Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Henry VIII and Jewish Law

Eustace Chapuys, ambassador of the
Holy Roman Emperor at the Court of Henry VIII
31 January 1531, Eustace Chupuys, ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor and leading defender of Catherine of Aragon, recounts how Henry VIII had been consulting a Jew from Rome on matters of Jewish law that might provide a way by which the king could divorce Catherine. Henry in fact consulted a number of Jews in his search for a way out of his marriage.

On this occasion, according to Chupuys, he was advised that his marriage should not be dissolved, but on the other hand it would be perfectly legal for him to take a second wife.

This suggestion Henry found 'extravagent and absurd' and would not consider. Nevertheless, Henry continued to pursue solutions in Jewish law to the 'Great Matter' of his marriage, primarily relating to the legality of marrying the widow of one's brother.

The argument used by the Jewish scholar for royal bigamy was that, since Henry had married his brother's widow, under Jewish law his heirs were ascribed to Catherine's first husband (Prince Arthur, who died in 1503), and not Henry (based on Deuteronomy 25). Since it was unreasonable that someone should be unable to produce heirs of their own, it was therefore permissible to take a second wife.

Henry, by contrast, was interested in the apparent contradiction between Deuteronomy 25, which commanded that a man must marry his brother's widow (and have children), and Leviticus 18, which forbade a brother from having intercourse with his brother's wife, and the potential for interpretations that might release him from marriage to Catherine.

The scholar in question was probably Marco Raphael, a convert to Christianity. In 1531 Jews were banned from England, as they had been since 1290 and would remain until 1655, and ubiquitous anti-semitic sentiment made it impossible for Henry to invite some of the rabbis he consulted to England. Raphael was politically acceptable as a convert, but unfortunately gave the wrong answer to the leading question that Henry had asked. Isaac Halfron, a Venetian rabbi, by contrast, had given the correct answer, but only by a letter. Halfron stated that while the law commanding marriage in Deuteronomy had fallen into abeyance since the Talmudic era, the law in Leviticus forbidding sexual relations with one's brother's wife had not, and therefore Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon was illegal.

Additional details from The Jews in the History of England, 1485-1850, by David S Katz via http://jeremyrosen.blogspot.com/2007/06/henry-viii-and-jews.html

Friday, January 13, 2012

When Baroque Renos Go Bad

13 January 1690. Hampton Court Palace is suffering from a dodgy reno, but who is the cowboy contractor responsible? None other than baroque bricky extraordinaire Sir Christopher Wren, that's who.

Wren and others had been sent to inspect a falling wall and then got into argument with Master of Works William Talman about how bad the cracks were, and whether the wall was unsafe. Mr Talman stated "every pier is crakt that one may putt his finger in". Wren responded "I'le putt it on this, a man cannot putt his finger in the cracks". Talman responded that the cracks had been 'stopt', or hidden. Others on Wren's side claimed the wall had already withstood a 'hurrycane'.

To solve the dispute, the Lords of the Treasury did what committees do best - appointed a commission. This 'commission to examine the cracks' was to report back by Wednesday and state whether the disputed wall would stand or not.

To be fair to Wren, his additions to Hampton Court, including the piers (pillars) still stand, so presumably the build quality was more than sufficient.
Wren and Talman's addition

Interestingly, Talman was a former pupil of Wren, and notoriously hard to get on with. As Master of Works, he was responsible for building the wall according to plans provided by Wren, so the overall implication here appears to be that Talman was arguing that Wren's designs were defective. Talman had moreover beaten Wren to the building contract by quoting a lower price for interior decoration.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A very rich Lotterie generall without any Blankes

11 Jan 1569 went down in history as date of the 1st lottery in England. In fact the lottery took several years to run, starting in 1566, and in 1567 MEMSO shows that the queen was concerned that the lottery was failing since 'the lottery erected by her commands in London had not been so well supported as was anticipated'.

Prizes from the first lottery
Everybody who bought a ticket to an early lottery won a prize, and the total prizes given equalled the total cost of tickets sold. As a result, the lottery benefited the government only in so far as it was an interest free loan for the period between the ticket being sold and the prize being awarded.

The lottery system gave rise to the stockbroker profession. Because lottery tickets were very expensive, the brokers sold 'shares' of tickets to individuals instead. This system ran until 1826.

Monday, January 9, 2012

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