Licoricia of Winchester


Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today about the life of Licoricia of Winchester as part of Winchester’s Heritage Open Day celebration of the achievements of Winchester’s women over the centuries. It is particularly special to be speaking in the Discovery Centre in Jewry Street so close to where Licoricia lived and worked.

Since I started studying the role of Jewish women in medieval England as a postgraduate student over ten years ago, I always found Licoricia to be one of the most fascinating characters and I was very inspired by Sue Bartlet’s archival research into Licoricia’s life which made extensive use of local Winchester records.

Exploring Licoricia’s life, her business activities and her role as wife and mother gives us greater insight and understanding of the experiences of Anglo-Jewish women and of the Jewish community of thirteenth century England.


Anglo-Jewry and the Crown

Licoricia was born at the start of the thirteenth century – we do not know the precise year. This was a time when the Anglo-Jewish community was under tightening Royal control.

Jews originally came over to England and settled in London under the protection of William the Conqueror in 1066. Initially the Jews were under the control of local lords and were not subject to royal taxation or jurisdiction.

However the Crown centralised control over the legal and financial affairs of the Jewish community from 1179 onwards in order to maximise the wealth that the Crown could extract from them. This relationship between the Jews and the medieval English Crown was clearly articulated by King Henry III who declared in 1253 that no Jew could remain in England unless they ‘did the king’s service’.

This bond of service between the Crown and the Anglo-Jewish community granted the Jews royal protection – but at a high price. The king expected to profit at every stage of the life and activities of his Jews – they had to pay fines for permission to move house, to enter into business, to marry or divorce or to employ Christian servants.

The king could also levy taxes on the Jews at will – and the Crown received one-third of the estate of every deceased Jew. This death duty included not only the goods and chattels but also the bonds of debt which were held by the deceased recording all the money owed to them at their death.

We will see how Licoricia of Winchester’s own life was shaped by this relationship with the Crown as it is often the records of these fines, taxes and duties which provide historians with the material we need to explore how Jewish lives were lived in the thirteenth century.






Anglo-Jewry and moneylending

In addition to tightening Crown control, another development of the second half of the twelfth-century was the concentration of the Anglo-Jewish community on moneylending as its primary economic activity. From the time of the Norman Conquest at least until the mid-twelfth century, the Jews in England continued to engage in a combination of economic endeavours just as they had done in Normandy. They were involved in moneychanging and dealing in bullion, gold and plate as well as in moneylending.

From the 1150s onwards however, Anglo-Jewish economic activity became less diverse and was increasingly focussed on the provision of credit. This was a direct result of the actions of King Henry II who removed the traditional sources of small and large scale loans firstly buy ruining the Anglo-Saxon Christian moneyers and reducing the number of mints in 1158 and then by confiscating the estate of the greatest English financier William Cade in the mid-1160s to profit the Crown.

The Anglo-Jewish community was particularly well positioned to fill this credit vacuum and their moneylending activities became increasingly widespread. This was further facilitated by increasing royal protection and assistance in enforcing debt repayment. The support of the Crown meant that the Jews of England were able to loan much more to ecclesiastical and lay aristocracy than their continental counterparts and, as a result, enjoyed an unparalled level of wealth in the century or so prior to 1275. Licoricia herself made the most of this opportunity and we will see how she built an extensive network of clients in Winchester and far beyond, and how she drew upon royal protection to support her endeavours.

After 1275 there was a marked deterioration in the position of Jews in medieval England which ended ultimately with the expulsion of the Jews from the country by King Edward I in 1290. In 1275, King Edward passed the Statute of the Jews which prohibited Jews from lending money at interest. In practice the Anglo-Jewish community found ways to circumvent this prohibition – primarily by speculating on the futures market in cereals and negotiating cereal bonds, rather than monetary bonds, with Christian debts.  My research has shown that from 1275 onwards it is likely that Jews started to leave England for the continent due to the increasingly difficult conditions – probably led by the male heads of Jewish households as we see Jewish women becoming even more prominent in business and property ownership in the later years of the thirteenth century.

