On July 22, 1306, the Jews were expelled from France. It wasn't the first time this happened, nor would it be the last. Nine years later they were permitted to return before being banished again in 1322. But at the time it was the largest expulsion ever endured by the Jews in Europe, up to an estimated 100,000 people.
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King Philip IV was the French monarch who ordered the expulsion. Also known as “the Fair,” Philip, who ruled from 1285 to 1314, was dedicated to commemorating the memory of his grandfather, the pious King Louis IX – a tireless persecutor of the Jews. He was instrumental in having the pope canonize his grandfather – hence St. Louis – and was determined that France under his rule would be the “most Christian realm.”
A true believer
Conventional historical wisdom says Philip’s decision to exile the Jews was mainly financial in intent – he needed to finance his foreign military adventures, which included a recent and costly campaign in Flanders. But historian Elizabeth A.R. Brown (writing in “Medieval Jewish Civilization,” an encyclopedia) says there is evidence that the king truly believed the Jews were evil and thus a danger to his rule.
In this he is said to have been influenced by the influential Franciscan philosopher Ramon Llull, who called for the expulsion from Christendom of Jews who were unwilling to convert.
This approach, explains Brown, meant Philip was willing to contradict the Augustinian principle that viewed the presence of the Jews in a degraded state as beneficial. Under this thinking, Jewish suffering served as testimony to their error in rejecting Jesus as the messiah and allowed for the possibility of eventual conversion.
Even before 1306, Philip had taken a number of harsh measures against the Jews. He insisted they wear the badge that Louis IX had first demanded – and pay a fine for having to wear it. He placed restrictions on where they could live and on the contacts they were permitted to have with Christians.
Also, in 1291, he had already agreed to the request of the residents of two regions in the south to banish their Jews.
Outdoing the English and the pope
Philip’s cousin Edward I, the king of England, had banished the Jews from his realm just 16 years earlier. Not only had Philip refused to accept any of those expellees into his realm, but he was also determined in general to outdo Edward, against whom he had gone to war in 1294 (until 1303).
Philip was also in an ongoing confrontation with the pope, Boniface VIII. He accused the pontiff of both immorality and heresy, and was determined to supersede him as both political and spiritual leader of his people. His determination to eliminate the Jews can thus be seen as an expression of his desire to be seen as supreme defender of the Christian faith.
July 22, 1306, was the day after Tisha B’Av, the day in the Hebrew calendar when tradition says both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, and many other calamities befell the Jews. The expulsion began with the mass arrest of France’s Jews, who were informed of their banishment and of the fact they had to leave behind nearly everything they owned.
The debts owed to Jewish moneylenders were assumed by the king, who was now to be paid back without interest, and the rest of their possessions were to be sold off.
The liquidation of the Jews’ property was an arduous process, and there were many cases of Jews being permitted to remain, or to return, to France, in order to collect debts still owed them. This way the money could be transferred to the king. By 1311, however, the last of them was gone.
Philip died in 1314 and was succeeded by his son, Louis X. Though Louis ruled for less than two years, his reign included the readmission of the Jews, in 1315. He explained his decision by his hope of seeing them convert to Christianity, but their return was accompanied by a financial arrangement that promised the royal treasury the means to bankroll a new campaign against Flanders.