The history of the Jews in Europe can almost be read as a timeline of expulsions. At one time or another, Jews have either been expelled from, or prohibited to settle in, almost every country in Europe, both eastern and western.
While the Spanish expulsion is by far the most famous, the expulsion of the Jews from England was one of the longest legal expulsions on record. The initial Edict of Expulsion was issued by King Edward I on November 1, 1290 (3 Cheshvan 5051) and was not removed from the books until 1656 (although individual Jews were sometimes given permission to visit, while others entered as conversos fleeing the Spanish Inquisition).
Many historians believe that a majority of European expulsions had, at the heart of the matter, a financial incentive. More often than not, the expelled Jews were forbidden from taking their wealth with them, and their possessions greatly enriched the crown. In the case of King Edward I, however, the financial incentives were minimal. The Jews of England had already been drained dry through extensive taxation and by the 1275 Statute of Jewry, which outlawed all usery/money-lending, a primary Jewish occupation. The Statute also mandated other anti-Semetic measures such as restrictions on Jewish settlement and a law requiring Jews to wear a yellow badge. While the Statute of Jewry was meant to encourage Jews to enter other professions, the local population was not receptive to Jews entering their guilds and crafts.
Religious zeal and political manuvering were also strong motives for the European expulsions. Edward I had already fought in one crusade in the Holy Land and was politically supporting another.
The Edict of Expulsion and ban on Jewish settlement is often examined by Shakespearean scholars. After all, if no Jews lived in England, on whom did Shakespeare model his infamous Shylock? (Opinions welcome)Email this post