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These is an important omission in my little book, The 
Jews of Angevin England, which has been received with 
praises so much above its deserts. In a measure, to use 
a much hackneyed expression, it resembles the play of 
Hamlet without any representative of the Danish prince. 
Owing to circumstances, which have been explained by 
myself and others over and over again, the Jews of mediaeval 
Europe were forced to be " usurers," or, as we nowadays 
call them, financiers. But the greatest of these financiers in 
twelfth-century England (to which my book is confined) is 
undoubtedly Aaron of Lincoln. My pages positively reek 
with his transactions. He is in many ways the typical 
Jew of Angevin England as he presented himself to the 
outer world. I have given in my book all, or at any rate 
most, of the passages which relate to his activity, but 
I have not, as I at one time intended, brought together 
these passages so as to give a complete account of his 
career. I propose supplying that omission on the present 
occasion. It will at any rate render our notion of what 
Jewish finance at this early period really meant more 
definite if we concentrate our attention on such a typical 
Jewish financier as Aaron of Lincoln. 

We only know of his activity for the twenty years 
between 1166, when we find him in full force, and 11 86, 
when he died and all his riches fell into the king's hands. 
We do not know his age at death, and therefore it is im- 
possible to state when he was born ; but it must have taken 
him some time, as we shall see, to organize the method by 

1 A paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England. 
VOL. X. U U 


■which he acquired his comparatively huge wealth, and he 
was probably born some time before 1 130. As his name 
indicates, he was a native or at any rate an inhabitant of 
Lincoln, then the second town of the kingdom. Who was 
his father we know not, nor how he acquired the beginnings 
of that wealth which he knew so well how to multiply, but 
his parents or he himself must have been amongst the 
earliest Jewish settlers in Lincoln, where we find him 
located somewhat outside the ordinary Jewry of Lincoln 
for reasons which will later detain us. Nor do we know 
for certain under what circumstances he began his career 
as financier. 

When we first meet with him he is already in a large 
way of business, and to explain the exact character of that 
business I must first of all explain something of the old 
methods of national book-keeping. The king was repre- 
sented in each of the shires by the shire reeve or sheriff, 
that is, the king's steward for that particular shire. From 
each shire the king drew a certain rent or fee which was 
known as the "ferm" of the shire, and twice a year the 
sheriff had to pay to the king the half-yearly ferm. He 
either had to pay it or in the interim the king could draw 
upon him for the amount which he would have to pay. 
Thus if the king had any pressing creditor he could get rid 
of his importunities by giving him what were practically 
demand notes on some of the sheriffs of the shires. It is in 
connexion with a series of transactions of this kind that 
we first come across Aaron of Lincoln. All these accounts 
of the sheriffs were sent up to the Board of Exchequer at 
Westminster, and there checked and entered upon the roll, 
which from its size and shape got to be known as the Pipe 
Roll. In the Pipe Roll for the twelfth year of Henry II, 
corresponding to 1165-66, we find for Lincolnshire the 
following entry : — " William de Lisle renders count of the 
ferm of Lincolnshire " ; then come some details of payment 
which the sheriff had paid on behalf of the king, and then 
this entry : — " By payment by king's writ to Aaron the Jew, 


£29 8s. iod., which are counted to him in the ferm of the 
county " (/. A. E. 1 , 43). In other words, the king for some 
reason or other was indebted to Aaron of Lincoln for the 
sum of £29 8s. iod. s which would correspond nowadays to 
something like £1,300, and he repays the Jew by a draft 
on the sheriff of Lincoln. This would not be altogether 
surprising since Aaron lived at Lincoln, and it might be 
simply a matter of convenience that the sum should be 
paid by a draft on Lincoln. But this is only one of nine 
similar entries for that same year in which the king calls 
upon the sheriffs of Lincoln, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Hampshire, 
Essex, Rutland, Cambridge, Oxford, and Buckinghamshire to 
pay out of the ferms of these counties no less a sum than 
£616 1 as. 8d. This would correspond to something like 
£20,000 of the present day, but it really answered even to 
more in the eyes of the royal officials, for the king's whole 
income, out of which the national administration had to be 
found, was no more than £35,000, out of which Aaron, it 
will be seen, in 1166 supplied one-fiftieth. 

