publisher colophon

Conclusions Regarding Jewish State Seals

At some point, either late in the twelfth or very early in the thirteenth century in France, King Philip Augustus prohibited Jews from having personal seals in his realm—at least in matters involving the lending of money—and ordained the use of a royal seal to validate Jewish debt documents. The charter is dated September 1, without a year. Eusèbe Jacob de Laurière, a French juridical historian, compiled the ordinances of the French monarchs, summarizing their substance both in Latin and French (1723, pp. 44–45). The part of this ordinance relevant to sealing, De Laurière tells us, mandated that the Jews should seal all their obligations on a day fixed by the bailiffs of the king in France, and in the duchy of Normandy; thereafter, they would no longer be able to claim anything for collection by virtue of the old seal. The king provided for a new procedure: in each country seat two men of probity would safeguard the seal for the Jews, which would be used exclusively to stamp Jewish debt documents.

Though De Laurière did not fix a date for this September 1 ordinance, we can arrive at an approximate date with relative ease. The Jews were expelled from the royal realm in 1182 and were not readmitted until July of 1198. Obviously, a seal for Jewish debts would not be issued if no Jews were allowed in France. The French budget of 1202–3 already indicates, as a source of revenue, monies received from the affixing of the royal seal (see Chazan, 1973, p. 78). We also know that a seal for the Jews was used at Provins in February of 1203 (New Style dating); Champagne, though an independent county, followed France in such matters. Thus, this undated September ordinance must have been mandated during the period 1198–1202.

De Laurière (p. 47) also quotes an ordinance of Louis VIII in 1223 whereby the French monarch decreed that the Jews in the future would not have a seal to validate their obligations as creditors. Thus it appears that the special royal seal for the Jews remained in existence for about twenty years before it was eliminated in favor of registering debt documents with the feudal lords, who almost surely sealed the relevant documents thereafter with their own seals.

In conclusion, the evidence seems to indicate that the Jews were allowed to have personal seals in royal France before the 1182 expulsion, and that from around 1200 to 1223 they had to use a specially approved royal seal for Jewish debts. After 1223 they were then made to register debt obligations at the feudal courts. It should not be forgotten, however, that the geographical entity now known as France varied greatly in physical size and authority according to the century, the king’s domain sometimes only extending a short distance outside Paris and at other times encompassing the greater part of that country. Further, Jewish seals were prohibited only for use in validating debts, leaving open the possibility that such seals were permitted (both before and after the decree by Philip Augustus) in personal non-financial matters.

This writer believes that the ordinance issued by Philip Augustus around 1200 was probably a part of the conditions relating to the return of the Jews to the royal domain. Earlier Jewish charters in northern Europe, where Germanic custom was followed, stipulated various community rights and privileges recognized by the sovereign. Individual Jews, being treated in fact (though not necessarily in law) as free men and subject only to the king (literally, the king’s men), were allowed to use seals. When Philip Augustus permitted the Jews to return in 1198, he deliberately attempted to redefine their status, either at that time or shortly thereafter, taking away certain prerogatives accepted by custom. One aspect of this degraded condition was the removal of their right to use legally valid personal seals.* By 1230 their situation was already defined as that of serfs, as can be seen in an ordinance of Louis IX (De Laurière, 1723, p. 53), who, when forbidding Jews belonging to one lord to flee to the lands of another, referred to them as tanquam proprium servum, that is, “just like his own serf.”

The validity of quittances involving Jews was extremely important. Once Jewish personal seals were prohibited, a mechanism had to be found to deal with this problem. That some special seal, or special arrangement involving sealing, for these quittances was required right through to the final expulsion is supported by known facts. A rather favorable charter, from the point of view of the Jews, was negotiated when they were allowed to return to the royal realm in 1361, the prelude to the final expulsion some thirty years later. The re-entry was only possible because of King John II’s desperate need for money to pay his ransom to the English, who had captured him in battle. Item 25 of this 1361 agreement gave authority to notaries and deed recorders to take down in writing contracts involving Jews, but Item 28, referring to this matter, stated that they “can be confirmed by charters and registers, provided they are transcribed under executed royal seals confirmed to them by us.” Thus, in the last period of Jewish life in France before the final expulsion, documents dealing with Jewish money matters again required a royal seal.

