Avigaye of Northampton

Referred to in records as: “Avigeye”, “Genta of Northampton”, “Giva”, “Give”, “Gwya”, “Gyne”, “Gywa”, “Ina”.

Brief biography

Avigaye of Northampton was the the wife of Sadekin son of Vives of Northampton and later of Leo of Norwich (also called Leo le Crakur, Leo son of Jurnin, or Judah ben Eliab), and later of Jacob of Bedford (possibly the son of Belia of Bedford). She provides a good example of how women’s names might become confused in medieval records: she was also called Giva, Gyva, Gwya, Gywa, and Jywa (all variations on a diminutive form of Avigaye or Avigaya) and, incorrectly, Ina, Gena, and Genta (all the result of scribal errors). Links between legal cases, relatives, and her three husbands, however, provide clarification of her identity.
In 1270, Avigaye’s first husband Sadekin was excommunicated for an offence done by him against [Jewish] law. This excommunication was confirmed by the London rabbi and scholar Elias (or Elijah) Menachem. As a consequence, Sadekin’s goods and chattels, which he presumably shared with Avigaye, were seized by King Henry III and given to his queen, Eleanor of Provence—and by 1272 Sadekin was dead. The Crown claimed that he had died intestate and accused Avigaye and her son-in-law Bonenfant of Kent of unlawfully keeping £20 worth of his chattels. In 1273, the Exchequer of the Jews launched a formal inquest: she and Bonenfant were to answer to the king, now Edward I. At first, no Jew would serve as her guarantor, but by 1274 three stood for her, including the prominent Londoners Elias l’Eveske and his nephew Benedict. Avigaye insisted that she had nothing of Sadekin’s, and that he did not die intestate. Rather, the queen (now the queen mother) had allowed her to keep 100 shillings (£5), and she had given another amount to Bonenfant as part of her daughter’s dowry (presumably protected by Sadekin’s will or an existing shidduch). Sometime in late 1274 Avigaye married Leo. It was the second marriage for both of them, and Leo subsequently appeared with her in court and answered to the same charges. In the end, a mixed jury of Christians and Jews found that Sadekin did die intestate and that Avigaye therefore unlawfully kept his belongings: some £20 in coins and £10 in jewels and other treasures (likely the sum of her daughter’s dowry). She and Leo were arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a time, but in June 1276, the king released them from any obligations or taxes related to Sadekin. Leo was dead by 1280, when post-mortem litigation of his estate does not mention Avigaye:. by this time, she had either divorced Leo or quickly remarried after his death, for the Close Rolls of July 1280 tell us that she was then married to Jacob of Bedford. Her daughter had converted to Christianity and taken the name Mabel, and Jacob and Avigaye (called Gena or Geva in the record) were ordered to pay her 20 marks (just over £13), an amount apparently willed to her by her father Sadekin. This detail of Sadekin’s will, the record says, the king learned from Mabel (so much for Sadekin dying intestate!).
Further reading
  • Great Britain. Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews Preserved in the Public Record Office. Vol. 6, Edward I, 1279-1281, edited and translated by Paul Brand. London: Jewish Historical Society of England. 2005, pp. 130; 172.
  • Great Britain. Select Pleas, Starrs, and Other Records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, A.D. 1220–1284, edited by J.M. Rigg. London: Bernard Quaritch 1902, pp. 87–88.
  • Rokéah, Zefira Entin, Money and the Hangman in Late-13th-Century England: Jews, Christians and Coinage Offenses Alleged and Real (Part II), Jewish Historical Studies 32 (1990-1992): 159–218, at 166.
  • Hillaby, J. and C. Hillaby, The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History. London: Palgrave. 2015, s.v. Harem, pp. 167–168.
  • MacLellan, Rory, Jewish History of the Medieval Tower of London, https://www.hrp.org.uk/about-us/research/the-jewish-history-of-the-medieval-tower-of-london/#outputs, [see Dataset nos. 81 and 232].

Dates mentioned in records



Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, London



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Putative social network for Avigaye of Northampton (experimental feature)
Avigaye Leo of Norwich Sadekin of Northampton Mabel Bonenfant of Kent Jacob of Bedford
Putative family tree for Avigaye of Northampton (experimental feature)