Letter to the Duke of Wellington

Letter to the Duke of Wellington • Southampton Anglo-Jewish Archives

This treasure, from Southampton Anglo-Jewish Archives, is the first page of a letter from Moses Mocatta, Moses Haim Montefiore, Joshua van Oven and Issac Lyon Goldsmid, ‘deputed by the natural born subjects of His Majesty professing the Jewish religion’, 33 Russell Square, London, to the Duke of Wellington (the Prime Minister), 18 February 1830, sending a copy of their petition to Parliament for the relief of the civil disabilities that affected British-born Jews.

Here is a fascinating extract from a Jewish Chronicle article about the Duke of Wellington’s attitude to British Jews:

As prime Minister, Wellington supported the Catholic Relief Act in 1829, but opposed measures to similarly secure Jewish emancipation a few years later. Daniel O’Connell, the great advocate of Catholic emancipation, had advised the Jews to campaign for the same goal. Yet private entreaties by communal leaders led to a stonewalling by Wellington.

O’Connell achieved a shedding of discriminatory measures against Catholics because his community was numerically large and influential. The Jews were neither. The stereotypes persisted — they were unEnglish, unChristian and rich. Even reformers such as William Cobbett saw the Jews “as descendants of the murderers of Christ”. Such was Wellington’s dislike of Jews that when he died in 1852, a JC editorial commented:

“The Duke was the stern, unbending and uncompromising opponent of Jewish emancipation. But as much as we may and do regret his error of judgement as regards ourselves, we cannot forget that we are Englishmen in whom the fire of patriotism burns as fervently and as purely as in the greatest and the proudest in the land.”

Fearing accusations of double loyalties, the communal leadership of the time played it both ways — as British Jews and as Jewish Britons. When the Jewish Civil Disabilities Bill came before the House of Lords in August 1833, Wellington showed his true colours. He proclaimed that “this is a Christian country and a Christian legislature and that the effect of this measure would be to remove that particular character”. He asked whether the Jews had ever enjoyed “the blessings of the English Constitution” and reminded his fellow peers that they used to be considered “as alien enemies who were not allowed to live in this country”.

Any previous privileges bestowed on the Jews by Parliament were only designed to encourage Jews — “as Europeans” — to leave and settle in the colonies. “No such necessity exists now with regard to this country, we do not wish Jews to come and settle here.”

When another peer who was in favour of the bill pointed out that “15 officers of the Jewish religion” had fought for Wellington at Waterloo, the Iron Duke responded that it made no difference since they were not Christians. The bill was defeated by 104 votes to 54. The diehard duke blamed his political opponents for raising the issue since “it suited the liberal opinion of the day”.

It was another 25 years before Lionel de Rothschild could enter Parliament as a Jew without swearing an oath “upon the true faith of a Christian”.


We are fascinated by this treasure for the light it sheds on British establishment attitudes to Jews in the nineteenth century.


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