We will see that the last years of Licoricia’s life and her death reflected the challenging circumstances experienced by late thirteenth century Anglo-Jewry – just as the flourishing of her career gives us an insight into more peaceful times.


The Jewish community in medieval Winchester

In order to understand the achievements of Licoricia as probably the most prominent Jewess in thirteenth century England, we need to understand what the Jewish community in Winchester was like at the time.

The Jewish community was structured around the synagogue which was not only a place of religious observance but provided the focal point for the community’s social activities and educational instruction.

The internal governance of each Anglo-Jewish community was also centred on the synagogue and its importance as a place of assembly was used by the Crown who used the synagogue as the location to proclaim royal decrees.

Religion played a crucial part in the lives of the Jews of medieval England – there were kosher butchers and bakers who were vital for maintaining Jewish dietary regulations and Jews imprisoned in the Tower of London paid fines to allow them to celebrate particular Jewish festivals.

Although Jews occupied a unique position in thirteenth century England given their relationship with the Crown, it is important not to overemphasise the divide separating the Jewish community and wider Christian society.  Outwardly the English Jews resembled their contemporaries in dress – Jewish women, including Licoricia of Winchester, wore the crown shaped head dress and wimple characteristic of the period.

You can see direct evidence of Anglo-Jewish acculturation to Christian society and language in Jewish women’s names, including Licoricia’s own, which reflected the fashion among aristocratic Christian English women in the early thirteen century for florid French names – perhaps a reaction to the loss of Normandy by the Crown in 1204 as English families attempted to retain their links with the continent.

Indeed, alongside examples of tragedies, most notably the massacre of Jews in York in 1190, there are many examples of peaceful co-existence between Jews and Christians in medieval England.


The chronicler Richard of Devizes, writing at the end of the twelfth century, records a French Jew describing the Jewish community of Winchester as ‘the Jerusalem of Jews in those parts: here alone they enjoy a perpetual peace, this is the school for those who want to live and thrive’.

And indeed, due to their shared interests in the wool trade, the Jews did enjoy good relations with some of the most prominent Winchester citizens.  The wealth of Winchester’s Jewish community is shown by the fact that, alongside Lincoln, the city’s Jews paid the most tax to the Crown than any other provincial Jewish community in England in 1255.

The location of the sizeable Jewish community in Winchester followed a similar pattern to the locations of Jewish communities in medieval London, Oxford and Bristol – the original settlement was located near to the royal castle. This maximised the security of the Jewish community through spatial proximity to the power of the crown.

In fact in Winchester Castle you could find the Jews’ Tower, where Jews could go for their own safety as they did during Simon de Montfort’s rising in 1265 – luckily the King had ordered the Sheriff to build a watch tower and lead roof on the Jews’ Tower fifteen years before.

The castle was also where Winchester’s Jews ended up being imprisoned in 1287 until they paid their community’s contribution to the significant tax that the King levied on the whole Anglo-Jewish community that year.  We know that one of Licoricia’s sons found himself imprisoned in the Tower at this time through graffiti that he left there – and we will hear more about Asher, son of Licoricia, later.

Shared religious and cultural practices, as well as concern for their safety, encouraged Anglo-Jewish communities to live in close promixity to one another. But even if the Jews did choose to live in a separate area these Jewries were open not closed and did not isolate them from their Christian neighbours – as the life of Licoricia of Winchester exemplifies.

In fact Jewry Street in Winchester was originally called ‘Shoemakers Street’ and was at the heart of wider mercantile and economic activity in the medieval city. Medieval Jews lived in this area alongside Christian goldsmiths and merchants. Jews were not restricted to this street – records show that Jews owned homes in neighbouring streets and on Winchester’s High Street.

Licoricia’s early business activities

Licoricia thrived in this community.  Her first marriage was to Abraham, son of Isaac, of Kent and Winchester.  Licoricia had three sons with Abraham and after his death, she continued to live in Winchester bringing up her family. Several historians have commented that families with three to four children were rare and concluded that the most wealthy Jewish families were usually close-knit with no more than two children.

My research has shown that this analysis is flawed as it often omits daughters from the lineage pedigrees and it doesn’t take archaeological evidence into account. If you add in these ‘invisible daughters’, you find that fully one third of medieval Anglo-Jewish family groupings had three or more children. Licoricia is a good example – she had at least five surviving children and this did not disadvantage her in business in any way.

The importance of Anglo-Jewish women came not through the small size of individual families but rather through the small size of Anglo-Jewry as a whole. In the mid-thirteenth century, England’s population was around 5 million and the Jewish community as whole was only 4,000-5,000.

The importance of the Jewish female was enhanced by her ability to increase the strength of her family unit through marriage – and the close-knit communities of Anglo-Jewry were often linked through the marriage of daughters. The communities of Kent and Winchester were linked through Licoricia’s first marriage to Abraham and her second marriage linked the powerful Oxford and Winchester Jewries – of which more later.

But Licoricia’s power – and that of Jewesses in medieval England – was not confined to their importance in establishing marital unions. Women occupied a position in medieval Anglo-Jewry which has been described by a leading historian of the period as ‘probably unequalled in those days in any other country’.

We first hear of Licoricia’s moneylending business ventures in the early 1230s, after the death of Abraham, when the records show that she was lending money both in partnership with other Jews and on her own, represented by an attorney. Licoricia lent money to a range of Christian debtors in this period, including the monks of St Swithun’s in Winchester who owed her the not insignificant sum of £10.

Sue Bartlet’s work has shown that it only took until the end of the 1230s for Licoricia to have become one of the richest Jewish moneylenders in Winchester in her own right.

Licoricia’s second marriage

Licoricia’s second marriage took place in 1242 to David of Oxford who was one of the wealthiest of all the Jews in England at that time.  You can see this union as the first ‘Anglo-Jewish power couple’.- Licoricia brought significant wealth of her own to the marriage as well as linking the communities of Oxford and Winchester and bearing David a son.

Their marriage is also interesting as in order to marry Licoricia, David had to divorce his first wife Muriel. This resulted in a complex legal battle which deepens our understanding of the religious and cultural practices of Anglo-Jewry at the time and highlights the power of the Crown, even in Jewish family matters.

In pursuing his divorce, David of Oxford applied to the English Beth Din or Jewish Court which upheld Jewish custom and heard civil cases which did not involve the interests of the Crown, such as dowry and marriage settlements. Three of the most learned Rabbis of the day, Master Moses of London, Master Aaron of Canterbury and Master Jacob of Oxford, all ruled in his favour.

However they also attached certain conditions to their decision to which David refused to subscribe, probably with regards to future remarriage.  Muriel too was disappointed by the ruling but, unlike David, who appealed to the King and used royal authority to advance his position, Muriel made recourse to the Paris Beth Din.

In doing so, Muriel recognised that it was through Jewish custom – and not the laws of medieval England – that she had the best chance of gaining an adequate divorce settlement.

Indeed the eleventh century Rabbi, Gershom Me’or ha-Golah had banned divorce without consent by the wife and his ruling was upheld by thirteenth century Jewish authorities, including medieval Anglo-Jewish rabbis.

In the end however, Muriel failed in her attempt to overturn the decision because of King Henry III’s interference in the Jewish legal system at David’s behest. The King ordered his Council to denounce the attempted interference of the French Jews in English affairs – perhaps one can see a parallel in the UK government’s relationship with European partners today! – and issued a decree that no rabbis, either of England or France, should coerce David ‘to take or hold any woman to wife except at his own free will’.

David wasted no time in taking Licoricia has his second wife. After their marriage, Licoricia settled in Oxford where she gave birth to their son, Asher, also called Sweetman.  She worked with David on his business activities, growing their extensive joint moneylending networks across southern England.

The death of David of Oxford

Sadly David died after only two years of marriage to Licoricia.  After his death in February 1244, all the chests across England that contained the official records of the debts owed to David by Christian debtors were sealed and taken to the Jewish Exchequer in London for assessment.

The Jewish Exchequer was a branch of the main exchequer and had both financial and judicial functions. The Justices sat alongside Jews appointed by the king: they handled all royal transactions made with the Jews and, by giving orders to local sheriffs, enforced the payment of fines and taxes which Jews owed the Crown.

