Titles of Nobility

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Titles of nobility in Europe were originally bound up with land tenure, and if only for this reason Jews were automatically excluded from holding them in the Middle Ages. A Jew, Ḥayyim (Cham), is referred to in a fifth-century epitaph found in Venice as clarissimus, which implies that he had the rank of knight (eques), but in the circumstances this may have been no more than a formal courtesy (Frey, 103, p. 593). A number of Jews in 12th- and 13th-century England were designated miles, which in the opinion of Joseph Jacobs implied "soldier," but in fact was the common agnomen of the Hebrew "Meir," e.g., Meles of Marseilles (Samuel b. Judah b. Meshullam). There were also various scholars and others called Sir Leon (i.e., Sir Judah, referring to Judah called a lion by his father: Gen. 49:9). This was probably no more than a conventional title attached to the name Judah in accordance with the biblical designation of Judah's supremacy (Gen. 49:10; Deut. 33:7), e.g., Judah Sir Leon of *Paris, Judah Sir Leon le Blund of London (12th century), and *Judah b. Jehiel ("Messer Leon"). Sir Morel, presumably a slurring – possibly jocular – mispronunciation of the biblical Samuel, was also popular, e.g., *Samuel b. Solomon of Falaise (Sir Morel). Sometimes lands which were held as knights' fees passed into Jewish hands, whether by mortgage or otherwise, but that Jews enjoyed or used the knightly title attached to them is out of the question. In Spain many Jews in the Middle Ages had a status not dissimilar to that of the court nobility, but it is certain that none had a title conferred on him. Noah-Manuel Norsa (of the *Norzi family of Ferrara, Italy) was referred to in an official document in 1409 as nobilem virum, implying a patent of nobility.

The earliest Jew to be formally ennobled was apparently Joseph (Ippolito) da *Fano (late 16th century) who according to Immanuel Aboab was created – presumably by the Holy Roman Emperor – marquis of Villimpenta (in Mantua), but the circumstances are obscure. About 1622 the financier Jacob *Bassevi of Prague was ennobled by Emperor Ferdinand ii, receiving the title Von Treuenburg, in recognition of his financial assistance at the time of the Thirty Years' War. *Marranos, who at this time escaped from Spain and Portugal and professed Judaism abroad, sometimes already enjoyed nobiliary titles: Mordecai da Modena had been created Knight of the Golden Fleece by Charles v. Others were or fancied themselves to be closely connected with Spanish and Portuguese noble families, so that personal titles of nobility came naturally to them. More than one member of the Spanish and Portuguese community in Holland was raised, somewhat paradoxically, to the nobility for his services, while a Jew, to the Spanish crown, among them Manuel (Isaac Nuñez) *Belmonte, who was created Count Palatine by Leopold iii in 1693 and passed on the title to his heirs, pillars of the synagogue; and Antonio (Isaac) Lopes *Suasso, who was made baron of Avernas de Gras by Charles ii of Spain. Francisco da Silva Solis, son of the Portuguese Marrano financier Duarte da Silva Solis, was created marquis de Mont-fort in 1682 in return for his military services; his son, the second marquis, returned to Judaism under the name Isaac (Fernando) da Silva *Solis, naturally preserving the ancestral title. King William iii of England, following Dutch precedent, knighted the financier Solomon de *Medina in 1711, but this precedent was not followed in England for over a century. In France titles were attached to some estates: hence when Liefmann *Calmer purchased certain lands from the duc de Chaulnes in 1774, he automatically became viscomte d'Amiens and baron de Picquigny. By a similar process there emerged in the period of Enlightenment the barons *d'Aguilar, von *Arnstein, *Eskeles, etc., and the baron Albert Treves in Italy. Turkey, however, had long before conferred not merely the title but the substance of nobiliary status on professing Jews, when Joseph *Nasi was created duke of Naxos in 1566, to be followed not long after by the Marrano Solomon *Abenaes, who as a Christian had been a knight of Santiago but after reverting to Judaism was created duke of Mytilene by the sultan.

Although the 13th-century kings of Hungary had given titles of nobility along with estates to their Jewish chamberlains (e.g., Woelfel of Komárom), there were comparatively few Jewish nobles in the Austro-Hungarian Empire up to the end of the 18th century; outstanding among them were the barons Dirsztay, Kohner, *Hatvany, and Weiss, and the Austrian barons *Koenigswarter, *Hofmannsthal, and *Morpurgo. In Germany as well (especially Prussia) most Jews were granted titles only after baptism, as were Cohn-Oppenheimer, Von Weinberg, Von *Simson, Fritz Victor von Friedlaender-Fuld, Von Heine-Geldern, and Von Mendelssohn, though notable exceptions were Gerson *Bleichroeder, Maximilian Gold-schmidt Rothschild, and Jacob von Hirsch. The ennobling of Jewish families was greeted contemptuously by the German antisemites, who recorded the process in the Semi-Gotha, a handbook of the "nobility" who were Jews or of Jewish blood, closely imitating the annual Gotha Almanac which chronicled Europe's aristocracy.

The 19th century witnessed two tendencies: on the one hand the acquisition of nobiliary titles by some wealthy Jews from impoverished governments, and on the other hand the elevation of Jewish notables to the nobility in recognition of public services.

In England, Sir Moses *Montefiore was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1837, when he was sheriff of London; Isaac Lyon *Goldsmid, the first Anglo-Jewish baronet (1841), was made baron de Palmeira in 1846 by the Portuguese government. An interesting case is that of the Jamaican Jew Issac de Lousada (d. 1857), descended from the 17th-century Spanish New Christian duke de Lousada, chamberlain to Charles iii, who succeeded in getting this title revived in 1848. This is the highest title of nobility ever granted to a Jew in the West. The first Russian Jew to be ennobled was Baron Horace *Guenzburg in 1871, while his father, Joseph Yozel *Guenzburg, was likewise created a baron three years later; shortly afterward Alexander iii made the title hereditary. The Rothschild family, ennobled in Austria early in the 19th century, bore in most countries the formal but not very meaningful hereditary title of baron. Nathaniel Mayer de Rothschild was created the first Anglo-Jewish peer in 1885 as Lord (Baron) Rothschild. Thereafter the elevation of English Jews to the peerage for social or political services was not uncommon; Rufus Isaacs, after being made baron in 1914 and viscount in 1916, was created marquis of *Reading in 1926. Similarly, Herbert *Samuel's political career was crowned by his being created Viscount Samuel in 1937. Lords Swaythling, *Melchett, Wadsworth (see Sydney James *Stern), *Silkin, M.S. *Bearsted, *Jessel, *Mancroft, and H.L. *Nathan also exemplify this process. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that many of the Jewish peerages in the English creations are now extinct through lack of male issue, while in some cases the present holders of the titles are no longer Jews. After the institution of life peerage began in England, in order to strengthen the House of Lords, a number of Jews had their distinction recognized in this fashion.

[Cecil Roth]