This paper develops an analytic narrative examining an institution known as ‘The Exchequer of the Jewry’. The prohibition on usury resulted in most moneylending activities being concentrated within the Jewish community. The king set up the Exchequer of the Jewry in order to extract these monopoly profits. This institution lasted for almost 100 years but collapsed during the second part of the thirteenth century. This collapse resulted in the expulsion of the Anglo-Jewish population. This paper provides a rational choice account of the institutional trajectory of the Exchequer of the Jewry. This account explains why it ultimately failed to provide a suitable framework for the development of capital markets in medieval England.
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North and Weingast (1989) is the most widely paper in this area, in part, because it has had a wide influence outside of economic history. The central claims of the paper: that the Glorious Revolution improved the terms on which both the state and private actors could borrow, have been widely contested (Clark 1996; Epstein 2000; Sussman and Yafeh 2006).
The rationale and value of such analytic narratives is set out in Bates et al. (1998).
Jewish communities were expelled from Strasbourg in 1388; the Palatine in 1294; Austria in 1420; Fribourg and Zurich in 1424; Cologne in 1426; Saxony in 1432; Augsburg in 1439; Würzburg in 1453; Breslau in 1454 (Poliakov 1955, 119).
Still more fundamentally, as Barzel (2000) noted, the ability of an autocrat to tax his population is plagued by a knowledge problem that precludes revenue maximization in practice: since it is impossible for even an absolute ruler to continuously monitor the behaviour of his subjects, it is impossible for him to know how much revenue he can extract.
For example, Stasavage (2002) argues that an autocratic ruler can make binding problems without relinquishing his discretionary power so long it is evident that a sufficient number of the autocratic’s own supporters would be harmed if he reneged on his promise. If multiple players have veto power this increases the possibility of an autocrat making credible commitments.
Similarly the king was constrained with regard to the Church, which was intimately bound to the secular nobility by family connections–since the younger sons of the nobility were expected to become priests.
This analysis is similar to North and Thomas (1973). Unlike North and Thomas (1973), it does not emphasize the contractual or efficient nature of these institutions. This view is obviously highly simplified, but I believe that it consistent with the recent historical literature (see Wickham 1997; Bisson 2009).
In the fourteenth century it cost 2d a day to maintain a warhorse in December, which is the same as the daily wage of an infantry man in the field (Preswich 1999, 33). Archers and pike-men would eventually overturn the battlefield dominance of the mounted warrior in the fourteenth century. Unmounted men-at-arms played an important role even during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as Preswich (1999) emphasizes.
What follows is related to the discussion contained in Volckart (2000a, b) Volckart stress the bilateral character of the ties that linked lords and their vassals. High information costs meant that kings and other feudal overlords could not monitor the behaviour of their feudal subordinates and had to grant them autonomy—even to such an extent that there might be economic or military competition between vassal and overlord.
In late thirteenth century England, for example, a powerful nobleman like Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk possessed a military retinue comprising five bannerets, nine knights and seventeen men-at-arms (Preswich 1999, 41).
In France until ‘the thirteenth century, the king, aided by his advisers, personally handled all aspects of French government. Moving about his realm from one royal residence to the next, he deal with problems of justice, economy and administration as they arose. (Shennan 1968, 3). A similar analysis applies to England. Commenting on the Anglo-Saxon monarchies, Jolliffe observed that ‘Alfred appears less as a king than as a great country gentlemen, drawing his rents from his estates and spending them magnificently upon good works and a great household’ (Jolliffe 1967, 1937, 53).
This view of the role of towns in the feudal economy owes much to Smith (1776) and Pirenne (1925). It is heavily contested by Marxian historians. Wickham contends that ‘[u]rbanism and commerce were thus integral parts of the feudal mode of production, and did not in themselves undermine it’ (Wickham 2007, 39). C.f. Brenner (2007).
From 1179 onwards, manifest usurers could be excommunicated. In 1207, it it became possible to bring a case in a canon court against a suspected usurer in the absence of a plaintiff. The Second Treaty of Lyon in 1274 threatened to suspend bishops who did not prosecute usurers. The Council of Vienne of 1311 declared open usurers to be heretics and condemned rulers who continued to tolerate usury (Tanner 1990). Munro (2008) calls this the medieval campaign against usury.