All financial bonds between Jews and Christians had to be legally registered and the negotiation of credit transactions was limited to selected towns, of which Winchester was one and Oxford another.

In these selected towns a chest was established in which a copy of the bond recording the loan was deposited, with the other copy being kept by the Jew. These chests were under the protection of the clerks of the Justices of the Jews and the four chirographers of the town – two Christians and two Jews. The enrolment of debts in this way allowed the Crown to regulate Jewish moneylending closely – and this practice created very helpful records for the historian of medieval Anglo-Jewry today – we benefit from bureaucracy!

In order to prevent Licoricia from interfering in the collection of these debts – and potentially hiding some of David’s vast wealth from the eyes of the King’s men, Licoricia was immediately imprisoned in the Tower of London after David’s death until the process of assessing the bonds was completed.

Licoricia repurchased all the debts owed to David at a price of 5,000 marks of which 4,000 marks was used  for the special exchequer established at Westminster Abbey for the building of a chapel to house a new shrine to Edward the Confessor.  The role of the Jews in funding the building of Westminster Abbey is neither well known nor well publicised.

5,000 marks was an extremely significant sum – a mark which weighed 8 ounces in silver was worth 13 shillings and 8 pence – and to give you a comparison, a knight at the time would have earned around 2 shillings a day and a kitchen servant 2 shillings a year.



Licoricia’s second widowhood – and royal favour

Licoricia spent seven months imprisoned in the Tower and on her release in September 1244, she returned to live with her four sons in Winchester.  She immediately started to carry on with David’s business enterprises and started new ventures of her own.

Despite the significant fine she had paid the King for David’s bonds, Licoricia, now a widow for a second time, was left in control of enough wealth – both her own and David’s – to engage in substantial and extensive business activities for the next thirty years.

Whenever King Henry III’s court were in Winchester, Licoricia frequented his court and had business dealings with members of the royal court as well as with the King himself who personally supported her in some of her business activities.

One of these cases occurred in 1253 when the heir  of Sir Thomas Charlecote took Licoricia to court for retaining custody of his late father’s estate which had been pledged to her. From the records, it is clear that Licoricia represented herself in court on at least one occasion, an example of her activity in a very public, and very male, forum.

The case shows several examples of royal favour granted to Licoricia. Not only did King Henry III initially allow the possession of the land by Licoricia for three times longer than that allowed by the law, but when the Winchester court ruled in favour of the young Thomas and ordered that he should have the land and income from the estate and the rent from Licoricia for her three years’ occupation, the King sought to set up a retrial and Licoricia’s acquittal.

Contrary to the King’s expectations, the court of enquiry also ruled for Sir Thomas. The King then directly involved himself in the matter for the third time – forbidding the court of enquiry from imposing a penalty on Licoricia and limiting Licoricia’s fine to half a mark – a neglible ‘cost of business’ for the Jewess.

Licoricia’s favour with King Henry III was used by other members of the Anglo-Jewish community at this time who asked Licoricia to intervene on their behalf on a range of matters.

In 1258, Belia of Bedford, another prominent Jewish female moneylender who had been a business partner of Licoricia’s in one of her early Winchester deals in 1234, sent Licoricia a precious gold ring intended as a gift for the King. The ring was mislaid and Ivetta, a Jewish neighbour in Winchester, accused Licoricia of stealing it. Licoricia was imprisoned in the Tower of London whilst the charges were investigated – and was released when it was found that it was Ivetta who was the thief.

Licoricia’s business networks

Many of Licoricia’s business clients were members of the royal family, the aristocracy and the Church. She also lent to other Jews, local landowners and small farmers. Licoricia’s rather wonderful and distinctive name appears consistently in the Jewish Exchequer records of the time, sometimes alongside one of her children, in disputes over business matters.

The conduct of credit transactions in medieval England brought a high level of direct contact between the Jewish creditor, whether male or female, and the Christian debtor.

