Crash Course: Unknown History

A new feature comes to Crash Course every Thursday.  It will deal with little known history that somehow got missed by the history books.

Being Jewish: A Lesson in Repetitive History

It is said there is rarely an original thought, a new idea under the sun. The irony is the thought originally came from somewhere to spark an ideology, a practice, a behavior.


1290 AD : Some 680 Jews detained in the Tower of London, with more than 300 subsequently executed, on suspicion of coin clipping. All Jews were eventually expelled from Britain. Coins were once made of real silver or gold. People sometimes clipped tiny bits off the edges, effectively making the coins worth less than their weight. This is why modern coins now have a marked edge around the sides. Coin clipping also made for a tidy almost untraceable profit, these small clippings could be smelted into gold or silver nuggets and be easily tradable among merchants.

On November 17, 1278, all the Jews of England were subjected to arrest and search of their homes on suspicion of coin clipping and counterfeiting. Eventually, some 680 were imprisoned in the Tower of London, where it is believed that more than 300 were actually executed in 1279. At the time, the Jewish population of England is believed to have been some 3,100.

During the 11th century, Jews from Italy, Spain, and Russia migrated over to England. They built a large place of worship, known as “the great Synagogue” just a little way down from the Tower of London. The Synagogue was used for worship, as well as file claims against Christian debtors and charging how to settle their debts. When corruption was found within Jewish money lenders, they were put under scrutinized investigation.

England implemented a badge rule for new Jewish settlers. Jews past the age of 7 had to wear a badge that signified their heritage.