Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The expulsion of the Jews from England, France, and southern Italy resulted in mass suffering and impeded the economic development of these European countries.

Summary of Event

Between 1290 and 1306, Jewish communities in both England and France were expelled, while in southern Italy many Jews were killed or forced to convert or to flee the region. Although the particular details vary, the dynamics are generally parallel. Unlike the larger population, most Jews lived in towns rather than on farms. Their communal numbers were small, rarely exceeding one thousand and typically under three hundred. Their occupations were limited, in large part because of legal restrictions and social discrimination. Their communities were not well integrated with the larger Christian population, many of whom were raised on a deep-seated anti-Semitism promoted by the local clergy. [kw]Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy (1290-1306) [kw]Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy, Jews Are (1290-1306) [kw]England, France, and Southern Italy, Jews Are Expelled from (1290-1306) [kw]France, and Southern Italy, Jews Are Expelled from England, (1290-1306) [kw]Italy, Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern (1290-1306) Jews;expulsion from England, France, and southern Italy Judaism;persecution of England;1290-1306: Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy[2550] France;1290-1306: Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy[2550] Italy;1290-1306: Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy[2550] Religion;1290-1306: Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy[2550] Social reform;1290-1306: Jews Are Expelled from England, France, and Southern Italy[2550] Frederick II (1194-1250) Charles I (1227-1285) Edward I Philip IV the Fair

In opposition to the clerical antagonism stood the king—for economic reasons. The Jews were an important source of income because they could be very heavily taxed. Taxation;of Jews[Jews] As the kings attempted to conquer territory, and especially during the Crusades, their economic needsincreased substantially. To ensure that the Jews could provide money, they were sometimes released from obligatory Church taxes and were granted certain economic rights.

The occasional special treatment of Jews by royalty infuriated both the Catholic clergy and those who hoped to compete economically with Jews. Over time, these Christian interests triumphed. For example, in the Third Lateran Council Lateran Council, Third (1179)[Lateran Council 03] (1179), Church leaders forbade Jews to employ Christian servants or workers. A half century later, in 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council Lateran Council, Fourth (1215)[Lateran Council 04] limited economic interaction with Jews, denied them the right to hold any public office, and compelled them to wear a distinguishing badge on their outer garments. About twenty years later, the medieval papal Inquisition began to preoccupy itself with eradicating heresy, Heresy;papal Inquisition a process that led to the Spanish Inquisition of the fifteenth century and the complete destruction of Jewish life in Spain and Portugal. Inquisition;Spanish

In addition to the centralized religious pressure, powerful local clergy could often impose restrictions, as could the local nobility, who were in an ongoing struggle with the monarchy. Combined with the greater royal tax burden, this increased pressure broke the back of many Jewish communities. Once their wealth was drained, they lost the special protection of the king.

The deteriorating financial conditions of the Jews led to additional restrictions. Across all three countries, Jews were stripped of their wealth, pressured and sometimes forced to convert, and in a number of cases exiled from their local communities. Several precedents were set for the more widespread expulsion later, from 1290 to 1306 and afterward, in some communities.

Jews came to England very late, starting primarily after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Unlike in the other two nations, many English Jews were financiers who loaned money at interest, a vocation closed to Christians for religious reasons.

In 1130, the Jews of London were fined a very considerable sum based on a trumped-up murder charge against a Jewish physician. In 1144, coinciding with the Second Crusade, the Jews of Norwich Norwich, Jews of were accused without evidence of the ritual murder of a Christian boy. The Jewish quarter was ransacked, and Jews were forced to pay a fine. Thereafter, until 1255, about every fifteen years, another major Jewish community faced the same charges, with the same general outcome. Not incidentally, these charges and attacks took place when the Royal Treasury needed replenishing.

The most terrible incident occurred in 1190 in York, where the entire Jewish community of about six hundred was killed—including those who asked to convert; their properties were destroyed or seized; and their records of debts owed them were burned.

The Oxford Council Oxford Council (1222) held in 1222 prohibited Jews from owning slaves and from building new synagogues, as well as requiring that they wear a linen badge. Ten years later, Londoners petitioned against the completion of a magnificent synagogue, which was then seized and given to the Church.

The monarch’s need for money drained the Jewish communities’s declining resources sufficiently to destroy many of them. A series of regulations limited the ability of Jews to collect interest on money already loaned, thus drying up their businesses. Although it was omitted in later confirmations, the original Magna Carta contained a provision restricting the claims of Jewish creditors against the estates of deceased landowners.

Throughout the thirteenth century, oppression against Jews increased, further limiting their economic opportunities. Starting in mid-century, Jews were expelled from several towns after refusing to convert. Eventually, with widespread poverty, they were of no use to the king. Finally, in order to placate the Church and lower nobility, on July 18, 1290, Edward I Edward I issued an edict of banishment for all the Jews in England—probably about six thousand. Most left for France, Germany, and Flanders.