The creditor and debtor would meet and negotiate the details of the transactions – most often in the Jew’s home. Having concluded the deal between themselves, they would then go to the town chest where the chirographer would draw up the official bond.  Licoricia would therefore have had a close personal interaction with Christians, the vast majority of whom were male.

And it is not only Licoricia among the Jewesses of Winchester who lent money to a broad cross-section of Christian society – Chera, the widow of Isaac the Chirographer, who was active in business slightly earlier than Licoricia, had several clients among the local clergy.

In 1204, Chera made a loan to William de Warenne and Wurmegaye, a churchman, which was still being disputed forty years later and in 1207 she lent money to the Abbey of Hyde in Winchester. Chera was even sent to prison owing to a monetary dispute with Andrew, the chaplain of a local church!  Like Licoricia, Chera’s business interests extended beyond the clergy of Winchester and there are records of loans she made with small landowners in Kent and Devon.

Licoricia’s geographical network of clients was even more extensive than Chera’s. She was engaged in business across southern and southwestern England and Licoricia moved around the country herself managing her assets and network.

Her business contacts were just as diverse as any of the prominent male Jewish moneylenders – in fact her business activities are indistinguishable from the most successful of these male creditors.



My research has shown that there were no ‘female types’ of Jewish credit transaction in medieval England. Being a woman was no hinderance to being a success in business in English thirteenth century towns and cities – particularly if you were a widow, as long as you were Jewish.

The importance of Jewesses as moneylenders is emphasised through the naming practices of the Anglo-Jewish community. The power of familial association is highlighted by the practice of Jewish men utilising their mother’s name if she had enjoyed more prominence in credit negotiations than their father.

My research has shown that Jewish males were five times more likely to take a matronym than their Christian contemporaries, that is they were more likely to be called Abraham, son of Sarah- their mother – than Abraham, son of Moses – their father. All of Licoricia’s four sons, Lumbard, Benedict, Cokerel and Asher are recorded as the ‘son of Licoricia of Winchester’ in the records – even Asher whose father was the extremely prominent David of Oxford and who became a successful moneylender and property owner in Winchester in his own right.

The death of Licoricia

Unfortunately Licoricia ended her days with the same level of controversy that had followed her throughout her life, from her marriage to David after his contested divorce, through her close association with King Henry.

In 1277, Bella, Licoricia’s daughter, found the bodies of Licoricia and of Alice of Bicton, her Christian maid, stabbed to death in their home in Winchester on Jewry Street.  The murder possibly took place during a robbery. Licoricia was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Winchester which was located just outside the city walls.

Sadly the official investigation into Licoricia’s death was concerned much more with the theft of her property – rumoured to be the unlikely sum of ten thousand pounds – than with the murder. Several men were accused of the theft and a saddler who had fled Winchester was named as the murder suspect. However there is no record of the saddler or anyone else being tried and found guilty.

The motivation for Licoricia’s murder may well have been robbery – but Sue Bartlet also explored the possibility that it could have been linked to the high profile of Licoricia herself and of one of her sons, Benedict who was the first Jewish member of a guild in medieval England. At a time of increasingly tense Jewish-Christian relations, Benedict’s prominence in local Winchester politics certainly would have made him a target.

Benedict’s election to the merchant’s guild of Winchester in 1268 was unprecedented – and remarkable, particularly because medieval guilds in England were both religious confraternities and trade unions. Benedict’s election was due to his ability to provide credit at critical times to the wool merchants of the town.

Benedict also held office as one of the Jewish chirographers of Winchester until 1273 when he settled in London. However whilst Benedict’s relocation to the capital may have meant that he avoided both the attack on his fellow chirographer Deudone in 1274 and the murder of his mother in 1277, Benedict did not escape the impact of the increasingly challenging circumstances for Jews in medieval England.

In 1278 Benedict was imprisoned in the Tower of London on coin-clipping charges, that is the practice of illegally shaving metal from gold and silver coins. It is unclear how much truth was behind these charges.

Benedict’s wealth made him a target. On his imprisonment, Benedict’s property in Winchester and several other towns was forfeit to the Crown and by 1280 we find out that Benedict ended up being hanged for felony.

