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Exchequer of the Jews

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Exchequer of the Jews

The Exchequer of the Jews (Latin: Scaccarium Judaeorum) was a division of the Court of Exchequer at Westminster, which recorded and regulated the taxes and the law-cases of the Jews in England. It operated from the late 1190s until the eventual expulsion of the Jews in 1290.


The institution appears to have arisen out of the estate left by Aaron of Lincoln (died 1186), which needed a treasurer and clerk to look after it, so that a separate "Aaron's Exchequer" was constituted. The riots following Richard I's accession showed the danger such property was liable to if no record was kept of the debts owing to the Jews. Accordingly Richard in 1194 ordered that duplicates should be taken of all Jewish debts and kept in this or in other central repositories:[1] All the debts, pledges, mortgages, lands, houses, rents, and possessions of the Jews shall be registered... no contract shall be made with, nor payment, made to, the Jews, nor any alteration made in the charters, except before the said persons.[2]

It was soon afterward found necessary to have a centre for the whole of the Jewish business, and this was attached to the Exchequer of Westminster and called the "Exchequer of the Jews". The first recorded mention of this is in 1200, when four "justices of the Jews" are named, two of them being Jews, Benjamin de Talemunt and Joseph Aaron. These justices had the status of barons of the Exchequer, and were under the treasurer and chief justice. They were assisted by a clerk and escheator; Jews might hold these offices, but, excepting the two mentioned above, none ever became justice of the Jews. The justices were aided in their deliberations by the presbyter judaeorum (chief rabbi), who doubtless assisted them in deciding questions of Jewish law which may have come before them.[1]


The Exchequer of the Jews dealt with the lawcases arising between Jews and Christians, mainly with reference to the debts due the former. It claimed exclusive jurisdiction in these matters, but many exceptions occurred. In 1250, pleas of disseizin of tenements in the City of London were handed over to the mayor's court, and at times cases of this kind were brought before the ordinary justices in eyre or the hundred-court. It was before this court of the Jewish Exchequer that in 1257 the trial of Chief Rabbi Elyas of London took place. Moreover, the court assessed the contributions of the Jews to the royal treasury in reliefs (comprising one-third of the estate of a deceased Jew), escheats (forfeited to the king for capital offenses), fines (for licenses and concessions), and tallages, or general taxes applied for arbitrarily by the king.[1]

In connection with the tallage, the justices periodically ordered a "scrutiny" of the lists of the debts contained in the archae or chests in which Jewish chirographs and starrs were preserved in each regional centre. Each chest had three locks, with one set of keys held by two designated Jews, one set by two designated Christians, and the third by two royal clerks; so they could only be opened if all three acted together. The chests themselves, or more frequently the lists held by the royal clerks of the debts contained in them, were sent up for "scrutiny" to Westminster, where the justices would report to the king as to the capability of the Jewry to bear further tallage. In the middle of the thirteenth century the number of such archae was reduced to twenty-five. Arrears of tallage were continually applied for, and if not paid the Jew's wife and children were often imprisoned as hostages, or he himself was sent to the Tower and his lands and chattels were distrained.[1]

The Exchequer of the Jews was one of the means which enabled the kings to bring pressure upon the lesser baronage, who therefore claimed in 1251 the right to elect one of the justices of the Jews. These were at first men of some distinction, like Hugh Bigod, Philip Basset, and Henry de Bath. During the early reign of Henry III the justices were mainly appointed by Hubert de Burgh, but later on they were creatures of the king's favorites, as in the case of Robert Passelewe. During Edward I's rule justices held their posts for a very short time, and in 1272 and 1287 they were dismissed for corruption, handsome presents having been made to them, nominally for the use of the king, in order to expedite the legal proceedings. The court did not survive the expulsion, though cases with references to the debts of the Jews occurred in the year-books up to the reign of Edward II.[1]

Deeds and cases

The deeds entered in the Jewish Exchequer were mainly the Selden Society and the Jewish Historical Society of England.[1]

  • Rigg, J.M., ed. (1902), Select pleas, starrs, and other records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, A. D. 1220-1284

The latter society has subsequently undertaken publication of a full calendar (English-language summary) of the rolls, so far to 1281:

  • Rigg, J.M., ed. (1905/1971), Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews Henry III, 1218-1272Vol. I, .
  • Rigg, J.M., ed. (1910/1971), — Vol. II, Edward I, 1273-1275.
  • Jenkinson, H., ed. (1929), — Vol. III, Edward I, 1275-1277.
  • Richardson, H.G., ed. (/1972), — Vol. IV, Henry II, 1272; and Edward I, 1275-77.
  • Cohen, S., ed. (1992), — Vol. V, Edward I, 1277-1279.
  • Brand, Paul, ed. (2005), — Vol. VI, Edward I, 1279-1281.

