By Jaume Riera
Imago temporis: medium Aevum, No.4 (2010)
Abstract: The discourse of the stereotype of the usurers of the Jews in the 13th century has been constructed without prior heuristic work on the relevant legislation. This article enumerates the constitutions and statutes dictated by James I regarding the usurers, and the usurers of the Jews, between 1228 and 1251, from shortly before to shortly after the conquest of the kingdoms of Majorca and Valencia. Surprisingly, there are fourteen of these, not included in any directory. The statutes are described in chronological order, the date and the territorial scope are established, along with the best copies and the prints that have made them accessible. Numerous confusions and defective interpretations are also corrected, and citations from non-existent statutes are reported.
Introduction: The notes that follow demonstrate many of the shortcomings that we experience in the field of history. Our predecessors did not strive for the publication of documents and directories, in a positivist manner, and we stumble through documentary sources. Hence, what should, by now, be only small gaps of information appear, in several major themes, as a sea of ignorance. Wanting to understand the significance of James I’s regulations on Jewish usury, I have found a number of such gaps, and it appears to me useful to edit and present them here.
The usury of the Jews is a theme so overdone and threadbare that one might imagine it would have been clarified years ago, at least in its legislative aspect. Not so. Francesc de Bofarull, in his well-known study of James I and the Jews — the preface to the publication of 168 inedited documents — touches on the question of usury but mentions summarily only two statutes enacted in December of 1228 and 31 March, 1229. Once reported, he adds: “other decrees on usury exist, and they appear in various works.” By his words it remains clear that Bofarull did not remember the other statutes to which he alludes, nor did he bother to determine which registers contained them. Years later, the notary Arcadi Garcia devoted a monograph to the loans of the Jews of Vic during the fourteenth century. During the introduction, where he purports to present the legislation then in force, he disposes of the question with a single footnote which states: “The precepts are not cited because they are universally known;” something that was not at all true. He then immediately gives proof that he himself did not know what they were.
Thus it stands today. Now, motivated by the eighth centenary of the birth of James I, I would like to clarify what the statutes say about Jewish usury, when they were published, which ones are still available, and where we can read them in print today. I have found that the preceding studies spew almost inextricable confusion, inaccuracies, omissions and errors.