Long persecuted in so-called Christian lands, the people without a country—the Jews—first appeared in England during the latter half of the eleventh century, a colony, it is said, having been taken from Rouen to London by William the Conqueror. These first-comers were, we are told, special favorites of William Rufus. Little is seen of them under Henry I, but in the reign of Stephen they are found established in most of the principal towns, but dwelling as a people apart, not being members of the State, but chattels of the King, and only to be meddled with, for good or for evil, at his bidding. Exempt from taxation and fines, they hoarded wealth, which the King might seize at his pleasure, though none of his subjects could touch it. The Jew’s special capacity—in which Christians were forbidden by the Church to employ themselves through fear of the sin of usury—–was that of money-lender.
In this status the Jews remained without eventful history until the latter part of the twelfth century, when the crusading spirit had aroused a more intense hatred of the race. At the coronation of Richard I (1189) certain of the Jews intruded among the spectators, causing a riot, in which the Jewish quarter was plundered; and this violence was followed by a frenzy of persecution all over the land. A rumor spread that the Jews were accustomed to crucify a Christian boy at Easter, and this aroused the populace to fury against them. Murder and rapine prevailed in several places. Five hundred Jews, who were allowed to take refuge in the castle at York, were there besieged by the townsmen, in whom no offers of ransom could appease the thirst for blood. These avengers were led on by their own clergy, with the cry, “Destroy the enemies of Christ!” A rabbi addressed his countrymen: “Men of Israel, it is better that we should die for our law than to fall into the power of those that hate it, and our law prescribes that we may die by our own hands. Let us voluntarily render up our souls to our Creator.” Then all but a few of them burned or buried their effects, and, after setting fire to the castle in many places, the men cut the throats of their wives and children, and then their own.
Richard I had special dealings with the Jews, the effectual results of which were more securely to bind them as crown chattels and to add to the royal emoluments. King John, well estimating the importance of the Jews as a source of revenue, began his reign by heaping favors upon them, which only made his subjects in general look upon them with more jealousy. Under Henry III both the wealth of the Jews and the oppressions which laid exactions upon it increased; and during the half-century preceding their expulsion from the realm, their condition, as shown by