‘Aaron, Son of the Devil’

‘Aaron, Son of the Devil’ • The National Archives

This Hidden Treasure is a doodle by a clerk on a legal document, a roll of ‘Pleas of the Forest for Essex in 1277’, from The National Archives. Pleas of the Forest dealt with criminal cases arising in the king’s forests, which had a separate legal jurisdiction within the Common Law at the time, which predates the expulsion of the Jews from England by Edward I in 1290.

The image is on the back of membrane 3 of the roll and is next to a case concerning killing of deer near Colchester by a gang of young Jewish and Christian men.

Among the accused were Isaac and Samuel, sons of Aaron of Colchester. For some reason that is not indicated in the text, Aaron is caricatured in the sketch as ‘Aaron, son of the Devil’.

This representation of Jews in 13th Century society is one of the earliest English images of the ‘Badge of Shame’ – the piece of yellow taffeta, six fingers long and three broad, cut to represent the shape of the tabula that bore the Ten Commandments. The badge was established at the papal Lateran council of 1215. After the 1275 Statute of Jewry, it had to be worn in England by every Jew aged over seven. It was a kind of medieval yellow star.


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