There is some historical evidence as to the background of events in this final period of the Jewish presence in France. The Lombards were given permits to settle and establish moneylending monopolies in various cities in northern France toward the end of the fourteenth century. Amiens, Abbeville, and Meaux fell to them in 1378, Troyes in 1380; in 1382 they were brought into Paris itself. Before this, the spasmodic Jewish expulsions were countermanded in a few years by the French monarchs because of their need for revenue. Now the English situation repeated itself, for, with authorized Christian usurers replacing them, the Jews were no longer needed.* Again, as in England, the records of this period indicate desperate though unheeded appeals from the Jews, who saw their livelihood being destroyed while at the same time they were forbidden to enter or hindered from entering other trades. The ultimate blow fell in 1395, just a little over a century after the final expulsion from England.

The final expulsion decree from France also gives us an inkling of why so few documents with royal seals for the Jews are extant. King Charles VI, when ordering this last exodus, ordained that all deeds which could be discovered, and which might be considered as evidence of debts still outstanding, were to be collected and burned; and this might have been standard practice. Supporting this position is the ordinance of Louis IX dated December, 1230, which outlawed Jewish debts and stipulated that “the Jews will give over their notes or their obligations to their Lords” (De Laurière, 1723, p. 53), the obvious reason for which would be to destroy them.


The date of 1206 is often given by historians, but this is the date of another document with similar provisions issued in the names of Philip Augustus, Blanche of Champagne, and Guy of Dampierre, apparently regularizing a previous informal agreement to act together in the matter of Jewish loans.

*For a fuller discussion of this point, see “Tanquam Servi: The Change in Jewish Status in French Law about 1200,” by Gavin I. Langmuir (in Yardeni, 1980, pp. 24–54). Langmuir emphasizes that the use of the word “serf,” when applied to a Jew, is only a simile, and that even as a simile it is inaccurate in that the Jews did not have the traditional servile obligations to a lord, but were a separate class outside the law common to others.

Pope Innocent III in 1205 complained that in the French realm Christian witnesses were not believed because of these quittances: “If the Christians to whom they have loaned money on usury, bring Christian witnesses about the facts in the case [the Jews] are given more credence because of the document which the indiscreet debtor had left with them through negligence or carelessness, than are the Christians through the witnesses produced” (Grayzel, 1933, pp. 106–7). This statement also tells us a great deal about the thinking of this pope.

*Felix Bourquelot makes quite clear the process by which the Lombards replaced the Jews. Referring to the fairs at Champagne, he writes: “While the Jews came to the fairs to enrich themselves by usury, the Italians indulge in more licit operations; the pope protects their actions, and, when they complain with him on their behalf regarding some injury to their interests, we see him launch immediately a threat of excommunication against those of whom they complain” (1839–40, 1:414).

The date of 1206 is often given by historians, but this is the date of another document with similar provisions issued in the names of Philip Augustus, Blanche of Champagne, and Guy of Dampierre, apparently regularizing a previous informal agreement to act together in the matter of Jewish loans.

*For a fuller discussion of this point, see “Tanquam Servi: The Change in Jewish Status in French Law about 1200,” by Gavin I. Langmuir (in Yardeni, 1980, pp. 24–54). Langmuir emphasizes that the use of the word “serf,” when applied to a Jew, is only a simile, and that even as a simile it is inaccurate in that the Jews did not have the traditional servile obligations to a lord, but were a separate class outside the law common to others.

