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The Progress of the Nation page 15

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The history of the coinage from Henry VII. to the reign of Elizabeth is one of depreciation and adulteration, as it had been in the preceding century. Not till Elizabeth did it begin to return to a sound and honest standard.

Henry VII. made several variations in the money of the realm. He preserved the standard of Edward IV. and Richard III., coining 450 pennies from the pound of silver, or thirty-seven nominal shillings and sixpences. He introduced shillings as actual money, being before only nominal, and used in accounts. These shillings, struck in 1504 - called at first large groats, and then testons, from the French "teste," or "tete," a head - bore the profile of the king instead of the fall face; a thing unknown since the reign of Stephen, but ever after followed, except by Henry VIII. and Edward VI., who, however, used the profile in their groats. Henry coined also a novel coin - the sovereign, or "double rose noble," worth twenty shillings, and the "rose dial," or half-sovereign. These gold coins are now very rare. On the reverse of his coins he for the first time placed the arms.

The gold coins of Henry VIII. were sovereigns, half-sovereigns, or rials, half and quarter rials, angels, angelets Or half-angels, and quarter-angels, George nobles – so called from bearing on the reverse St. George and the dragon - crowns, and half-crowns. His silver coins were shillings, groats, half-groats, and pennies. Amongst these appeared groats and half-groats coined by Wolsey at York, in accordance with a privilege exercised by the Church long before. In his impeachment it was made a capital charge that he had placed the cardinal's hat on the groats under the king's arms. The groats also bore on each side the arms his initials, "T. W.," and the half-groats "W. A." - Wolsey Archiepiscopus.

We have already stated the scandalous manner in which Henry adulterated the coin, and not only so, but depreciated the value of the silver coins, by coining a much larger number of pennies out of a pound of the base alloy. Before his time the mixed mint pound had consisted of eleven ounces two pennyweights of silver, and eighteen pennyweights of alloy; but Henry, in 1543, altered it to ten ounces of silver and two ounces of alloy. Two years later he added as much alloy as there was silver; and not content with that, in 1546, or one year after, he left only four ounces of silver in the pound, or eight ounces of alloy to the four ounces of silver! But this even did not satisfy him: he next proceeded to coin his base metal into a larger amount than the good metal had ever produced before. Instead of 37s. 6d., or 450 pennies, into which it had been coined ever since the reign of Edward IV., he made it yield 540 pennies, or 45s., in 1527, and in 1543 he extended it to 48s., or 576 pennies. He thus, instead of 450 pennies out of a pound containing eleven ounces two pennyweights of silver, coined 576 pennies out of only four ounces of silver! Such were the lawless robberies which "Bluff Harry" committed on his subjects. 'Any one of the smallest debasements by a subject would have sent him to the gallows. He certainly was one of the most wholesale issuers of bad money that ever lived.

The counsellors of his son Edward - a most rapacious set of adventurers - however, even out-Harryed Harry; for though Edward restored at first the value of the mint mixture in some degree, in 1551 the amount of silver in a pound of that alloy was only three ounces, or an ounce less than the worst coin of his father. And still worse, instead of 48s., the largest number coined by his father out of a pound, he coined 72s., or instead of 450 pennies out of four ounces of silver, 864 pennies were coined out of three ounces. The ruin, the confusion of prices, and the public outcry, however, consequent upon this violent public fraud, at length compelled Government to restore the amount of silver in the pound to nearly what it was at the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII., and the number of shillings was reduced from seventy-two to sixty. The gold, which was equally abased, was also restored to the same extent.

Queen Mary, whilst she issued a proclamation at the commencement of her reign, denouncing the dishonest proceedings of her predecessors, again increased the alloy in a pound of mint silver to an ounce instead of nineteen pennyweights; and she added two pennyweights more of alloy to the ounce of gold. The coins issued by Philip and Mary bear both their profiles.