But the important point to notice is by what means 
Aaron, who lived in Lincoln, could have been so ubiquitous 
and apply for his money at Norwich, at Winchester, at 
Colchester, at Rutland, at Oxford, at Cambridge, at York, 
and at Buckingham. He must clearly have had agents in 
those various counties who collected the money for him, 
and we are by no means without evidence of the existence 
of such agents. There is a Hebrew deed published by 
Mr. M. D. Davis in the very interesting volume of Shetaroth 
(No. 148, J. A. E., 268), which he edited for the Anglo- 
Jewish Historical Exhibition, in which two Jews of 
Warwick, Peitevin and Leo, acknowledge that they have 
received from the sheriff of Leicester £109 $s. 40!. as attor- 
neys for Aaron of Lincoln. Another entry (J. A. E., 277) 
refers to the attorneyship Aaron had made to Deudone fil 
Aaron (perhaps his son) ; and we shall see later of another 

1 I refer throughout this paper to Jews 0/ Angevin England by the initials 
J. A. E. followed by a number referring to the page. 

U U 2 


instance where a Jew, who had come all the way from 
Paris, collects money at York due to his master Aaron of 

Aaron was not alone in this method of dealing with the 
king. In the very same year in which these entries occur 
his chief financial rival, Isaac fil Rabbi Joce of London, 
receives no less a sum than £743 13s. lod. from the sheriffs 
of Bucks, Bedford, Kent, Northampton, Gloucester, Dorset, 
Essex, Oxford, Lancashire, Norfolk, Cambridge, Devon, and 
Hampshire (J. A. E., 44). Some of the counties, it will be 
observed, are the same as those supplied by Aaron of 
Lincoln, but between the two Jews the king had received 
a twentieth of his income, and had paid them back by 
drafts on nearly half the counties of England. Isaac fil 
Joce had also his agents, for the earliest Shetar or Hebrew 
receipt we have is signed by " Berachyah, son of Rabbi 
Eliayu, on behalf of the Honourable Rabbi Isaac, son of the 
Honourable Rabbi Joseph" (J. A. E., 77). Ten years later 
we find the sheriffs of Dorset, Somerset, and Northumber- 
land paying the cash balance of their ferms to Aaron and 
Isaac conjointly, who had for this occasion combined their 
forces, which were probably at that time the largest amount 
of floating capital existing in England (J. A. E., 56). In 
the following year we find another combination of forces 
in four Jews, among whom was Deodatus the bishop or 
Dayan, whom I have identified with an important Jewish 
writer of the period. They received no less a sum than 
£1,003 from eight of the sheriffs (J. A. E., 65). 

It is unfortunate that we have no details as to the other 
side of the transaction. The king orders the sheriffs to 
pay these various sums, but we may be tolerably certain 
that he had previously received consideration for them. 
Now the ordinary view of authorities of English economic 
history is that the Jew was the king's chattel, and that he 
could do what he liked with him and his property, but the 
entries in the Pipe Rolls to which I have referred are by 
themselves sufficient to disprove this. If the property of 


the Jew belonged to the king there was no reason why he 
should pay them back. The fact is, it was only on the 
Jew's death that the king claimed his chattels or any 
portion of them, and he did the same with the property 
of Christian usurers as well, so that from the point of view 
of the State a Jew, at any rate in the twelfth century, had 
no disabilities qud Jew. 

It would also be interesting to know which of the two 
great financiers, Aaron or Isaac, thought out the plan of 
organizing the English Jewry into one great banking asso- 
ciation spread throughout the country, for that is what 
these entries really mean. If the king could pay agents of 
Aaron of Lincoln throughout the English counties, so could 
those agents advance moneys belonging to Aaron to persons 
requiring capital wherever they were situated. As we shall 
shortly see, Aaron of Lincoln when he died had debtors spread 
throughout the breadth and length of England. I rather 
doubt whether he was the inventor of this organization. 
We find it utilized bj r Isaac fil Joce, and he was, from his 
position as head of the London Jewry, a still more im- 
portant person socially than Aaron of Lincoln. His father 
is referred to in the only Pipe Roll we possess of the reign 
of Henry I, dated 1130, as Rubigotsce (J. A. E., 15), or in 
other words Rabbi Joseph, while at the beginning of the 
reign of Richard I a special charter was given to him and 
his men as representing the Jews of all England (J. A. E '., 
134). It will also be observed that in 1166 Isaac receives 
more and from a greater number of shires than Aaron. 
Consequently it is more than probable that the practice 
of utilizing the provincial Jews as local branches of the 
London and Lincoln banks was due to Isaac rather than to 
Aaron of Lincoln. 

