfortunately, guilds shunned the Jews, leaving them few options. In 1287, Edward expelled all the Jews from the duchy of Gascony and seized their property.  The king was deeply in debt by this time and realized he’d have to raise taxes on his landowners in 1289. To make the tax more palatable, he offered to expel all the Jews.  The knights agreed, the tax was passed, and the Edict of Expulsion was issued. The excuse given was that the Jews had failed to follow the Statue of Jewry.

As the Jewish population in England by that time was fairly small, the expulsion went fairly smoothly. Many of them emigrated to Poland and other countries on the mainland. A few were permitted back over the next few hundred years, but it wasn’t until 1656, when Cromwell needed to kick-start the battered British economy, that the Edict was lifted for good.

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