“Conflict among Jews in medieval Catalonia: Samuel Gracia and the Jewish consumption of Christian Justice”
By Alexandra Guersonhh
In 1389, Samuel Gracia travelled close to 200 kilometres from Barcelona to Monzón, in the kingdom of Aragon, where the king was holding court. Samuel sought justice over a debt litigation that had been decided in his favour five years prior but still remained unresolved, the money unpaid. The earlier case had also been adjudicated by the royal court, one of a score of cases involving Samuel Gracia as plaintiff or defendant against fellow Jews in the royal courts of King Pere III (1336-1387) and Joan I (1387-1396) during the 1380s. Samuel Gracia was not the only Jew to seek royal justice to solve a conflict with a co-religionist in this period. Hundreds of other individual Jews, men and women, did so in the same period. Samuel stands out for his frequent consumption of royal justice, appearing in at least fifty royal letters during a period of six years.
That Samuel sought the royal court, and so often, is in itself of interest to historians. The Jews of the Crown of Aragon had enjoyed judicial autonomy since at least the early thirteenth century, a privilege repeatedly confirmed by their rulers. Jewish communities elected or appointed internal officials to adjudicate disputes among Jews according to their own laws and customs. However, a close look at the royal chancery registers of the late fourteenth-century Crown of Aragon shows that despite their right to have their cases decided internally, Jewish men and women of the Crown of Aragon routinely sought justice at the royal court. These cases raise many interesting questions regarding Christian-Jewish relations as well as Jewish life in late fourteenth-century Catalonia and Aragon. Why were Jews seeking Christian justice if they seemingly enjoyed judicial autonomy? Is this a case of Christian encroachment on their autonomy? Are Jews more vulnerable to Christian interference?...