Enacted 1290

The Edict of Expulsion was an act of Edward I which expelled all Jews from the kingdom of England. To understand why Edward acted in this way, you have to go back in history. Biblical exhortations against the lending of money led to an attitude among the inhabitants of Christian Europe that the lending of money at interest was at best, un-Christian, and at worst, sinful and evil. The Jewish religion attached no such stigma to lending money, and as a result, many Jews offered that service to Christians.

In the years following the Conquest of 1066, the Jews were an important part of Norman English society. English nobles were constantly in need of money, and as a result, they borrowed heavily from Jewish moneylenders. William the Conqueror recognized the importance of the Jewish moneylenders to Norman society and offered them special protection under the law. Jews were declared to be direct subjects of the king, not subjects of their local feudal lord.

Because of this special status, however, English kings saw the Jewish moneylenders as a convenient source of funds. The king could levy taxes against Jews without needing the prior approval of Parliament. So when a king needed money - as they often did - he could simply levy a special tax on the Jews. This system would work as long as the Jews were allowed to accumulate money, but that was about to change.

Throughout the period following the Norman invasion, the medieval world underwent a gradual shift towards religious heterodoxy (emphasis on a single belief system), epitomized by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. The Lateran, among other measures, required Jews and Muslims to wear special dress so that they could easily be distinguished from Christians. England enforced this proclamation by requiring Jews to wear a special badge.

Church proclamations like those of the Fourth Lateran Council really gave official approval to attitudes that were already prevalent in medieval society. The large landowners resented their indebtedness to the moneylenders. Attitudes of religious persecution became more and more evident. Even before the Lateran Council, outbreaks of mob violence aimed at Jews was not uncommon in England, for example, in 1190 a mob killed hundreds of Jews in York.

At the same time as attitudes of intolerance were becoming more common - and more acceptable to both the Church and the state - the emergence of the Italian system of merchant banking made the Jewish moneylenders less vital to the nobility. Measures of punitive taxation against the Jews became more common, with the result that there were fewer Jewish moneylenders with ready cash to lend. In 1285 the Statute of Jewry banned all usury, even by Jews, and gave Jews 15 years to end their practice. Unfortunately, given prevailing attitudes towards Jews in trade, few avenues of livelihood were open to those affected by the Statute.

The Edict of Expulsion
These matters came to a head in 1287 when Edward I peremptorily seized all Jewish property and transferred all debts to his name. In other words, everyone who had previously owed money to a Jewish moneylender now owed it directly to Edward himself.

On 18 July 1290, Edward I issued what came to be called the Edict of Expulsion. The same day that the Edict was proclaimed writs were sent to the sheriffs of most counties advising that all Jews in their counties had until 1 November to leave the realm. Any Jews remaining after this date were liable to be seized and executed. To rub salt into the wound a special tax on the Jews was agreed in Parliament. How many people were affected by the Edict of Expulsion? Records are inexact for this period, but it seems likely that about 3000 Jews were forced to leave England.

Edward's Edict to banish the Jews was followed by his fellow Christian monarch in France, Philip le Bel, sixteen years later. It was not until 1656 that Jews were allowed back into England. In the intervening period, Jews were required to obtain a special license to visit the realm, though it seems very likely that some Jews resettled in England while keeping their religion secret.