17th Century Readmission

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Sephardic Jews in 17th Century London and the Readmission


David J Ferdinando


It is a widely held view that the Jews were granted readmission to England by Oliver Cromwell in 1656 following a mission by Menasseh ben Israel.  However, it was not an Act of Parliament that secured the Readmission but rather a Judgement in a case brought against one of the London based Sephardic Merchants.  He had been accused of being a Spaniard (a cloak many of the early Portuguese Jews used to disguise themselves) and his goods were confiscated as England was then at War with Spain.

In early 17th Century London, the records reveal that there were occasional visits by Sephardic Jewish Merchants and their Agents.  These were unrelated to those who infamously were around during the Elizabethan era and they plied their trade virtually unhindered by the authorities and some of their activities are found recorded in the Port Authority documents of the time.

In 1604, Portuguese Jewish Merchants, predominantly from Amsterdam sent Agents to London to continue their trade with Portugal in English ships because Dutch ships were banned from entering Spanish and Portuguese Ports.  The general pardon of 1605, temporarily halting the Inquisition led to an increase in emigration from Portugal and a very small community of Crypto Jews established themselves in London.  In 1605 a small Passover service was held attended by 7 people and it took place at the house of Jeronimo Lopes in the Aldgate Ward.[1]

In 1609 this small group were denounced as Jews and King James I ordered them to leave.  Two stayed namely, Francisco Pinto de Britto and William Anes.

During the reign of Charles I, in 1632, Diego Duarte of Antwerp came to London, encouraged by Charles I to become his Royal Jeweller.  He was Endenizened as “Jacob Edwards”, but soon returned, as Charles was slow to pay his Bills.[2]

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We now turn our attention to the mid 1630s when the man who holds my particular interest, Antonio Ferdinando Carvajal (or Fernandes Carvajal) settled in London.  Antonio was a notable merchant of Portuguese or possibly Canary Island birth.  His name begins to appear in many of the Admiralty Court Records (now held at the Public Record Office) in the 1630s, as he was quick to use the process of litigation in support of his business dealings.  From these records we have learnt much about his business dealings but, alas, little about the man himself.  It is possible that Antonio arrived directly from Rouen[3] at the break up of that community in 1632 or perhaps he went via Amsterdam or elsewhere as the earliest records we see in London are circa 1635.

Antonio left us a trail of paper through his business dealings but little for my fellow researchers and I to go on, apart from circumstantial dating evidence, that he may be the founder of our family in the UK.  Casting aside the disappointment from a family history point of view, we soon started to take an interest in the courage and tenacity of this small group of Sephardic Merchants, their struggle to conceal their identities for fear of the Inquisition and then the role that they had played in the readmission, a chapter of history I was wholly unaware of until I began looking into the life and times of Antonio. 

By the mid 17th Century, London was beginning to hold advantages for the Sephardic Merchant.  England, under Oliver Cromwell, needed trade and another valuable commodity that the Sephardic Merchants had through their dispersed family connections – that of Intelligence & information.  Additionally, the Puritans were extremely interested in the Writings of the Old Testament and were studying Hebrew to understand what was written there.  The conditions were therefore favourable to ease the readmission.[4]

In Amsterdam at this time lived a young Rabbi and Printer, Menasseh ben Israel.  He had been approached to come to England to Petition for the Readmission of the Jews following a series of pamphleteering and other activities, which made readmission a real possibility[5]. 

Menasseh, after a number of “false starts” arrived in London in 1655.  A Petition was raised and Oliver Cromwell caused a Public Debate to be held at Whitehall Palace.  Much of this is on record at the Public Records Office and in the books mentioned in the Bibliography.  However this is where much of the confusion in the past has set in.  Oliver Cromwell did not agree to the readmission of the Jews to England, as much as he may have wanted to.  The Conference broke up without having reached any verdict of importance.

However, what the conference and Menasseh’s efforts had done was to reveal the names of the London Sephardic Jewish Community.  This had little affect on the community and the local Londoners didn’t seem surprised at all.  What it did do, of course, was to raise the awareness that Sephardic Jews were living in London and so their profile was that much higher.  At about the same time, England was at war with Spain and anyone who was thought to be a Spaniard was at risk of having their property, goods and money seized.  The Sephardic Jews had always given the allusion of being Spanish Catholics and Francis Knevett who knew the little community through business links denounced one of their number.

Antonio Rodrigues Robles had his goods and property seized.  Initially Robles claimed to be Portuguese but eventually he and his Marrano colleagues were forced to provide the facts about their true identity.  At the same time the celebrated Petition of the Jewish Community was drawn up and delivered to Oliver Cromwell on 24th March 1655/6.  The major leaders of the Community and Menasseh signed the Petition, however Robles did not.  The community, exposed by the Robles case now “humbly petitioned” for protection, granted in writing, permission to meet in their own houses without molestation, to live peaceably under the authority of the Government and for the establishment of a Jewish Cemetery outside of the City Limits.  This Petition was referred by Cromwell to the Council of State alongside the Petition of Robles (now claiming to be a Portuguese of the Hebrew Nation).  The Community’s Petition does not seem to have been actioned further although we can imagine that Cromwell would be more amenable to this humble petition than to the previous one for full readmission.  In May the Commissioners, after hearing many depositions from the community, ordered Robles goods to be returned to him.  Thus, the Jews were readmitted to England.

The little Community were now free to purchase land for a Cemetery at Mile End and to start work on a Synagogue built just yards from the present day Bevis Marks at Creechurch Lane in London.  The Merchants went on to successfully trade and to flourish in London free to practice their religion and to be buried according to their rites and customs.  As time went on so they became generally accepted into the community as a whole.

Menasseh’s specific mission to London had failed and he returned to Amsterdam a broken man following the death of his son in London.  Little could he have known that the matter was actually settled but not, perhaps, in the way that he had envisaged.  This year saw the 300th Anniversary of the opening of Bevis Marks with an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of London and with that anniversary can be seen that not only were the Jewish community readmitted, they have also continued to have an unbroken presence in London since then.

Antonio Ferdinando Carvajal died in November 1659 after an operation for “Ye Stone” went wrong.  He was buried at the Mile End Cemetery that he and Simon de Caceres leased.  The Local Church of St Katherine Cree, at the other end of Creechurch Lane, tolled the great bell, surely another example of the liberal attitude towards the little community.  Finally we find some words about Antonio’s character in his Epitaph.  This inscription was found miraculously preserved in the Rathsbibliothek at Leipzig by the late Professor David Kaufmann.  The original Gravestone, except for a small fragment had disappeared.  A new gravestone must however have been commissioned as on a recent trip, one of our researchers photographed the stone. The New Stone has Antonio Ferdinando Carvajal carved on it.  The old one used Hhizqiah, a name change, and most probably following a Rogativa as a consequence of his unsuccessful operation.

"The stone is witness, as also the heap

To the honoured man who is buried here.

The good qualities which he made his own

Will speak for him before the Most High.

An open house he kept by the way,

For he was generous to the needy and the poor.

His doings and his dealings with men were truth,

Truth was familiar in his mouth, his words ever pure.

Abraham Hhizqiah Carvajal,

His memory is honoured, blessed with children.

On Heshvan 26th. he was mown down

In a ripe old age, for his years were full.

In the year 420 his eye was dim,

But the eye of his soul rejoiced to see realms of bliss"

I may never know whether Antonio was my ancestor but his story, and those of the little community, are so interesting and they were all such colourful characters that they ought to be noted as the people who succeeded in the readmission of the Jews to England through the English ‘System’ rather than by Act of Parliament.

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About the Author

David Ferdinando is a UK based IT Project Manager and part time genealogist.  Married with 2 children he divides his time up between work, family and his hobbies of family history and Music.  In recent years, David has been developing his family history web site at www.ferdinando.org.uk.  With the possibility of being descended from Sephardic stock, he continues to research the prospect of being descended from Antonio via one of his sons, Alonso Jorge or George and sometimes known as Isaac.  With compelling circumstantial dating evidence but no definitive paperwork, the hunt continues.  Finding this possible connection, he was further amazed to discover the circumstances surrounding the readmission and has gained additional interest by reading the books & Articles listed in the bibliography below. 