A complementary hypothesis is that many Jewish lenders had a competitive advantages over Christian lenders. Richardson notes that ‘Jews… were more open in their dealings, more willing to take risks, more accessible to high and low, and so were regarded as the universal pawnbrokers and mortgagees.’ (Richardson 1960, 80). Botticini and Eckstein (2005, 923) note that because they were more literate and numerate that the rest of the population Jews ‘had a comparative advantage in the skilled occupations demanded in the new urban centers’ such as banking and moneylending. Barzel (1992) speculates that Christian merchants would be prepared to borrow money from Jews when they would not borrow from fellow Christians because the Jews were legally prohibited from a large number of trades and businesses and thus could not take advantage of any information disclosed.
As Stein notes ‘even Innocent III… accepted de facto, if not de jure, a differentiation between Jew and Christian before the law. This is supported by ‘the fact that we have no surviving court decisions against Christians who took interest from Jews’ (Stein 1956, 144). To escape prosecution, Christians had to charge disguised interest when lending to other Christians, which made renewing loans costly, undermined verification of the loan, and reduced creditors ability to collect (see de Roover 1948, 57–58). Jews could face some sanctions from canon courts. In particular they could be excommunicated, which entailed being denied any contract with Christians. On this see Jordan (1986).
‘Nowhere else in northern Europe was there a Jewish community with so much wealth per capita, or one so completely dependent upon moneylending, as were the Jews of England in the century or so prior to 1275’ (Stacey 1995, 93). Robert Chazan writes that ‘[t]he overwhelming impression from this wide-ranging evidence is the significance of Jewish moneylending to the general English economy…moneylending was the mainstay of Jewish economic activity, the means by which the Jewish community as a whole maintained its economic viability and won the political support requisite to its survival’ (Chazen 1997, 26).
Paria-Kapitalismus—Weber developed this category in response to Werner Sombart’s claim that the Jews had played an essential role in the emergence of capitalism. In his account of the rise of capitalism he contrasted ‘speculative pariah capitalism’ with the Puritan ‘bourgeois organization of labour’ (Weber 1930, 245). This concept has been criticized (see Cahnman 1974; Momigliano 1980).
Perhaps this was not necessarily done unwittingly. It was thought better for Jews to endanger their souls by lending money at interest than for Christians to engage in the practice. This monopoly was a monopoly in the economic sense. It did not mean that every moneylender was Jewish.
The prohibition was a lucrative source of rents because it minimized rent dissipation. In public choice theory, the creation of political rents induces rent-seeking behavior as producers bid for the right to be the monopolist (Tullock 1967). This causes the rents to be dissipated as each would-be monopolist expends resources trying to capture them. In the case of the medieval prohibition on usury, the costs of rent-seeking were low because the monopoly was enforced by religious as well as legal penalties, and the Church made it extremely costly for other groups apart from the Jews to become licensed pawnbrokers and moneylenders.
In 2007 pounds this is approximately £50 million. In contemporary terms it made him the second richest individual in the country after the king.
The political extraction of rents is considered by McChesney (1987) who shows that it can be in the interests of political actors to extort private parties by threatening to expropriate existing rents. McChesney (1987) stresses the ability of extract rent depends on both the credibility of the threat to expropriate if the appropriate payments are not made and the credibility of the promise not to expropriate if they are.
McChesney (1987) stresses the ability of extract rent depends on both the credibility of the threat to expropriate if the appropriate payments are not made, and the credibility of the promise not to expropriate if they are.
The king could legally inherit the riches of unrepentant usurers i.e. those who did not make restitution on their deathbed. He also took the fortunes of Christian usurers like William Cade.
This was a reaction by the barons to ‘their own financial exploitation at the hands of the Angevin government (Dobson 2003, 147). Stow observes that ‘the town patriciate disassociated itself from the massacre; the initiators were heavily indebted members of the middle and even upper knightly class, motivated by fears of foreclosure’ (Stow 1992, 111).
In the account given by William of Newburgh of Richard’s reaction to this massacre, ‘He [Richard] is indignant and in a rage, both for the insult to his royal majesty and for the great loss to the treasury, for to the treasury belonged whatever the Jews, who are known to be the royal usurers, seem to possess in the way of goods’ (quoted in Schechter 1913, 129).
According to the view attributed to Henry of Bracton, a leading thirteenth century jurist, summarized from De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Anglia: ‘The Jew can have nothing of his own, for whatever he acquires, he acquires not for himself but for the king; for the Jews live not for themselves but for others and so they acquire not for themselves but for others’ (quoted Pollack and Maitland 1895, 468). Similarly according to the contemporary Leges Edwardi Confessoris, ‘the Jews and all that they have are the king’s, and should any one detain them or their chattels, the king may demand them as his owns’ (quoted in Pollack and Maitland 1895, 468). This ‘same legal fiction’ held that all Jews ‘were slaves of the king’s chamber, his royal treasure, and therefore not to be harmed by anyone except, of course, the king himself’ (Nirenberg 1996, 21).
‘English law had favored the debtor over the lender. Not only had debts been easily repudiated, but there had also been no satisfactory legal remedy by which a creditor could compel a debtor to pay a delinquent obligation’ (Bowers 1983, 62).
For example, it is recorded that on 3rd July 1250, the king promnised a ‘[b]ond to Raymond Makeyn, citizen of Bordeaux, to pay him out of the first issues of the Jewry 792 marks for divers debts, to wit, a moiety next Michalemas, and the other moiety the following Easter’ (Calendar of the Patent Rolls, preserved in the public record office, Henry III AD. 1247–1258 1908, 69).
McKechnie (1905) observed that ‘[i]f this cunningly-devised system prevented the Christian debtor from evading his obligations, it also placed the Jewish creditor completely at the mercy of the Crown; for the exact wealth of every Jews could be accurately ascertained from a scrutiny of the contents of the archae. The king’s officials were enabled to judge to a penny how much it was possible to wring from the coffers of the Jews, whose bonds, moreover, could be conveniently attached until their paid the tallage demanded’ (McKechnie 1905, 268).
This was the turning point in the treatment of the Jews from favoured vassals to Royal serfs according to Langmuir (1990).
It may be useful to clarify the monetary system used in medieval England. A pound sterling was made up of 20 shillings (s) or 240 pence (d). A mark was 13s and 4d or two-thirds the value of a pound.
Arbitrary fines were levied on a number of prominent Jewish widows such as Licorcia of Winchester who was imprisoned ‘on the grounds that she had stolen a valuable ring destined for none other than Henry III himself’ (Dobson 2003, 154).
Traditional agrarian societies respond to these shocks by employing various forms of community-based insurance (see Platteau and Abraham 1987). As societies become more commercialized, however, traditional forms of insurance and consumption smoothing often fail. McCloskey and Nash (1984) examine the high cost of grain storage in medieval England. The scarcity of credit raising the interesting possibility that many land transfers were (imperfect) substitutes for credit transfers (Bekar and Reed 2003, 2008).
The Ramsey ‘inverse elasticity principle’ indicates that commodity taxes should be concentrated on goods that are demanded inelastically. The inelasticity of credit demand implies that the indirect taxation of lending may have been relatively ‘efficient’ from a technical point of view. This is similar to the logic of ‘efficient mercantilism’ (Congleton and Lee 2009). Congleton and Lee (2009) show that a revenue-maximizing autocrat has an incentive to assign monopoly rights in such a way that indirectly minimizes the deadweight loss associated with monopolization. It is also similar to the account provided by Nye (2007, 68–88) of how the British state in the eighteenth century shifted towards less costly forms of intervention like excise taxes.
This is made explicit in the following vignette from 1287. Rokah (2001) reports that ‘the sheriff of Hampshire was told to help Lumbard son of Cressant, a Jew of Winchester, to levy debts proven to be owed him by Lumbard, since he owed the king a ‘large sum by reason of the king’s tallage lately made throughout the whole Jewry within the realm, which he is unable to pay unless the king help him in recovering the debts due to him’ (Rokah 2001, 81).
