I have taken two clauses from the Magna Carter written in 1215 based on the translation by J.C Holt , Cambridge, 2nd edition 1992, by the council of twelve Barons. I will be analysing clauses 10 and 11 which focus on debts left behind by the deceased owed to the Jews.
Judging from the legal language it is obvious that this is a legal document produced to set the rules to clarify the rules and the consequences when these rules are broken. It was originally written in Latin, which already creates a layer between the historians and the text, regarding translations. Most of its clauses concern detailed points of law and administration, some of which are purely local or temporary interest. They were therefore formalising existing practice and usual custom.
The clause I am analysing is targeting debts owed to Jews by deceased persons. They are both written in very legal language and sets out the rules if anyone dies with a debt owed to the Jews. This shows us the money lending activities of Jews of the period their prominence in this field of business.
There appears to be an unfairness in clause 10 as it does not require The heirs to pay back the interest on the debt if under age or if the debt Falls to ‘out hands’. This would assume that the Jews would be risking a Great deal of interest if either event were to come about. Equally the wife of the deceased will also not be required to pay back the debt. The ‘dower’ would have been the sum paid by the wife’s family on her marriage to the husband, which in this case she will be able to have repaid to her on her husband’s death.
The position of women in this period is of importance here as the wife is being treated the same as a young child, there is no financial responsibility being placed on either. This reflects the status of women as inferior to men.
With the church being of great power and influence and power prior to the time and for many years there after, its power also being clearly recognised in this Charter by always being placed as the main priority. It was a sin for any Christian to lend or borrow any amount of money, however this was not the case for the members of the Hebrew religion. The Jews were invited into England in 1066 to lend money to the barons and lords that King John had already squeezed tax after tax from.
Taking into account that it was reported that King John had over 80% of the Nation’s gold in his treasury, he needed another revenue to call upon. Technically, the Jews were under the protection of the King in the same way that merchants were, which would explain them appearing in the Magna Carter. However it could be argued that it was because of King John’s greed coupled with the barons paranoia of further taxes and being pushed further into debt and a obligation to protect the men and women of their land, that these two clauses appeared so high up on the carters list.
It also points out the fact that debts could be owed to individuals other than Jews and that whatever the recognised law at the time there were clearly occasions when money was lent by other than Jews.
By using “anyone” and “we” it seems as if the Jews may be being separated from the regular people of Britain. This raises the question of anti-Semitism and a sense of the Barons, who wrote this charter, distancing themselves from the people who they owe large sums of money to. This tells us that there may have been tensions between those of the Hebrew religion to the heavily religious men of the time.
The text is telling us something about the necessity of including Jews in the society of the time. It could be argued that clause 11. is carrying a protective element for the Jews, however reluctant it appears. It would appear that at the time of creation in 1215 the Jews were still proving useful to the barons but with the emergence of increased competition from moneylenders of the Christian faith in the 13th Century .It therefore could be argued that the barons are making active efforts to restrict the actions of theses Jewish loaners. We can see in the text rules being laid down that are protecting Britons in debt. Where as churchmen and nobles would be the only people to benefit from courtesies from the King, here by the use of “anyone” it is implying that even the peasantry would have come under protection from Jewish debt. This has connotations that the peasants were being placed in higher regard than those of the Hebrew faith, signifying their position in Medieval England.
Both these clauses follow the same pattern of priorities as the Magna carter itself and that of medieval society. Following that of; God, the King, the church, Barons, noble men and knights and then that of the peasantry. In the Magna Carter, the clauses follow a uniform of priorities as well, starting with the church, inheritance, widows , debts, then taxes. Clause 11 is acting upon one of the priorities that is widowhood. Widows were very commonplace in medieval England as many wives out lived their husbands, so it appears that the barons are protecting their widowed subjects, recognising their strife.
Political thinkers, such as the author of Le donge du vergier, insisted that Jewish money lending harmed not only individuals in society but the state itself. 1 “I know the king gets much taxation out of the Jews,” this author began, going on to argue that what the king “gains on one side he certainly loses ten times and more on then other.” The reason: “because his subjects thus impoverished by the Jews cannot extend help to him nor pay their ordinary and extraordinary taxes.”
It is evident that if a clause has been written regarding debts and Jews then it has happened before, perhaps a sequence of events . Also considering that it is clause 10 and 11 of 63 places it high in the list of priorities. This shows that money mattered greatly to King John.