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The Expulsion of the Jews
THE Jews had already been settled in France for over a thousand years when Philip
Augustus came to power in 1179. This brilliant but unscrupulous ruler, then about fifteen
years of age, needed money and help to strengthen his hold on the throne and to fight the
powerful feudal barons. He gained these objectives, in part, by confiscating Jewish
wealth; thus he secured not only money but also the goodwill of the Church and of the
Christian debtors. That he himself actually believed that Jews committed ritual murders is
difficult to determine. It is sufficient to say that, in taking drastic action against his
Jewish subjects, he had recourse to such accusations.
Four months after taking over the reigns of government he imprisoned all the Jews
in his lands and released them only after a heavy ransom had been paid (1180). The next
year (1181) he annulled all loans made to Christians by Jews, taking instead a comfortable
twenty per cent for himself. A year later (1182) he confiscated all the lands and
buildings of the Jews and drove them out of the lands governed by himself directly. It is
difficult to determine if his decree affected the Jews in the baronial lands.
Several years later (1198) Philip Augustus readmitted the Jews and carefully
regulated their banking business so as to reserve large profits to himself through a
variety of taxes and duties. He made of this taxation a lucrative income for himself.
The following account describes the events leading up to the expulsion in 1182. It
is taken from the Gesta Philippi Augusti, a contemporary Latin history by the monk
Rigord who first began this chronicle about 1186. Rigord, who was rather naive, tells his
story from the point of view of a devoted son of the Church. He died some time after 1205.
[Philip Augustus had often heard] that the Jews who dwelt in Paris were wont every year
on Easter day, or during the sacred week of our Lord's Passion, to go down secretly into
underground vaults and kill a Christian as a sort of sacrifice in contempt of the
Christian religion. For a long time they had persisted in this wickedness, inspired by the
devil, and in Philip's father's time, many of them had been seized and burned with fire.
St. Richard, whose body rests in the church of the Holy Innocents-in-the-Fields in Paris,
was thus put to death and crucified by the Jews, and through martyrdom went in blessedness
to God. [Louis VII, then king, held the Jews guiltless in this death.] Wherefore many
miracles have been wrought by the hand of God through the prayers and intercessions of St.
Richard, to the glory of God, as we have heard.
And because the most Christian King Philip inquired diligently, and came to know full
well these and many other iniquities of the Jews in his forefathers' days, therefore he
burned with zeal, and in the same year in which he was invested at Rheims with the holy
governance of the kingdom of the French, upon a Sabbath, the sixteenth of February ,
by his command, the Jews throughout all France were seized in their synagogues and then
bespoiled of their gold and silver and garments, as the Jews themselves had spoiled the
Egyptians at their exodus from Egypt. This was a harbinger of their expulsion, which by
God's will soon followed. . . .
At this time [1180-1181] a great multitude of Jews had been dwelling in France for a
long time past, for they had flocked thither from divers parts of the world, because peace
abode among the French, and liberality; for the Jews had heard how the kings of the French
were prompt to act against their enemies, and were very merciful toward their subjects.
And therefore their elders and men wise in the law of Moses, who were called by the Jews didascali [teachers], made resolve to come to Paris.
When they had made a long sojourn there, they grew so rich that they claimed as their
own almost half of the whole city, and had Christians in their houses as menservants and
maidservants, who were open backsliders from the faith of Jesus Christ, and judaized with
the Jews. And this was contrary to the decree of God and the law of the Church. And
whereas the Lord had said by the mouth of Moses in Deuteronomy [23:20-21], "Thou
shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother," but "to a stranger," the Jews in
their wickedness understood by "stranger" every Christian, and they took from
the Christians their money at usury. And so heavily burdened in this wise were citizens
and soldiers and peasants in the suburbs, and in the various towns and villages, that many
of them were constrained to part with their possessions. Others were bound under oath in
houses of the Jews in Paris, held as if captives in prison. [Germanic law permitted a
creditor to hold a debtor prisoner.]
The most Christian King Philip heard of these things, and compassion was stirred within
him. He took counsel with a certain hermit, Bernard by name, a holy and religious man, who
at that time dwelt in the forest of Vincennes, and asked him what he should do. By his
advice the King released all Christians of his kingdom from their debts to the Jews, and
kept a fifth part of the whole amount for himself.
Finally came the culmination of their wickedness. Certain ecclesiastical vessels
consecrated to God-the chalices and crosses of gold and silver bearing the image of our
Lord Jesus Christ crucified -had been pledged to the Jews by way of security when the need
of the churches was pressing. These they used so vilely, in their impiety and scorn of the
Christian religion, that from the cups in which the body and blood of our Lord Jesus
Christ was consecrated they gave their children cakes soaked in wine. . . .
In the year of our Lord's Incarnation 1182, in the month of April, which is called by
the Jews Nisan, an edict went forth from the most serene king, Philip Augustus, that all
the Jews of his kingdom should be prepared to go forth by the coming feast of St. John the
Baptist [June 24]. And then the King gave them leave to sell each his movable goods before
the time fixed, that is, the feast of St. John the Baptist. But their real estate, that
is, houses, fields, vineyards, barns, winepresses, and such like, he reserved for himself
and his successors, the kings of the French. [Some of this wealth may have been used to
build the Louvre.]
When the faithless Jews heard this edict some of them were born again of water and the
Holy Spirit and converted to the Lord, remaining steadfast in the faith of our Lord Jesus
Christ. To them the King, out of regard for the Christian religion, restored all their
possessions in their entirety, and gave them perpetual liberty.
Others were blinded by their ancient error and persisted in their perfidy; and they
sought to win with gifts and golden promises the great of the land-counts, barons,
archbishops, bishops-that through their influence and advice, and through the promise of
infinite wealth, they might turn the King's mind from his firm intention. [The lords
appealed to were the political enemies of the king.] But the merciful and compassionate
God, who does not forsake those who put their hope in Him and who doth humble those who
glory in their strength so fortified the illustrious King that he could not be moved by
prayers nor promises of temporal things. . . .
The infidel Jews, perceiving that the great of the land, through whom they had been
accustomed easily to bend the King's predecessors to their will, had suffered repulse, and
astonished and stupefied by the strength of mind of Philip the King and his constancy in
the Lord, exclaimed with a certain admiration: "Shema Israel!"[that is,
"Here O Israel"] and prepared to sell all their household goods. The time was
now at hand when the King had ordered them to leave France altogether, and it could not be
in any way prolonged. Then did the Jews sell all their movable possessions in great haste,
while their landed property reverted to the crown. Thus the Jews, having sold their goods
and taken the price for the expenses of their journey, departed with their wives and
children and all their households in the aforesaid year of the Lord 1182.
READINGS FOR ADVANCED STUDENTS
Graetz, III, pp. 400-407; Graetz-Rhine, III, pp. 241-245; Margolis and Marx, pp.
Milman, H. H., The History of the Jews, II, Book xxiv, pp. 315-318.
ADDITIONAL SOURCE MATERIALS IN ENGLISH
Grayzel, S., The Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century. Contains the Latin
texts and translations of many documents dealing with the status of the Jews in France in
the time of Philip Augustus. See Index under "Philip, King of France, II
"Jews, Crusades, and Usury, Paris XIIth and XIlIth centuries," History
Reference Council Bulletin, nos. 95-96. The Bulletins of the History Reference
Council, 14 Kirkland Place, Cambridge, Mass., are useful for source materials.
Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York:
JPS, 1938), 24-27
Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that
the copyright was renewed)
This text is part of the Internet Jewish History
Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts
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© Paul Halsall, July1998