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Personal Seals

1. Seal of Jacob of London

* S’ IACOBI DLVNDRES

Dimensions: 28 × 19 mm. Impression.

Location: Merton College Muniments Room, Oxford, Record 188.

Bibliography: Jacobs and Wolf, 1887, No. 13; Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Seal,” Pl. II, No. 37; Loewe, 1932; Roth, 1951, p. 112; Victoria and Albert Museum, 1956, No. 4.

Among the few English seals known, that of Jacob of London is the most important. We know a good deal about the background of this seal from Cecil Roth’s book on the Jews of medieval Oxford. Jacob of Oxford, as he was known in London, or Jacob of Lundres, as he was known in Oxford, was a significant figure in the Oxford Jewish community of the thirteenth century. He represented the fourth generation of what Roth describes as “probably the most learned family in thirteenth-century England as a whole.”

The patriarch of this family was Moses of Bristol, who settled in Oxford at the end of the twelfth century. Moses came from the Rhineland and was a descendant of the mystic and liturgical poet Simeon, called the Great, whose sister was the mother of Rashi, the outstanding French rabbinical scholar. Moses, who had become rich through moneylending, had two sons. The more noted of the two, Rabbi Yomtob, was the author of a book on Talmudic law. Yomtob’s son, named after his grandfather Moses, was the author of a definitive work on Hebrew accents and vowel points which continues to be reprinted and studied today. This second Moses had five distinguished sons, including Hagin, the leader or archpresbyter of English Jewry from 1257 to 1280. Our seal belonged to his son, Jacob.

As an adult Jacob left London for Oxford, his father’s birthplace, and became an important moneylender and property speculator there. He invested heavily in houses, a common business practice at the time because of the need for boarding Oxford students of the religious orders. At one time or another he leased or had an interest in some twenty boarding-houses or tenements, aside from others in London and York.

Jacob enters English history (as distinct from Anglo-Jewish medieval history) on Feb. 28, 1267,* when for thirty marks he sold certain houses near the church of St. John to Walter de Merton, the chancellor of Henry III, for the use of Merton’s newly created “House of Scholars.” The transaction has some historical importance because it was the first step in the creation of Merton College, where study was to be oriented toward the needs of the secular clergy rather than the religious orders.

The Latin contract, probably the most important Anglo-Jewish document from the medieval period, is still extant and is illustrated here. The agreement between Jacob the Jew and Walter de Merton was made before the full Court of Oxford, the document being witnessed by eleven Christians and four Jews. To the Latin text Jacob added two lines of Hebrew stating that he acknowledged the transaction to be valid, both for himself and his wife: “And what I have admitted I have written and sealed for myself and my wife Hannah.” He signs Jacob ben Rav Moses of London. His seal is appended to the document twice. The seal is oblong and shows what may be a lion in the center,* probably representing the lion of Judah—Jacob’s family claimed Davidic descent. Around it is the legend S’ IACOBI D LVNDRES and a six-pointed star.

This sale took place toward the end of the Jewish presence in England. The use of Latin letters on the seal rather than Hebrew alone or Hebrew and Latin, and the use of a place name rather than a father’s name (Jacob of London rather than Jacob son of Moses, the tradition which Jacob still followed when signing his name in Hebrew), is proof of full integration into the English scene. It is ironic that Jacob’s sons were among the Jews driven into exile twenty-three years later.


Here and throughout the entries that follow, this symbol indicates the source of the illustration of the seal shown here.

For complete bibliographic information, see the Bibliography at the end of this volume.

*The document is sometimes dated 1266 because in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages the year did not begin in January but at Easter. Thus documents with dates from January 1 through Easter—Easter in 1267 was on April 17—must be dated in the following year to conform to our present system.

*In the Royal Albert Hall exhibition of 1887 (see Jacobs and Wolf, 1887) the figure is described as a gryphon. Herbert Loewe describes it as a lion or griffin.

Here and throughout the entries that follow, this symbol indicates the source of the illustration of the seal shown here.

For complete bibliographic information, see the Bibliography at the end of this volume.

*The document is sometimes dated 1266 because in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages the year did not begin in January but at Easter. Thus documents with dates from January 1 through Easter—Easter in 1267 was on April 17—must be dated in the following year to conform to our present system.

*In the Royal Albert Hall exhibition of 1887 (see Jacobs and Wolf, 1887) the figure is described as a gryphon. Herbert Loewe describes it as a lion or griffin.

Location: Merton College Muniments Room, Oxford, Record 188.

Bibliography: Jacobs and Wolf, 1887, No. 13; Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Seal,” Pl. II, No. 37; Loewe, 1932; Roth, 1951, p. 112; Victoria and Albert Museum, 1956, No. 4.

Jacob enters English history (as distinct from Anglo-Jewish medieval history) on Feb. 28, 1267,* when for thirty marks he sold certain houses near the church of St. John to Walter de Merton, the chancellor of Henry III, for the use of Merton’s newly created “House of Scholars.” The transaction has some historical importance because it was the first step in the creation of Merton College, where study was to be oriented toward the needs of the secular clergy rather than the religious orders.

The Latin contract, probably the most important Anglo-Jewish document from the medieval period, is still extant and is illustrated here. The agreement between Jacob the Jew and Walter de Merton was made before the full Court of Oxford, the document being witnessed by eleven Christians and four Jews. To the Latin text Jacob added two lines of Hebrew stating that he acknowledged the transaction to be valid, both for himself and his wife: “And what I have admitted I have written and sealed for myself and my wife Hannah.” He signs Jacob ben Rav Moses of London. His seal is appended to the document twice. The seal is oblong and shows what may be a lion in the center,* probably representing the lion of Judah—Jacob’s family claimed Davidic descent. Around it is the legend S’ IACOBI D LVNDRES and a six-pointed star.

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
45-46
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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