The first Jew to be knighted by a monarch of England was not himself English. But, then again, neither was the king!
In 1688, Willem the Third of the Dutch Republic conquered England in an invasion now known as “The Glorious Revolution.” Along with King William III, as he became known in English history, came his financier and war contractor, Solomon de Median. Interestingly, his birth name was actually Diego de Medina, and he was born in Bordeaux around 1650.
Although he is referred to in written records as “the Jew Medina,” de Medina had a special relationship with William III. It is even noted that in 1699, the king once dined at de Medina’s home (also the first time an English king is recorded visiting a Jew). The visit was most likely motivated by the king seeking funds that had been denied him by parliament. De Medina’s knighthood followed not long thereafter, on June 23, 1700.
Sir Solomon de Medina did not stay long in England, but he did play a further important role in the country’s history by assisting the Duke of Marlborough during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). He not only accompanied the Duke and assisted him financially, but, more importantly, according to the report of the Duke to Parliament, he also provided vital information through a communication system that was far faster than the official channels.
It is particularly noteworthy that despite his many outside business, political and social obligations, de Medina remained loyal and active in the Jewish community and was a major contributor to London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue. Not long after the start of the War of Spanish Succession, however, de Medina returned to Amsterdam. He continued his business from there with the assistance of his son-in-law who acted as his London agent. Sir Simon de Medina died in Amsterdam, some say penniless, on September 13, 1730.