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2. Seal of Mildegode the Jew


Dimensions: 30 × 20 mm. Impression.

Location: Magdalen College Muniments Room, St. Aldate’s, 34, Oxford.

Bibliography: Jacobs and Wolf, 1887, No. 510; Salter, 1915; Roth, 1951, pp. 62–63; Victoria and Albert Museum, 1956, No. 5.

Copin of Oxford, a prominent Jew, died in 1252, leaving a sizeable estate to his wife, Mildegode, sometimes spelled Mildegod or Mildegoda. She took possession of the estate and continued her husband’s business; records show that she was still active at least twenty years after his death. Her green oval seal shows a bird—perhaps a pheasant or a peacock, according to Cecil Roth—with a small reptile or scorpion in its beak, surrounded by the inscription. The meaning of this device is obscure. In style, Nos. 1 and 2 are similar to the seals of English Christians in the same period.

Deed of Merton College, Oxford, February 28, 1267, sealed by Jacob of London. Merton College Muniments Room, Oxford, Record 188. Photo courtesy of the Warden and Fellows of Merton College, Oxford.

A Latin document dated 1271 records the lease of a house in St. Aldate’s at Oxford. Jacob, presumed to be the son of Mildegode, has leased the property from St. John the Baptist Hospital, but though Jacob is the lessee mentioned, it is Mildegode who sealed. Jacob may have been born after the death of his father in 1252 and thus may still have been a minor at the time of this lease. As this document and the seal indicate, Jewish women often played an equal role with men in financial affairs. Some prominent women who had seals were Dulcie of the Portali, from southern France (No. 23); Disslaba, from Regensburg in Bavaria (Nos. 95-96); and Reyna, from Koblenz in the Rhineland. In fact, according to Monumenta Judaica (Schilling, 1964, p. 214), the fourteenth-century records of Oberwesel, a small town in the upper Rhineland, indicate that of twenty-nine Jewish creditors, ten were women. However, these were probably not independent entrepreneurs but widows or women in business with their husbands.

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