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The Jewish History of the Medieval Tower of London

World-famous as a royal fortress and prison, the Tower of London is also one of the most substantial standing remains of medieval England’s Jewish history. From the mid-twelfth century to the expulsion of the Anglo-Jewry in 1290, the Tower was both a place of imprisonment and of refuge for hundreds of Jews. This two-year project (January 2020 – January 2022), led by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) in association with the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, explores the Tower’s central place in this complex story of coercion and coexistence.

The project builds on prior research on the Tower’s Jewish history, by former HRP curators Drs Sally Dixon-Smith and Jeremy Ashbee, to further explore the Jewish prisoners, sanctuary-seekers, and staff of the medieval Tower. The research project has two objectives: to create a catalogue of the archival sources for the Jewish history of medieval London and the Tower and compile a dataset of Jewish prisoners, staff and refugees at the Tower from c.1189 to 1290, with their biographies. These resources will enable researchers and curators at Historic Royal Palaces and other institutions to examine the history and curating of diversity, immigration, violence, royal protection, and justice.

These resources are now available to download: The Jewish History of the Medieval Tower of London.

Project team: Dr Rory MacLellan, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Historic Royal Palaces. Advisory panel, Professor Anthony Bale, Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing, School of Arts, Birkbeck, and Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism.

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The Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism is the only centre in the UK, and one of only two centres in Europe, whose mission is to promote understanding of antisemitism.

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