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The following books are highly recommended by the Author as definitive and scholarly articles on the period surrounding the article above.  I would also like to add my thanks to Dr. Peter Ferdinando whose work originally unearthed the potential connection to Antonio in the first place.  Also the work undertaken by the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) Transactions (Trans) where many of the articles below are to be found.


Diamond, A.S. The Cemetery of the Resettlement Trans. JHSE., Vol. XIX. 1955/59

Diamond, A.S. The Community of the Resettlement, A Social Survey 1656-1684. Trans. JHSE., Vol. XXIV. 1970/73

De Mesquita, Bueno. The Historical Associations of the Ancient Burial-Ground of the Sephardi Jews Trans. JHSE., Vol X. 1921/23

Giuseppi, J.A. Sephardi Jews and the Early Years of The Bank of England Trans. JHSE., Vol XIX. 1955/59

Hyamson, Albert M. The Sephardim of England 1492 – 1951. 

Katz, David S. Jews in The History of England 1485 – 1850 Oxford. Oxford University Press, (reprinted 2001) original circa 1994

JHSE Miscellanies. Part VI, 1962  Including: Bethaim Velho Burial Register, Census Lists of 1695, Jewish Holders of Bank of England Stock, Membership of the Great Synagogue, Plymouth Aliens List and Chancery Proceedings 1750-1800

Roth, C. Essays and Portraits in Anglo Jewish History. Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962

Roth, C. History of the Jews In England. Oxford, PUBLISHER Oxford University Press, 1941 (I hold the second edition 1949)

Roth, C. Manasseh Ben Israel (A Life of Menasseh Ben Israel Rabbi, Printer, and Diplomat).  Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1934

Roth, C. Les Marranes a Rouen –Revue Des ֹetudes Juives.  TOME QUATRE-VINGT- HUITIÈME,1929 113-155 

Roth, C. New Light on the Resettlement Trans. JHSE., Vol. XI. 1924/27 

Samuel, E.S. The Portuguese Jewish Community in London (1656 - 1830). London, The Jewish Museum, YEAR 1992

Samuel, E.S. Portuguese Jews in Jacobean London Trans. JHSE., Vol XVIII. 1953/55

Samuel, W. S. Carvajal and Pepys Trans. JHSE., Misc II 1935

Samuel, W. S. & Castello, M. N. The First London Synagogue of the Resettlement Trans. JHSE, Vol X: 1921/23

Samuel, E.R. New Light on the Selection of Jewish Children's Names (JHSE), Vol XXIII. 1969/70

Samuel, E.R. Passover in Shakespeare’s London, JHSE Misc. IX (London 1979) 117-8

Sitwell, H. D. W. The Jewel House and The Royal Goldsmiths, The Archaeological Journal, Vol. CXVII,

Wolf, L. Crypto Jews Under the Commonwealth Trans. JHSE., Vol. I, 1893/94 

Wolf, L. Crypto-Jews in The Canaries Trans. JHSE, Vol VII. 1911/14 

Wolf, L. The First English Jew (The Biography of Antonio Fernandes Carvajal) Trans. JHSE., Vol. II, 1894/95

Wolf, L. The Jewry of the Restoration Trans. JHSE., Vol. V, 1902/05

Wolf, L. The Jews of the Canary Islands . Toronto, Buffalo and London, University of Toronto Press, YEAR 2001 Original London, Jewish Historical Society, 1926.

Wolf, L.. Maria Fernandez de Carvajal Trans. JHSE., Misc I 1925 

Woolf, Maurice. Foreign Trade of the London Jews in the 17th Century Trans. JHSE., Vol XXIV, 1970/73 

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[1] See Edgar Samuel “Passover in Shakespeare’s London”, JHSE Misc. IX (London 1979) 117-8

[2] H. D. W. Sitwell, “The Jewel House and The Royal Goldsmiths”, The Archaeological Journal CXVII

[3] Les Marranes à Rouen – Cecil Roth Revue Des Études Juives. 1929 113-155

[4] I have drastically simplified this area and for more information and more scholarly articles please refer to the bibliography section

[5] See Menasseh ben Israel, Rabbi Printer and Diplomat  – Cecil Roth

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