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JEWISH DOCTORS IN ENGLAND IN REIGN OF HENRY IV 141
A NOTE ON JEWISH DOCTORS IN ENGLAND
IN THE REIGN OF HENRY IV.
Throughout the Middle Ages the Jews held an honourable record
for the study and practice of medicine. Whilst the art of healing
was reduced by most Westerns to a mass of superstitions or to a body
of traditional lore, the Jews, with the Arabs, devoted themselves to
the unravelling of the problems of medical science with singular
pertinacity. They were hampered by various prohibitions against
the employment of Jewish doctors by Christians, but in practice these
prohibitions had no great weight.
Dispensations and non-obstantes, licences and permits were scattered
profusely until they wholly nullified the prohibitory legislation ; nay,
the legislators and popes themselves were among the first to set aside
their own ordinances and statutes. From the tenth century onwards
many courts possessed their Jewish doctors.
Jews had been banished from England more than a hundred years
before the accession of Henry IV, during which period few conforming
Jews appear to have visited these shores openly. Here and there it
is true some converted Jews, hearing of the royal bounty to their
class, followed the victorious armies of Edward III and his heroic son,
and settled in the Domus Conversorum.
It was not until disease had tightened its grip upon Henry IV that
we find authentic evidence of Jews re-visiting these shores. A successful
combination of the Church and nobility had driven Richard II from
the throne. His cousin, Henry of Derby, the leader of the rebellious
elements, then received the crown as a reward for his services in
restoring the authority of these powerful sections of the nation. But
to defend his prize against all comers proved no easy task. Rebellion
succeeded rebellion until the labour and anxiety of crushing them
had shattered the king's health.
The decline in the king's vigour began as early as 1406, and for
seven long years he remained a victim to the ravages of disease. Yet
his work was far from being complete. Glendower still roamed about
in Wales at the head of armed bands threatening the Marches, nor
had that Arch-plotter, Percy, Earl of Northumberland, run his fatal
course. The task of securing his kingdom against these internal
enemies and their external allies, Scotland and France, overtaxed the
king's energies and wore out his strength. His malady now assumed
142 THE JEWISH QUARTEELY REVIEW
such a serious character that the skill of his native physicians was
In his younger days, when he was still Henry of Derby, the king
had wandered over Europe a good deal. He had visited Italy, had
fought under the banner of the Teutonic knights against the
Lithuanians, and had entered Wilna with the victorious German army 1 .
In these wanderings he had come into contact with Jews, and even
made purchases of them 2 . It was at this time that the fame of
the Jewish doctors must have reached him, for several of them
occupied eminent positions at the courts of his contemporaries.
I will but mention two or three of the most distinguished.
Don Meier Alguades, the author of IDD'HK? JTflDn "IBD, a translation
of the Arabic version of Aristotle's Ethics, and afterwards Rabbi of
the Jews of Castile, was the private doctor of Henry III of Castile,
who reigned from 1390- 1406. Boniface IX, who wore the tiara from
1389-1404, employed two Jews — Manuela and his son Angelo, to
minister to his bodily ailments*. In Germany and Poland the
reputation of the Jews in the medical world would be often brought
to his knowledge. Upon these half-forgotten memories of his youth
the king fell back in his time of need. In 1410 the king's illness
had become so serious that foreign aid was necessary. The first of
the newcomers was Doctor Elias Sabot the Hebrew, brought specially
from Bologna to prescribe for the illustrious patient 4 . Of Sabot's
antecedents the official documents unfortunately tell us nothing 8 .
My own researches have been no more fruitful in discovering any
particulars of his birth or education. Nor is our knowledge of his
subsequent history more extensive. The description of him in the
safe-conduct permitting him to enter England terms him " doctorem
in artibus medicinarum." His retinue included ten servants with
their horses and harness 6 . Does this indicate that our medico
travelled with a private minyan, knowing that in far-off Britain
1 Derby Accounts (Camden Soc), xix, xxx, cvi ; Wylie, England under
a "Super officio pulleterei per manus Iacob Iudei pro xxviii caponibus
xxxi gallinis per ipsum emptis, ibidem pro providenciis viii due. 54 s.,"
3 Mandosio : Degli archiati Pontifici, I, 107, in. "Angelo di Manuele,
Giudeo del Eione di Trastevere, al primo di Luglio 139a ottenne di essere
annoverato tra famigliari e mediei del papa e della santa sede."
4 Ramsay, Lancaster and York, I, 123 n. 7 ; Wylie, III, 231 n. 5.
6 Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, XXIV, 993, mentions a Dr. Elias
who may possibly be identical with Sabot. If so, he had a stormy career
before his appearance in England.
6 Eymer, VIII, 667.
JEWISH DOCTOKS IN ENGLAND IN REIGN OE HENEY IV I43
that " alter orbis," he would find 110 Jews, and it would be impossible
to obtain the number of adult males requisite for public worship ?
Perhaps it was this that prompted the Rev. M. Adler in his paper on
the Domus Conversorum to assert that Dr. Sabot remained staunch
to his ancestral faith — though Mr. Adler furnishes no reasons for his
conjecture 1 . The royal protection was extended to Sabot and
his retinue for two years with permission to practise his art un-
molested in any part of the kingdom, provided that they always
showed their safe-conduct before entering any town, fortress, or camp
of the king.
The king's health under Dr. Sabot's ministrations had not improved,
he could scarcely take part in public business, hence, in the words of
Dr. Wylie, "he followed the prevailing fashion and called in the
services of an Italian Jew, Dr. David di Nigarelli of Lucca who
remained in this country until his death in 1412."
