Muriel, a Jew of Oxford: Using the Dramatic to Understand the Mundane in Anglo-Norman Towns

  • Charlotte Newman Goldy
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


These 1242 royal orders1 are stunning. In an unprecedented move, the royal court of a Christian king, led by the archbishop of York, reached into a Jewish marriage dispute, supported a divorce, and then gave this personal situation national significance by using it as an opportunity to withdraw the long-standing acceptance of Jews holding “chapters” (i.e., courts, betai din) to settle their own religious disputes. My interest was captured when I read the orders about a decade ago. Quickly, I found that they had been woven into the narrative of Jews experiencing the deteriorating conditions of England, once a haven for them, but that little focused on Muriel and it was she—labeled “who was wife”—who intrigued me. At the moment that the orders were issued, Muriel had been fighting against a divorce and would have to face the royal curia perhaps to answer charges of treason. Certainly there was a story and I wanted to find it. Unfortunately, as all historians know, research is full of dead ends and Muriel’s otherwise poorly documented life made a traditional biography impossible. Sometimes, however, dead ends present new vistas. Searching for Muriel led me to think differently about how to write about the most gendered parts of life. Using this “non-great” woman caught in an unusual crisis to drive a narrative showed me much about the normative and the mundane of the place it occurred.


Jewish Community Jewish Woman Jewish Family Christian Woman Royal Court 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Cecil Roth, The Jews of Medieval Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press for the Oxford Historical Society, 1951), pp. 51–52.Google Scholar
  2. Courts of Chancery. Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III. AD1237–1242 (HMSO 1911), pp. 464.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Courts of Chancery. Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III AD 1251–1253 (HMSO 1902–1938), p. 455.Google Scholar
  4. M. D. Davis, “An Anglo-Jewish Divorce, A.D. 1242,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 5 (1893): 158–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Michael Adler, “The Jewish Woman,” in Jews of Medieval Oxford (London: Jewish Historical Society of England, 1939), pp. 15–42.Google Scholar
  6. Barrie Dobson, “The Role of Jewish Women in Medieval England,” in Christianity and Judaism, ed Diana Wood (Oxford: Ecclesiastical History Society, 1992), pp. 145–168.Google Scholar
  7. Ze’ev W. Falk, Jewish Matrimonial Law in the Middle Ages (London: Oxford University Press, 1966).Google Scholar
  8. Cecil Roth, Medieval Lincoln Jewry and its Synagogue (London: The Jewish Historical Society of England, 1934).Google Scholar
  9. Suzanne Bartlet, “Three Jewish Businesswomen in Thirteenth-Century Winchester,” Jewish Culture and History 3 (2000): 31–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cheryl Tallan, “Structures of Power Available to Two Jewish Women in Thirteenth-Century England,” Proceedings of the Twelfth World Congress on Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, 2000): 85–90.Google Scholar
  11. Suzanne Bartlet, Licoricia of Winchester (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2009).Google Scholar
  12. Charlotte Newman Goldy, “A Thirteenth-Century Anglo-Jewish Woman Crossing Boundaries: Visible and Invisible,” Journal of Medieval History 34 (2008): 130–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 5.
    Pam Manix, “Oxford: Mapping the Medieval Jewry,” in The Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages, ed. Christoph Cluse (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2004), pp. 405–420.Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    Donald Matthew, Britain and the Continent 1000–1300 (London: Hodder Arnold, 2005), p. 161.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), pp. 108–141.Google Scholar
  16. 13.
    Katharine Park, “Medicine and Magic: The Healing Arts,” in Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy, ed. Judith C. Brown and Robert C. Davis (London: Addison Wesley Publishing, 1998), pp. 129–149.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Tony Kushner, Anglo-Jewry since 1066. Place, Locality and Memory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), pp. 1–25.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Jonathan Elukin, Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  19. Elisheva Baumgarten, Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    Albrecht Classen, “Introduction,” in Urban Space in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age (Berlin: Walter de Gruyters, 2009), pp. 1–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Shirley Ardener “Ground Rules and Social Maps for Women: An Introduction,” in Women and Space: Ground Rules and Social Maps (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981), pp. 11–34.Google Scholar
  22. 25.
    Tom Hassall, “Archaeology of Oxford City,” in The Archaeology of the Oxford Region, ed. Grace Briggs, Jean Cook, and Trevor Rowley (Oxford: Oxford University Department for External Studies, 1986), pp. 115–134, 120–124.Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    Sarah Rees Jones, “Women’s Influence on the Design of Urban Homes,” in Gendering the Master Narrative, ed. Mary C. Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), p. 191.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    John Schofield and Alan Vince, Medieval Towns (London: Leicester University Press, 1994), pp. 68–74.Google Scholar
  25. 32.
    Patrick Ottaway, Archaeology in British Towns: From the Emperor Claudius to the Black Death (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 140–141.Google Scholar
  26. 41.
    Manix, “Mapping the Medieval Jewish Community” in Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages, ed. Christoph Cluse, from a symposium held at Speyer in 2002.Google Scholar
  27. 42.
    H. E. Salter, Survey of Oxford, ed. W. A. Pantin, 2 vols, Oxford Historical Society n.s. 14 (Oxford: Clarendon Press for the Oxford Historical Society, 1960), vol. 1, p. 226.Google Scholar
  28. 46.
    William Chester Jordan, Women and Credit in Pre-Industrial and Developing Societies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 24–30.Google Scholar
  29. 48.
    James Masschaele, “The Public Space of the Marketplace in Medieval England,” Speculum 77 (2002): 418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 56.
    Barbara A. Hanawalt, “At the Margins of Women’s Space in Medieval Europe,” in “Of Good and Ill Repute:” Gender and Social Control in Medieval England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 70–87.Google Scholar
  31. 61.
    Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 120.Google Scholar
  32. 63.
    Shannon McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture in Late Medieval London (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2006), p. 191.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charlotte Newman Goldy and Amy Livingstone 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charlotte Newman Goldy

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations