4000 years of Jewish History

Why has Christendom
attacked the Jews?

Muslims and Jews in History

Expulsion of the Jews From
Arab Countries

The Treatment
of Jews
in Arab/Islamic Countries



Lost Tribes

What Happened to the Muslims After 1492?






















Cape Verde



Sao Tome




Latin America









adapted from Paul Vallely (‘the Independent’)

Jews were banned from Britain for three centuries,
until Oliver Cromwell allowed their return in 1656
In 2006, a ceremony in London celebrated that decision
350 years ago, and the key role they have played ever since.


Expulsion of the Jews

Return of the Jews to Britain

Parliament and the Vote

Jewish Refugees From the Nazis

     BACKGROUND                                                                                            TOP

The first record of Jews living in England dates from Norman times. Just after 1066, William the Conqueror invited a group from Rouen to bring their commercial skills and incoming capital to England.  In the Middle Ages, lending money with interest - usury - was considered a sin and forbidden to Christians so medieval monarchs used Jews as moneylenders. The outsiders financed royal consumption, adventures and wars - and made themselves rich in the process. By 1168, the value of the personal property of the Jews (around £60,000) was regarded as a quarter of the entire wealth of England. And when Aaron of Lincoln died not long after - all property obtained by usury passing to the king on the death of the usurer - Henry II inherited the then massive sum of £15,000.

During Henry II's reign, Jews lived on good terms with their Christian neighbours. In the process helping to fund many abbeys and monasteries.  In return they were allowed to take refuge there as clerics and Popes routinely stirred up ill-feeling against the Jews as the "killers of Christ". Ill will was fed by the Crusades, in which the Jews were as much a target of the righteous sword-wielders as were the infidel Saracens.

One of the most popular myths was known by Jews as "the blood libel", which appears to have originated in England in an accusation against William of Norwich in 1144.  It suggested that he and other Jews killed a young Christian boy to use his blood in the ritual preparation of unleavened bread for the Passover ritual.  This claim spread from England to France and Spain and throughout Europe in medieval times and resurfaced in 20th century Nazi propaganda.  Barons, to whom Jews lent money, encouraged the mob responses to such claims, as Jewish homes were ransacked and records of their debts destroyed.

(Note:  To understand the background read ‘Mistress of the Art of Death’ by Ariana Franklin about the investigation in 1171 by a female doctor into the claimed murder of a boy by the Jews)

In 1218, in what became the precursor of worldwide anti-Jewish laws, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, made Jews wear a badge - an oblong white patch of two finger-lengths by four - to identify them.

EXPULSION OF THE JEWS                                                                        TOP

At the end of the 12th century, as part of an epidemic of religious fervour during preparations for Richard the Lionheart's Third Crusade against the Saracens, massacres of Jews were staged at Stamford fair, in Bury St Edmunds and, most notoriously, in York. In 1190 the city's Jews were given refuge in Clifford's Tower at York Castle and besieged by a mob demanding they convert to Christianity. Most of those inside committed suicide; those who surrendered were slaughtered. By 1290 the inevitable happened when Edward I - who had found an alternative source of finance in the Italian merchants known as the "pope's usurers" - banished the Jews from England.

RETURN OF THE JEWS TO BRITAIN                                                       TOP

After the Expulsion it is impossible to say how many lived in England - though there were probably less than 100 at any one time - but without a synagogue or official recognition, they did not constitute a community.

There was no Inquisition in England and they became a useful political tool in  the dispute with Spain and Portugal.  For example Henry VIII imported Jewish rabbinical advisors to help find a Biblical way out of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, the first of his six wives. He also welcomed Italian Jewish musicians to his court.

From the mid 16th century onwards, Jews entered England as Spanish and Portuguese merchants.  They lived a double life, practising Judaism in secret while in public attending Lutheran churches, somehow observing feasts, fast-days and some dietary laws.  The authorities turned a blind eye to their private religious activities

Toward the middle of the 17th century many Marrano merchants settled in London and formed a secret congregation, the head of whom was Antonio Fernandez Carvajal. They conducted a large business with the Levant, East and West Indies, Canary Islands, and Brazil, and above all with the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal. They gave Cromwell and his secretary, Thurloe, important information as to the plans both of Charles Stuart in Holland and of the Spaniards in the New World (see L. Wolf, "Cromwell's Secret Intelligencers"). Outwardly they passed as Spaniards and Catholics; but held prayer-meetings at Cree Church Lane and became known to the government as Jews by faith.

Meanwhile public opinion in England had been prepared by the Puritan movement for the readmission of the Jews into England.  Petitions favoring readmission had been presented to the army in 1649 by two Baptists of Amsterdam, Johanna Cartwright and her son Ebenezer ("The Petition of the Jews for the Repealing of the Act of Parliament for Their Banishment out of England");  Many were moved in the same direction by mystical Messianic reasons.  Their views attracted the enthusiasm of Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, who in 1650 published his Hope of Israel, in which he advocated the return as a preliminary to the appearance of the Messiah in which he advocated the view that the Messiah could not appear till Jews existed in all the lands of the earth. According to Antonio de Montesinos, the Ten Tribes had been discovered in the North-American Indians, and England was the only country from which Jews were excluded. If England admitted them, the Messianic age might be expected.

In 1656 Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel petitioned Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector after the defeat of Charles 1 in the Civil War, asking for his community to have the right to settle. That petition was a catalyst for change.

Cromwell held the Whitehall conference called to decide the issue.  The lawyers were happy while clerics and financiers were opposed. To stop them reaching the wrong decision Cromwell gave the rich Jews of Amsterdam permission to come to London and transfer their vital trade interests with the Spanish Main from Holland to England. While the result was inconclusive - the fact that the debate took place at all effected a change in the climate of tolerance.  Crucially, the conference accepted that the 1290 Edict of Expulsion applied only to Jews resident in England at that date; technically there was no barrier to resettlement.  For a Jew,  renewed hostilities with Spain also meant it was safer for a ‘hidden Jew’ to come out as a Jew than be taken as a Spaniard.

Under Cromwell, in 1656, it finally “became possible, for the first time for three and a half centuries, for Jews to live, trade and worship openly and, for the most part, untroubled in the City of London” (Schama, History of Britain II:234-35).

In 1655 Antonio Fernandez Carvajal (1590 - 1659) became the first naturalised British Jew when he and his two sons were granted ‘denizenship’ as English subjects (the patent being dated August 17 of that year).  When war with Spain broke out in the following year, his property in the Canaries was liable to seizure, as a British subject. Oliver Cromwell made arrangements for Carvajal's goods to be transported from the Canaries in an English ship which sailed under Dutch colors.

In December 1656 Antonio Fernandez Carvajal acquired land for a Jewish cemetery which was a public statement of existence.  In 1657 his hitherto private synagogue in Creechurch Lane was extended to accommodate more worshippers.  In 1659, his memorial service was attended by Samuel Pepys.

Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Poland founded their first synagogue in 1692 in Broad Street, Mitre Square.  The magnificent Spanish and Portuguese Jews' synagogue in Bevis Marks, a road in the City of London, followed in 1701.

Subsequently, despite anti-Jewish agitation in the early years of George II’s reign, the King was not inclined “to reverse the arrangement that had become established under the Protectorate… [and] the legality of the practice of Judaism in England at last received indirect parliamentary recognition in the Act for Suppressing Blasphemy of 1698” (Encyclopedia Judaica VI:754). However, British Jews seeking naturalization and the right to participate in the political process—voting, holding elected office or a government job—continued to be excluded by requirements that they receive the Sacrament and swear an oath as Christians. This constraint lessened when Britain sought to encourage settlement in America by passing the Plantation Act in 1740, which removed the obstacle of a Sacramental Test for Jews who “inhabited or resided, or shall inhabit or reside for the space of seven years or more” in America.

Resettlement was not a smooth process. Just as the relationship between Jew and Gentile had blown hot and cold during the medieval settlement, so it was in the new dispensation. Various coalitions of aristocrats, Christian zealots and businessmen tried to re-expel the Jews. But the new Jewish merchants were too useful. They had brought in £1,500,000 in capital which had increased by the middle of the century to £5,000,000. Marlborough's wars against the Spanish were financed by them. During the Jacobite rising of 1745 they showed particular loyalty, offering finance and volunteering for the corps raised to defend London. Their investment provided one-twelfth of the nation's profits and one-twentieth of its foreign trade.  Their chief financier, Sampson Gideon, had strengthened the stock market, and several of the younger members had volunteered in the corps raised to defend London. Possibly as a reward, Henry Pelham in 1753 brought in its own Naturalization Act (known as “The Jew Bill”), legislating a process for British Jews that removed the Sacramental Test, but continued to stipulate a Christian oath that prevented Jews from voting or holding office. Popular opposition was immediate. It passed the Lords without much opposition, but on being brought down to the House of Commons, the Tories made a great outcry against this "abandonment of Christianity", as they called it. The Whigs, however, persisted in carrying out at least one part of their general policy of religious toleration, and the bill was passed and received the royal assent (26 Geo. II., cap. 26).  The 1753 Naturalization Act “was received by the nation.... ‘with horror and execration.’  And great outcry against this "abandonment of Christianity".  Those who had voted for it were denounced by the people… On the first day of the next session, a bill to repeal it was introduced and hurriedly passed in 1754 with the assent of both parties (Daly, Settlement of the Jews in America).

