Tower of London


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The Tower as a Place of Administration

The next most important function of the Tower was as the central place from which all the Jews of London and England were administered, in all matters financial and judicial. It is important to emphasize that Jews came to the castle, or had contact with the castle, on many matters great and small. The Tower had a central role in the daily, local and national, life of the Jews of London and England and would have been a very familiar location for many members of the Jewry, sometimes even on a daily basis as the Tower.

The main officials the Jewry had contact with were the Constable, the Sub-Constable, and his Serjeants. Some of the Serjeants dealt specifically with the Jews, and were termed 'serjeants of the Jewry' and at least one of whom was Jewish in the 13th century. The 'serjeants of the Jewry' dealt specifically with the affairs of the London Jewry and who would also go out into the Jewry on official business. The Constable would also go out into the Jewry to protect Jews from disturbances. The Tower housed the officials who, policed, administered and taxed the Jewry. Jews were also able to pay individuals officials for special favours and considerations. The Constables Court is thought to have been held in the eastern side of the upper floor of the White Tower and Jews would have attended this court in the Tower.

The Tower also housed many of the records (writs, rolls, vouchers and tallies) needed to administer the Jewish community and it was a collection point for money to be paid by Jews to the King. The Constable was the key figure, though elsewhere (with the exception of Oxford) the Sherriff was the key administrator, but because the Sherriff in the city was appointed by the citizens of London after 1191, it was the Constable, as the direct employee of the King, who acting in the role of Sherriff.

The great power and authority of the Constable over the Jews of London and elsewhere was confirmed by royal documents. A document of 1244, asserted the jurisdiction of the Constable over the Jews to the exclusion of the Sheriff. It confirmed that the Constable had the control of all the assets of any Jews who were killed and that they did not belong to the City Sheriffs, or if a Christian was killed in the Jewish household, even then the Sheriff could not attach the Jew or his property.

These powers were made even more explicit in a Royal mandate of 1261. This mandate confirmed the powers of the Constable over the Jews: he could attach and imprison Jews in London and across England and the Constable was also confirmed as the principle gaoler of all England's Jews. He was also able to preside over legal cases in London, between Jews and Christians, concerning pledges not exceeding 40 shillings in value.

Jewish Employees of the Tower

As has been suggested already, there were several Jewish employees of the Tower, Philip the Cross-bowman, (le Balestier), who was a converted Jew, and who was for a period in charge of the Armoury at the Tower - a very important position and one which bears out other evidence that some Jews were military specialists (for example 'men at arms' which entailed specialist weapons knowledge) or had a special expertise with the cross-bow.

Jornin son of Abraham, was named as a serjeant (serviens) of the Tower of London. Roger le Convers appears to have worked at the Tower and is mentioned in association with the King's wardrobe (an important post) in 1274 and Thomas Bek, the Master of the King's Wardrobe. He was also one of the five sergeants who accompanied Henry III to Gascony, on one occasion, and subsequently sent on an official mission to Spain. Others were John, and a little later, after the Expulsion, Ralph and Alexander, all similarly designated as 'Convers.

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