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Modern Jewish History:
King Louis


Modern Jewish History: Table of Contents | Inquisition | The Holocaust


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Louis was the name of eighteen (18) kings of France. Of particular importance in Jewish history are the following:

LOUIS I (778–840)

King of Aquitaine (from the age of three), emperor of the West from 814. Of the Carolingian emperors, Louis was the best disposed toward the Jews. He retained several Jewish merchants at his court in the capacity of "merchants of the palace" who enjoyed extremely favorable privileges, part of which were no doubt also valid for all the Jews in the empire. These privileges guaranteed to their holders and their households (including near relatives, slaves, and servants) the widest liberty of movement, the right to acquire and sell property, and exemption from a variety of tolls and imposts affecting persons and goods in transit. Missionary activities by Christians among pagan slaves owned by these Jewish merchants were prohibited. They were authorized to employ Christians on condition that they were freed from work on Sundays and Christian holidays. Their real property and movable goods were safeguarded. In the judicial sphere, the holders of these privileges were exempted from "question" (torture) and trial by ordeal and could take the oath according to Jewish custom. These privileges later became the model for several privileges granted by local lords (such as Bishop Ruediger to the Jews of Speyer) or by German emperors ( Henry IV to the Jews of Worms). However, the most serious consequences for the future legal status of the Jews, especially those of France and Germany, were contained in the provisions in Louis' privileges, which placed the Jews under the immediate jurisdiction of the emperor. These enabled him to benefit from the fines and indemnities imposed on persons who injured or killed one of these merchants, who were in the service of the palace or the imperial chamber and had been taken under the emperor's protection (Mainbour). Some scholars have concluded that this was the origin of the principle of "imperial servitude" of the Jews, the servi camerae regis .

That the greater part of the provisions in these privileges benefited not only the "merchants of the palace" but the whole of the Jewish population is evident from the efforts of Agobard , bishop of Lyons, to have them repealed when the Jews of Lyons and other towns of his diocese took advantage of them. Louis had moreover appointed an imperial official, the Magister Judaeorum, who was responsible for the protection of the Jews. Toward 826–8 this position was held by a certain Evrard. Even before attacking the privileges held by the Jews, Agobard had already, in about 820, clashed with Louis over the Jews, when the bishop had attempted to baptize Jewish children in Lyons, Chalon, Mâcon, and Vienne. At the time, Louis accorded the Jews his full protection. His goodwill toward the Jews was not even weakened when his own deacon, Bodo , fled to Muslim Spain and embraced Judaism. Texts erroneously attributed to Louis, in particular the "forged capitularies," include enactments less favorable to the Jews, as well as the formula for an oath to be taken in a humiliating manner; these are forgeries belonging to a later period.

LOUIS VI

King of France from 1108 to 1137. During his reign jurisdiction over the Jews (and their revenues) gradually passed from royal control to the hands of the Church. The Abbey of Saint-Denis, in 1112, obtained from the king judicial control over the Jews in the town. In 1119 Louis ceded half his income from the Jews of Tours to the Abbey of Saint-Martin there; and in 1122 he granted five houses belonging to Jews to Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis.

LOUIS VII (called the Young)

King of France from 1137 to 1180. In 1144, Louis banished from the kingdom those Jews who had been converted to Christianity and had later returned to Judaism. In 1146, Louis authorized the Jews to return to Sens, from where they had been expelled. During the preparations for the Second Crusade, of which Louis became one of the principal leaders, Peter the Venerable of Cluny wrote to the king advising him to confiscate the possessions of the Jews; however, Louis followed the more tolerant counsel of Bernard of Clairvaux, who suggested that only the interest on the debts that Crusaders owed to Jewish moneylenders should be canceled.

LOUIS VIII

King of France from 1223 to 1226. On Nov. 8, 1223, Louis published an edict on the Jews, which had strong fiscal motives. Even though only a number of barons signed this decree, it was declared to be equally binding upon those who had not. The edict, the first attempt by the monarchy to affirm its legislative power over all the baronies of the kingdom, ordained the suppression of all interest due on debts toward the Jews, and the repayment of these debts within three years, on the condition that they were registered. Non-registered debts as well as those which had been pending for more than five years were to be considered as canceled. The king evidently received a quota of the debts collected in this way, which explains why the fiscal income from the Jews increased to a total of 8,682 livres in 1226. The seal which had served to authenticate debts toward the Jews was abolished. Furthermore, Jews were no longer allowed to move from one seigniory to another. This edict had extremely serious consequences for the future legal position of the Jews.

LOUIS IX

King of France from 1226 to 1270. In his attitude toward the Jews, Louis differed from his predecessors and successors solely in that he placed the interests of the Church before his personal concerns and those of the kingdom in general. This was especially evident in the material assistance he granted to converts: expenses on their behalf often exceeded the income derived from the Jews of France. On other occasions, when this income could not be used for this purpose because the king considered that it was defiled by the sin of usury, he tried to restore the money to the victims of usury or their heirs.

In all other respects Louis' attitude toward the Jews was characterized by implacable enmity, which endured throughout his long reign. As early as 1230, he issued the famous Ordinance of Melun which forbade the Jews to engage in any moneylending activities; at the same time, it was stipulated that no one was allowed to detain a Jew who was the property of another lord. However, Louis was compelled to bow to the economic pressures that rendered dependence on Jewish credit indispensable. In 1234 he seized one-third of the debts owed to the Jews and decreed that in the future they would be permitted to take pledges only in the presence of trustworthy witnesses. There is reason to believe that Louis took no measures to protect Jews persecuted by would-be crusaders in 1236 in several provinces (Anjou, Poitou, Mançois, Touraine, Berry). When in 1239 Pope Gregory IX requested the kings of France and Portugal to order the seizure of Jewish books for examination, Louis was the promptest and most zealous to comply; 24 cartloads of Jewish books were burned in 1242. The resolute and clear-sighted defense conducted by Jehiel b. Joseph of Paris at the famous Paris disputation in 1240 was to no avail, for the judgment was virtually predetermined. However, the king's outburst, reported by his biographer Jean de Joinville, that rather than discuss questions of faith with a Jew a layman should plunge his sword into him, was probably caused by his anger at the courageous arguments advanced by R. Jehiel (who was compelled to flee). When Innocent IV , moved by the protests of the Jews that they could not teach the Bible without the Talmud, ordered it to be examined again, Odo (Eudes) of Chateaurous, chancellor of the University of Paris, opposed the pope and the condemnation stood. In December 1254 Louis threatened with expulsion any Jew who kept copies of the Talmud or other banned books; at the same time he forbade them to engage in any kind of moneylending and ordered them to earn a livelihood in manual toil or any other lawful trade. When he decreed in 1257 or 1258 that the profits of usury should be restored to its victims, the commissioners who carried out the task were authorized to sell the real properties of the Jews to raise the required sums of money. In 1268 Louis called for the arrest of all the Jews and the confiscation of their property in preparation for their eventual expulsion; however, this extreme measure remained in abeyance. A year later, under the influence of the apostate Pablo Christiani, the king ordered the Jews to wear a distinctive badge and instructed his officers to assist the apostate in compelling Jews to listen to missionary sermons.

It is noteworthy that no Jewish historian mentions Louis on any occasion. Joseph ha-Kohen briefly describes his expulsion project of 1254 but without mentioning the king's name. A contemporary Christian author, Matthew of Paris, makes the most succinct comment on Louis' attitude to the Jews: "See how the king of France hates you and persecutes you."

LOUIS X (called Le Hutin: "The Quarreler")

King of France from 1314 to 1316. Soon after his accession, Louis paved the way for the return of the Jews expelled from the kingdom of France in 1306. On April 1, 1315, he suspended the collection of the debts owed to them which were still outstanding from the time of the expulsion. An ordinance was issued on May 17, 1315, regulating the jurisdiction of the Jews in the eventuality of their return to France, which he authorized on July 28, 1315. It permitted them to resettle in the localities where they had lived previously; ordered that their synagogues, cemeteries, and books, with the exception of the Talmud, should be restored to them; and prohibited them from moneylending against interest, allowing them only to take pledges. However, they were permitted to trade freely. The ordinance concluded with the king's guarantee to take the Jews under "his special protection and administration." In fact, in authorizing the return of the Jews, Louis was principally motivated by monetary interests. The duration of this right of residence was set for 12 years, with the possibility of prolongation and one year's notice of revocation. However, a new expulsion order was issued less than seven years later (1322) by Charles IV while the delay of one year's notice to enable the Jews to dispose of their possessions was not observed.