On the other hand, it was the great Lincoln financier 
who utilized this network of branches with the most energy. 
We find his transactions ramifying throughout the breadth 
and length of the land, in particular he seems to have done 
business with almost all the great abbeys and monasteries, 


which were at this time engaged in raising those stately 
edifices that are the pride of our cathedral towns. And 
here for a moment I will pause and discuss what exactly 
was the function which Jewish usury performed in the 
development of England. The Church had laid it down 
that no man, under pain of being excommunicated and 
considered unworthy of Christian fellowship, should lend 
to another upon usury; and this is explained by Saint 
Augustine to mean, " If you have given a man your money 
and expect from him more than you gave, and not money 
alone but anything more than you have given, whether 
corn or wine or oil — if you expect to receive more than you 
have given you are a usurer, and for that to be reproved " 
(/. A. E., 16). Or again, Pope Julius laid it down that "if 
any man, not from necessity but from cupidity, buys corn 
or wine, let us say at twopence a measure, and keeps it till 
it may be sold at fourpenee or sixpence or more, this we 
call filthy usury" (ihicl.). In other words, no economic 
application of capital was to be allowed to Christians, no 
great enterprise could be undertaken except the person or 
persons who desired to carry it out had got the necessary 
capital to complete it. There is much to be said for the 
policy of the Church in the early stages of industry, when 
debt was so likely to cripple rather than, as in modern 
times, to stimulate it. But there comes a time in the de- 
velopment of any industry when loan capital is desirable 
for promoting it, and it was at this moment in the develop- 
ment of English industry that the Jews came forward and 
assisted in its development. That their charges were high 
for the accommodation was due to several causes, chief 
among which was the absence of competition, due to the 
policy of the Church. But it must also be remembered 
that the king was sure, sooner or later, to claim his share 
in each transaction, and that share had naturally to be 
paid by the debtor in the form of heightened interest. 

It is at any rate a mistake to think that the money 
advanced by Jews was solely devoted to crusades or other 


non-productive expenditure. The career of Aaron of Lincoln 
is alone sufficient to disprove this hackneyed statement, for 
he was concerned in the building of no less than sixteen 
abbeys and monasteries of which we know, and doubtless 
of many more about which we have no evidence. Of one 
set of transactions with abbeys we have very curious 
evidence which throws considerable light upon the methods 
of money-lending in the twelfth century. When Richard I 
came to the throne in 11 89 he found debts due to him as 
his father's heir for the sum of no less than 6,400 marks, or 
£4,800 (corresponding to about £150,000 and probably more 
at the present day), which were due to him from the abbeys 
of Rivaulx, New Minster, Kirkstead, Louth Park, Revesby, 
Rufford, Kirkstall, Roche, and Biddlesden (J. A. E., 108). 
Now these were all Cistercian monasteries, created between 
H40-n > 52 1 ,and it is specially mentioned in thedeed that the 
king had become possessed of this debt as universal legatee 
of Aaron of Lincoln. What does this mean but that these 
nine Cistercian abbeys would not have been built but for 
the financial assistance given by Aaron of Lincoln ? It is 
not certain that these monasteries were built at so early a 
date as 1140-1 152. This is merely the date of foundation, 
and it would be some time after settlement that building 
operations on a large scale would be undertaken. 

But that is not all. These abbeys owed 6,500 marks, but 
the king allowed them to clear themselves of their indebted- 
ness by paying him only 1,000 marks, a little more than 
one-seventh of the whole debt. This must have frequently 
occurred, for naturally the king, who had not advanced the 
money, would be quite willing to take almost any pro- 
portion of it if the debt fell into his hands, since whatever 
he got it would be all profit. Consequently it would be to 
the interest of any debtor to let the debt run on, notwith- 
standing how high the interest was, in the hope that the 
Jew to whom he owed it might die, that the debt would 

1 See Miss A. E. Cooke's paper on "The Cistercian Monasteries of 
England " in Eng. Hist, Rev., VIII, 625 seq. 


then fall into the king's hand, and that he would be able to 
redeem it at a very slight cost to himself. Usury was in 
this way a sort of bet on the Jew's life, and unfortunately 
a very high premium was put upon the disappearance of the 
Jew. Eliezar of Norwich, for example, the Jew who was 
accused of having crucified the little boy martyr, Saint 
William of Norwich, was killed in this way by one of his 
debtors (J. A. E., 257). 

But we have further evidence of the connexion of Aaron 
of Lincoln with the abbeys and monasteries of Angevin 
England. Thus in 11 73 Godfrey, the son of Henry II, 
succeeded to the see of Lincoln, and one of his first acts 
was to redeem the plate of Lincoln Minster, which his 
predecessor, who died in 1166, had pledged with Aaron 
(J. A. E., 57). And in a well-known passage, to which the 
late Professor Freeman was never tired of pointing, it was 
recorded how Aaron of Lincoln boasted of what he had 
done for the great abbey of St. Alban's, which is still in 
existence. Abbot Simon had died, leaving the abbey in 
debt more than £400 (corresponding to £12,000 of the 
present day). " Whereupon," says the chronicler, " Aaron 
the Jew, who held us in his debt, coming to the house of 
St. Alban in great pride and boasting, with threats kept 
on boasting that it was he who had made the window for 
our St. Alban, and that he had prepared for the saint a home 
when without one " (J. A. E,, 79). I presume this would be 
the great window of stained glass in the transept, which 
thus remains to the present day as a monument of Aaron 
of Lincoln's enterprise, without which the window and the 
shrine could not. have been built, at any rate in the time of 
Abbot Simon. One can imagine the Jew riding up on his 
mule and, feeling confident of the protection of the king, 
boasting of what he had done. It was not perhaps in the 
best of taste, but after all it was true. 

Giraldus Cambrensis gives a curious instance of a 
fraudulent use made of this indebtedness by monasteries to 
Aaron of Lincoln. One William W'bert was cellarer of 


the Cistercian convent of Biddlesdon, which was indebted to 
Aaron of Lincoln, and had to pay interest on the debt. The 
cellarer secretly paid off the debt, but pretended that 
the interest was still due to Aaron and continued to draw 
and pocket it for his own benefit. It is fair to add that 
this report comes from a personal enemy of Wibert's, but 
the fraud was clearly possible, and he was certainly dis- 
missed from his post on account of it (J.A.E., 272). 

But the abbeys were brought into connexion with Aaron 
of Lincoln not solely through their building transactions. 
We have an interesting instance how the abbeys came 
incidentally into possession of neighbouring lands through 
Jewish usury in the case of the abbey of Meaux. One 
William Fossard in the neighbourhood had become indebted 
to the Jews to the large amount of 1,800 marks, or £1.200 
(corresponding to £36,000 of the present day), and for that 
sum had pledged a number of his estates to the Jews, who 
doubtless received the rents from them instead of him 
(/. A. E., 70). Fossard accordingly asked Philip, the abbot 
of Meaux, to release him by taking over the debt, and in 
exchange he offered the abbot the villes or manors of 
Bainton and Nessenwick. "While," says the abbey 
chronicle, " Aaron the Jew of Lincoln, who seemed to be the 
first and greatest of the Jews, thus had drawn to himself the 
whole debt of William, he promises to forgo more than 500 
marks if our abbot would promise to satisfy him of the rest." 
Consequently this was done, and a fresh deed of 1,260 
marks was drawn out in the sole name of Aaron of Lincoln. 
It is tolerably clear that he had bought out his fellow- 
creditors at a much less sum than was mentioned in the 
original deed. The incident illustrates Aaron's method of 
business, and it also exemplifies the advantage the king 
obtained from Jewish usury, for when Aaron of Lincoln 
died among his deeds were found the promise of William 
Fossard to pay the original sum of 1,800 marks, whereas it 
was found that only 1,260 marks had been paid on his 
behalf. Consequently the king claimed from the abbey the 


remaining 540 marks, and it was with great difficulty that 
the original transaction was proved and a special entry was 
made on the Pipe Eoll of 1198, thirty-two years after the 
event, which cleared the abbey from further indebtedness 
by explaining the exact process that had been gone 
through {J". A.E., 58). 

But Aaron of Lincoln was not only concerned with 
building operations of the abbeys or with their relations 
with their neighbours. On one occasion at least we find 
him concerned in a large corn operation. The very earliest 
deed of indebtedness extant (J. A. E., 66), and now in the 
Record Office, is a promissory note of Robert, the parson of 
Bisbrooke, in the county of Rutland, to deliver on Aaron's 
demand twenty-five soams of hay, Stamford measure, while 
another parson of the same district promises to deliver 
forty more soams, both of them to be kept on Aaron's 
demand and to be delivered within fifteen days. It is 
clear from this example that Aaron was on some occasions 
a speculator in corn, though not on the scale of certain 
gentlemen of Chicago, whose operations have disturbed the 
peace of Europe. 

