Chapter 1: Back in England, 1572
The weather had been glorious ever since they had left the port of Jaffa five weeks earlier. But despite all the smooth sailing, there was no sense of calm for the two principal passengers on board, Maria and William Ames. In fact, they had rarely felt as disturbed as they had on this otherwise peaceful voyage.
They were leaving the Holy Land forever, abandoning their dreams of building a Jewish refuge there for victims of the Inquisition. But as painful as that disappointment was, it was overshadowed by a more immediate threat. Will and Maria knew that once they disembarked in London, they would face the likelihood of nancial ruin and exile.
Jews were not allowed to live in England. A few hundred Jews did live there illegally, but they were discreet in their reli- gious observance and maintained a supercial Christianity. As a result, few of their fellow English citizens minded their presence very much nor caused them more than a moderate amount of trouble.
But unlike their coreligionists, Will and Maria were not very discreet in their Jewish practices. They believed that their prominent position in society and their powerful friends would protect them. They were partially right—they were safe for a while. However, when their personal lawyer, Nigel Chamberlain, sought revenge after they dismissed him, they became vulnerable.
Mr. Chamberlain had anticipated his termination since he and Maria were having increasingly tense disagreements over his fees. So, he began to prepare his revenge months before he was actually told to leave. He bribed their butler to record the times and dates of their Jewish rituals, and to copy or steal any documents that would prove their illegal Jewish identity.
By the time Maria nally dismissed Chamberlain on the eve of their voyage to Jaa, the disgruntled lawyer had obtained a large cache of material proving that Will and Maria were secret Jews.
Chamberlain then presented this evidence to the appropriate English court while Will and Maria were away in the Holy Land. Using all of his legal skills, he made a strong case that these illegal residents—his former employers—should be stripped of their extensive business holdings and expelled from the country. He also asked that ten percent of their conscated wealth be given to him as a reward for his ferreting out these hidden Jews.
Word of the trouble Nigel Chamberlain was stirring up for them reached Will and Maria as they were about to leave Tiberias. During their entire voyage back to London, they tried to think of the best way they could respond to their looming legal diculties. They came to no conclusion about strategy, but they did agree about whom they should consult.
Will was one of the most sought-after physicians in all of England, and one of his patients, Robert Shaw, was a successful lawyer. As soon as the couple got o their ship, they went to see Mr. Shaw in his oce and asked him to help them with their legal problems.
“Before we talk business,” Mr. Shaw said to Will, “I want to make sure your wife is comfortable.” He looked towards Maria with concern. “Mrs. Ames, may I get you a softer chair, perhaps something to drink?”
Maria was conspicuously pregnant with her rst child, in the middle of her eighth month, and she was admittedly off-center and unwieldy in her movements. Otherwise, she felt fine and in no need of anyone’s help. But she enjoyed the pampering she had recently been receiving from her husband and many others.
She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Shaw. This chair suits me perfectly, so there is no reason to bring in another. But a cup of brewed ginger would be lovely.”
The lawyer rose from his chair and went to tell his secretary to prepare the drink. He then returned to his seat and asked about their recent trip to the Holy Land. He insisted on not speaking about legal matters until the beverage arrived.
Will and Maria were almost certain that no one in England knew about Maria’s eorts to establish Tiberias as a place of refuge for Jews escaping the Inquisition. If possible, they wanted to keep it that way, even when speaking to their most trusted friends. In an unguarded moment, word of Maria’s Ti- berias project might leak out and further provoke their anti- Jewish adversaries. So they answered their lawyer’s friendly questions with vague generalities.
When the ginger brew arrived, Will carefully filled Maria’s cup. Robert Shaw was now ready to get down to business.
Will quickly explained their situation, and before he had finished, he saw all the color drain from the lawyer’s face.
“I’m not sure you want me to represent you, Doctor and Mrs. Ames.”
“Why not? And please call me ‘Will,’” he added.
“Although my wife is a devout Protestant, her parents are not. They have been fined and imprisoned multiple times as re- cusants because they insist on adhering to Catholic rituals and refuse to conform to the Protestant practices of the Church of England. With in-laws like that, I don’t think I would get a very sympathetic hearing in an English court on matters of religion. You must get someone else. I can recommend lawyers from solid Protestant families if you’d like. I assure you they are all very good advocates.”
