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US Edition. Log in using your social network account. Please enter a valid password. Keep me logged in. Try Independent Premium free for 1 month See the options. The man who could come up with the concept of the Domesday Book could put a price on anything, but William needed tribute rendered in and an economy based upon coin, not Saxon barter.

Bring on the first money men of Europe, the Jews enlisted by William I, to kick-start the transformation. Toirdhealbhach was seventy by this date, and had spent the previous thirty years fighting, exiling, or murdering his rivals. By he was effective ruler of half Ireland. His Jewish visitors clearly knew who the Big Fellow was, but Toirdhealbhach seems to have been less certain of them. Were there Jewish redheads? There both were and are. Red hair, as has been said, survives best out of the great ebb and flow of a changing population.

Those circumstances are also found in communities that are endogamous—that is, that marry within their own specific ethnic group, something the Jewish population has done for centuries. There are many, many redheaded Jews, and as these communities moved into western Europe, it was a mighty cultural mischance that they brought with them a characteristic already aligned in European culture with bad character at best and barbarity at worst.

We in our communities today know that stereotyping or stigmatizing individuals on the grounds of their difference is as destructive of those who think that way as it is of those victimized by their thinking. We may not all always understand this, but we all know it, and in the First World, at least, many if not most modes of living and of belief that would have reduced our ancestors to a blood-flecked mob do so no longer.

But in medieval Europe, Jews were Christ-killers and the abductors of Christian children. They were known as usurers, moneylenders, and the financiers of the state which very often turned on them as well. And some of them had red hair. And since Judas was a Jew, in a noticeable number of examples in European art, particularly in Germany, he is also depicted as a redhead. You read with sinking heart the first edicts forcing Jews to identify themselves by wearing specific badges; those moving them into ghettoes; the first instances of persecution, the first massacres, the first expulsions.

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Jewish communities were expelled from France in ; recalled in the royal coffers were running low ; expelled again in and their property confiscated for exactly the same motive. There were no Jewish communities in England after ; and in , in Sicily, which was under the control of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, those same Jewish communities that had been defended from the zeal of the Crusaders by Frederick II were driven out of the island altogether.


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In that year the redheaded Genoese sea captain Christopher Columbus followed Leif Ericson across the Atlantic in an expedition funded by Ferdinand and Isabella, and the world changed once again. Those monarchs, newly in control of a kingdom from which any religion other than Catholicism was to be extirpated, also, notoriously, put into motion the diktats of the Spanish Inquisition.

Trials were secret; punishment was public and vindictive enough to extend even to the burning of corpses. The Inquisition was not directed solely against those of faiths other than Catholicism, either; it went after homosexuals, those in possession of prohibited texts, and those suspected of witchcraft.

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Right from the start it was suspected that those persecuted were being chosen because they were wealthy, and the state could confiscate their property. The processes of the Inquisition were as absurd as they were appalling, as such systems always are. You end up going around in a circle here, where the prejudice justifies the racism and the racism strengthens the prejudice. Attitudes toward red hair in Spain only reflected the fears and prejudices of Catholic Europe as a whole. If you want to look for reasons for the continuing and increasing antipathy toward redheads, in particular redheaded men, in medieval Europe, look no further than its anti-Semitism.