In some areas this was not the case. For instance, the Hospital of St John the Evangelist in Cambridge provided informal loans to noblemen. In her study of the Hospital, Miri Rubin found that many of the landowning benefactors of the Hospital were in fact indebt to Jewish moneylenders. In 1240, on landowner ‘granted the hospital 2 acres in Babraham ‘to God and the hospital’ … for which he received 23s ‘to acquit me of the Jewry” (Rubin 1987, 219). In general the evidence from Cambridge suggests that the debtors of the Jews ‘were often townsmen and men of lower knightly rank’ (Rubin 1987, 221).
This reflects a more general phenomenon; in all preindustrial societies: ‘[i]ndebtedness was a universal aristocratic disease’ (Crone 1989, 26). The nobility had high expenditures and illiquid income. During the thirteenth century these expenditures were increasingly rapid as the costs of warfare increased (Hilton 1966, 50–51).
Bowers (1983) showed that the covert interest charged by non-professional Christian lenders like Adam de Stratton in the fourteenth century greatly exceeded what Jewish lenders had charged. De Stratton charged £1 in ‘late charges’ a day for a £40 loan. In another loan he charged £10 in interest every 2 months for every ten marks borrowed (£6. 13s. 4d) (Bowers 1983, 66). Bell et al. (2008) have calculated the rates of interest Italian bankers charged Edward I. Carefully distinguishing the annualized rate of interest charged on a loan from the net profit of the lender, they find that the interest rate charged varied from around 14 to 140% according to factors such as the size of the loan and the fiscal position of the king.
There were three important ways in which a moneylender could help out a favoured client. The ‘first was postponement of repayment; the second, remittance of part of the interest; and the third, not asking for documents or any security in connection with the loan’ (Shatzmiller 1990, 116). The most appreciated was the prolongatio. ‘Partial remittance of interest was not considered a rare act on the part of moneylenders, judging from what people said about Bondavid. He would do this either by returning some quantity of money or making void, tearing up, or handing over the documents before the debt was fully paid’ (Shatzmiller 1990, 117). Shatzmiller’s depiction of moneylending in Provence closely approximates what development economists call quasi-credit (Fafchamps 1999). The important characteristic of quasi-credit is that repayment is contingent: if the borrower cannot repay immediately, the debt can be rescheduled. The insight of Fafchamps and Gubert (2007) is that internally enforced debt contract must allow for contingent repayment. In medieval Provence, contracts could be enforced externally but doing so was costly.
Delayed repayment appears to have been a common feature of Jewish lending. Only 12% of debts in Aix-en-Provence in the 1430s were paid back on time (Coulet 1988, 516–518). In England this rate may have been higher because of the Exchequer of the Jewry.
Within the feudal system, ‘the highest superordinate level of the feudal hierarchy in any given territory of Western Europe was necessarily different not in kind, but only in degree, from the subordinate levels of lordship beneath it. The monarch, in other words, was a feudal suzerain of his vassals, to whom he was bound by reciprocal ties of fealty, not a supreme sovereign set above his subjects (Anderson 1974, 151).
Ridgeway observes that ‘pressures, political and other conspired to produce a situation where the King’s own supply of land suitable for making grants was noticeably less than it had been at any other point earlier in his reign. Henry III was so unwarlike that he could never add to the royal store of escheats by conquest; he relied on windfalls. In the I250s he was simply unlucky; there was nothing comparable with the demise of the Marshals or the ‘great mortality of earls’ of the I240s to assist the task of patronage’ (Ridgeway 1989, 596).
Henry campaigned in Gascony in 1242 and from 1250 onwards he funded the Papacy’s war against the Emperor in Sicily.
Henry was unable to provide Edward with the £15,000 income promised to him.
They were not the only source of revenue. The king also increased the burden of local taxation dramatically by increasing the fees that sheriffs had to pay to hold their offices, which led to the sheriffs levying extortionate fines and other charges. (Maddicott 1986, 5–7).
According to Matthew Paris: ‘The king, about this same time, sent justiciaries to examine into the whole amount of money which belonged to the Jews, both in debts due to them and the money they actually possessed; with them also was sent a base and merciless Jew, in order that he might accuse all others, even at the price of transgressing the truth. This man rebuked all Christians who lamented and grieved at the affliction of his fellow-Jews; and called the king’s baliffs lukewarm and effeminate; and gashing his teeth with fury at each one of them, he declared, with great oaths, that they could give twice as much to the king as they had done, although he lied in his teeth, and in order to injure them more effectively, he daily revealed secrets of theirs to the Christian agents of the king’ (Paris 1853, 341).
The size of these sums is evident when it is considered that the average daily wage for a farm labourer in 1300 was 4d (Allen 2001).
Henry’s queen was involved in these transactions. The Calendar of Patent Rolls for 1258 records a ruling obtaining to a Baranas de Stiuecle, who was unable to repay a loan contracted with Jewish lenders: ‘At the end of the term, the manor is to be given back to the queen, to hold until the heirs of the said Barnabas pay her 300 marks whereof she acquitted the said manor touching the Jewry towards Richard, king of Almain, to whom the manor devolved by grant of the king for the debt of the Jewry (Bowers 1983, 61).
Henry d’Aubigny lost his land because he went into debt trying to purchase a marriage for his son. Sir Robert de Willoughby of Kesteven found himself owing £446 13s 4d towards Jewish moneylenders (Cross 1975). Various other examples can be found in Madox (1703, 249–255).
‘Through the Jews the King could indirectly tax the people; they served him as a sponge which could be royally squeezed into the king’s coffers when it had drained the country dry by usury’ (Leonard 1891, 111).
For example in 1244, Henry III pardoned a debt of £110 that his future enemy Simon de Montfort owed to David of Oxford, a rich Jewish moneylender (Maddicott 1994, 33). Thereafter de Montfont made a point of not borrowing from Jewish lenders.
Chapter Ten of Magna Carta stated that ‘[i]f one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, die before that loan be repaid, the debt shall not bear interest while the heir is under age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt fall into our hands, we will not take anything except the principle sum contained in the bond’ (McKechnie 1905, 265).
Between October 1264 and June 1265, de Montfort pardoned 60 men of debts owed to Jews. As Maddicott comments the object of the policy ‘was to gain popularity for Montfort’s government, at no cost to himself, but at the expense of the Jews and of the king who was the lord of the Jews’ (McKechnie 1905, 265).
From 1265 onwards Edward was the effective ruler of the country in many respects. Thus we find the Patent Rolls mentioning ‘the counsel of Edward the king’s son and other magnates and lieges of the realm in the king’s presence’ Calendar of the Patent Rolls, preserved in the public record office, Henry III AD. 1266–1272 (1913, 359).
As one historian put parliament ‘was of course a royal innovation begun by John, frequently used by Henry III, and developed by Edward I into an integral par of the constitutions, and all three kings had used the practice for their own purposes, financial, administrative or political, as and when they saw fit’ (Treharne 1986, 26). This supports Tullock’s 1987 hypothesis that representative institutions are typically granted by autocrats because doing so is in their own interest.
For example on June 18 1272, a license to trade in Jewish debts was granted to a number of people close to Edward himself such as William de Monte Revelli, ‘yeoman of Edward’ and William, a tailor of Edward’s wife, Eleanor. (Calendar of the Patent Rolls, preserved in the public record office, Henry III AD. 1266–1272 1913, 660). Tellingly in 1275, the king ordered the ‘charters whereby Thomas Basset of Weleham is indebted to Benedict de Lincoln, a Jew, and to other Jews of the realm to be withdrawn from the chest of the chirographers of the Jews and delivered to Queen Eleanor, the king’s consort, and to cause them to be replaced after they have been made into bills (billicate), so that she may make her profit out of them as shall seem fit to her’ (Calendar of the Close Rolls, preserved in the public record office, Edward I AD. 1272–1279 1900, 184).
