Previously expelled in 1182 and 1306 but allowed to return, the expulsion of 1394 was sporadically applied and renewed again in 1498 and 1615. Jews were not permitted officially to settle again in France until 25 September 1675. They were given full citizenship in 1791.
Expulsion of 1394
On 17 September 1394,s Charles VI suddenly published an ordinance in which he declared, in substance, that for a long time he had been taking note of the many complaints provoked by the excesses and misdemeanors which the Jews committed against Christians; and that the prosecutors, having made several investigations, had discovered many violations by the Jews of the agreement they had made with him. Therefore, he decreed as an irrevocable law and statute that thenceforth no Jew should dwell in his domains (“Ordonnances”, vii. 675). The king signed this decree at the instance of the queen (“Chron. de Charles VI.” ii. 119).
The decree was not immediately enforced, a respite being granted to the Jews in order that they might sell their property and pay their debts. Those indebted to them were enjoined to redeem their obligations within a set time; otherwise their pledges held in pawn were to be sold by the Jews. The provost was to escort the Jews to the frontier of the kingdom. Subsequently the king released the Christians from their debts.
Prayer and reflection. After forced disputations, the burning of the Talmud, and the accusations that the Jews were responsible for the Black Death, it comes as no surprise that the Jews faced the same fate in France as they did in England, Germany, Spain, Portugal and throughout Europe. The underlying economic reasons were also drivers for such actions, with King and nobility gaining much from the seizure of their assets and cancelling of debts.
Lord, help us to forgive those who sin against us, even as you taught us to pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. Even today, may your church be cleansed, healed, forgiven and renewed, and freed from all prejudice and discrimination against the stranger, refugee and asylum seeker. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen,
Events leading to the expulsion
Philip IV of France
During the first half of the 13th century the attitude of the Church towards Jews hardened from disapproval to loathing. On 22 July, 1306 King Philip IV of France expelled all Jews from his kingdom.
King Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair, came to the throne in 1285. A few years later, in 1290, Jews living in England were expelled by King Edward I, many of them moving to France. Unfortunately for the Jews, France had its own history of persecution.
The Lateran Council of 1215 summoned by Pope Innocent III forbade the living or working together and trading between Jews and Christians. Jews were excluded from all trades except pawn broking and working with old clothes. They had to wear a special garment to differentiate them from Christians. This applied throughout the Christian world wherever canon law was followed.
This period included an infamous two year disputation of the Talmud which led to the burning of 20 cartloads of the holy book in Paris in 1242. Jews had been expelled from France in 1182 by an earlier King Philip and regularly throughout the 13th century but within a few years they were allowed back.
They acted as tax collectors for the king but this role was gradually taken over by Italian bankers. So by the beginning of the 14th century they were no longer indispensable to the crown.
King Philip expels the Jews
Pope Innocent III
In 1306 King Philip was short of money due to a war with the Flemish and a complex currency revaluation problem. It was against this financial background that King Philip came up with the plan to expel the Jews of France and confiscate and sell off their property.
This was a normal event in mediaeval times. It was perfectly legal for the King to take over the Jews’ possessions as they were in effect already his property. Jews were regarded as ‘servi camerae nostrae’, the Latin for ‘servants of our chamber’. They were the King’s chattel to do with as he saw fit. They had until this time also been entitled to his protection. King Philip saw the Jews as a liability with which he wanted to deal and an asset which he needed to realise. They had been tolerated, because of their material usefulness, but never accepted.
In January of 1306 King Philip set up a secret plan to strip the Jews of their belongings and expel them from the country. If any were to be found after a particular date then they would be killed.
100,000 Jews were arrested on July 22nd 1306. This was the day after the solemn fast of the 9th of Av which has often seen calamitous occurrences for Jews. It was possible to complete the arrests in one day because the orders had been kept secret. The authorities knew the whereabouts of the Jews and they were taken by surprise.
When in prison the Jews were told that they were sentenced to exile. They had to leave behind their belongings and debts and were to be allowed to leave the country only with the clothes they were wearing and a small sum of money. They were permitted 12 sous each. They were then given a period of one month in which to flee or face the consequences. However it took until the October for the expulsions to be complete due to the noting and processing of the assets concerned.
All the Jews’ belongings were auctioned. The King took the proceeds. All debts to the Jews were transferred to the King and he received the payments from their Christian debtors.
In order to maximise the profit, the King made sure the sale happened at the same time that a new edict forbidding coin clipping came into force. Endemic in the middle ages, coin clipping involved shaving off a tiny part of the precious metal of the coin and melting the collected clippings down to sell. Philip also offered a bounty of 20% to anyone who discovered any wealth that the Jews had secreted.
In taking this action and removing one of the main sources of finance in his kingdom the King was taking a desperate step.
Though the Kingdom of France had expanded during the 13th century the Jews were allowed to remain in areas outside the realm. These were Lorraine, the county of Burgundy, Savoy, Dauphiné, Roussillon, and the papal lands at Avignon.
Although the expulsion was quick the auctions took a long time. They were still happening at the time of King Philip’s death. He was succeeded by his son Louis who in 1315 reversed the decree. However by 1322 the Jews were banished once more. This was part of a pattern of expulsion and return. It concluded with the expulsion of 1394. This is accepted as the date of the last expulsion from France in the mediaeval period. They returned over the following centuries as the kingdom expanded into areas to which they had fled.