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After more than 800 years, Tower’s role in our history is acknowledged

New research has found that the Tower of London served as a place of both refuge and persecution for Jews during violent pogroms in the 13th century

    Tower of London at sunset, England, Famous Place, International Landmark
    Tower of London at sunset, England, Famous Place, International Landmark

    New research showing how the Tower of London served as a place of both refuge and persecution for Jews during violent pogroms has led to the announcement that the Tower will be viewed as a “key site” in the country’s medieval Jewish history.

    Sally Dixon-Smith, of Historic Royal Palaces — an independent charity that manages some of the country’s unoccupied royal palaces — found evidence of the Tower acting as a haven and a prison for Jews during medieval times after a lengthy study of historic Treasury documents.

    Ms Dixon-Smith concluded that the capital’s early Jewish residents took refuge in the tower at several key moments — particularly during pogroms in 1189, 1264 and 1272.

    She said: “Medieval Jewish history and the history and development of the tower are inextricably linked. The position of the Jewish community is central to any understanding.”

    Rupert Gavin, chairman of Historic Royal Palaces, said the Tower’s relationship with the Jewish community would be incorporated into its school education programme.

    He said he was also looking at options for a “living embodiment of the Jewish presence” at the Tower.

    “This is important academic work but it is practical as well. In our telling of the story of the Tower, we have tended to forget and ignore this important part,” Mr Gavin said.

    Ms Dixon-Smith revealed that in 1189, after King Richard I was crowned, antisemitic riots broke out after the Jewish community attempted to give the king, widely known as Richard the Lionheart, a gift. The riots left many Jews dead but others were saved after taking refuge in the Tower.

    In 1216, during the coronation of King Henry III, the Tower again served as a place of refuge after further unrest.

    By July 1290, as the expulsion of Jews was ordered by Edward I, the Tower served as the point of exit for Jews who left the country on the River Thames.

    During the 12th and 13th centuries, Jews arrived at the Tower seeking justice. But the Crown was able to exercise considerable control over the Jewish community using “Royal ownership”.

    “Jews were considered royal property,” said Ms Dixon-Smith.

    At the time Jews were subjected to higher taxes than the Christian population, with some of the money used to fund the Tower’s expansion, including the building of the moat.

    Blood libel allegations made against the community saw 91 Jewish men locked up in the Tower.

    During a scandal in 1278, when silver was clipped from the edge of coins, 600 Jewish males were imprisoned there, with some later killed.

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