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How did the legal status of Jews vary across different European kingdoms?

The legal status of Jews varied significantly across different European kingdoms, influenced by religious, economic, and political factors.

In the Middle Ages, Jews in Europe were often subjected to restrictive laws and regulations. In many kingdoms, they were considered the property of the king, a status that offered some protection but also made them subject to royal whims and fiscal demands. For instance, in England, Jews were under the direct protection of the king, which allowed them to prosper economically. However, they were also heavily taxed and eventually expelled in 1290 under Edward I.

In Spain, the situation was initially more favourable. During the early Middle Ages, under Muslim rule, Jews enjoyed a golden age of relative tolerance and intellectual freedom. However, with the Christian Reconquista, their status deteriorated. The infamous Spanish Inquisition, established in 1478, targeted Jews among others, leading to mass conversions, expulsions, and executions.

In Eastern Europe, the situation was different again. In Poland, for example, Jews were granted considerable autonomy, including the right to self-governance in the form of the Council of Four Lands. This relative tolerance attracted Jewish immigrants from across Europe, making Poland a major centre of Jewish life and culture. However, this status was not static and deteriorated over time, particularly in the late 17th and 18th centuries.

In contrast, in the Holy Roman Empire, Jews were subjected to numerous restrictions, including limitations on where they could live and what professions they could practice. They were also frequently scapegoated during times of crisis, such as during the Black Death, when they were falsely accused of poisoning wells.

In summary, the legal status of Jews in European kingdoms was highly variable, reflecting a complex interplay of religious, economic, and political factors. It ranged from relative tolerance and autonomy to severe persecution and expulsion. This diversity of experiences underscores the complexity of Jewish history in Europe and the importance of considering local contexts when studying this topic.

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