Your RDA of Irony

Another Reason Why I Like Oliver Cromwell

If Mel Gibson knew history, he would have loved Edward I. The King did what Mel fantasizes: expelling the Jews from the realm.

From 1290 to 1656, Jews were forbidden to live in England. By the end of the Elizabethan period however, London had a small community of “Dutch” merchants and artisans with Spanish or Portuguese surnames but who never attended Calvinist or Catholic Churches.

Of course, the Crown knew. Francis Walsingham and his network of spies knew when a single Jesuit was smuggled ashore. This distinct and idiosyncratic community would hardly have escaped his attention. But the Queen, Lord Burleigh and Walsingham were contending with far greater threats than illegal aliens, refugees from the same Spanish terror that loomed against England. The 300 year-old law would no longer be enforced.

Still the formality would be preserved for another 70 years. In effect, it was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Kvell.” The government wouldn’t inquire as to why a merchant wouldn’t work on Saturday or why he shunned pork. In return, the “Dutchmen with the Hispanic names” would be discreet. Private homes served as synagogues. When members of this community died, they were buried in Jewish cemeteries in the Netherlands.

Oliver Cromwell ended this farce in 1656, granting the Jews the right to live, work and worship in England. Yet even the dour Puritan participated in diplomatic choreography. Since the Edict was still in effect, Cromwell could not acknowledge Jews were already in England. Instead he acted upon the petition of Jews in the Netherlands to revoke the medieval prohibition.

Fortunately, the Restoration did not restore the Edict. A few royalist advisers urged it but Charles II refused. As a crypto-Catholic, he tried to encourage tolerance. And the Merry Monarch might have hoped to get ecumenical with a 17th century Rachel Weitz or Nigella Lawson.

  1. Hal Gordon says:

    According to Lady Antonia Fraser’s biography of Cromwell, some Jews were so grateful to Old Noll that the researched his pedigree to see if he might be the Messiah.

  2. Antonia Fraser owes her husband–Mr. Pinter–to Oliver Cromwell.

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