LOUIS XI

Ruler of Dauphiné from 1440 (as Louis II), and king of France from 1461 to 1483. As dauphin, Louis tried to keep the Jews in his province and even to attract newcomers, offering them in 1449 advantageous privileges if they would settle in Crémieu. On several occasions he defended the Jews against the nobility of Dauphiné, confirming their privileges, and even granting them new ones in 1451, 1453, and 1455. However, after his accession to the throne of France, he imposed a heavy fine of 1,500 gold crowns on them in 1463, because "they had spoken ill of the king during his absence." Nevertheless, he reconfirmed the privileges of the Jews of Dauphiné in 1476, that is, 80 years after they had been banished from the kingdom.

LOUIS XII

King of France from 1498 to 1515. Louis ordered the final expulsion of the Jews from Provence in 1501. In order to compensate for the loss to his revenues caused by the departure of the Jews from Provence, Louis introduced a tax in 1512 on the remaining Jews there, who had accepted baptism. Known as the "tax of the neophytes," it amounted to a total of 6,000 livres. Down to the 18th century, a number of noble Provençal families were held in discredit because they were reputedly descended from these "neophytes."

LOUIS XIII

King of France from 1610 to 1643 with his mother Marie de Medici as regent until he was declared of age in 1614. On April 23, 1615, Louis signed letters patent renewing the expulsion order "against not only Jews but also those who profess and practice Judaism." This order appears to have been directed especially against Marranos and possibly also against those Jews who had come to Paris with Concini (Maréchal d'Ancre), the young king's minister, and his wife, Leonora Galigai. The letters patent were recorded by the parlement, but as far as it is known they were not put into effect in any way. However, after the assassination of Concini at Louis' command, in 1617, Leonora Galigai was tried for sorcery and the charge of practicing Judaism was also brought against her. During Louis' reign, the Jews of Comtat Venaissin could bring action against defendants living in the kingdom of France and even win their cases. When Louis visited Metz in 1632, he granted the Jews letters patent which declared their presence in the town a necessity.

LOUIS XVI

King of France from 1774 to 1792. Among Louis' ministers were Turgot, Choiseul, and Malesherbes , who were favorably inclined toward the Jews. On his order a census was taken of the Jews of Alsace in 1784; letters patent concerning them were issued during the same year. Their delegate, Herz Cerfberr , was received at Louis' court, although he had no official status, and notice was taken of his representations. The first important step toward improvement of the status of the Jews was the abolition of the body tax in 1784. Other projects to alleviate their situation were under study when the Revolution broke out.


Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

LOUIS THE PIOUS: G. Kisch, Forschungen zur Recht-und Sozialgeschichte der Juden in Deutschland waehrend des Mittelalters (1955), 47–55; Baron, Social2, 4 (1957), 48–49; B. Blumenkranz, Juifs et Chrétiens dans le monde Occidental (1960), index, S.V. Louis le Pieux. LOUIS VI: A. Luchaire, Louis VI (1890), 146; Suger, Vie de Louis VI, ed. by H. Waquet (1929), 265. LOUIS VII: H. Gross, in: REJ, 4–5 (1882), 171; W. Williams, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (19351, 19532), 267; Fr. Olivier-Martin, Histoire du droit français (1951), 119; R. Anchel, Les Juifs de France (1946), 100–2. LOUIS VIII: C. Petit-Dutaillis, Etude sur Louis VIII (1894), 414ff.; G.I. Langmuir, in: Traditio, 16 (1960), 215–21. LOUIS IX: L. Berman, Histoire des Juifs de France (1937), 95–105; Gross, Gal Jud, 503–5; Baron, Social2, 10 (1965), 58ff.; S. Grayzel, The Church and the Jews… (19662), index. LOUIS X: Ordonnances des Roys de France, 1 (1723), 554, 571f., 595ff. LOUIS XI: E. Pilot de Thorey, Catalogue des actes du Dauphin Louis II, 1 (1889), 261, 334, 392, 395, 452; 2 (1889), 237, 411. LOUIS XII: L. Brunschvicg, in: REJ, 33 (1896), 91; E. Camau, La Provence à Travers les siècles, 4 (1930), 348, 350; R. Anchel, op. cit., 136–8. LOUIS XIII: REJ, 12 (1886), 101 n. 4; R. Clément, La condition des Juifs de Metz sous l'ancien régime (1903), 33; R. Anchel, Les Juifs de France (1946), 128, 135, 147. LOUIS XVI: A. Hertzberg, French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), index; R. Anchel, op. cit., index.

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