We have other promissory notes at the Record Office 
relating to transactions of Aaron of Lincoln, and from 
these we can gather some further details as to the mode in 
which he did his business. Thus we have another deed 
(ibid.) in which one of the parsons of Bisbrooke just 
referred to counted indebtedness to him of £10 sterling, on 
which he promises to pay every week interest, at the rate 
of twopence in the pound, which will work out at about 
forty-three per cent, per annum, and until he has paid him 
both capital and interest he pledges to him all his lands at 
Bisbrooke. This occurred in 1179, an< ^ we can trace the 
history of this land at Bisbrooke for at least twenty years, 
for in the tenth year of Richard I an entry occurs on the 
Pipe Rolls relating to this very piece of land, from which 
it appears that Richard of Bisbrooke had pledged this land 
to Samuel of Stamford for fifty marks, and that Samuel 


held the land till the rental had paid back the said fifty 
marks (J.A.E., 193). We can in this case follow the 
opposite process to the earlier stages of Aaron's transactions. 
Hitherto we have found him buying up from other Jews 
indebtedness to them, here appears to be a case where 
another Jew had stepped in and had bought Aaron of 
Lincoln out by paying his debt, and then taking over the 
land instead of him. I may add that the king, though he 
lost the land which would have come into his hands on the 
death of Aaron, still gained £ i o, which he charged Richard of 
Bisbrooke forauditing his accounts with Samuel of Stamford. 

I fear that these mercantile details may appear some- 
what arid, but it is only by going into such details that 
we can realize at all the manner in which Jewish usury 
affected the king's treasury on the one hand, and the 
normal economic condition of the king's subjects on the 
other. Of course we cannot say for what purpose Richard 
of Bisbrooke originally required the £10 which he 
borrowed from Aaron of Lincoln. It may have been for 
what economists call productive purposes, or on the other 
hand it may have been simply wasted on some needless 
luxury, as a tournament, or to bedeck the fair wife of the 
knight ; but in any case we can see how very onerous was 
the burden cast upon his land by the loan. Nor is the 
interest charged in this case at all unusual. In other cases 
fourpence in the pound a week or nearly 86 per cent, was 
charged, while the very lowest interest mentioned is a penny 
in the pound, running to 22 per cent. 

Sometimes no interest was charged directly, but the deed 
of indebtedness would doubtless in that instance contain 
a much larger sum than the original amount lent. Thus in 
another transaction of Aaron of Lincoln we have Herbert, 
parson of Whissendine near Melton Mowbray, acknowledging 
indebtedness to Aaron of 120 marks to be returned in six 
years, twenty marks per annum (J. A. E., 67), and I should 
be surprised if much more than sixty marks were ever lent 
by Aaron. In this case, however, it is also stipulated that 


if payments are not made on the exact date mentioned in 
the deed, interest should then run at the rate of twopence in 
the pound every week. This in the next century was the 
particular form adopted by the Lombards and Cahorsins 
in their money-lending transactions. They attempted to 
evade the Church law against usury by not charging 
interest for the loan but for the delay in paying the loan. 
By means of this quibble the Italians under the patronage 
of the Pope were enabled, towards the end of the thirteenth 
century, to oust the Jews from their previous monopoly of 

We have thus seen Aaron of Lincoln concerned in all 
manner of transactions — assisting in building abbeys, help- 
ing abbeys to acquire lands, buying up hay, and securing 
the rent-charge of the lands of knights. We have even 
seen that he was not above taking the plate of Lincoln 
Minster in pawn, and there is a curious story told by 
Giraldus Cambrensis which shows that he was equally 
ready to take in pledge the property of private individuals. 
A knight named Roger of Estreby had pledged a favourite 
coat of mail with Aaron of Lincoln. He had visions in 
which he heard voices telling him to cross the Channel and 
go to King Henry and remind him of the seven commands 
laid upon him. He promises to do so if he can sell his 
beans, and then again hears the voices reminding him of 
his promise, thereupon he retorts that he has not got his 
coat of mail. The voices said to him, " But you have it, it 
lies at the foot of your bed " ; and when he went there he 
found it was. He crossed the Channel and went to the 
king and told him the seven commands, among which was 
this, that he should drive all the Jews from his land 
(J.A.E., 272). This would possibly have been to the 
advantage of Sir Roger of Estreby. 

