Philip IV of France was nicknamed “the Fair” for his looks and not because of his character. Throughout his reign, the king fought wars with Edward I of England and Edward’s ally, the Count of Flanders. These wars required money, so he turned to get-rich-quick schemes that involved the imposition of special taxes on the church in France and confiscation of the properties of the Knights Templar. Jews were also driven from France in 1306 on the orders of Philip IV. He then seized their properties to fund his wars and pay off his debts. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History during that time.
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The Jews in Gaul
It is not known exactly when the Jews came to the province of Gaul (France) when Rome ruled the area. Many of them fled to the region after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 during the reign of Emperor Titus. In the years that followed, Jews from Palestine as well as from other regions joined the first waves of migrants in Gaul.
The number of Jews in Gaul during the early days of Christianity were modest. They enjoyed the freedom and other privileges of any other Roman citizens. Mass persecutions was unheard of, and they had freedom to worship. They were allowed to work in any jobs that they liked and were not restricted to banking and moneylending. They also mingled with the population freely as they did not dress differently from others.
Frankish Rule: Merovingian Period and Carolingian Domination
The Franks wrested a large portion of Gaul from the Romans during the fifth century. They practiced paganism at first, but they later became Christians when Merovingian king Clovis converted to the faith. Jews and Christians continued to live peacefully during the early days of Frankish rule.
The status of the Jews slowly changed during the reign of succeeding Frankish rulers. Over the years, Jews were not allowed to hold public offices. They were also forbidden to own Christian slaves, while Jewish-Christian marriages were also not allowed. They were also prohibited from working as tax collectors or as judges.
Their lives improved during the reign of the Carolingian king Charlemagne. The Jews of France were allowed to trade goods all over the Mediterranean and due to this they became prosperous. Their good situation in France attracted more Jews to the area. They were allowed to own slaves once again but were forbidden to sell them in other countries. However, their privileged position came with a price.
The Jews’ good fortune ended during the reign of Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious. Anti-Jewish clerics, such as Bishop Abogard and Archbishop Amulo, became dominant in Francia. Jews were sometimes accused of disloyalty to the Frankish rulers. The Carolingian Period was also the time when the Franks were hostile to the Jews because some of their ancestors took part in the crucifixion of Jesus. Some cities even had anti-Jewish riots which were sometimes led by bishops.
In 876, the bishop of Sens commanded the Jews and nuns of the commune to leave. Twenty-two years later, Charles the Simple assigned a part of the Jews’ income to the local church. Although there were incidents of conflicts, the Jews were still allowed to own farms, buildings, and vineyards. Some of them practiced medicine and became advisers to the kings and bishops. Many Jews were also bankers, moneylenders, and pawnbrokers.
Hostilities against the Jews started in earnest during the Capetian Period. The Capetian king Philip II Augustus was involved in a fight against the French barons. Determined to hold on to the throne, he enriched himself at the expense of the Jews. In 1182, he drove them from his domain and confiscated their property. His strategy backfired when the Jews went to his rivals and served them instead. In 1198, he finally allowed them to return to his domain. But he controlled their banking business so that he could profit from them again in the form of taxes.
In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council under Pope Innocent III made the situation of the Jews more difficult. The Council issued several decrees which limited what the Jews could and could not do. The canons included:
* Jews and Muslims must dress in a way that would distinguish themselves from Christians.
* They were prohibited from being seen in public during Palm Sunday. The rule also applied during Holy Thursday up to Black Saturday.
* Jews were forbidden to accept positions in public offices.
* They were not allowed to charge high interests for loans.
Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.
During the reign of Louis IX, the Jews were nothing more than serfs in France. Their movement within France were restricted. They were not allowed to leave the royal domains without the overlord’s permission. They were also taxed whenever the king or baron liked.
In the Treaty of Melun in 1230, the French barons canceled all their obligations to repay the interests that they owed to the Jews. The barons agreed that all debts to Jews should be paid in three installments that would last until 1233 to ease their own burdens. The following year, Louis IX canceled one-third of all debts the people owed to the Jews. He also prohibited the Jews from lending with interest in 1254. As a result, the Jews could also not repay their own debts, so the crown seized their properties.
Apart from accusations of usury, rumors that Jews were involved in ritual murder began to spread in England and France. The persecution also carried over to religion when Talmudic manuscripts were burned in Place de Greve in Paris in 1242 or 1244. Other texts considered blasphemous or offensive to Christianity were also burned. In 1268, Louis IX’s brother Alphonse, Count of Poitiers, rounded up the Jews in his land and confiscated their property.
Philip IV the Fair
The Jews’ fortunes worsened during the reign of Philip IV the Fair. He became involved in wars with Edward I of England and the English king’s ally after he seized Gascony. The wars with England and Flanders were expensive, so he decided to impose a special tax on the church first. But he was not satisfied with the special tax on the church, especially after Pope Boniface VIII protested.
Philip saw that two of the richest sectors in France were the Knights Templar and the Jews. With the help of Pope Clement V, Philip arrested the knights and dissolved the Order. He also seized the wealth of the Knights Templar. He also secretly schemed to have the Jews expelled from France so he could seize their properties in January, 1306.
In July of the same year, the Jews were taken by surprise when thousands of them were arrested and imprisoned. While imprisoned, they were told that they should leave the kingdom and that they could only take a small amount of money plus the clothes on their back. The last Jew left in October 1306, and their properties were auctioned off by Philip IV the Fair.
Picture by: Michaelsanders at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Aḥituv, Shmuel, and Yohanan Aharoni. The Jewish People: An Illustrated History. Edited by Shmuel Ahituv. London: A&C Black, 2006.
Benbassa, Esther. The Jews of France: A History from Antiquity to the Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Halsall, Paul. “Jewish History Sourcebook: The Expulsion of the Jews from France, 1182 CE.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Accessed January 11, 2017. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/1182-jewsfrance1.asp.
Malamat, Abraham, and Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson. A History of the Jewish People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976.
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