Before proceeding to give a detailed account of Nigarellis I would
point out that none of the documents in which he is mentioned
contains the slightest hint of his racial origin. But the learned
historian whom I have just quoted assigns him to the Jewish race
upon the grounds of his name, his place of origin, the undisputed
pre-eminence of Jewish doctors, and the prevailing fashion of the
time upon which I commented in my opening remarks.
I have endeavoured to track Nigarellis to his lair and establish his
identity beyond the possibilities of doubt, but many weary hours
spent in the British Museum and Record Office failed to reveal
anything more than is contained in these notes.
From the first document extant relating to him, tested by the king
on Feb. 2, 141 2 s , some thirteen months before his death, we learn that
the king has granted to David de Nigarellis "jffisicus penes nos," the
sum of eighty marks per annum for his services, secured upon certain
lands administered by Walter Beauchamp on behalf of John de Beyton,
a minor, who held " in capite " from the king. This amount should be
paid in two instalments at Easter and Michaelmas. This information
is duplicated by a " closed letter " of the following April, addressed
to Walter Beauchamp ordering him to make the payments granted
by the king from the lands which Beauchamp administered 3 . A side
note on the patent-roll records the death of David and the surrender
of the lands by his executors, though no date of the event is given. The
services rendered by the king's new doctor must have been efficacious
in affording some relief from his sufferings, if we may judge by the
1 Trans. Jew. Hist. Soc., IV, 36.
* Pat. Rolls, 13 Henry IV, p. i. m. 10.
3 Close Rolls, 13 Henry IV, m. 22.
144 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
ample rewards showered upon his medical adviser. Within sixteen
days of the grants referred to in the previous documents the king
issued letters of naturalization to Nigarellis whereby he was hence-
forth to be treated as a native, to have the right of receiving,
obtaining, giving, granting, alienating, enjoying and inheriting any
lands, tenements, revenues, advowsons, services, reversions, and other
possessions whatsoever 1 . The said David might plead in any court
in all matters affecting realty as well as personalty, always providing
that he pays scot and lot, taxes, tallages, customs, subsidies and all
other dues paid by the king's lieges. This was a comprehensive
grant, and if I am right in claiming the doctor as a Jew we have here
the first grant of naturalization to a Jew within the British Isles.
The patent just summarized was preceded by an order in French,
under the privy seal, addressed to the Chancellor, Thomas Arundel,
Archbishop of Canterbury, who entered upon his fifth term of office
about a month before Nigarellis came to this country (Jan. 5, 1412) 2 .
The two documents are identical in date and in subject-matter, though
the privy seal must have, as I stated, preceded the patent— the latter
being a Latin version entered upon the public records and the date
copied from the mandate addressed to the Chancellor.
In addition to the 80 marks per annum which Nigarellis received
from his lands he was also made Warden of the Royal Mint.
A document has been preserved in the mint accounts of the Exchequer
setting out an indenture between the executors of the late Warden,
Lodowick Recouche, and Master Davynus de Nigarellis de Luca,
"physicus et custos monete regis 3 ." The document is undated, but
I have no hesitation in ascribing it to the early part of 141 2.
Recouche, whom Nigarellis succeeded, held the office of Warden from
5 Henry IV i. e. from 1403 onwards, but the date of his death is
unknown. On the other hand the holders of the office for the last
year of Henry's reign are known 4 . Thus far the king's physician.
My third Jewish doctor is connected with the life-story of a less
exalted individual than the King of England, but is linked to the
fortunes of one whose fame surpasses that of kings. I speak of
Sir Richard Whittington, the hero of the well-known nursery tale,
and of Alice, his wife.
Into the history of Whittington, or the curious fate that has
overtaken his memory, and transferred his activities from the counting-
house to the realms of fairy-land and the pantomime I do not propose
1 Foedera, VIII, 725.
a Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, I, 317.
3 Excheq. K. E. Mint Account's, ^f*.
1 Ending, Annals of Coinage, I, 27 and 46.
JEWISH DOCTORS IN ENGLAND IN EEIGN OP HENRY IV I45
to enter. Suffice it to say that the Eichard of history when he had
grown to manhood married Alice, the daughter of Sir Ivo Fitzwarren,
who, like her husband, has been a source of amusement to generations
of the young. About the year 1409 the lady was seriously ill— in fact
so serious was her condition that her husband had recourse to the
indispensable Jewish doctor. The king readily granted the necessary
permission to import a " destitute alien " and " Maistre Sampson d'e
Mierbeawe judeus" came from the South of France to tend the
Lady Alice l .
The " Mierbeawe " of the MSS. is no doubt Mirabeau. But there
are two places of this name situated in the modern departments
of Basses Alpes and Vaucluse respectively. The latter is the more
considerable, so that probably Master Sampson came from Mirabeau
in Vaucluse, since the Jews generally lived in the largest towns. In
any case Sampson hailed from a region where Jews abounded in large
numbers, and where they were especially distinguished in medical
science. The papal dominions in the South of France, Marseilles,
Montpelier, Lunel, Carpentras, Vienne, and many other places in that
region were centres of Jewish life and learning.
Of Sampson, as of the others, I have found no trace previous or
subsequent to his coming to England. The permission granted to him
by the king was very comprehensive, and included the privilege of
sojourning in London, practising his art throughout the whole realm,
by day and night, by land or sea, " as well as by marque of war."
The grant is for one year, and contains the usual commands against
interference with Sampson in the exercise of his calling. What the
results of Master Sampson's ministrations were I am unable to say —
information on that point is wholly lacking, nor are we able to infer
it from other events, since the exact date of the death of the Lady
Alice is unknown.
1 French Rolls, n Henry IV, m. 20 ; Rice and Besant, Life of Whittitigton.