Originally posted on Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, courtesy of Wikipedia
Sir Robert may have been one of the most important librarians who ever lived.
But his greater claim to fame may be a speech on “Alteration of Coin” he presented to the Privy Council in 1626.
His urgent eloquence on behalf of the integrity of money is unsurpassed:
SINCE it hath pleased this Honourable Table to command, amongst others, my poor Opinion concerning this weighty Proposition of Money, I most humbly crave pardon, if with that Freedom that becomes my Duty to my good and gracious Master, and my Obedience to your great Command, I deliver it so up.
I cannot (my good Lords) but assuredly conceive, Honour, Justice, and Profit. that this intended Project of infeebling the Coin, will trench both into the Honor, the Justice, and the Profit of my Royal Master very far.
All Estates do stand Magis Famâ quam Vi, as Tacitus Honour. saith of Rome: And wealth in every Kingdom is one of the essential Marks of their Greatness: And that is best expressed in the Measure and Purity of their Monies. Hence was it, that so long as the Roman Empire (a Pattern of best Government) held up their Glory and Greatness, they ever maintained, with little or no Change, the Standard of their Coin. But after the loose times of Commodus had led in Need by Excess, and so that Shift of Changing the Standard, the Majesty of that Empire fell by degrees. And as Vopiscus saith, the steps by which that State descended, were visibly known most by the gradual Alteration of their Coin; and there is no surer Symptom of a Consumption in State, than the Corruption in Money.
What renown is left to the Posterity of Edward I. Edw. I. in amending the Standard, both in Purity and Weight from that of elder and more barbarous times, must stick as a blemish upon Princes that do the contrary.VI. Thus we see it was with Henry VI. who, after he had begun with abating the Measure, he after fell to abasing the Matter; and granted Commissions to Missenden and others to practise Alchimy to serve his Mint. The extremity of the State in general felt this Aggrievance; besides the Dishonour it laid upon the Person of the King, was not the least Advantage his disloyal Kinsman took to grace himself into the Peoples Favour, to his Sovereign’s Ruine.
VIII. When Henry VIII. had gained as much of Power and Glory abroad, of Love and Obedience at home, as ever any; he suffered Shipwreck of all on this Rock.
Eliz. When his daughter Q. Elizabeth came to the Crown, she was happy in Council to Amend that Error of her Father: For, in a Memorial of the Lord Treasurer Burleigh’s hand, I find that he and Sir Tho. Smith(a grave and learned Man), advising the Queen, that it was the Honour of her Crown, and the true Wealth of herself and People, to reduce the Standard to the ancient Parity and purity of her Great GrandfatherIV.King Edw. IV. And that it was not the short ends of Wit, nor starting holes of Devices, than can sustain the Expence of a Monarchy, but sound and solid Courses: For so are the words. She followed their Advice, and began to reduce the Monies to their elder goodness, stiling that Work in her first Proclamation Anno 3. A Famous Act. The next Year following, having perfected it as it after stood; she tells her People by another Edict, that she had conquered now that Monster that had so long devoured them, meaning the Variation of the Standard: And so long as that staid Adviser lived, she never (though often by Projectors importuned) could be drawn to any shift or change in the Rate of her Monies.
To avoid the Trick of Permutation, Coin was devised, as a Rate and Measure of Merchandize and Manufactures; which if mutable, no Man can tell either what he hath, or what he oweth;Justice. no Contract can be certain; and so all Commerce, both publick and private, destroyed; and Men again enforced to Permutation with things not subject to Wit or Fraud.
The Regulating of Coin hath been left to the care of Princes, who are presumed to be ever the Fathers of the Common-wealth. Upon their Honours they are Debtors and Warranties of Justice to the Subject in that behalf. They cannot, saith Bodin,Bodin. alter the Price of the Monies, to the Prejudice of the Subjects, without incurring the Reproach of Faux Monnoyeurs. And therefore the Stories term Philip le Bell, for using it, Falsificateur de Moneta. Omnino Monetæ integritas debet queri ubi vultus noster imprimitur,Theodoret the Goth. saith Theodoret the Goth to his Mint-Master, Quidnam erit tutum si in nostra peccetur Effigie? Princes must not suffer their Faces to warrant Falshood.
Mirror des Justices. Although I am not of opinion with Mirror des Justices, the ancient Book of our Common-Law, that Le Roy ne poit sa Mony Empeirer ne amender sans l’assent de touts ses Counts,which was the greatest Council of the Kingdom; yet can I not pass over the Goodness and Grace of many of our Kings (as Edw. I. and III. Hen. IV. and V. with others, who out of that Rule of this Justice, Quod ad omnes spectat, ab omnibus debet approburi, have often advised with the People in Parliament, both for the Allay, Weight, Number of Pieces, rate of Coinage and Exchange): and must with infinite Comfort acknowledg, the Care and Justice now of my good Master, and your Lordships Wisdoms, that would not upon information of some few Officers of the Mint, before a free and careful Debate, put in execution this Project, that I much (under your Honours Favour suspect, would have taken away the tenth part of every Man’s due Debt, or Rent already reserved throughout the Realm, not sparing the King which would have been little less than a Species of that which the Roman stories call Tabulæ novæ, from whence very often Seditions have sprung: As that of Marcus Gratidianus in Livy, who pretending in his Consulship that the current Mony was wasted by Use, called it in, and altered the Standard; which grew so heavy and grievous to the People, as the Author saith, because no man thereby knew certainly his Wealth, that it caused a Tumult.