PARLIAMENT AND THE VOTE                                                                  TOP

In 1874, Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister.  His parents had him baptised a Christian when he was twelve and he entered Parliament in 1837.  During his life he was open about his Judaic inheritance, once needling a Commons opponent with the jibe that "when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon".  

In 1837, Queen Victoria knighted Moses Haim Montefiore. Four years later, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid became the first Jewish hereditary peer. The first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, Sir David Salomons, was elected in 1855, and the first Jewish MP, Lionel de Rothschild, took his seat three years later when the parliamentary oath was changed from an exclusively Christian one.

The Reform Act of 1867 enfranchised all male householders and gave the vote to Jews

By 1890, all restrictions for every position in the British Empire, except that of monarch, were removed to Jews, some 46,000 of whom now lived in England.

From the 1880s onwards many Jews immigrated when they fled from the pogroms in Poland and Russia. These Jews (Ashkenazim) had a distinct East European and Yiddish culture and soon outnumbered those settled in Briitain who had a Spanish and Portuguese culture.

By 1919, the Jewish population had increased to about 250,000 primarily in cities like London, Manchester and Liverpool.  They maintained a distinct culture building kosher businesses, welfare networks, Jewish schools and cultural bodies while embracing their English integration  Unlike their American counterparts, British Jews anglicised their names and their customs, starting youth movements like the Jewish Lads Brigade in emulation of the British Scouts.

Families like the one which founded the jewellers, H Samuel, in Liverpool attempted to overturn prejudice and seek public office. In 1806 the city's Seel Street synagogue became the first in England to deliver sermons in English. In Manchester groups of Jewish intelligentsia were shaping new expressions of Judaism, including the Reform Movement, the political notion of Zionism and creating tools for activism which made the Jewish community strong in the traditions of British socialism and trade unionism. This in part explains why anti-semitism, which in most of Europe is most prevalent among the working classes, in Britain met stout opposition from many ordinary people, as events such as the Battle of Cable Street showed. Indeed anti-semitism has been more common among the British upper, rather than the lower, classes - a phenomenon which Ashley Perry puts down to aristocratic resentment.

‘The British consider themselves the height of civilization, the founder of democracy and the force that brought culture to much of the world," he says. But the Jews remind them that "there is one people that has lived with the British for many years which reminds them that their 'civilisation' is relatively new’.

JEWISH REFUGEES FROM THE NAZIS                                                    TOP

And though the nation did not open its arms unreservedly to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime in the 1930s, it did allow some 40,000 Jews from Austria and Germany to settle in Britain along with 50,000 Jews from Italy, Poland, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe - and the 10,000 Kindertransport children rescued on the eve of war.

Today, when many fear that anti-semitism is on the rise again, they acknowledge that, in the judgement of the Jewish peer Lord Janner, "in the UK it's not as serious as it is in France, Denmark, the Netherlands or Belgium." Instead Lord Janner perceives a different threat. Today there are about 350,000 Jews in the UK - around two-thirds in London, with around 40,000 in Manchester and significant communities in Leeds, Glasgow, Brighton, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Gateshead and Southend. That spreads the community pretty thin.


Williams, Hywel (2005). Cassell's Chronology of World History. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 316. ISBN 0-304-35730-8.

England Related Articles in the Jewish Encyclopedia

David S. Katz, Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, 1603-1655 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982)

David S. Katz, The Jews in the History of England, 1485-1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)

Cecil Roth  ‘The Middle Period’ For details of Jews between 1290 - 1609

Sephardic Jews in 17th Century London and the Readmission by David J Ferdinando

In fiction
"The Queen's Fool", by Philippa Gregory, is told from the point of view of a (fictional) Marrano girl living in England at the time of Queen Mary (BRILLIANT)

‘Mistress of the Art of Death’ by Ariana Franklin about the investigation in 1171 by a female doctor into the claimed murder of a boy by the Jews