On July 18, 1290, King Edward I of England issued the Edict of Expulsion, ordering the removal of all Jews from England. It remained in effect for over 350 years.
There had undoubtedly been Jews in England as early as Roman times, but there were no significant Jewish settlements there until after the Norman Conquest of 1066. When William I began his rule of England, he instituted the feudal system throughout his lands. All the land formally belonged to him — he apportioned the estates to various nobles, who in return owed him fealty and financial and military support. The serfs of the land, for their part, owed their fealty to the lord of the estate.
There was one notable exception to the feudal system: the Jews were direct subjects to the king. This arrangement had its good points and its bad, from the point of view of the Jews. They were free from the caprices of the various lords and nobles, but they were completely bound to the king.
William I had given the Jews a royal charter, allowing them to live in England. Every monarch after William renewed that charter. The Jews proved useful to England’s economy and had a very specific function. The Church forbade Christians to engage in usury, but the Jews were not bound by the Church’s restrictions. Nobles were able to borrow money from the Jews, some of whom amassed fairly large sums of money. And the king was able to tax it.
This taxation was a godsend to the king. It was pretty much the only way he could get money without the consent of Parliament. Of course, as the king’s financial needs became greater, so did the rate of interest on the loans.
As you can imagine, this made the Jews very unpopular with the public. Of course, antisemitism was rife anyway in the Middle Ages, but exorbitant interest rates didn’t exactly help their cause. England was particularly suspicious of the Jews, and fact soon became buried in fantasy, as the populace began to accuse the Jews of ritual murder, blood libel, and other atrocities.
By 1218, Jews in England were required to wear badges — the first country in Europe to issue such a requirement. Meanwhile, the taxes climbed higher and higher, especially on the Jews.
Edward was also the lord of the Duchy of Gascony in southern France. In 1287, he evicted the Jews from his Duchy, a foretaste of what was in store for the English Jews. Any property belonging to the Jews became the property of the Crown, and all outstanding debts owed to Jewish moneylenders became Edward’s also.
Edward returned to England in 1289, heavily in debt. He needed to raise taxes, and, as a concession to his nobles, he offered to expel all the Jews. The tax was passed on July 15th, 1290, and three days later he issued the Edict of Expulsion.
It’s unknown exactly how many Jews were driven out of the country — estimates range between 3,000 and 16,000. They were given until All Saints’ Day — November 1st — to leave England. They were allowed to take their personal property with them when they left, but all land and houses now belonged to the king. Many of them migrated to countries such as Poland, where their status was protected by law.
For the next 350 years, the only recorded Jews living in England were special cases — such as Rodrigo Lopez, physician to Queen Elizabeth I (who was ultimately hanged, drawn, and quartered for suspicion of complicity in a plot to poison the Queen.) There was also the Domus Conversorum, the institution for Jews who had converted to Christianity established by Henry III. The Conversorum was a communal home, necessary because the residents had been required to forfeit all their possessions.
About 1650, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell was approached by a leader of the Dutch Jewish community, asking him to rescind the Edict. Cromwell agreed, but was unable to persuade his council to permit the Jews’ readmission. Nevertheless, Cromwell announced that the Edict would cease to be enforced. To this day, the Edict itself has never been formally rescinded.
Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jul 18; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_England; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodrigo_Lopez_(physician); http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domus_Conversorum; http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history/Ancient_and_Medieval_History/632-1650/Christendom/Expulsion_and_Readmission.shtml; http://www.historyofinformation.com/index.php?id=2258; http://www.ejpress.org/article/news/uk/10889; http://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/expulson-jews.htm.