© Marcus Roberts with original research and contributions by Ian Holt. Trail and Project Kindly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund


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The presence of the local mint would have offered significant opportunities, as it would imply there was a good local access to coin, which was scarce in this period and necessary for the operations of Jewish financiers and lenders and the creation of local investment opportunities. More directly, local Jews near to a mint, would be able to work in bullion exchange, as coin would be given by Jewish financiers in exchange for silver and gold, with a profit being made on the transaction. This trade was more important and profitable than the business of money lending and did not carry as many of its risks.

The cathedral and local monastic foundations were important customers for the Jewish community, as leading lenders in the community often lent to local cathedrals, at a variety of scales, from money for purchases at markets, to major building projects. Indeed in 1190 the Gloucester Jewry lent money to St. Oswald's Priory, after it was badly damaged by a fire that swept through the city. The Abbot and Convent of the Church of St Peter also appeared to be a major customer of the Jewry, in circa 1194.

It may be noted that lending at interest was not the universal Jewish financial occupation, and not perhaps even the main Jewish financial activity, as the research shows that many of the Jewish financial activities were concerned with forms of business investment, for example, by supplying loans necessary to monasteries to buy the sheep runs that were vital to build the medieval wool industry and there is even evidence of tokens being issued by Jews as local (investment) currency. However, in terms of the historical record, the over-whelming amount of official records relate to this money lending, as this was an important source of revenue to the king, who was the ultimate beneficiary of all this activity. It may also be noted that Jewish money lenders often has stiff local competition from Christian money lenders (despite religious prohibitions against usury) and historically the Bristol merchant and moneylender, Robert fitz Harding, had something of a monopoly in local lending in the mid-12th century, which had discouraged Jewish financial activity.
In Gloucester Jewish financiers were expressly engaged in financing military operations for the King (and others) and the Welsh and then the Irish connection seems to have been very important, as Gloucester had a commanding strategic influence, firstly over south Wales and then latterly, it was also the shortest crossing point into Ireland.

This appears to have been the major factor in encouraging Jewish settlement in the city. We find for example, that in 1170 Josce, or Joshua of Gloucester, was fined "5 by Henry II. This was for financing Strongbow's conquest of Ireland, in 1170 and the fine was levied for having lent money to those under his displeasure. In 1186 Henry II's son, Prince John, was a client of the Gloucester Jewry and repaid his debt of 13 marks, "8 13s 4d, by royal writ, to Moses of Gloucester. The significance of this latter loan probably relates to his appointment as the Lord of Ireland in 1177 while a boy and his first actual visit to Ireland in 1185 accompanied by 300 knights and a team of administrators. John was also closely linked to Gloucester, as he became Duke of Gloucester after his marriage to Isabella, the heiress to the marcher lordship of Gloucester.

Some Jews may have also taken a rather more practical role in military operations emanating from Gloucester, as we also know that there were Jewish military specialists in Gloucester. In circa 1250 there was a Gloucester Jew called 'Abraham le Skirmiseur', probably a light infantry specialist and fighting man - skirmishers aimed to disrupt enemy formations by causing casualties before the main battle, and to draw premature attacks. The records show us that other Jews were also military specialists, and many Jewish homes had weapons available. Jews particularly took the specialist role of men at arms and one, a convert, Philip the Cross-Bowman (le Balestier), even ran the armoury at the Tower of London!

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