Et si quis moriatur, et debitum debeat Judaeis, uxor ejus habeat dotem suam, et nihil reddat de debito illo; et si liberi ipsius defuncti qui fuerint infra aetatem remanserint, provideantur eis necessaria secundum tenementum quod fuerit defuncti, et de residuo solvatur debitum, salvo servitio dominorum; simili modo fiat de debitis quae debentur aliis quam Judaeis.
And if anyone dies, and owes a debt to Jews, his wife is to have her dower and pay nothing towards that debt. And if there are surviving children of the deceased who are under age, their needs are to be provided for them in proportion to the dead man’s tenement, and the debt is to be paid from the residue, saving the service owed to the lords. Debts owed to others besides Jews are to be dealt with in like manner.
Clause 11, like Clause 10 immediately before it, was concerned with the effects of indebtedness, primarily to Jews but also to other people. In the 150 years since the Norman Conquest, Jews had gained an effective monopoly of credit transactions in England, primarily because they were not forbidden, as Christians were, to lend money at interest. Their role as money-lenders, with the high interest rates they usually charged, along with their religious practice, made them deeply unpopular, and they needed the protection which only the king could provide. That protection came at a high price, however, and King John, in particular, made very heavy demands on English Jews, demands which the Jews had no choice but to pass on to those who owed them money. Eventually, indeed, John took to acting himself as a collector of Jewish debts, the more readily because many of these had in various ways come into his hands. He taxed the Jews very heavily, and also pursued the debts owed to them. Although direct evidence for the practices condemned by Clause 11 is very scarce, it is at least possible to see widows who owed money to Jews taking steps to protect their dowers, and also being harassed for debts formerly owed to Jews by their husbands. The king’s exactions were greatly resented, but John persevered in his policies until Magna Carta attempted to impose limited restraints on them. That it did not do more in this respect may have been due to an acceptance by the barons that the relationship of the Jews with the king was such as to rule out any more extensive interference with it, as well to an appreciation that Jews had financial skills which made them indispensable to England’s economic life.
John deals with Loretta de Braose and Isaac of Norwich (The Itinerary of King John)
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.