Will shook his head. “Robert, I respectfully disagree. I believe all of your most successful colleagues are also patients of mine. I don’t think I’m revealing anything condential or otherwise prohibited by my Hippocratic Oath when I tell you that none of them is as intelligent nor as wise as you are. Besides, your family’s religious background is a two-edged sword. I believe it will give you an added motivation in your work for our defence. That will more than compensate for whatever biases the judges may have.”
Robert sighed in frustration. “Unfortunately, Will, I know you are wrong. But I also know you are as stubborn as a mule, so there is no sense in arguing this any further. I just want to be clear. By hiring me, you are, I am certain, giving the judges one more reason to convict you.”
Maria smiled and spoke up. “Mr. Shaw, we are equally cer- tain that if we are to have any chance at all of a successful de- fence, you must be the one to lead it. And I hope you will call me ‘Maria’ as we move forward.”
“Very well,” he said with a sigh. “I’ll have my secretary draw up the necessary papers, and then we can get to work.”
Robert asked them to describe the type of evidence they thought Chamberlain might be presenting against them. After abouttenminutesoftheirexplanation,hesaid,“This case is impossible to defend. You two are as guilty as sin.”
Will’s face was expressionless. The only hint that he was oended was the slight tremor in his voice as he answered: “The statute outlawing Judaism is a sin, not anything we did.”
For a few moments, Robert did not move at all, appearing frozen in place. Then, after a few seconds, he sat back deeper into his chair and was silent for the longest time.
Finally, Will asked him, “What’s the matter?”
“You are the matter, Will. Or, more precisely your use of the term ‘statute.’”
“Why is that a problem?”
“Because I think the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from England may not qualify as an unassailable statute. It was issued by King Edward I in 1290, but it was never an act of Parlia- ment. That means its legal foundation is not as strong as is com- monly assumed.”
Maria doubted that this historical background had any significance. In a skeptical tone, she asked, “How does that help us?”
“It gives us some flexibility in interpretation. And what gives us additional flexibility is the fact that somewhere along the way, during the last two and three-quarters centuries, the document was lost. So, no one knows its exact wording.”
Maria remained unimpressed. “But everyone knows it expelled the Jews from England. No matter how creative your in- terpretive powers are, there is no doubt that the edict forbade Jews to live in England.”
Robert began to smile. “That’s true. But from a legal point of view, where there is ambiguity, there is hope. And nothing is more ambiguous than a text no one can nd. Therefore, I think we have a chance—with enough ingenuity and a bit of luck, we just might nd a way to get the charges against you dropped.”
Maria was still skeptical, but she was also curious. “How come you know so much about the history of the Edict of Expulsion?”
Robert chuckled. “My son had a tutor’s assignment about King Edward’s participation in the Ninth Crusade to the Holy Land, and he asked me to help him do some research on it. That led me to investigate King Edward’s attitude towards Jews inside and outside of the Holy Land. And that’s when I stumbled upon these two facts: the Edict of Expulsion has never been en- dorsed by Parliament, and its text has been lost.”
Maria turned to see what Will might be thinking. With his hand covering his mouth and his elbow on the wooden armrest of his chair, Will took some time to ponder, but then he lowered his hand and revealed a smile of his own.
“You see? I told you that you were the right man for this job. I think your research and reasoning are brilliant.”
“I’m glad you think so, but that doesn’t count for much. What matters is what the judges think.”
Robert closed his eyes for a few moments of his own reflection. When he opened them again, Maria thought she could detect a sly twinkle.
“Judges are little more than politicians in grey wigs and black robes,” Shaw said. “If I can make it politically advanta- geous for them to drop the charges against you, I believe they might give a sympathetic hearing to any legal reasoning I offer.”
“How can you do that?” Will asked.
“I have some ideas I want to work on. In the meantime, you and Maria should go home and get some rest after your journey. I’m not guaranteeing a legal victory, but I can honestly say that I believe victory is possible. I think we really have a chance.”