Pope Innocent III in 1205 complained that in the French realm Christian witnesses were not believed because of these quittances: “If the Christians to whom they have loaned money on usury, bring Christian witnesses about the facts in the case [the Jews] are given more credence because of the document which the indiscreet debtor had left with them through negligence or carelessness, than are the Christians through the witnesses produced” (Grayzel, 1933, pp. 106–7). This statement also tells us a great deal about the thinking of this pope.

*Felix Bourquelot makes quite clear the process by which the Lombards replaced the Jews. Referring to the fairs at Champagne, he writes: “While the Jews came to the fairs to enrich themselves by usury, the Italians indulge in more licit operations; the pope protects their actions, and, when they complain with him on their behalf regarding some injury to their interests, we see him launch immediately a threat of excommunication against those of whom they complain” (1839–40, 1:414).

Though De Laurière did not fix a date for this September 1 ordinance, we can arrive at an approximate date with relative ease. The Jews were expelled from the royal realm in 1182 and were not readmitted until July of 1198. Obviously, a seal for Jewish debts would not be issued if no Jews were allowed in France. The French budget of 1202–3 already indicates, as a source of revenue, monies received from the affixing of the royal seal (see Chazan, 1973, p. 78). We also know that a seal for the Jews was used at Provins in February of 1203 (New Style dating); Champagne, though an independent county, followed France in such matters. Thus, this undated September ordinance must have been mandated during the period 1198–1202.

This writer believes that the ordinance issued by Philip Augustus around 1200 was probably a part of the conditions relating to the return of the Jews to the royal domain. Earlier Jewish charters in northern Europe, where Germanic custom was followed, stipulated various community rights and privileges recognized by the sovereign. Individual Jews, being treated in fact (though not necessarily in law) as free men and subject only to the king (literally, the king’s men), were allowed to use seals. When Philip Augustus permitted the Jews to return in 1198, he deliberately attempted to redefine their status, either at that time or shortly thereafter, taking away certain prerogatives accepted by custom. One aspect of this degraded condition was the removal of their right to use legally valid personal seals.* By 1230 their situation was already defined as that of serfs, as can be seen in an ordinance of Louis IX (De Laurière, 1723, p. 53), who, when forbidding Jews belonging to one lord to flee to the lands of another, referred to them as tanquam proprium servum, that is, “just like his own serf.”

The validity of quittances involving Jews was extremely important. Once Jewish personal seals were prohibited, a mechanism had to be found to deal with this problem. That some special seal, or special arrangement involving sealing, for these quittances was required right through to the final expulsion is supported by known facts. A rather favorable charter, from the point of view of the Jews, was negotiated when they were allowed to return to the royal realm in 1361, the prelude to the final expulsion some thirty years later. The re-entry was only possible because of King John II’s desperate need for money to pay his ransom to the English, who had captured him in battle. Item 25 of this 1361 agreement gave authority to notaries and deed recorders to take down in writing contracts involving Jews, but Item 28, referring to this matter, stated that they “can be confirmed by charters and registers, provided they are transcribed under executed royal seals confirmed to them by us.” Thus, in the last period of Jewish life in France before the final expulsion, documents dealing with Jewish money matters again required a royal seal.

There is some historical evidence as to the background of events in this final period of the Jewish presence in France. The Lombards were given permits to settle and establish moneylending monopolies in various cities in northern France toward the end of the fourteenth century. Amiens, Abbeville, and Meaux fell to them in 1378, Troyes in 1380; in 1382 they were brought into Paris itself. Before this, the spasmodic Jewish expulsions were countermanded in a few years by the French monarchs because of their need for revenue. Now the English situation repeated itself, for, with authorized Christian usurers replacing them, the Jews were no longer needed.* Again, as in England, the records of this period indicate desperate though unheeded appeals from the Jews, who saw their livelihood being destroyed while at the same time they were forbidden to enter or hindered from entering other trades. The ultimate blow fell in 1395, just a little over a century after the final expulsion from England.

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
102-103
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.