In France, Jews had been present, in small numbers, since the first century. Unlike in England, in addition to trade and finance, some Jews were involved with wine—more in production and trade than in grape cultivation. Until the ninth century, periodic attempts were made to force conversion on the Jews. In 624, King Dagobert expelled all Jewish residents—for about fifteen years. In spite of some anti-Jewish laws, from about 800 to 1096 the Jewish communities flourished and were relatively safe. That situation changed with the advent of the First Crusade (1096-1099), after which the conditions under which the Jews lived worsened.

The first attacks on European Jews occurred in Rouen. In 1144, Louis VII Louis VII (king of France) issued a decree that banished converted Jewish Christians who returned to Judaism. The first of a series of blood libels occurred in 1171, when thirty-one innocent Jews were burned alive. In 1181, King Philip II Philip II (king of France) imprisoned all the wealthy Jews of Paris and freed them only on receiving a large ransom. A year later, he expelled them and confiscated their real estate.

Attacks on Jewish communities continued through the thirteenth century. In 1242, both Church and king condemned and burned the Talmud, the collection of Jewish oral law. Although the order was not rigorously pursued, Jews were expelled from Poitou in 1249. In 1268, Thibaut V Thibaut V , count of the Champagne region, confiscated much of the Jewish wealth to pay for the Crusades. In 1283, Jews were forbidden by Philip III Philip III (king of France) to live in small rural localities. In 1291, the Jews expelled from England were prohibited by Philip IV the Fair Philip IV the Fair (king of France) from settling in France. Finally, in July of 1306, most of the Jews of France were imprisoned and their possessions seized, and shortly thereafter they were expelled. A number of Jews were allowed to remain, mostly to collect debts they then paid to the royal coffers. In 1311, these last remnants of the Jewish population were also expelled.

Jewish life in Italy differed from that in the rest of the continent. Jews were in Rome by the first century b.c.e., and their numbers may have swelled to fifty thousand with the Jews brought as captives following the Roman conquest of Israel in 70 c.e. Conditions improved until Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity as the official religion in the fourth century, after which Jews were discriminated against. For example, new synagogues were not allowed to be built, and Jews were pressured to convert to Christianity.

Conditions for Jews improved with the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, but they worsened after the conquest by the Byzantines in the sixth century, after which they improved in the south with the Arab conquest (827-1061). As a result, by the late Middle Ages, the bulk of the community was in the south. Despite the formal anti-Semitism of the Church, Jewish life developed under the rule of Emperor Frederick II Frederick II , who provided protection and a monopoly in silk weaving and dyeing—in exchange for high taxes. Unlike in England and France, most Jews in Italy were craftspeople and merchants.

Frederick II’s suspected liberalism brought a successful challenge by the Papacy Papacy;relations with Holy Roman Empire in 1265 to replace him with the French Charles I Charles I , after which Jewish life deteriorated significantly. A series of blood libels, physical attacks, and forced conversions decimated the communities.

In 1268, the Inquisition Inquisition was introduced. Following the French example, in 1270 a Jewish apostate denounced classic rabbinic literature, leading to the hunt for and burning of religious books. In about 1290, a Dominican friar accused the Jews of Apulia of ritual murder of a Christian child, leading to a series of fatal attacks.

Although there was no formal widespread expulsion, by 1294, the overwhelming majority of the approximately thirteen thousand Jews in southern Italy were forced to convert or flee, or were killed. Southern Italy never reclaimed the important presence of its Jewish population.


The persecution of Jews in England, France, and southern Italy followed religious oppression by the Catholic Church and economic frustration and envy both by the nobility and by the local citizenry. Jews eventually returned to England and France, but the communities—both Jewish and non-Jewish—were forever changed in the process.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berger, David. From Crusades to Blood Libels to Expulsions: Some New Approaches to Medieval Antisemitism. New York: Touro College Graduate School of Jewish Studies, 1997. A published lecture on the xenophobic treatment of Jews in the Middle Ages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chazan, Robert. Medieval Jewry of Northern France. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1973. A detailed political history of Jewish life in medieval France.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Finestein, Israel. A Short History of Anglo-Jewry. London: Lincolns-Praeger, 1957. Short but informative review of Jewish life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Foa, Anna. The Jews of Europe After the Black Death. Translated by Andrea Grover. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. A history of European Jewry from the fourteenth through the nineteenth century that emphasizes the stability and continuity of Jewish experience in the face of change and upheaval.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hyamson, Albert M. A History of the Jews in England. London: Methuen, 1928. An older study, but one that provides a detailed picture of Jewish life in England.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roth, Cecil. The History of the Jews of Italy. Reprint. Westmead, Farnborough, England: Gregg International, 1969. Comprehensive study of two thousand years of Jewish history in Italy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steiman, Lionel B. Paths to Genocide: Antisemitism in Western History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Examines the expulsion of the Jews as one of the events in a linear history leading up to the Holocaust.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taitz, Emily. The Jews of Medieval France. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Focuses on Jewish family and domestic life.

Categories: History