Banishing Usury: The Expulsion of Foreign Moneylenders in Medieval Europe, 1200-1450
By Rowan William Dorin
PhD Dissertation, Harvard University, 2015
Abstract: Starting in the mid-thirteenth century, kings, bishops, and local rulers throughout western Europe repeatedly ordered the banishment of foreigners who were lending at interest. The expulsion of these foreigners, mostly Christians hailing from northern Italy, took place against a backdrop of rising anxieties over the social and spiritual implications of a rapidly expanding credit economy. Moreover, from 1274 onward, such expulsions were backed by the weight of canon law, as the church hierarchy—inspired by secular precedents—commanded rulers everywhere to expel foreign moneylenders from their lands. Standing threats of expulsion were duly entered into statute-books from Salzburg to northern Spain.
This dissertation explores the emergence and spread of the idea of expelling foreign usurers across the intellectual and legal landscape of late medieval Europe. Building on a wide array of evidence gathered from seventy archives and libraries, the dissertation examines how the idea of expulsion expressed itself in practice, how its targets came to be defined, and how the resulting expulsion orders were enforced—or not. It shows how administrative procedures, intellectual categories and linguistic habits circulated and evolved to shape the banishment not only of foreign usurers, but of other targets as well, most notably the Jews.
By reconstructing these expulsions and their accompanying legal and theological debates, this dissertation weaves together broad themes ranging from the circulation of merchants and manuscripts to conflicting overlaps in political jurisdictions and commercial practices; from the resilience of Biblical exegesis to the flexibility of legal hermeneutics; and from shifts in political thought and church doctrine to definitions of foreignness and the limits of citizenship. It reveals the impact of expulsion on the geography of credit in the later Middle Ages and sheds new light on the interpenetration of law and economic life in premodern Europe. Above all, in treating expulsion as contagious and protean, this dissertation frames late medieval Europe as a society in which practices of expulsion that had fallen into abeyance since late antiquity once again reasserted themselves in European practice and thought.