What’s in a name?

My series of books set mainly in thirteenth century England are entitled “The King’s Jew”.
Many times I am begged the question, “Who is ‘The King’s Jew’? Or, “What is ‘The king’s Jew’ and how did you come up with that title?
Well the answer is simpler than you, dear reader, may think.

The main character in my work is Cristian Gilleson and his life begins with an act of violence perpetrated on his mother. A fortuitous meeting with a young Edward (the future Edward the First) leads to a lifelong friendship and the book opens at the end of the story with Cristian keeping vigil by his dead king’s tomb in Westminster Abbey on Friday, October 27th 1307 some sixty-odd years later.
But why The King’s Jew? I hear you ask again.

There is a sub-plot throughout the books concerning the treatment of the medieval Jews of England – I must not give too much away here! But it is worth considering the brief history of the Jews at the time.
The first main influx of Jews to England’s shores took place when William (the Conqueror) arrived in 1066. This community maintained a precarious existence in England from the close of the eleventh century to the end of the thirteenth when, in 1290 King Edward I, banished them from the land.

But why were the Jews here? The answer is simple – to provide money in the form of loans to the Norman and Plantagenet rulers. The Jews enjoyed virtually no rights except in connection with this limited function.
The thirteenth century churchmen believed that lending money to achieve interest payments was contrary to the perceived laws of God. Yet everybody needed to borrow money or mortgage lands at some time so who better to be given the job than the Jews?

Outwardly the English Jew of the middle ages resembled his contemporaries. In the thirteenth century the most usual external garment was a hooded cloak, the typical pointed Jewish hat, the pileum cornutum (as prescribed by the Council of Vienna in 1267), was also worn. The superficial resemblance to the general population must have indeed been considerable in order to justify the Jewish badge, which was enforced in England by the Lateran Council of 1215.
A Jewish badge? I hear you cry. Marked out from the crowd? Now where have I seen / heard that before? Think 1939 to 1945!Jew with customers

In 1218 the famous William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke ordered every Jew, at all times to wear upon his outer garment a piece of white cloth or parchment whereby he might be distinguished from Christians, the sign was to take the form of the so-called tabula – the legendary shape of the Two Tablets of Stone which bore the Ten Commandments. William Marshal was guardian to the young Henry III.

This rule was endorsed in 1222 at the Council of Oxford, when it was decreed that all Jews of either sex should wear on the breast a badge two fingers wide and four long, of a different colour from the rest of the garment.

Then in 1253 Henry III renewed the clause, ordering the tabula to be borne in a prominent position.
In 1275 my main character’s companion, King Edward I, ordered the ‘badge’ to be more prominent by stipulating the colour to be yellow and increased the size to six fingers long and three broad, cut in the same shape as before and worn over the heart by every Jew above the age of seven years. Two years later an inquiry was instituted into the manner in which this and other regulations were being obeyed. The result was seen in 1279 when orders were issued ordering Jewish women as well as men to wear the ‘Badge of Shame’.
The Synod of Exeter, in 1287, renewed the injunction and the time of the Jews in England was rapidly drawing to a close.

Yet consider this – In the so-called ‘Laws of Edward the Confessor’ the prevailing historical constitutional theory of the period is summed up as follows:

“All Jews, wherever in the realm they are, must be under the King’s liege protection and guardianship, nor can any of them put himself under the protection of any powerful person without the King’s licence, because the Jews themselves and all their chattels are the King’s. If therefore anyone detain them or their money, the King may claim them, if he so desire and if he is able, as his own”.

In 1253 King Henry the Third (if you want to see what Henry was really like he plays a part in Book One) in his proclamation entitled ‘Mandate to the Justices assigned to the Custody of the Jews’ the missive began with the following injunction:

“No Jew (may) remain in England, unless he perform the service of the King: and immediately any Jew shall be born, male or female, he shall serve Us in some manner.”

The simple matter is that the medieval Jew was the PROPERTY of the King. On one occasion King Henry III ‘sold’ the Jews to his brother Richard – in that way Henry received money but Richard got to keep all the taxesDetailOfMedievalHebrewCalendar levied on the Jews for the agreed term – Richard then taxed the Jews even more!

Between 1240 and 1260 Henry III, turned more and more to his Jews for money when a relatively small Jewish population of around 5000 paid out more than £70,000, and to do so, they had to sell off many of their mortgage bonds at a discount, to the vulture-like coterie of court insiders keen to enlarge their landholdings. As a rough guide that equates to around £570,800,000 now!

Then came the fateful day in 1290, when King Edward I issued an edict expelling all Jews from England. The edict remained in force for the rest of the middle ages. It was not an isolated incident, but the culmination of over 200 years of increased persecution. Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England in 1657, over 350 years after their banishment by Edward I, in exchange for finance. Thus the wheel turned full circle.

