Living on The Edge Aliens and Outcasts

Living on The Edge Aliens and Outcasts
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IN 1210, King John arrested all the wealthy Jews in England and demanded a ransom for their release. This was a common way of extorting money from a vulnerable community which relied on royal ‘protection’ for its survival. However, this royal protection came at a very high price. The Crown used the Jewish community as a source of large sums of cash. These might be taken in loans or, as in the case of John, through direct force. John had already used this method on more than one occasion, including forcing the Jewish community to make a massive contribution towards the ransom earlier paid to gain the release of Richard I.

The sum John demanded in 1210 was huge and came to 66,000 marks. The mark was a unit of account and worth two-thirds of a pound (or 13 shillings and 4 pence). The amount demanded therefore came to £44,000.

In Bristol the Jewish community was imprisoned in the castle until the money demanded was produced. The chronicler, Roger of Wendover, recorded the story of one ‘Jew of Bristol’ who refused to pay his ransom. The sum demanded from this unfortunate Jewish resident was 10,000 marks, or £6,600. Faced with his refusal to give in to this royal blackmail, the king ordered the royal torturers to work. Their brief was to pull out one of the Jew’s molar teeth every day, until he paid the 10,000 marks. Each day, for seven days, the Jewish merchant, named Abraham of Bristol in some accounts, had one of his teeth pulled from his mouth using pliars and without the benefit of any substance to subdue the pain. And still he held out against his tormentors. On the eighth day, the torturers began preparation to rip out the eighth tooth. As they set to their bloody task, Abraham of Bristol finally gave way. After a week of excruciating pain he could take no more. He agreed to pay the sum demanded. Utterly vulnerable — as was the entire Jewish community — he could turn to no one for assistance or protection. He was living `on the edge’ in an increasingly hostile society.