Slema daughter of Isaac of Southwark

Referred to in records as: “Slema”, “Slema of Southwark”, “Slemam”, “Slemʼ”, “widow”.

Brief biography

Slema was the daughter of Zipporah and Isaac of Southwark. Her father was a prominent attorney and financier in the late thirteenth century. Though she became an independent financier herself—the prioress of Kilburn Abbey brought debt suits against her in 1277—she is especially notable for a property dispute that occurred in 1274, when she was an underage widow. That summer, a Christian woman called Elice (or Elicia), the widow of Nicholas le Taylur, appeared before the justices of the Exchequer of the Jews at Westminster to sue Slema for surrender of a house and land in Southwark that she had inherited from her husband. Slema, she said, had right to the property only because her husband Nicholas had sold it to a Southwark clerk called William, and Elice had been unable to stop that sale during Nicholas’s lifetime. Slema’s father likely held the property in pledge from this William, and, it seems, the financials remained in dispute. Slema failed to appear in court though summoned, and the property was seized by the king. By that winter, however, Slema sued to get it back, and Elice continued to push her point, now because Slema’s original failure to appear amounted to default. With Slema still underage, her attorney father responded on her behalf: Slema had in fact never been summoned. Elice countered that, in any case, Slema only had right to the property through that disputed sale to the clerk William. Young Slema asked for a viewing of the property before proceeding further, after which she informed the court that she held only a portion of it through her father, the part that Nicholas had sold. Elice responded that Slema held the whole property and saw it all. With both the nature of the claim and the size of the property in question, the case was referred to a jury, though no further records of it survive. It is possible that some of the problem arose from missing documents that might back up Slema’s claims: in the same year, amid this property dispute, men had broken into her father’s Guildford home and stolen his belongings, including his debt bonds, which he struggled to reclaim into the 1280s. During Slema’s 1277 dealings with the prioress of Kilburn Abbey, the Surrey sheriff (John de Walton) reported that Slema could not be found in his bailiwick because she now lived in the city of London, though others testified that sleeping and waking she lived in Southwark. It is of course possible that she moved between London and Southwark (now a district of London): her father, who was dead by 1290, certainly did business in both places, and her mother Zipporah held property in the London Jewry at the time of the expulsion. The 1274 Southwark property case, indeed, reveals evidence of Slema’s father bringing her into his family business at a young age, even as the related interaction between the two widows shows how both Christian and Jewish women might be uncomfortably bound to the legal actions of their male relatives.
Further reading
  • 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.
  • Hoyle, Victoria, The Bonds that Bind: Moneylending between Anglo-Jewish and Christian Women in the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, 1218–1280, Journal of Medieval History 38 (2008), pp.119–129, pp. 119–129..

Dates mentioned in records



Surrey, Sussex



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Isaac of Southwark Zipporah Slema Unnamed
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