TKJ – A Medieval cartoon – Can you decode its secrets?

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This series of ‘blogs’ sets out to give you an insight into the building blocks that make up “The King’s Jew” – if you have any questions concerning any of these points just get in touch and I’ll be happy to share what knowledge I have garnered. Thanks.

The winner of last week’s FREE COPY is ……. Bev Newman – Congratulations, Bev.

YOU TOO can win a copy – just see offer at the end.

 

CHAPTER FIVE – Here we find the knight Gilles de Burgh at the house of the Jewish moneylender, Joseph ben Simon ben Moshe in London in 1238. Gilles wants to extend his credit but something totally unexpected is revealed (you’ll have to buy the book!).

But how did the Christian people of England see the Jews? All is revealed in this very telling cartoon from 1233.

 

e401-15651

Click to enlarge this medieval ‘cartoon’.

 

Tax records can tell us a great deal about life in the middle Ages. They don’t usually come with pictures, but this one does.

It is a cartoon from 1233 during the reign of King Henry III. It’s a detailed, complex cartoon and it is a bit of a mystery.

It was found on an Exchequer Roll, a government document recording various payments that is stored rolled up. This roll listed tax payments made by Jewish people in the city of Norwich in Norfolk.

Look at the cartoon above and see if you can find:

A castle – Pitchforks – A set of scales AND

A woman – A crown –Devils.

 

Background – Persecution of the Jews

The terrible treatment of Jews by the Nazi Government in the 1930s and 1940s was not a new event. Though nothing had ever been seen on the scale of the appalling ‘Final Solution’ begun in 1942 in which 6 million were murdered, Jews have been the victims of mistreatment since Roman times, as their different religion and their success in business attracted hatred and jealousy.

Laws were sometimes passed against them, such as the 1215 ruling by the Catholic Church that Jewish men had to wear spiked hats to identify them. At other times they have been made to wear stars on their clothing or change their names.

 

At the time this roll was written Jews in England were subjected to heavy taxes, had property stolen or confiscated and were sometimes attacked. The most serious attack on a Jewish community was the York Massacre in 1190 in which hundreds of Jews were killed as they took refuge in Clifford’s Tower, one of the city’s castles. The 12th century historian William of Newburgh accused the townspeople of an attempt at ‘sweeping away the whole race in their city’.

 

nch Markets

Medieval Norwich.

 

Medieval Norwich

In the 13th century, Norwich was one of the largest and most important towns in England. One of its richest and most powerful residents was Isaac fil Jurnet, a Jewish money lender who owned a large amount of property in the city and was a banker to the king. To some jealous citizens Isaac seemed like a king himself.

Isaac employed other Jews to collect the money that borrowers in the city owed to him. The most well-known (and most disliked) were Mosse Mokke and his wife Abigail.

The cartoon above is an example of the feelings many people had towards Jews in medieval England. It is about real people and their situation within 13th century society.

 

Let’s look at the image in more detail – below is the left section.

 

Image 2

Look at all my money!

 

You’ll see a man is holding a set of scales containing money.

This man is not a Jew. He is a poor Christian monk, his scales full of coin that Isaac is trying to wrest from him using one of the many devils at his command – that’s a devil behind him, the figure with the forked tongue!

Isaac had sued the Westminster monks to get the interest from money they had borrowed after they refused to pay it.

 

Now look at the centre images of the cartoon – below

 

Image 4

‘Three-headed Isaac.

 

That three-headed monster above with the crown towering over the centre of the drawing is Isaac fil Jurnet, the wealthy Jewish moneylender from Norwich who was banker to King Henry III, the Abbot and monks of Westminster, the Bishop of Norwich and many others.

 

 

Image 3

Mosse and his wife Abigail.

 

The man and woman facing each other above with Satan between them are Mosse Mokke and his wife Abigail both of whom were employed as debt collectors by Isaac.

Mosse wears the pointed hat that all Jews were ordered to wear AND the demon is pointing to their noses!

 

Now look at the right-hand side of the cartoon. –below.

Image 5

What do you think these characters are supposed to be? Well you’re right. These are even more devils come to assist the moneylender. They carry pitchforks and reaping tools in order to gather in the ‘harvest’ of money and debt.

 

Such was the febrile nature of English Christianity in those days and it saddens me to think that such attitudes eventually culminated in the ‘Holocaust’ of World War Two.

 

In 1290 when the Jews of England were expelled a learned Jew in Norwich, Meir ben Eliahu wrote a collection of poems imbued with a mixture of fear, anger and sorrow – in short a concoction of all sorts of those emotions, which the Jewish community in England must have lived through, when they finally lost their livelihoods and homes after more than 200 years of anti-Semitic persecution.

“Forced away from where we dwelt

We go like cattle to the slaughter.

A slayer stands above us all.

We burn and die.”

How prophetic was that?

 

JUST LEAVE A COMMENT OR ‘SIGN UP’ FOR YOUR PRIZE and next week we’ll have a sneaky peek at some more background from TKJ = “The King’s Jew. Book One. At the tomb of King Edward the First…”

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2 thoughts on “TKJ – A Medieval cartoon – Can you decode its secrets?

  1. Thank you for this glimpse into the past.

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  2. [1] Tax records can tell us a great deal about life in the middle ages. They can give us demographic information, communal disbursement, occupations, naming practices and a host of other things as greats like Cecil Roth, Robin Mundill and Joe Hillaby have long demonstrated.
    [2] TNA E/401/1565 is actually a ‘roll’ recording the arrears owed on a 4,000 mark tallage but despite the caricature there isn’t actually a section pertaining to the Norwich Jewry. That’s not necessarily indicative of the fact that no Norwich Jews were in arrears because another two rolls were made for the same purpose and could be listed there or in the close rolls. Incidentally, the manuscript has not been unrolled and is stored flat in a specially designed archives box in order to preserve it and the caricature atop it.
    [3] I would refer you to the work of Salo Baron, Patricia Skinner or Robin Mundill about the dangers of trying to compare events in the thirteenth-century to those of the twentieth-century – they’re incomparable and frankly trying is just a waste of time and energy and results in accidental anachronism.
    [4] The Jews were not the only group which had been abused since Roman times – when one is looking for anti-Semitism one will invariably find it but that is an incredibly simplistic approach and hides the fact that for most of the period minority and majority lived together harmoniously (admittedly with some brutal moments interspersed which invariably get the attention in the vulgar way that the tabloid press has pioneered).
    [5] Lateran IV did not pass laws but edicts which it was up to individual ‘states’ to enforce these and most didn’t take them on / enforce them and if they did then ways around were sought.
    [6] 1232-33 was not a time of heavy taxation, you seem to be working from older historiography which paints the period from 1190 to 1290 as a downward spiral to expulsion. In reality, to use Barrie Dobson’s phrase, the period from 1216-1239 were ‘halcyon years’ in which the Jews prospered and were subject to light taxation. The turning point comes from 1239 onwards when you have the massive tallage of 1/3 and in 1241-42 you have the 20,000 mark tallage. For this see Robert Stacey’s article in Hebrew Union College Annual from the 1980s.
    [7] As far as your interpretation of the caricature is concerned I would revisit the work of Cecil Roth, Zafira Rokeah and Joe Hillaby on caricatures.
    [8] The dating on Meir ben Eliahu’s poetry is difficult so I’d suggest referring to Into the Light: The Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Meir of Norwich on this and it’s by no means clear that his poetry was referring to the general expulsion.

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