From C. W. Previté-Orton, The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 704.
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The Jewish role in what is now called France, and the consequent history of Jewish medieval seals in that country, varies from the English experience because France became a unified national state much later than England. The northern and southern parts were in reality several different lands throughout much of the Middle Ages—or, more precisely, two different linguistic areas composed of various duchies and counties with similar characteristics. One might say that political and cultural imperialism created present-day France, and the process was long and often bloody. The kings of France throughout this period, despite the undoubted claim of vassalage, had only nominal control over much of the extreme eastern and western parts of the north and little over the south. Thus when a policy was stated by a French king, such as that no Jew could own a seal, this decree was enforced in the northern royal domain around Paris and Orléans, was only partly meaningful in the feudal dukedoms abutting the royal realm, and had hardly any force in many other parts of the area of modern France. The English controlled territory in southwestern France along the Atlantic coast during most of the late medieval period; Brittany was absorbed into the domain of France only at the very end of the Middle Ages, and provinces such as Alsace and Lorraine became “French” relatively recently, thus the evidence of Jewish presence and Jewish seals in defiance of or indifference to French monarchial decrees, expulsions, and rigid controls.
Jewish personal seals from France are mainly known from the original matrices or isolated impressions; only rarely do we have impressions appended to extant documents, so that they cannot readily be put into proper historical context. This may be because of the incomplete records of French municipal archives and the indifferent cataloging of many provincial museums. (A difference between Latin and German legal procedures is also involved, as will be discussed below.) It is often possible to reconstruct, with a considerable degree of accuracy, the history of German medieval Jewry through the evidence from the many sealed documents, but the study of French medieval Jewish seals has been largely limited to an indifferent listing of small historical relevance.
The writer would like to acknowledge the extraordinary work of Bernhard Blumenkranz, of the Commission française des archives juives, in drawing up a comprehensive catalogue of thirty-one seals of French medieval Jews and seals related to Jews (see his 1965–66 publication in the Bibliography to this volume). Wherever this writer differs with Bernhard Blumenkranz’s view, it is pointed out. The writer would also like to express his gratitude to Brigitte Bedos (now Mrs. Ira Rezak), former curator of the Service of Seals at the National Archives of France, who went far beyond the normal courtesies to help in the research for this book. A remarkable series of essays on medieval French Jewry was published in 1980 (see the Bibliography to this volume) under the editorship of the redoubtable Dr. Blumenkranz, in which the chapter contributed by Brigitte Bedos brings his earlier catalogue up to date.