IF YOU ASK MOST PEOPLE WHAT THEY ASSOCIATE WITH MAGNA CARTA, they may say: King John, barons, Runnymede, or the beginning of English democracy. What they will not say is: Jews.
Yet three of its clauses directly relate to Jews, and, in particular, their money lending activities. It means that the document not only has enormous significance for English history, but also epitomises the privileges and problems of medieval Anglo Jewry.
Magna Carta was signed on June 15 1215, and there will be many commemorative events for its 800th anniversary next year, but its Jewish roots go back to 1066. It is likely that individual Jews came to this country long before then, as far back as Roman times, whether willingly as traders, or by force as slaves. However, it is impossible to talk of a settled Jewish community until the late 11th century. It was then that William of Normandy brought over Jews from his French territory to help colonise his new kingdom.