Tower of London


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The noted historian, V.D. Lipman, noted that, 'Perhaps the royal castles of England, some of which, like the Tower, survive in grim reality, are among the objects which most significantly evoke medieval Anglo-Jewry.'

The Tower of London may well be one of the most important Jewish heritage sites, for the medieval Jews of England, not least for the fact that it is the site of suffering and also martyrdom for many hundreds of Jews, though its Jewish heritage is in reality far more complex - it is more than a place of martyrdom. However, it is also certainly little recognised and is emblematic of how the Jewish history of some of our key heritage sites is largely absent from the public telling of its story.

However, the Jews of medieval England found that their everyday lives, business and sometimes eventual fates, were frequently wrapped up with the Tower of London. The Tower was the central point for administering the affairs of all of the Jews of England and the Constable of the Tower was the main official in charge of all of the King's Jews. The Tower was an important place of refuge and protection for the Jews of London, as the Jews of London had to take shelter in the castle, on a number of occasions, when it was a literal life-saver. There may have been Jewish residents or even a settlement, in the precincts of the Tower and there was certainly a Jewish settlement in sight of the Tower. Jews would often visit the Tower, to visit the Constables Court which dealt with Jewish legal cases. Some Jews were willing residents of the Tower, with some parts of the Tower even being named for them; some were important employees of the Tower. Others were unwilling residents of the Tower, as prisoners of the King, to speed payment of taxes, or for both high and low crimes and misdemeanours. The Jews of London were even builders of the Tower, as a significant section of the Tower was built with Jewish (blood) money, including the eponymous 'Traitor's Gate'. Jewish prisoners also carried out religious observances at the Tower, including celebrating the most important Jewish festivals, so that we may say that parts of the Tower were also used as an impromptu synagogue at specific points. Jews were also tragically victims of the Tower, both a prisoners, but also they were subject to the greatest mass executions at the Tower.

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