At the time of the diaspora ( scattering ) of the Jews from their homeland there was a trend towards migration westwards, caused in part by the economic attraction of the centre of the Roman empire. From the 4th century onward there were colonies in Spain and Germany, and by the fall of the Roman empire it is likely there were communities in most major cities. Great religious tolerance was shown at the time, but with the subsequent spread of Christianity this became less so.
In 7th century widesprad practise of Judaism was proscribed from Byzantium to Spain, but then, under the Carolingians, more tolerance was again shown. For a time they were the principal international merchants. Other Jews reached north Africa and Spain from Mesopotamia on the heels of Arab conquests. It was in Spain in particular that Jews found much prominence in a diversity of fields, such as in medicine, in literature and indeed politics.
However, the passions aroused by the crusades caused massacres on the slightest pretext north of the Pyrenees, as in the Rhineland in 1096 and in England at a slightly later period.
Whereas formerly Jews had practised trade and crafts, Christian merchants soon surplanted them and prevented them from continuing these activities, as non-believers were not admitted to their guilds and corporations.They were thus forced to lend their capital at interest, forbidden by Canon Law.
Many Governments encouraged this new activity and exacted a series of unmerciful levies upon them, in effect using them as efficient tax gatherers. It also forced interest rates up. At the third (1179) and fourth (1215) Lateran councils an entirely anti-Jewish code had been elaborated, calculated to keep them subordinated and engendering unfriendly relations between them and the Christian communities at large. Jews had to wear badges of shame to identify them.
They were expelled from England in 1290 and from France in 1306 and 1394. In Germany, because of weak central government, there was no mass expulsion. Ironically, in retrospect at least, the only large community to survive the middle ages was in Germany, in Frankfurt/Main. After the Norman conquest a small number of Jews settled in England.
Because of their business interests, as also for their own security and to protect the interests of the Crown, they lived in large cities and centres of trade such as York, Lincoln, Northampton, London and Canterbury. They also tended to live in stone houses as is shown in Lincoln and Canterterbury; this again for the safety of their own person, as also that of their their bonds or records of money lending transactions. These were a prime target when they were attacked, as any record of money lent could be destroyed, thus freeing their clients of any proof of indebtedness.
The earliest reference so
far to a Jew associated with Faversham is that of Benedict of Faversham. In
the Pipe Roll of 1191 he is shown to owe £4 6s 1d arrears on a tallage
of Guildford. A number of Jews owed arrears and this is the third highest amount
recorded, superceded only by that of Jacob of Canterbury and Benedictus Crispus,who
owed £52 0s 3d and 200 Marks respectively.
The roll of 1191 also stated that the 100 of Faversham was fined for the murder of a jew. The murder took place in Ospringe, the town being fined 10 Marks because it did not raise hue and cry. By 1196 the debt had been reduced to 4 Marks.
It was in the period following attacks on Jews in London. Jews had been banned from attending the coronation of Richard I at Westminster. Nevertheless, the Jewish community had sent a delegation with gifts no doubt to present to the King. A fracas broke out when they had been identified and in the ensuing melee a number were killed. The disturbance spread to London in early February 1189. From there news reached other parts of the kingdom. In Kings Lynn the Jewish community was all but exterminated. Next was Norwich and unrest spread West and South, reaching Ospringe probably in 1190.
There were two Jews called Benedict in Kent at the time. One was known as Benedict the long, the other as Iittle Benedict. It is the latter I have identified as being Benedict of Faversham. He had a brother Isaac, and was known in the period 1160-1194.
By the middle of the 13th century the interests of the Crown were even more inseparable with those of the Jews. They were not allowed to live in any city which did not possess a Royal archa, or chest, for the bonds of the Jewish Exchequer, of which there were 26 in the country. This was enacted by Royal decrees of 1245 and 1253. It was in the interests of the Crown to afford them this protection, as they were an easy target for obtaining finance, of which the Crown was continuously in need..
We know of a Samuel of Ospringe, Jew of Canterbury, in the period 1248-1254. In a receipt from the Jews of Canterbury by Reginald de Cobham sheriff of Kent, taken in 33-35 Henry III ( 1248-1251 ), there is a record of several prises taken from Samuel, totalling 5 marks.
A little later, in 1266, we find Leo the son of Samuel giving Henry III one Bezant for leave to remove from Canterbury to Ospringe and reside there. Two other Jews of Canterbury moved to Sittingbourne in the same year; and this so very shortly before the Jews were expelled from England in 1290. Perhaps life was too dangerous in Canterbury by this time and a little more tolerable in Ospringe, being a Royal ville.
W Jacob, 2000