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The Jewish Kingdom of Rouen

From the reign of Henry II Plantagenet to the conquest of Normandy by Philip-Augustus

The claimed culpability of the Jews was often invoked to justify increasing persecutions. A case in point, this stained-glass window coming from the St.-Eloi de Rouen church (The Christian Pawning his Robe to Jonathan the Jew).

The charters granted by Henry II to the Jews of England and Normandy gave them the same privileges as those which the Establishments of Rouen had extended to the bourgeois of Rouen around 1150. They were free to travel, enjoyed exemption from customs duties when trading with England, could own land and property, and were allowed to lend and borrow money. They had the protection of the king’s officers, and any complaint lodged against them by Christians had to be judged by peers of the Jews. Their status was analogous to that of the Royal Bourgeois who were directly subservient to the King and received his protection in exchange for a tax. These charters of course contributed to the prosperity of the Jewish communities in Normandy, but also to the blooming of their culture and the growth of erudition.

In 1194, in spite of their exemption from special taxes, a tallage was nevertheless levied on the Jews of Normandy by Richard the Lion-Hearted, the new king (1189-1199) who was finding it difficult to hold off the troops of Philip-Augustus in Normandy. The sum was, however, far more modest than the one the English Jews had been asked to pay long since. Even in those troubled times, it was not rare that a Jew of Rouen should lend money to a Christian nobleman of Royal France and thereafter request its compulsory reimbursement from the Exchequer of Normandy, given a certain sum paid to the English king.

The constant pressure exerted by the troops of Philip-Augustus, king of France, over John Lackland (1199-1204) led the English Jews to sell the property they still owned in Rouen. This is why Rubigotsce’s grandson -who was to become Archpresbyter of the English Jewry in 1207 - sold the houses that had belonged to his grandfather in the Jewish district to Yossi and Brun, Bonnevie’s two sons, in 1203. The Jews of Rouen also found it difficult to pay the increasingly heavy taxes levied by the English king, which sometimes led to imprisonment for those of their fellow-Jews in charge of collecting the money (Jacob the Jew in 1202, Bonechose and Joppin in 1203). They were also deprived of the letters of credit that they had had, King John having relieved their debtors of their obligations by way of thanking them for their help in defending the dukedom.