The recorded details surrounding Licoricia’s death may not provide us with satisfactory evidence that justice was done and her murder, and the sad end of her son Benedict, both exemplify the increasingly difficult position of Jews in medieval England in the late thirteenth century.

However the circumstances of Licoricia’s death, specifically the fact that Licoricia was found murdered alongside her Christian maid, do illuminate another fascinating aspect of medieval Anglo-Jewish life, the employment of Christian servants by Jewish families.

The Jews were the subordinate partners in the fundamental ‘contract’ they drew up with the English Crown but we have seen how they inverted this position in their daily social and economic interactions with their Christian neighbours by acting as moneylenders – and they also did so as employers.

There were repeated royal, papal and ecclesiastical prohibitions against Jewish employment of Christians as servants in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  From the Council of Worcester in 1219 to the Council of Exeter in 1287, the English bishops made it clear that all Christians found in the employment of Jews would face excommunication.

Royal decrees from the mid-thirteenth century onwards echoed the bishops’ concerns – two royal proclamations from 1279 and 1281 prohibited Jews from ‘having Christian servants, male or female, dwelling with them in any services’ and ordered that ‘the Jews shall serve and minister to one another in all things’.

There was real concern about the corruptive influence of Jews with Pope Honorius IV writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1286 warning that Jews forced ‘servile labours’ upon their Christian servants on Sundays and holidays when they ought to refrain from such work.

There was also theological concern as the employment of Christians by Jews undermined the position of Jews in Christian society as the ‘slaves’ of the Church.  In their decrees, the English bishops linked the Jews to the biblical bondwoman Hagar – the servant of Abraham – who had lost divine favour and so had been condemned to servitude.  The 1222 Council of Oxford and the mid-thirteenth century Statutes of London prohibited the employment of Christian women by Jews ‘since it is absurd that the children of the free-born serve the children of the maid-servants’.

However the need for repeated bans suggests that these prohibitions were not effectively implemented in practice – and certainly the death of Licoricia alongside her Christian maid servant is not the only evidence from the Anglo-Jewish community that Jews employed Christian servants in their homes, particularly as maids and wet-nurses.

The most illuminating evidence are the significations of excommunication listing the names of Christians excommunicated for being in the employment of Jews in York and Lincoln in 1276 and 1278. Most of the Jewish employers, including the women, were involved in moneylending and were also socially prominent members of their communities.

The need to maintain a high social and economic profile was a critical factor in the employment of Christians as servants – particularly as wet-nurses for Jewish children.

The employment of Christian nurses and servants would have enabled Jewish wives and widows, including Licoricia, to continue  their business activities after motherhood, activities which would have been hampered whilst breastfeeding or tending to the home.

That Licoricia, as a widowed mother of five, could sustain a geographically dispersed range of clients, suggests that she used the service of Alice of Bicton and potentially other Christian maids to support her in maintaining her household – evidence that practical business need overcame royal, episcopal and rabbinical concerns about the idea of Christian employment by Jews in medieval England.


Commemorating Licoricia’s life

Licoricia lived a full and fascinating life and it is fitting that she is being remembered today alongside the other exceptional women of Winchester.

Licoricia made the most of the business opportunities afforded Jewish women in medieval England at a time when their Christian female contemporaries’ economic activities were very circumscribed and, in the towns and cities of the time, were limited to selling beer and low value goods.

Licoricia survived two husbands and built on their legacy, establishing a relationship with King Henry III that protected her business interests and set her up as an intermediary for the Jewish community as a whole. She showed remarkable resilience and entrepreneurship – cultivating an extensive network of clients and business associates across medieval England and across all sections of society, from royalty to farmers – and acting as an employer in her own right.

It is fitting that we commemorate Licoricia’s life here today – and through the statue of Licoricia and her son Asher which will be erected outside the Discovery Centre – to recognise her achievements as Winchester’s most influential medieval businesswoman whose personal wealth and connections brought her royal favour and benefited her community, and to remember through her Winchester’s fascinating history, and the lessons it teaches about the importance of religious tolerance.