By all these methods, and especially owing to the manner 
in which he had organized the whole of the English Jewry 
and thus got his finger into every financial pie, Aaron kept 
on increasing his store of wealth till he must have been by 


far the richest man in England except the king. He 
appears to have worked in harmony with the other rich 
Jews of the period. We have already seen him acting 
conjointly with Isaac fil Joce. We also find him acting in 
conjunction with a brother of Isaac fil Joce, Abraham, son 
of Rabbi (the father-in-law of Sir Leon of Paris, the great 
tosaphist), as well as Isaac of Colchester, and all these 
were acting as pledges on behalf of Brun, a Jew of London, 
who was the second richest man of the community (J. A. E., 
139). All these were important financiers, but it is clear 
that they were used to working together. They could not, 
however, form a partnership because the king would not 
let them. What was the reason of this ? If they held 
their money in partnership the king would have no right 
to money so held when any of the Jews in the partnership 
died, and thus he would lose his chief advantage from his 
Jewry, for when a Jew died all his chattels and deeds and 
property fell as an escheat in the king s hands, and became 
his absolute property to do what he liked with. This did not 
only apply to Jewish usurers, but the same law, as we have 
seen, was exercised with regard to Christians who lent money 
and expected to get anything more back than what they 
had lent. As a rule the king did not drive matters to an 
extremity, but would take a relief from the natural heir ; that 
is, he would take over part of the property of the deceased, 
and hand over the rest to the heir. In the thirteenth 
century the usual thing was for the king to claim one-third 
of the Jew's property on his death. In the long run this 
paid the king better than seizing the whole property, for if he 
took the money he could not lend it out on such favourable 
terms as the Jew, indeed he could not as a good Christian 
and as the head of a Christian State lend it out on interest 
at all. Consequently it was more to his ultimate advantage 
to let the heirs of a Jew keep the ball a-rolling as before, 
as by means of tallages and other demands on the Jews 
he could easily obtain a very large share in any further 
profits that were made. 


But when Aaron of Lincoln died, which appears to have 
been in 1186, towards the end of the year, the king 
exercised to the full his right to the enormous property 
which the great financier had collected. The actual treasure 
which Aaron had collected in his house was in itself a great 
windfall, but this was probably nothing compared with the 
amount of debts due to Aaron which thereupon became due 
to the king. So great was this amount that a special 
branch of the Treasury, known as the Exchequer of Aaron, 
was established, which had two treasurers and two clerks 
(/. A.E., 141, 142). They had their hands full of work for 
a long time to come after the death of Aaron. They had 
nothing to do with his actual cash, for the simple reason 
that the king had intended to take the treasure across to 
Normandy, and the ship that carried it went down between 
Shoreham and Dieppe, much to the annoyance of the king 
(J.A.E., 91). It is by no means impossible that if sub- 
marine operations become easy, one of these days traces may 
be found at the bottom of the English Channel of the 
treasure of Aaron of Lincoln. 

Now it is owing to this big windfall to the king's 
treasury that we are enabled to know so much about Aaron 
of Lincoln's business, for as soon as the treasurers and 
clerks of Aaron's exchequer had conducted the very 
elaborate audit of his estates, they sent on to the sheriffs of 
the different counties the details of each of the debts which 
were due in that particular county, and the sheriff had 
henceforth to account each year in his balance sheet with 
the king for such of the debts as he had collected during 
the half- year, and not alone these, but repeated from year 
to year even those debts which he had failed to collect. 
Consequently we find in the Pipe Rolls of the third, fourth, 
and fifth years of Richard the First's reign (1 191-93) no less 
than 430 entries relating to Aaron's debts, and amounting 
in all to £ 15,000 (J. A. E., 142, 143), corresponding to nearly 
half a million at the present day, and representing an even 
more substantial sum in the eyes of the king, whose normal 


income was not much more than double the amount of 
Aaron's estate. One is pleased to know, however, that the 
king did not make quite so much out of his rather unscru- 
pulous proceeding as might have promised at first sight, for 
these entries were kept on the Pipe Rolls up to the begin- 
ning of John's reign ; and we find printed in the Pipe Roll 
of the third year of John, a considerable number of Aaron's 
debts which still remain unpaid to the amount of nearly 
£5,000, showing that only about £10,000 had been paid off 
in the interim. But though the king did not reap so much 
monetary advantage from Aaron's exchequer, he must yet 
have increased his hold upon the baronage and gentry of 
England by holding over the heads of so many of them the 
threat of distraining on account of the debts they had 
incurred to Aaron of Lincoln. 

What is of interest to us in the whole transaction is the 
fact that such of Aaron's debts as still remained unpaid in 
1202, the third year of John's reign, are recorded for us 
on the Pipe Roll of that year. The Rev. S. Levy has 
been good enough to draw out for me the items printed in 
the Pipe Roll, and from them we can gain much information 
as to the extent of Aaron's transactions. I am indebted to 
him for placing these details at my disposal. 

It is interesting in the first place to notice the class of 
persons to whom Aaron had lent money. We find the 
Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Chester, the Abbot of 
Westminster and the Prior of the Hospitallers, the Bishops 
of Bangor and Lincoln, a deacon, a doctor, a moneyer, 
the municipality of Winchester and the town of South- 
ampton, the Sheriff of Norfolk, the Archdeacon of Suffolk. 
Even the Archbishop of Canterbury himself acknowledges 
indebtedness in no small sums ; but as a rule Aaron's debtors 
were less elevated in position though still of the upper 
classes. Generally speaking, the names are of the type 
Simon de Harcourt, William de Colville, in other words, 
the landed gentry who derived their names from the manors 
which they possessed. Now it is probable that in the 


majority of these cases the loans were made on the security 
of the manors of the debtors, and this is indeed stated 
explicitly on some occasions. Thus Simon de Harcourt 
owes twenty marks on Seinton and Morton, William fil 
Robert owes £20 on Harestan, while several entries state 
that the debtor owes the money "on his land 1 ." Alto- 
gether, by indicating on a map the various manors and 
towns where we can trace the operations of the Lincoln 
financier, it will be observed that the larger proportion of 
the lands involved are clustered round Lincoln and York- 
shire, but the operations extend as far as Shropshire on the 
west and down to Southampton in the south 2 . Now who 
had ultimately the advantage of all these transactions? 
As we know from the Pipe Roll it was the king, who was 
thus the Arch-usurer of the kingdom. He used his Jews to 
get the barons into his power, and when the great struggle 
came between the barons and the king, one of the important 
items in the struggle was the use by the king of Jewish 
usury. It was due as much as anything to this great 
windfall from Aaron of Lincoln that nearly thirty years 
later the barons found it necessary to put into Magna 
Charta the tenth clause, declaring that the king could only 
claim for any debts to Jews that fell into his hands the 
capital but not the interest. 

But the existence of Aaron's exchequer had still more 
important results on the constitutional position of the Jews 
in their relation to the king. Within eight years of his 
death the whole transactions of the Jewry were regulated 
by the Ordinances of the Jewry (./. A. E., 156), which gained 
the king full power over it, because henceforth he kept their 

1 The references for these details can be found in Hunter's edition of 
the Botulus Cancellarii for 3 Jo. by search in the index under the names of 
the debtors. Many of the manors are given in the list, J. A. E., 310-13. 

2 Aaron appears to have had property in London. Mr. Walter Eye has 
pointed out to me a reference in Ayloife's Charters (M. 10, n) to houses 
once belonging to him and granted by the king after his death. Prom 
the Terrier of St. Paul's (J. A. E., 15) it seems they were in the parish of 
St. Lawrence. 


account-books for them, or at any rate a duplicate of them. 
In other words, the Exchequer of Aaron had grown into the 
Exchequer of the Jews. As the principal business of this 
exchequer was to record the receipts which Jews gave when 
their debts were paid, and these receipts were known as 
darra, the room at Westminster where these darra were 
kept for reference became known as the Star Chamber, 
from which in later days the inquisitorial court of the 
Stuarts took its name. 

To complete this account of Aaron's transactions we have 
to mention that he appears to have dealt with Jews as well 
as Gentiles. Among his eighty debtors at York no less 
than a quarter were Jews (J. A. E., 142). At Southampton 
two Jews owed the king for their houses which they had 
bought from Aaron (J. A . E., 160). Joce of York, the hero of 
the great York massacre, owed Aaron's estate when he died 
twelve marks and a half for a silver vessel which he had 
bought from him (/. A. E., 143). These debts from Jew to 
Jew did not appear to have carried interest, but we may 
conjecture that in most cases they were merely moneys 
collected by local provincial Jews on behalf of Aaron, 
which they had not paid over to him at the time of his 
death. It is somewhat difficult to determine whether they 
were cases of this kind, or, what is even more probable, 
that the king had handed over some of the charters and 
deeds that fell into his hands of Aaron's estate to provincial 
Jews to collect for him locally, since they could demand 
interest and he could not. Wherever we go into the trans- 
actions we find the king the sleeping partner of Aaron of 

I have now given sufficient detail, which has necessarily 
been of a dry and business-like character, to show the 
importance of Aaron of Lincoln's financial career on the 
early history of the Jews in this country. Owing to 
the ability and energy with which he organized the whole 
Jewry into a huge network of agents for his transactions, 
he acquired wealth equal nearly to the whole income of the 

VOL. x. XX 


State for a year. When this fell into the king's hands it 
determined the officials of the royal treasury to bring 
Jewish usury into more direct relations with the Exchequer, 
and hence we have in the thirteenth century a somewhat 
different state of affairs. The Jewry is still more closely 
organized, but this time in the interest of the king, who 
thus takes the place of Aaron of Lincoln. But as the king 
could not allow usury to be drawn in his name, he puts 
forth as his stalking-horse the arch-presbyter or Chief 
Rabbi, who seems to have been the only Jew allowed to 
acquire very great riches, but has to part with them during 
his lifetime at the king's demand. The chief of these was 
Aaron of York, who told Matthew Paris that he had in ten 
years handed over to the king £40,000. 