The Selden Society has also produced a volume of contemporary case-summaries in their series The earliest English law reports,

  • Brand, Paul (2007), Eyre reports 1286-9 and undated Eyre reports, Exchequer of the Jews reports, pre-1290 assize reports, pre-1290 reports from unidentified courts and additional pre-1290 Common Bench reports

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Joseph Jacobs (1906), Exchequer, of the Jews, Jewish Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ The Ordinances of the Jews, 1194 Roger de Hoveden, iii. 266, in Joseph Jacobs, The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records (London, 1893), p. 156-59; via Internet Medieval Source Book
  3. ^ From the Hebrew sh'tar (שטר), meaning document. Suggested in Blackstone (1769), Commentaries on the Laws of England, bk. 4, chap. 19, n. 25 (online). However the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, 1989) gives this etymology "no claim to consideration".

Further reading

(reverse chronological order)

  • Brand, Paul (2005) "Introduction", in Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, Vol. VI: Edward I, 1279-81
  • Brown, Reva Berman & McCartney, Sean (2005) "The Exchequer of the Jews Revisited", in: The Medieval History Journal, 8(2), 303-322 doi:10.1177/097194580500800203
  • Brand, Paul (2003), The Jewish Community of England in the Records of the English Royal Government, in Patricia Skinner, ed., The Jews in Medieval Britain: historical, literary, and archaeological perspectives, pp. 73–96. Woodbridge: Boydell Press ISBN 0-85115-931-1
  • Bartlett, Robert (2002), England under the Norman and Angevin kings, 1075-1225, 351–354. Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-925101-0
  • Mundill, R. R. (1998), England's Jewish Solution: experiment and expulsion, 1262-1290. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-52026-6
  • Richardson, H. G. (1960 / 1983), The English Jewry Under Angevin Kings. London: Methuen (original); Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press (reprint) ISBN 0-313-24247-X
  • Meekings, C. A. F. (1955) "Justices of the Jews 1218-1268: a provisional list", in: Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 28 173-88. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2281.1955.tb00601.x
  • Scott, K. (1950) "The Jewish Arcae", in: The Cambridge Law Journal, 10:446-455. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S0008197300004426
  • Cramer, A. (1941) "The Origins and Functions of the Jewish Exchequer", in: Speculum 16 226-29. Jstor
  • Stokes, H. P. & Abrahams, I., eds. (1930-32), Starrs and Jewish Charters preserved in the British Museum. 3 vols. Cambridge: Printed for the (Jewish Historical Society of England) at the University Press (I. Introduction. Notes on the transliteration of Hebrew proper names. Latin, French, Hebrew texts, translations and notes.--II. Tables. List of abbreviations and bibliography. Vocabulary, by F. A. Lincoln. Excurses: The legal background of the starrs, by F. A. Lincoln; On Sir Adam de Stratton, by W. Page: On Westmill, by Archibald Jackson; On usury, by Herbert Loewe; "signed and sealed", by Herbert Loewe. Notes on the starrs, by Herbert Loewe.--III. Indexes, by Herbert Loewe.)

Jewish Encyclopedia additional bibliography

  • Thomas Madox (1711/1769), History of the Exchequer, i. 221–259.
  • Charles Gross (1888), "Exchequer of the Jews of England in the Middle Ages", in Papers of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exposition, pp. 170–230; and reprinted as a self-contained volume.

External links

  • Historical Background and Glossary of Terms in connection with the Jewish Communities of England & Wales prior to 1290, JCR-UK.
  • English Jewry is Organised: The Ordinances of the Jews, 1194, Internet Medieval Source Book
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