Concessions and Finance; the Jews

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Concessions and Finance; the Jews

For even in the twelfth century, if not earlier, the Crown was constantly in straits for ready money. Theoretically the feudal king was supposed to "live of his own"; that is, he was to run the kingdom as if it were his private estate, and pay the expenses out of revenue. His revenues were various; manorial rents, payments made by vassals on various specified occasions, rights of wardship and marriage, scutage (a payment made by vassals in lieu of military services), the firma lurgi (tax paid by the free boroughs), the profits of his law courts, and all kinds of miscellaneous fines and perquisites.


But all these came into the Exchequer in driblets which were often in arrear and left unpaid. One source was particularly valuable: the Jews, whom William I had encouraged to come to England in considerable numbers. Usury, which at this time meant the taking of any interest whatsoever on loans, was forbidden to Christians by the ecclesiastical law; so for a time the Jews were the only moneylenders. It was they who helped needy barons when they got into difficulties by lending them money on mortgage; they financed expeditions like that of Strongbow to Ireland in 1171, and the building of many castles and monasteries, particularly those of the Cistercians.


The maximum rate of interest which they were authorized to charge exceeded 40 per cent per annum, and they often got double that. Considering the risks, however, this was not so excessive as it sounds; for they had no security, except the King's protection and their own usefulness, against the detestation of every rank of society. They were detested on religious grounds; as usurers; as creditors; and a persons not amenable to the laws of the towns in which they lived. For the Jews belonged to the King alone. They had to pay him heavy fines; their estates at death were forfeit to him as those of usurers. During life he might tax them as he pleased.


Consequently they were used by thirteenth-century kings as a way of taxing their subjects, being first allowed to accumulate wealth through usury, and afterwards squeezed. (The proceeds of the "Arbitrary Tallage "on the Jews averaged %pound;,000 annually, or nearly one-tenth of the Crown's whole revenue.) Naturally this made them more unpopular than ever, and pogroms were frequent. The thirteenth century was the time when the Church was most powerful and respected in England; Archbishop Stephen Langton declared that it was sinful even to sell the necessaries of life to Jews, and the preaching friars denounced them. In 1290 Edward I expelled them from England, and they did not return, till the time of Cromwell.

Further reading - The Welfare State.


FROM the eleventh to the thirteenth century English foreign trade was largely, though not entirely, in the hands of non-Englishmen, and they retained 'a great part in it till the end of the sixteenth century. Nor is this surprising if we consider the relation of England to Europe at this time. She was what we are accustomed to-day to describe as a backward country; she was situated at the very edge of the civilized world, beyond which there was nothing but a mysterious and fearful ocean. Her kings before Edward I were foreigners in blood, speech and outlook; Henry II was a Frenchman who spent only... see: FOREIGN TRADE: HANSARDS, STAPLERS AND THE CLOTH EXPORT

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