In Aaron's career we therefore see the typical example 
of Jewish usury or finance in mediaeval England. It had 
some advantages from the national point of view, since it 
enabled many building operations to be carried out, as we 
have seen, in the case of the abbeys and the monasteries. 
It may have at times assisted the lower barons to improve 
their position, but as a general rule it only resulted in 
increasing the power of the king, and had indirect good 
results in so far as the consolidation of the royal power 
under Edward I was one element that has made England 
what it is. Aaron's career led to the organization of the 
Jewry in the Exchequer of the Jews, which gave a name at 
least to the Star Chamber, and thus in many incidental 
ways was intimately connected with the constitutional 
history of this country. 

Of his personal habits and appearance we have no record 
except that one glimpse we had of him riding up to the 
gates of St. Alban's. There is indeed a single shetar of his 
in which he lends a small amount to a Christian lady, 
named Truue, without satisfying any interest for the loan, 
though he was good enough man of business to obtain her 
I.O.TJ. for the amount, which still exists (J. A. E , 87). But in 
general the entries on the Pipe Rolls, as might have been 


expected, have as little human interest as the pages of any 
banking ledger, though at the back of them there is often 
human tragedy. In one single case we can trace very 
serious consequences from Aaron of Lincoln's transactions. 
One of the greatest of the York landowners in the twelfth 
century was Richard Malebys. He succeeded to very large 
estates in Yorkshire in 1176, but within six years he had 
become a debtor to Aaron of Lincoln, and in 118 a one of 
his agents records in a Hebrew deed that he had received 
£4 from " Richard the evil beast " out of his great debt, and 
the accompanying Latin deed also refers to " the great debt 
which he owes to my master Aaron " (J. A.E., 77). Eight 
years afterwards Richard Malebys did his best to get clear 
of that great debt by organizing the terrible attack on the 
Jews of York, which led to their sublime self-slaughter, 
thus indirectly due to the transactions of Aaron of Lincoln. 

I have said that we have no record of his appearance, but 
we have at any rate the remains of his residence at Lincoln. 
On the Steep Hill of that town, on the right-hand side as 
you go up to the cathedral, there is a house which tradition 
has always associated with Aaron of Lincoln, and which 
antiquaries are united in dating in the twelfth century, so 
that there is every likelihood that the tradition is founded 
on fact, especially as no one for the last six hundred years 
at least, has known of the importance of Aaron of Lincoln. 
Very little remains of the older part of the house, but there 
is a Norman window of two lights with a shaft between, 
and as in the other Jews' houses of Lincoln there is an 
external chimney projecting over the doorway. But the 
interesting thing to notice is the extreme strength of the 
building. The walls are of very great thickness, I should 
say at least three to four feet, and these walls extend round 
the corner, rendering it likely that at an early date the 
house was in the form of a courtyard, which could be 
defended against attack. 

There, within easy call of the castle and the sheriff, 
who, as king's representative, would be obliged to defend 

x x 3 


Aaron and his treasures, he looked down upon the 

town, many of whose inhabitants were his clients, 

and upon the Lincoln Jewry, most of whom were his 

agents. But he must have been conscious of the insecurity 

of his position from the strength of the citadel which 

he had caused to be built out of his gains. If it is a 

gloomy picture that the house suggests, part of the gloom 

was doubtless due to the intolerance of the Church which 

prevented Aaron of Lincoln from devoting his talents of 

organization to any purpose but the sordid one of money 

seeking. But there is no evidence that he attempted any 

other exercise of his talents, or that he was content with 

a mere livelihood out of his ill-gotten gains, so that some 

of the gloom must attach to the man himself. Be that as 

it may, his career is, I think, an instructive one in the light 

it throws upon the relations of the Jews to the English 

State of the twelfth century, and I would suggest that his 

house should receive more attention than it has hitherto 

done from those interested in English and in Anglo-Jewish 

history. So far as is known it is the earliest private 

dwelling-house in England, the date of which can be settled 

with certainty, so that it is of interest to English antiquaries, 

and to us Jews of England it is of still greater interest as 

the abode of the man who first brought to the knowledge 

of the royal treasury the advantage to the State that existed 

in Jewish usury. 

Joseph Jacobs.