Dew, Ben: Jewish exclusions: an eighteenth-century debate.

The history of England’s medieval Jewish population was not a happy one. Jews first moved to England after the Norman Conquest, and went on to establish communities in the country's major urban centres, among them London, Norwich, Cambridge and York. While initially tolerated, repressive measures were introduced in the latter part of the twelfth century, and these were followed by a series of attacks on Jewish property and people, most notably the massacre of 150 Jews in York in 1190. The entire Jewish population was expelled from England in 1290. The proposed paper examines the ways that the Jewish interlude in English medieval history and the act of expulsion which brought it to an abrupt end were dealt with by eighteenth-century historians. My principal argument is that this period marks a watershed in Anglo-Jewish historiography. Whereas earlier accounts had generally been sympathetic towards Edward I's Jewish legislation, eighteenth-century historians, foremost among them William Guthrie and David Hume, developed a new, critical analysis. In part this shift can attributed to the rise of a tolerant, cosmopolitan Enlightenment sensibility, something which frequently expressed itself through a critique of the ignorance and barbarism of medieval practices. Equally significant, however, was the emergence of new ideas regarding political economy. Restrictions on Christian moneylending ensured that in the medieval period the Jewish population came to act as the key source of credit for both private individuals and the state. As a result, changing attitudes to usury, taxation and avarice helped to produce a radical alteration in perceptions of the Jewish contribution to English society. The paper will consider the ways in which ideas about toleration and money-lending functioned individually and in concert, and reflect on the significance of debates about the Jewish expulsion for our understanding of Enlightenment thought in Britain.