Elizabeth honourably restored the coinage to its ancient value. She fixed the alloy in a pound of silver at only eighteen pennyweights; but she coined sixty-two shillings out of the pound instead of sixty, at which it remained till 1816, when it became sixty-six, as it still remains. The standard mixture of Elizabeth has continued the same to our own day. She called in and melted down the base money of her father and brother to the nominal value of £638,000, but of real value only £244,000. The gold coins of Elizabeth are rials, angels, half-angels, and quarter-angels, crowns and half-crowns, nobles and double nobles. Some of her coins were the first which had milled edges, both of gold and silver. Besides shillings, sixpences, groats, and pence, Elizabeth coined a crown, for the use of the East India Company, called portcullis crowns, in imitation of the Spanish dollar. These were valued at four shillings and sixpence, and are now rare.

In Scotland the alloy of the silver at the mint was not so great as in England during this period; but the number of shillings coined out of one pound of silver was astonishingly increased. This kind of depreciation had been going on for two centuries before this period; but from 1475, when only 144 shillings were coined out of the pound of silver, the number was rapidly augmented every few years, till in 1601 no less than 720 shillings were coined out of it, or, in other words, the original value of one pound was made to pass for thirty-six pounds.


In tracing the historical events of these reigns, we have had occasion to show the increasing strength of the Royal navy of England. Both in the reigns of Henry VIII. and of Elizabeth the sea fights were of a character and attended by results which marked out England as a maritime power growing ever more formidable. In the fourth year of his reign Henry drove the French fleet from the Channel with forty-two ships, Royal and others. He chastised the Scotch, who, under James V., had become daring at sea; and on various occasions during his reign he showed his superiority to the French and Spaniards.

But it was the victory of the Armada under Elizabeth, and the exploits of Drake, Essex, Raleigh, and others in the Spanish ports, and of Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher in the Spanish settlements of America, that raised the fame of the British fleet to a pitch which it had never reached before. Yet, after all, the amount of Henry's fleet never was large. We are told, indeed, that at first he had only one ship of war, the Great Harry, till he took the Lion, a large Scottish ship, with its commander, the celebrated Andrew Barton; but probably this is meant of such size as to merit the name of man-of-war. Parsimonious as was Henry VII., and careful to avoid any collisions with foreign powers, we cannot suppose he left the kingdom totally destitute of a navy. But Henry VIII. was not contented with owning merely a mediocre fleet; he had an ambition of building large vessels; and in 1512 he built one of 1,000 tons, called the Regent. This was blown up in a battle with the French fleet off Brest, and instead of it he built another called Grace de Dieu. The rivalry of Henry was excited by the King of Scotland building a much larger ship than his Regent, which was said to carry 300 seamen, 120 gunners, and 1,000 soldiers. This ship, like Henry's Regent, was unfortunate, being lost at sea. By the end of Henry's reign, his fleet altogether amounted to 12,500 tons.

Besides building of ships, Henry seems to have planned all the necessary offices for a naval system. He established the Navy Office, with a sort of Board of Admiralty for its management, and he also founded, in the fourth year ©f his reign, the Corporation of the Trinity House, at Deptford, for managing everything relating to the education, selection, and appointment of pilots, the putting down of buoys, and erecting beacons and lighthouses. Similar establishments were by him created at Hull and Newcastle. He erected at great cost the first pier at Dover, and passed an Act of Parliament improving the harbours of Plymouth, Dartmouth, Tynemouth, Falmouth, and Fowey, which had been choked up by the refuse of certain tin-works, which he prohibited. But perhaps his greatest works of the kind were his establishment of the navy-yards and storehouses of Woolwich and Deptford. No monarch, in fact, had hitherto planned so efficiently and exerted himself so earnestly to found an English navy. Great merit is due to him for his advancement of the maritime interests of the nation.

The manner in which the different monarch of the Tudor dynasty advanced or neglected the navy is well shown by the returns of the Navy Office to Parliament, in 1791. As we have stated, at the end of Henry's reign it amounted to 12,500 tons, at the end of that of Edward VI. to only 11,065 tons, and at the end of Mary's to merely 7,110 tons, but at the end of Elizabeth's to 17,110. At the time of the Armada, Elizabeth had at sea 150 sail, of which, however, only forty were the property of the Crown; the rest belonged to the merchants who were liable to be called upon on such emergencies to furnish their largest craft for the public service. Thirty-four of these ships were from 500 to 1,100 tons burthen each, and these larger vessels are said to have carried 300 men and forty cannon each. Besides the vessels thus called out for war, the mercantile navy at this time amounted to another 150 sail of various capacity, averaging each 150 tons, and carrying forty seamen.

