The Tower of London and the Jews

March 22, 2023 | Robert Philpot
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Constructed in the 11th century, the Tower of London is one of the city’s most distinctive buildings. It also looms large in Jewish history, as Robert Philpot explains:

The first hard evidence of the relationship between Jews and the Tower dates back to 1190. In that year, the constable of the Tower of London—the royal official who was responsible for taxing and protecting Jews in the capital—recorded various receipts from Jews. . . . The powers of the constable were . . . wide-ranging. They included the right to arrest Jews—both in London and elsewhere in the country—and imprison them; to bring Jewish defendants and witnesses to court at the exchequer of the Jews and to enforce judgments against them; and to levy fines against Jews, as well as assist with the collection of . . . taxes.

In September 1189, Jews were offered shelter in the Tower when they came under attack during Richard I’s coronation in London. So serious was the killing that the 12th-century chronicler and diplomat Roger of Howden recorded that only those Jews who hid in the Tower or in the homes of friends escaped death.

The only practicing Jew known to have worked at the Tower was Jurnet, the son of Abraham, who was employed as a sergeant. Ironically, he had had a previous spell at the fortress, when he was imprisoned there for tax arrears.

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