The Discourse of Usury and the Emergence of the Stereotype of the Jewish Usurer in Medieval France

  • Julie L. Mell
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History book series (CIH)


A discourse on Jewish usury emerged in the mid-twelfth century, developed “legal teeth” in the thirteenth century, and was used to justify expulsions of Jews from western Europe by the early fourteenth century. Well-known texts mark this development: In a letter of 1146 preaching the Second Crusade, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that “where there are no Jews, there Christian men Judaize even worse than they in extorting usury – if, indeed, we may call them Christians and not rather baptized Jews.”2 Around 1200, the Parisian theologians Thomas de Chobham and Robert de Courson asserted in their summae that “Jews have nothing except what they have gained through usury.”3 By 1215, legislation prohibiting Jews from extorting “heavy and immoderate usury from a Christian” was decreed at the Fourth Lateran Council and justified by the claim that “the perfidy of the Jews” in exacting usury increases so much that “in a short time they exhaust the wealth of Christians.”4 By 1290, Edward I King of England justified the expulsion of Jews by claiming that “the Jews did…wickedly conspire and contrive a new species of usury more pernicious than the old…to the abasement of our…people…for which cause We, in requital of their crimes and for the honour of the Crucified, have banished them from our realm as traitors.”5

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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie L. Mell
    • 1
  1. 1.North Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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