Belia of Bedford

Referred to in records as: “Bela”, “Bela of Bedford”, “Bele”, “Bele de Bedford”, “Belia”, “Belia de Bedeford”, “Belia of Bedford”, “Belia of Winchester”, “Belie”, “Belina”, “Belina Judea Wintonie”, “Belina the Jewess of Winchester”, “Beline”, “Bella”, “Bella de Bedeford”, “Bella de Bedford”, “Bella de Bedʼ”, “Bella of Bedef”, “Bella of Bedford”, “Belle”, “Belle of Bedford”, “Bely de Bedford”, “Belya”, “Belya de Bed”, “Belya of Bedford”, “Belye”, “Belyna”, “Belʼ”, “Bel’”.

Brief biography

Belia of Bedford (also known as Bella, Belle, or Belina) was a significant English financier with a career spanning almost 50 years. Her first husband was Deulebene, the son of Chera of Winchester, a man from one the most influential Jewish families of early thirteenth-century England (her mother-in-law Chera is named in records mainly in relation to her children and grandchildren, as a matrilineal marker of authority). The earliest records of Belia’s life show her negotiating taxes on her inheritance from Duelebene, who died in 1236, and she continued to work as a Winchester moneylender, alongside her brothers-in-law, until at least 1245. Shortly after 1245, she married her second husband Pictavin (or Peitevin) and relocated to Bedford. Between her two marriages, Belia had at least five sons: Lumbard, Moses, Benedict, Jacob, and Cresse. By 1261, Pictavin was also dead, and Belia was once again negotiating inheritance taxes. Pictavin’s death must have left her a wealthy woman: she paid almost £500 in inheritance tax after his death, one third of his estate, and she took over debts owed to him (in addition to those she held independently). Her finances, however, were greatly affected by the Second Barons’ War: the Bedford archa (chest holding Jewish bonds) was burned during the war and then stolen by rebels who took it to the Isle of Ely in 1266. In 1273, she was imprisoned in the Tower of London because she was unable to prove her payments on Pictavin’s estate, and, in 1281, when she must have been elderly, she was still involved in a suit against Simon Pertesoil for numerous defaults on debts owed to her from that time: she showed up in court with her chirographs, except for the halves that were lost when enemies of the king carried [them] away to the Isle of Ely. Belia was accustomed to business dealings with prominent men, institutions, and families: over the span of her career, she was a creditor to the Zouche family, Gilbert de Clare, and other knights and magnates (like the Pertesoils). There is also some evidence that she was literate in both Latin and Hebrew: the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews note that, in 1267, she ma[d]e her own starr of acquittance (a Hebrew document), and in 1275 that the Justices of the Jews hesitated to certify another starr apparently written by Belia. In her later life, she worked with her sons Jacob and Benedict, until they were accused of coin-clipping and other offenses against the Crown. Benedict converted to Christianity, and Jacob, for whom there is also evidence of conversion, was hanged in 1285. His home in Bedfordshire was granted to Newnham Priory after his death.
Further reading
  • Bartlet, Suzanne, Three Jewish Business Women in Thirteenth-Century Winchester, Jewish Culture and History 3, no. 2 (2000): 31–54.
  • Emma Cavell, The Measure of Her Actions: A Quantitative Assessment of Anglo-Jewish Women’s Litigation at the Exchequer of the Jews, 1219–81, Law and History Review 39.1 (2021): 135–72.
  • Great Britain. Calendar of fine rolls preserved in the Public Record Office. Vol. 1, Edward I, 1272-1307. London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1911, p. 218.
  • MacLellan, Rory, Jewish History of the Medieval Tower of London,, [see Dataset no. 69].
  • 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.

Dates mentioned in records



London, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Northamptonshire, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Southampton, Berkshire



View networkView family tree (experimental)


※ Belia of Bedford is mentioned solely as the relation of another person; she is not present or involved in any business.
Putative social network for Belia of Bedford (experimental feature)
Chera Isaac the Chirographer Deulebene Sampson Elias Esther Hamekin Aaron Abraham Pinch Antera Floria Caca Belia Pictavin of Bedford Cresse Moses Jacob Benedict Lumbard Abraham Unnamed Deulegard of Winchester
Putative family tree for Belia of Bedford (experimental feature)