The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 was a relatively quick and efficient affair. The order that the Jews were to leave the country by All Saints day (1 November) was issued on 18 July and the last of the Jews had left England less than four months later. Despite what the so-called Rochester Chronicle would have us believe, with its caricature of three Jews being beaten out of England by a Christian with a club, the departure of the Jews was a relatively peaceful affair (with several notable exceptions). Indeed, Edward I (r. 1272-1307) issued the Jews with orders of safe conduct out of England and ensured that those who could not afford passage on a ship leaving England were charged at an affordable rate.
Moreover, the Jews were allowed to leave England with their movable goods and a number of Jews were given permission to sell their property (in accordance with the Statute of the Jewry (1275) which required that such permission be obtained). That being said, the records of the Jewish properties which fell into royal hands demonstrate that a considerable number of Jews were not able to liquidate their properties prior to leaving England. There is not space here to consider all the arguments which historians have used to explain the issue of the Edict, which range from religion to climactic change. Therefore, the argument which will be considered here, that the Edict was the price that was exacted from Edward in return for an enormous grant of taxation, is the one which most adequately explains the expulsion.
It is important to remember that Edward I was not simply King of England but also Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine. In addition, it must be understood that unless the king was on military campaign, it was expected that the dominion which he was resident in was to meet his financial needs. This became a problem in 1286-9 when Edward visited Gascony because this was a political, rather than a military, visit.
Although Gascony was a reasonably prosperous territory, it was far too small for its revenues to be able to sustain the royal entourage for an extended period of time. As such, Edward’s debts began to amass throughout his time in Gascony. Thus, by the time that Edward returned to England in 1289 he was in debt to the Riccardi of Lucca to the tune of £110,000 and the only way that Edward could hope to pay that was with a Parliamentary grant of taxation.
As a result of Edward’s debts, the Parliament which assembled at Westminster in 1290 had a great deal of leverage. The baronial classes called for an end to the abuses of Edward’s officials which had been detrimental to their status as landowners and when Edward consented to two pieces of legislation (Quo Warranto and Quia Emptores which were intended to give the barons further protections) they gave their consent to the taxation. In contrast, the price that was demanded by the knights of the shire was the issue of the Edict prior to giving their consent to Edward’s request for taxation.
The stance which was adopted by the knights, of withholding consent until they had what they wanted, proved to be a wise decision given that Edward subsequently reneged on his promises to the barons. The knights’ demand can only be understood within the context of the events of the 13th century. From c.1240 onwards there was an obvious change in royal policy towards the Jews when the Crown initiated an almost annual policy of severe taxation towards the Jews (which did not require Parliamentary consent). When the Jews were becoming increasingly hard-pressed they, in turn, applied pressure to their debtors and it was the knightly classes which suffered the most as a result of this.
If a knight could not pay his debt when it was demanded, then the Jews would often have no choice but to sell the debt to the great barons or the Church. The purchaser of the debt could then take over the land that had been put forward as surety for the debt, which resulted in the impoverishment a great many knights during the 13th century. Thus, when considering the expulsion, it is perhaps more accurate to treat the Jews not as a religious minority but rather as one economic class which was expelled in an attempt to relieve the pressures which had been placed on another economic class (i.e. the knights).