Tower of London


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Late Medieval Jewish History at the Tower

While the main period of Jewish interest for the Tower is up to 1290, there is also some late medieval Jewish interest as well, linked to the very early Jewish returnees and incomers to England in the 16th century.

In the reign of Elizabeth I, around 100 Jews were to be found in London (and some other places) and they formed a convenient channel of trade with Spain and Portugal, many of whom initially claimed to be Catholic until deteriorating relations with Spain forced them to admit they were Jewish after all.

In 1559 Roderigo Lopez, a Jew, settled in London and was physician to Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester. He again held services in his house. However he became embroiled in the politics of the time and was accused of treason and attempting to poison the Queen. It is not clear whether he was guilty of the crime, and the whole affair was notoriously murky, though he did know a group of plotters, but the fact that he did not report treasonable discussions by others could be regarded as treasonable in itself. He became a prisoner in the Tower and was executed for his pains at the Tower in 1594, though the Queen delayed signing his death warrant for 3 months, perhaps indicating her doubts about his guilt. He was, with other co-conspirators, D'Avila and Ticino, hanged, drawn, and quartered as a traitor, 'declaring with his last breath amid the derision of the spectators that he loved the queen as well as he loved Jesus Christ'.

There is also a interesting link between the Tower and the activities of the Joachim Gaunse, who was a Bohemian Jew who revolutionised the production of copper at the mines Royal in the Lake District and elsewhere.

From 1528 to 1589 smelted copper - a strategic and precious metal for armaments - was brought to the Tower, from the Mines Royal around Keswick, and which were operated by German mines company, via boat from Newcastle, and delivered to the Lieutenant of the Queen's Ordnance at the Tower. From to 1581 to 1585 this copper was produced by a Prague Jew, Joachim Gaunse, brought to England to revolutionise the production of strategic metals, especially copper. It is said that this copper was vital for founding the cannon that helped the English repel the Armada.

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