An additional reason was that an exogenous development reduced the future value of the Exchequer of the Jewry and this as the emergence of a number of Italian banking families in second-half of the thirteenth century that specialized in lending to the king and to the Church. Banking families like Riccardi first appear as lenders to the king. Italian merchants were particularly prominent in the wool trade (Bell et al. 2007, 117). The Italians offered more specialized services than Jewish lenders did. The Riccardi were made responsible for managing the customs revenue that came in as a result of the wool tax of 1275. They were able to provide advances on the basis of predicted future revenues and were thereby to smooth the king’s income stream (Kaeuper 1973). Since the Italians only lent to a tiny elite at the top of English society and did not reside in England permanently, Italian bankers did not directly displace the Jews as Jews as Veitch (1986) supposed.
Edward I continued to raise tallages on the Jewish community in 1277 and again in 1287 but as Richardson notes ‘[i]n estimating the severity of the exactions of the 1270s it must be borne in mind that the total population of all the Jewish communities in the country at the time can scarcely have reached 3,000 souls, and that the great majority of them were poor and moreover that the burden of taxation fell upon a small number of wealthy families who were deprived of a large part of their working capital by the ‘great tallage’ and whose business was further restricted by the prohibition of overt usury by the Stature of the Jewry of 1275’ (Richardson 1960, 216).
Butt (1989, 130) observes that the ‘new tax brought the wool merchandise of England’s primary trade into the fiscal net for the first time’.
For example in 1279, Edward ordered the sheriff of York to ‘cause proclamation to be made in the country of York and in the city of York that Jews may there freely traffic in lawful goods and merchandises with Christians and Jews, and may buy victuals and other necessaries and may live amongst the Christians, as they were wont to do in times past, and to inhibit any one from laying violent hands upon them or from injuring them otherwise contrary to the king’s peace’ (Calendar of the Close Rolls, preserved in the public record office, Edward I AD. 1272–1279 1900, 577).
Greif (2006a, b) interprets the Statute of Westminster in 1275 and the establishment of the Acton Burnell registry as marking an end to the Community Responsibility System with respect to debts and Greif (2001a) suggested that the ‘procedures established in England between 1283 and 1285 provided the basis for a contract enforcement mechanism that enabled impersonal exchange based on a central legal system and individual responsibility’ (Greif 2001b, 34–35). This is true but it obscures the fact that a legal framework for enforcing impersonal loans and debts had already existed for three quarters of a century.
Using the theory of sovereign debt, Veitch (1986) argued that the arrival of Italian merchant bankers in the thirteenth century meant that the king was able to expel and expropriate the Jews. The evidence that the king did not gain directly from the expulsion shows that accounts that conflated the act of expulsion with that of debt repudiation are mistaken (this also applies to Barzel 1992).
Similarly Similarly Stow (1981) argued that monarchs like Philip III, Edward I and Philip IV were won over by the rigorist views of clerical anti-usury campaigners like Foulques de Neuilly and Robert Courson. Chazen (1973–1974) adopts a similar argument in his description of Louis XIII’s policies in Narbonne.
Langmuir (1990, 305) argued it was precisely because the Jews were increasingly singled out as the killers of Christ and as despoilers of holy relics that they were so vulnerable to the depredations of the king.
This happened in central Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in parts of Italy in the fourteenth century, and in Eastern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For example in the middle of the thirteenth century, the diet of Mainz proclaimed that ‘as loans are necessary and Christians prohibited to lend on profit, the Jew must be allowed to fill the gap’ (Stein 1956, 144).
When another group of prominent Jews requested permission to leave the country, the response of the magistrates according to Matthew Paris was: “Whither would you fly, wretched beings? The French king hates you and persecutes you, and has condemned you to perpetual banishment; do you wish in avoiding Charybdis to be dashed on Scylls?” (Paris 1854, 76).
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I would like to thank Knick Harley, Bob Allen and Jean-Philippe Platteau for commenting on earlier versions of this paper. I am also grateful to the audience of the Graduate Workshop in Social and Economic History at Oxford.
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Koyama, M. The political economy of expulsion: the regulation of Jewish moneylending in medieval England. Const Polit Econ 21, 374–406 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10602-010-9087-3
- Rent creation