Profit.In this last part, which is, the Disprofit this infeebling the Coin will bring both to his Majesty and the Common-wealth, I must distinguish the Monies of Gold and Silver, as they are Bullion or Commodities, and as they are Measure: One the extrinsick Quality, which is at the King’s pleasure, as all other Measures to name; the other the intrinsick Quantity of pure Mettal, which is in the Merchant to value. As there the Measure shall be either lessened or inlarged, so is the quantity of the Commodity that is to be exchanged. If then the King shall cut his Shilling or Pound nominal less than it was before, a less proportion of such Commodities as shall be exchanged for it must be received. It must then of force follow, that all things of necessity, as Victual, Apparel, and the rest, as well as those of Pleasure, must be inhaunced. If then all Men shall receive in their Shillings and Pounds a less proportion of Silver and Gold than they did before this projected Alteration, and pay for what they buy a rate inhaunced, it must cast upon all a double Loss.
What the King will suffer by it in the Rents of his Lands, is demonstrated enough by the Alterations since the 18 of Edw. III. when all the Revenue of the Crown came into the Receipt Pondere & Numero, after five Groats in the Ounce; which since that time, by the several Changes of the Standard is come to five Shillings, whereby the King hath lost two third parts of his just Revenue.
In his Customs, the Book of Rates being regulated by Pounds and Shillings, his Majesty must lose alike; and so in all and whatsoever Monies that after this he shall receive.
The profit by this Change in Coinage, cannot be much nor manent. In the other the loss lasting, and so large, that it reacheth to little less than yearly to a sixth part of his whole Revenue: for hereby in every pound tale of Gold there is seven Ounces, one penny weight, and 19 Grains loss, which is 25l. in account, and in the 100l. tale of Silver 59 Ounces, which is 14l. 17s. more.
And as his Majesty shall undergo all these Losses hereafter in all his Receipts; so shall he no less in many of his Disbursements. The Wages of his Soldiers must be rateably advanced as the Mony is decreased. This Edward the Third (as appeareth by the account of the Wardrobe and Exchequer) as all the Kings after were enforced to do, as oft as they lessened the Standard of their Monies. The prices of what shall be bought for his Majesties Service, must in like proportion be inhaunced on him. And as his Majesty hath the greatest of Receipts and Issues, so must he of necessity taste the most of Loss by this device.
It will discourage a great proportion of the Trade in England, and so impair his Majesties Customs. For that part (being not the least) that payeth upon trust and credit, will be overthrown; for all men being doubtful of diminution hereby of their personal Estates, will call in their Monies already out, and no man will part with that which is by him, upon such apparent Loss as this must bring. What danger may befal the State by such a sudden stand of Trade, I cannot guess.
The Monies of Gold and Silver formerly coined and abroad, being richer than these intended, will be made for the most part hereby Bullion, and so transported; which I conceive to be none of the least inducements that hath drawn so many Goldsmiths to side this Project, that they may be thereby Factors for the Strangers, who by the lowness of minting (being but 2s. Silver the pound Weight, and 4s. for Gold; whereas with us the one is 4s. and the other 5s.) may make that Profit beyond-sea they cannot here, and so his Majesties Mint unset on work.
And as his Majesty shall lose apparently in the alteration of Monies a 14th in all the Silver, and a 25th part in all the Gold he after shall receive; so shall the Nobility, Gentry, and all other, in all their former setled Rents, Annuities, Pensions, and Loans of Mony. The like will fall upon the Laborers and Workmen in their Statute-Wages: and as their Receipts are lessened hereby; so are their Issues increased, either by improving all prices, or disfurnishing the Market, which must necessarily follow: For if in 5 Edw. 6. 3. Mariæ, and 4. Elizabethæ, it appeareth by the Proclamations, that a Rumor only of an Alteration caused these effects, punishing the Author of such reports with Imprisonment and Pillory; it cannot be doubted but the projecting a Change must be of far more consequence and danger to the State, and would be wished that the Actors and Authors of such disturbances in the Common-wealth, at all times hereafter might undergo a Punishment proportionable.
It cannot be held (I presume) an Advice of best judgment that layeth the Loss upon our selves, and the Gain upon our Enemies: for who is like to be in this time the greater Thriver? Is it not visible, that the Stranger that transporteth over Monies for Bullion, our own Goldsmiths that are their Brokers, and the forein Hedg-minters of the Netherlands (which terms them well) have a fresh and full Trade by this abatement? And we cannot do the Spanish King (our greatest Enemy) so great a Favour as by this, who being the Lord of this Commodity by his West-Indies, we shall so advance them to our impoverishing; for it is not in the power of any State to raise the price of their own but the value that their Neighbour Princes acceptance sets upon them.
Experience hath taught us, that the enfeebling of Coin is but a shift for a while, as Drink to one in a Dropsie, to make him swell the more: But the State was never thoroughly cured, as we saw by Hen. the Eighth’s time and the late Queens, until the Coin was made rich again.
I cannot but then conclude (my Honourable Lords) that if the Proportion of Gold and Silver to each other be wrought to that Parity, by the Advice of Artists, that neither may be too rich for the other, that the Mintage may be reduced to some proportion of Neighbour Parts, and that the Issue of our Native Commodities may be brought to overburthen the entrance of the Forein, we need not seek any way of shift, but shall again see our Trade to flourish, the Mint (as the Pulse of the Common-wealth) again to beat, and our Materials, by Industry, to be a Mine of Gold and Silver to us, and the Honour, Justice, and Profit of his Majesty, (which we all wish and work for) supported.