By Evyatar Marienberg and David Carpenter
Published Online (2011)
Introduction: In January 1252, King Henry III sent a remarkable writ to the sheriff of Hampshire. It was copied onto the fine rolls and in translation runs as follows:
Concerning taking an inquisition. Order to the sheriff of Hampshire to inquire by the oath of twelve of the more law-worthy Jews of Winchester by their roll whether Cressus of Stamford, Jew, violently seized and took away the apple of Eve from the synagogue of the Jews in the same city to the shame and opprobrium of the Jewish community. If, by that inquisition, he shall be found guilty of that deed, then they are to distrain Cressus immediately by his rents, houses and chattels to give one mark of gold to the king for that trespass. Witnessed as above. By the king.
Perhaps the chief interest of the writ lies in the identity of the ‘apple of Eve’, which Cressus of Stamford was accused of stealing to the shame and opprobrium of the Winchester Jews. Before addressing that question, a brief word putting the writ into context may be helpful.
The writ is said to be ‘witnessed as above’. This refers to an entry next but one above in fine rolls where another writ is enrolled, a writ which ends with the statement that it was witnessed by the king on 19 January 1252 at Geddington. This then was also the place and date of issue of our writ. Geddington itself is in Northamptonshire and was a favourite hunting lodge of twelfth and thirteenth-century kings. Later, of course, it was graced, indeed still is graced, by an Eleanor Cross. Henry III himself was no great huntsman, and he often saw Geddington only in the course of travels to and from the north. On this occasion, he was on his way south, having attended the marriage at York of his daughter Margaret to King Alexander of Scotland.