3. The Minster and the Privy: Jews, Lending, and the Making of Christian Space in Chaucer’s England
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100  Chapter 3 The Minster and the Privy Jews, Lending, and the Making of Christian Space in Chaucer’s England English Commerce and Aaron of Lincoln When Jews migrated to England,they inhabited a society whose commercial aspects, while at times hard to pin down, were nevertheless significant and even on the rise.1 Georges Duby describes how, by the late 1100s, England and Europe witnessed the “take-off” of a profit economy that slowly but surely eclipsed a gift culture.2 Factors including a growing population, the stabilization and centralization of state forms, and rapid urbanization provided favorable conditions for the rise of commerce in England from the late eleventh to the thirteenth centuries.3 Merchants, peasants, magnates, and prelates worked together (if not always harmoniously) to generate agrarian surplus goods and exchange those products in various trading systems.4 The changes wrought by this commercial turn included a shift from a monetized to a monetary system characterized by regular coin use and widely available credit, heightened specialization of production, and an increased chartering of markets and fairs.5 The rise of “money and commodities” in the medieval West, as Henri Lefebvre points out,generated “not only a‘culture,’but also a space.” Namely, “the medieval revolution brought commerce inside the town and lodged it at the centre of a transformed urban space.”6 Epitomizing the new commercial thrust of medieval towns and cities were marketplaces, urban sites dedicated THE MINSTER AND THE PRIVY 101 explicitly and exclusively to trade. Masschaele describes the increasing prominence , from the twelfth century on, of marketplaces in English towns and cities, as witnessed by both their centrality and their size (in some cases as large as twelve thousand to thirty thousand square yards).7 All medieval towns contained one or more markets, which often assumed either a lozenge shape on wide streets lined with deep and ample plots leading to narrow back lanes, or a square form in towns formally organized as regular grids.8 But whatever their configuration, medieval markets were not discrete spaces. Rather, they were linked through roads,alleys,doorways,conduits,and other infrastructural components to the rest of the city, which itself constituted a kind of market. “Trade and production,” as Howard Saalman puts it, “went on in all parts of the city: in open spaces and closed spaces; public spaces and private spaces.”9 Unrestricted sites that in Lefebvre’s words “opened up on every side onto the surrounding territory,” marketplaces in England comprised core components of a commercialized urban field yoked to its agricultural surroundings,as well as other towns and other countries, via an infrastructural network of roads and waterways.10 The mapping of Anglo-Jewish residences placed Jews in intimate relation to the new urban geography that arose in tandem with commerce. Jews tended to live in cities, and within those urban sites—which included Bury St. Edmunds, Canterbury, Colchester, Exeter, Hereford, Lincoln, London , Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Winchester, and York—they typically occupied homes located in or alongside markets.11 In other places, such as the coastal cities of Southampton and Bristol, Jews lived near quays, which similarly served as important commercial centers.12 Of course, Jewish settlement patterns belie easy generalization. English Jews lived alongside Christians in not only urban but also rural areas, and some Jews in cities lived at a considerable remove from the main Jewish neighborhood.13 Still, an abiding consideration in Jewish habitation seems to have been economic opportunity in the form of commerce.14 In other words, Jews preferred to live near the source of their livelihood, the urban market. While the mapping of Jews in English cities speaks to their participation in England’s emerging economy, precisely what was that role? Robert Stacey speculates that,after 1066,William I brought Jews from Rouen into England to benefit from their commercial know-how. As “traders in luxury goods and as dealers in plate and coin,” Jews may have appealed to the conqueror as persons who could assist in trade, convert martial spoils into currency, and “keep a finger on the commercial pulse of London.”15 During the twelfth century, under Henry I (ca. 1068–1 December 1135), Jews thrived through their participation in an established and “specifically English” combination 102 CHAPTER 3 of moneychanging, moneylending, and bullion dealing.16 Yet when Stephen of Blois (ca. 1092/96–25 October 1154) assumed the throne,the chaos of his reign diminished opportunities and created hazards for gentile moneychangers and merchants even...



Subject Headings

  • Jews in literature.
  • Antisemitism in literature.
  • English literature -- Old English, ca. 450-1100 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Antisemitism -- England -- History.
  • Jews -- England -- History.
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