Although the majority of religious oppression of Jews occurred in continental Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia (although France, Spain and Portugal certainly cannot be excluded), there is ample evidence of its prevalence in England. In fact, the history of religious persecution in England goes back centuries, beginning soon after 1066, when William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings and took over the crown of England. Just a little over one hundred years later antisemitism was already widespread. On a number of occasions riots were sparked in which many Jews were murdered, most famously during the crusades of 1189 and 1190 when hundreds of Jews were massacred in the cities of York and London. The situation only got worse for Jews as the 13th century progressed. In 1218, England became one of the first European nation to require Jews to wear a marking badge, predating by more than seven centuries the practice forced upon the Jews by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime.

In both Christian and Islamic countries, persons not of the dominant religion were intermittently compelled by sumptuary laws to wear badges, hats, bells or other items of clothing that distinguished them from members of the dominant religious group. This stricture applied particularly to Jews, for not only Christians but also Muslims required Jews to wear distinguishing marks and clothing. A genizah document of 1121 describes decrees in Baghdad forcing Jews to wear: “... two yellow badges, one on the headgear and one on the neck. Furthermore, each Jew must hang round his neck a piece of lead ... He also has to wear a belt round his waist. The women have to wear one red and one black shoe and have a small bell on their necks or shoes”.... (Johnson).

In 1274, Edward I of England enacted the Statute of Jewry, which also included a requirement: "Each Jew, after he is seven years old, shall wear a distinguishing mark on his outer garment, that is to say, in the form of two Tables joined, of yellow felt of the length of six inches and of the breadth of three inches." [A Day in the Life of 13th Century England, (BBC)].

The wearing of a yellow badge that was compulsory for Jews in some parts of Europe in the Middle Ages was revived in Germany by the Nazis during the Second World War (see section below on Medals Related to the Holocaust).

The persecution of Jews in England reached its zenith in 1290, when Edward I issued an edict ordering the entire population of English Jews expelled from the country (Endnote 1). All their property was seized by the crown and all outstanding debts payable to Jews were transferred to the King's name. The expulsion edict remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages; Jews as a group were not allowed to formally return to England again until almost 400 years later, in 1656, during the Commonwealth period of Oliver Cromwell (figure 30). English laws restricting the activity of Jews continued, however, until fairly modern times as it was not until late in the 19th century that statutes preventing Jews from even serving in Parliament were rescinded and English Jews received formal emancipation.

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