The Whitehall Conference

Julia Pascal

Jews returned to England in 1656 after the Whitehall Conference-right?

This cancelled the royal expulsion of Jews from England in 1290-right?

Wrong on both counts.

In December 1656, Oliver Cromwell called The Whitehall Conference to request Jewish return but few parliamentarians or merchants in Christian England wanted the Jews back.

Jew-hating tracts were published. Antisemitism, as we now call it, has been active on this island since Jews were imported as moneylenders by the Normans.

The Conference was disbanded and the situation of Jews, as illegal immigrants, did not change. Edward 1’s order that all Jews must leave the island on pain of death was never rescinded. We know that, during the 17th century onwards, Jews trickled in nonetheless. Some pretended to be Spanish or Portuguese Catholics but they were really the descendants of those fleeing the Inquisition. Over the following centuries some married out and their identity was lost forever. Others maintained their Sephardi roots.

This important aspect of English history, when Jews entered through the backdoor, is not taught in our schools and the hugely complex story of Jewish life on this island is largely unknown. For insight take a look at Discovering & Documenting England’s Lost Jews to see the history that is buried in this land.

The Whitehall Conference: