York Commodity Bond
This incredibly rare York document, from the Hull History Centre / Hull University Archives / Wickham-Boynton family, is a commodity bond produced following the implementation of the Statute of the Jewry (1275). It includes a Hebrew endorsement on the dorse:
The document is an acknowledgement of debt: John Sybry son of Alan Sybry of York to Bonamious son of Jocey, a Jew of York, c.1285. A sack of good wool or 10 marks, whichever Bonamious chooses, in return for a certain sum given by Bonamious to John Sybry. It was to be paid at Purification (2 February 1285/6). Sir John de Thweng, lord of Corneburg, stands surety. The document was witnessed by Gervase Clifton then sheriff of York, John Sampson. Seal, armorial, damaged. There is an endorsement in Hebrew.
The Statute of the Jewry (Statutum de Judaismo, 1275) was a statute issued by Edward I of England in 1275. It placed a number of restrictions on Jews of England, most notably outlawing the practice of usury.
Since the time of the Norman conquest, Jews had been filling a small but vital role in the English economy. Usury by Christians was banned by the Catholic Church at the time, but Jews were permitted to act as moneylenders and bankers. That position enabled some Jews to amass tremendous wealth, but also earned them the enmity of the English populace, which added to the increasing antisemitic sentiments of the time, due to widespread indebtedness and financial ruin among the gentile population.
Edward I returned from the Crusades in 1274, two years after his accession as King of England, and found that land had become a commodity, and that many of his subjects had become dispossessed and were in danger of destitution. Jews traded land for money, and land was often mortgaged to Jewish moneylenders. In January 1275 Edward’s mother, the Queen Dowager Eleanor of Provence, expelled the Jews from all of her lands, a precursor to the Statute.
As special direct subjects of the monarch, Jews could be taxed indiscriminately by the King. Some have described the situation as indirect usury: the monarch permitting and encouraging Jews to practise usury and then taxing the profit. In the years leading up to the Statute, Edward taxed them heavily to help finance his forthcoming military campaigns in Wales, which commenced in 1277. One theory holds that he had exhausted the financial resources of the Jewish community when the Statute was passed in 1275.
Jewish moneylending continued nevertheless, as this document testifies. Fifteen years later, in 1290, Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion and Jews were expelled from England.
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