MICHEL, JUD (d. 1549), also known as "the rich Michel," financier and soldier of fortune. According to legend Michel was an illegitimate son of one of the dukes of Regenstein, who were his benefactors at the beginning of his career but later became his bitter enemies. His loans to rulers of *Hesse, the Palatinate, and lesser principalities are first recorded in the early 1530s. Michel, who had no official title (see *Court Jew), stood in the relationship of vassal to Philip the Magnanimous of Hesse, for whom he had to muster five horsemen, as well as to the elector of the Palatinate and the margrave of Ansbach. When the duke of Regenstein repudiated a promissory note, Michel first warned and challenged him and then instigated acts of arson against his property. Called before the imperial court, he fled to Silesia where he organized effective support from nobility and *Ferdinand I, to whom he had once loaned 2,000 gold gulden. Michel subsequently entered the service of Joachim II, elector of *Brandenburg, with whom he conducted intricate economic transactions against the dukes of Regenstein, vassals of the elector. He owned two houses in *Berlin and one in *Frankfurt on the Oder, although the latter town objected to his presence there. In 1544 his wife, Merle, was accused of attempting to poison the wells and in 1546 he was accused of illegal slaughtering; in both cases Joachim intervened on his protégé's behalf. He was kidnapped while on a mission in 1549; his abductors were arrested and brought to Saxony and Michel was released on Joachim's command. Shortly after Michel died in dubious circumstances as the result of a fall down stairs. Michel made a singular impression on his contemporaries, including Martin *Luther, who reported having heard of a rich Jew who traveled throughout Germany, drawn by 12 horses. In dress and manners he conducted himself like a rich nobleman, surrounded by Jewish servants, and thus attended the Diets of the empire.
H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 1 (1955), 23–38; 5 (1965), 194, no. 80.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.