“The Princes and the Jews in Renaissance Italy”, by Pierre Savy: before the expulsion, the uncertainty

A woman hands bread to a Jew.  “The Miracle of the Host” (1467-1469), by Paolo Uccello.

“The Princes and the Jews in Renaissance Italy”, by Pierre Savy, PUF, “The Gordian knot”, 300 p., €28, digital €22.

Were princely states more favorable to minorities than republics? This is the question explored in the new book by historian Pierre Savy, Princes and Jews in Renaissance Italy. In the fourteenthe century, while the republics of Venice, Genoa or Florence refused to reach out to Jews expelled by Western monarchies (England, France, Holy Roman Empire, etc.), the princes of Northern Italy, such as the Dukes of Milan or the Estes of Ferrara, indeed established with them condotte (installation contracts) largely favorable.

It is still necessary to understand what the Italian political situation was then. Taking advantage of the struggle between the pope and the emperor, the cities were emancipated, giving rise to communes which enjoyed a political autonomy unknown elsewhere. Then larger territorial entities, republics on the one hand, principalities on the other, took control of them, without making them disappear.

Subjects with different statuses

The princes who welcomed the Jews were not kings, but great lords maintaining, like them, sumptuous courts. As for the republics, they had little to do with our democratic equivalents, being oligarchic, dominated by an urban, financial and merchant elite. The same was true of the communes, run by wealthy citizens, who, moreover, feared competition from the Jewish loan banks installed within them by the prince. “To go quickly, who says oligarchic regime says business, who says lord says court and, therefore, says great need for money”hence the defiant or benevolent attitude of each other, sums up Pierre Savy.

The Italian prince is not a king, as we have seen, and the absence of a coronation exempts him from being “christianissimus” (“very Christian”), that is to say the natural defender of Church

But the originality of his book is to go further than this economic reading and to deliver a very detailed internal analysis of the different medieval regimes. The Italian prince is not a king, as we have seen, and the absence of a coronation exempts him from being christianissimus (“very Christian”), that is to say the natural defender of the Church. The Jews are not, for him, a foreign religious body that should be expelled, as was the case for the Western royalty of the time. Like kings, however, princes have subjects, who have very different statuses.

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