This extent of Royal and mercantile navy had not been reached without much fostering care on the part of the queen. With all her parsimony and dread of expense, it was one of the finest parts of her very mixed character, that she saw the necessity of a strong power at sea, and had all the pride of her father to maintain it. Whilst on land she introduced the manufacture of gunpowder, and raised the pay of the soldiers, she extended her care to the fleet, and made It, In the end, the best equipped navy In Europe. She raised the pay of the sailors, as she had done that of the soldiers, and the merchants entered so readily into her service that she had no longer occasion to hire vessels, as her predecessors had done, from the Hanse Towns, or from Venice and Genoa. She built a fort on the Medway, somewhere near the present Sheer-ness, to protect her fleet, and justly acquired the name of the Queen of the North Seas. Many circumstances combined to give a new and wonderful development in her time to commerce: the discovery and partial settlement of the New World; the way opened by the Cape to India; the extension of commercial inquiry and enterprise into the north of Europe and to the banks of Newfoundland. But ere this stirring period arrived, commerce had had many severe restrictions, the fruit of the ignorance of political economy, to struggle with.

Henry VII. is greatly praised by Hall, the chronicler, as a prince who "by his high policy marvellously enriched his realm and himself, and left his subjects In high wealth and prosperity; as Is apparent by the great abundance of gold and silver yearly brought into the kingdom, in plate, money, and bullion, by merchants passing and repassing." But the great reason of the rapid advance of commerce under Henry VII. was, undoubtedly, the quietness and stability of affairs which he Introduced; for Henry was too fond of hoarding to be a very munificent patron of trade. Amongst the very first measures which he passed was one against usury, totally forbidding the lean of money on interest, which, if it could have been really carried out, would have nearly extinguished commerce altogether, In this, however, Henry was but continuing the practice of his predecessors, who, though great warriors, were no merchants. So severe was Henry's enactment against usury, that, by the Act of the third year of his reign, every offender was, on discovery, to be fined £100, and the bargain to be made void. Henry VIII. abrogated this absurd law, and allowed usury under ten per cent.; it was again put in force by Edward VI. in terms of the utmost severity, declaring it to be "a vice most odious and detestable, and utterly prohibited by the Word of God." Elizabeth again restored the law of her father in 1571, permitting interest under ten per cent.

Whilst Henry VII. endeavoured to extinguish usury, he was equally jealous of foreign merchants - of their bringing their foreign manufactures and carrying out English goods - lest our wealth should be drained away by them. The careful old king could not see that it mattered little by whom the exchanges of commerce were made, so that merchants were left to make their own bargains; whence the result would be that they would only purchase such things as they wanted, and sell such as they did not want, with benefit to everybody. It accorded, however, with Henry's ideas, and was so far beneficial as to induce the settling of English merchants in foreign countries, with the object of endeavouring to drain them of their wealth. Therefore, he was careful to heal the breach with the Netherlands which the patronage of Perkin Warbeck by the Duchess of Burgundy had made, and the company of Merchant Adventurers was again established in Antwerp. The treaty on this occasion was termed by the rejoicing Flemings the "Intercursus Magnus," or Great Treaty of Intercourse; but, as we have related, Henry, in 1496, on intercepting the Archduke Philip at Weymouth, forced from him a less liberal treaty, which the Flemings branded as the "Intercursus Malus," or Evil Treaty.

In the same one-sided spirit of trade, Henry, in 1489, concluded a treaty with Denmark, by which English companies were authorised to purchase lands in Bergen in Norway, Lunden and Landscrona in Schonen, Dragor in Zealand, and Loysa in Sweden, on which to erect factories and warehouses, to remain theirs in perpetuity for the purposes of trade. He also renewed a similar treaty at the same time with the great trading republic of Venice, by which the English companies were to enjoy all the privileges of the citizens of Florence and Pisa, where they were established, and were privileged to export English wool, and re-ship the spices and valuable articles brought by the Venetians overland from India.

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