Now then – back to the question – ‘What’s in a name?’
As you can see the Jews belonged to the King. My main character Cristian Gilleson is a close friend of the king but he has many enemies for Cristian is an enlightened individual who takes the treatment of the Jews to heart and his detractors refer to him as a ‘Jew lover’. To care about the fate of the Jews in the thirteenth century was dangerous and to be a ‘Jew lover’ and at the same time companion to a king earned Cristian the epithet “The King’s Jew”.

NB – The eBook currently sells for $5.50 but as a special offer to any interested parties it will be reduced to $3.50 for seven days from today.BookCoverPreview


Bio – Darius Stransky is a freelance columnist and author living in rainy Manchester in North West England. Book One of “The King’s Jew” – complete with five star reviews – is available in paperback or eBook. Book two in the series will be available from May this year and the final Book three at the end of 2015. He thanks his cat ‘Pippin’ for all her ‘purrfect’ support throughout the two years that went into creating these works.


Website http://dariusstransky.wix.com/darius-stransky you can find my email there in case there are any questions and I love interacting with my readers.
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/darius.stransky
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/KINGS-JEW-Book1-Changeling-Sept-ebook/dp/B00OAAI2WY
Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OAAI2WY


How old is democracy in the British Isles?

Well it is parliament’s 750th anniversary on January 20th (that’s Tuesday of next week)
The modern UK Parliament can trace its origins all the way back to two features of Anglo-Saxon government from the 8th to 11th centuries. These are the Witan and the moot. The Witan was the occasion when the King would call together his leading advisors and nobles to discuss matters affecting the country. It existed only when the King chose and was made up of those individuals whom he particularly summoned. Thus the peasants (you and me) had no say in the matter!

But what of our ‘modern’ parliament? Well this goes back to January 1265 and the Baron’s Wars when Simon de Montfort defeated King Henry the Third and his heir Edward at the battle of Lewes in May 1264. The King and his son were virtual prisoners and De Montfort ruled the land. Yet he craved respectability and acceptance of his cause and so a mere 750 years ago this very month Montfort called the very first inclusive parliament – the word is derived from the French (parlez) ‘to talk’.

I had included this in Book One of “The King’s Jew” Historical Faction but like any work of literature certain elements end up on the metaphorical cutting room floor. Although the battles of Lewes and Simon de Montfort’s shocking defeat at Evesham in August 1265 are covered.

De Montfort had become de facto ruler of the country, and the fear and jealousy of the nobility who had aided him in defeating the King meant that the great of the kingdom deserted his cause, forcing him to seek support from the gentry. The middle classes were developing economically, and offered the rebellious and ambitious de Montfort a potential financial and popular power base.

Thus on December 14th 1264 de Montfort summoned a representative Parliament (as usual the nobility and senior figures in the Church were called) and Knights of the Shires were invited too. But for the first time two burgesses from each borough were summoned, some of whom were chosen in a roughly democratic method by their peers.

This Parliament met at Westminster Hall on January 20th 1265, sitting until February 15th that year.
Although Edward I is often credited with calling the first representative Parliament in 1295 (the so-called Model Parliament) Simon de Montfort was its true architect. Not through true democratic zeal but forced on him as a necessary power play in a land riven with opposing forces. Thus the concept of the Commons was established by him, and endures to this day.

Here’s a link http://www.parliament.uk/simon-de-montfort to a basic little movie that will give you a brief outline of Simon de Montfort. But if you really what to get to know how he thinks – try my book!

Continuity in Character Development

Yesterday I wrote a chapter for The King’s Jew and, by the time I had finished, I thought it was OK.

BUT (there’s always a ‘BUT’ isn’t there?) on waking this morning and mulling yesterdays chapter over in my mind whilst having the first cup of tea of the day I realised I had made an uncalled for error.

One of my characters ‘Mathew’ was with his master in the Porta Judaea area of medieval Bordeaux and, being in the Jewish Quarter, they were amidst a crowd of locals.

The conversation flowed freely and Mathew began to disparage those of the Jewish faith (such was the way Christians thought in those far off days).

Now here’s the point of this post.

Mathew is NOT a religious person. He certainly is a man of his times to whom violence is as normal as you or I playing a game of rugby but in Mathew’s medieval world violence usually leads to a death – a brutal death.

In past chapters of the book Mathew has shown that he has no interest in any sort of religion AND Jew or Christian mean nothing to him. Therefore – on reflection – there is no way Mathew would have acted in such a manner in that place at that time.

SO – this morning I must re-write the offending chapter and ensure that my characters behave in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

As the writer of The King’s Jew it is up to me to maintain continuity in the narrative and so – whilst drinking my cup of tea – I mentally took a trip back and scanned every part of the book for similar errors and – I’m happy to report – I have not made the same mistake before AND will not make the same error again.

To sum up – I have had to apologise to Mathew for putting words in his mouth that he would never have uttered and assure him IT WONT HAPPEN AGAIN. Sorry Mathew.

“That is alright, Darius, but I’m watching you from now on!”

“Thanks Mathew.”