Tower of London


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Jews and the Fabric of the Tower

Perhaps the least known fact about the Jews and Tower, is that the Jews had a close connection with the fabric and building of the castle. The incident with Ottobini mentioned earlier, suggests that part of the castle was designated as a refuge for the Jews during disturbances (perhaps a specific tower), a pattern seen in other Royal castles up and down the country where we know there were 'Jew's Towers'.

It would seem that Jews, important to the king, lived at the castle, an apparent privilege. One of the towers in the 12th century was called 'Hagin's Tower' (he was a leading member of the Jewry probably Hagin, or Chayyim, son of Master Moses, the arch-presbyter, who lodged in the Tower) and this tower may have been for his personal use. A parallel example is found at Lincoln Castle, because Aaron of Lincoln had lodgings within the castle itself and moreover, there was also a tower called Aaron's Tower there and which appears to have been for the personal use by Aaron of Lincoln one of the richest and most influential Jews of medieval England.

Furthermore, the Jewish community helped financed the most important building programme in the history of the Tower (mostly through Jewish 'blood money'). The castle was progressively strengthened in the 12th and 13th century to make it into a powerfully defended fortress, eventually containing three 'wards' or enclosures. The Jews contributed significant finances to the major building programme under Edward I, between 1275 - 1285.

This financing came from a complex series of vicious tallages (taxes) against and increasingly impoverished and persecuted Jewish community. This included a 'great tallage' in 1274, another tallage in 1275, of 5,000 marks assessed on the community of the Jews of London, a tallage of 1276 and this tallage was reported in 1276 to have been, 'lately assessed upon the Jews to complete the works of the Tower of London'.

There was a further tallage in 1277 on the Jewish community, and this and the other tallages were used to pay for a substantial part of the building of the Tower, including many of the oldest (13th century) Tower buildings that can be seen today. This project was one of the most significant castle building projects of its era. The object was to create a concentric castle with rings of defences.

Added to the mix of tallages were the receipts from the persecution of 1278, when many Jews were executed at the Tower for alleged coin clipping, which also yielded £10,000 to the King. Historians had realised by the 18th century that the Jews were accused of the worst crimes when the king's finances were most shaky. Tovey the 18th century historian stated with suitable irony, 'How is it that the Jews commit their most dastardly crimes, when the king is short of money?'

Working out the the tallages, and the amounts collected, are somewhat complex, and it is difficult to deduce how much was collected and was disbursed directly, or indirectly to the Tower project, through supporting other parts of the then, parlous royal finances. However, Mundill estimates that between 1272 and 1278, 'the Jews of England had paid at least £5301-8s-8 1/2d into Edward's coffers' (out of the £18,000 asked for), and if we add to this the monies realised by the execution of the Jews in 1278, the Jews were able to potentially meet over £15,000 of the total £21,000 costs of the building project, not including other smaller sums collected.

Giles of Oudenarde, one of the king's clerks, and the sub-constable of the Tower (from c. 1275), was the 'keeper or warden of the works there'. This immense building programme lasted from 1275 to 1285 and cost £21,000 (more, for instance, than was spent on any of Edward I's great castles in Wales, except Caernarvon which cost £27,000). Part of the £21,000 was paid by a tallage on the Jews, collected, so far as the London Jews were concerned, by the sub-constable and then expended by him, in his capacity as keeper of the works, on a writ from Antony Bek, the constable.

In terms of the works that Edward I completed at the Tower, subsidised by Jewish tallages and blood money, Edward I re-modelled Henry III western defences and then created a narrow outer-ward approached by a complex land entrance to the west and a great water-gate to the south' (£21,000).

He first filled in the existing moat and then had a new moat constructed at 160 feet wide (a quarter of the budget was spent on this item). Then the city wall, broken by the moat at this point, was strengthened with a gate-tower called the Postern Gate. A new curtain wall, was built to contain the existing wall built by his father and was strengthened by a new bastion, on the NW corner, called Legge' s Mount and three square projections were introduced at the north end of the East wall, possibly for siege engines.

The south side of the Outer Ward was reclaimed from the Thames and St Thomas Tower was constructed as the new outer water gate replacing the Bloody Tower, the original water gate and water front. It included splendid accommodation for Edward on the first floor.

There was also a formidable new western entrance with inner and outer gatehouses (the Byward and Middle Towers) with a massive open Barbican beyond (Lion Tower) all connected by stone causeways with drawbridge pits. (new entrance usable by 1281)

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