English Public Finance from the Revolution of 1688: With Chapters on the Bank of England

By Harvey E. Fisk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
Crown Debts
(12-16-1688)

HENRY III ( 1216-1272) is the first king of England whose debts are recorded in history. In the 16th year of his reign they had become so great that Parliament was obliged to grant an "aid"--that is, a tax--to assist him in paying them off. He is said to have pawned the jewels of the crown, his robes of state and other royal ornaments and even the shrine of St. Edward. Matthew Paris, the chronicler of this period, states that he owed so much to so many different people, for the very necessities of life, that "he durst hardly appear in public for the clamor of his creditors." Henry borrowed from the Italian merchants, from the Jews, from his own brother--in fact, when and where he could.


Interest Payments Forbidden

The sentiment of the time was strongly against the payment of interest, or "usury," as it was called; in fact, such payments were interdict by the church. However, in case of the non-payment of a loan when due, a charge could be made for the inconvenience to which the lender had been subjected by such delay. Such charges sometimes ran as high as ten per cent. a month.

Thereafter scarcely a reign passed without borrowing to a larger or smaller extent. If these debts were not liquidated within the reign they were usually honored by the succeeding monarch. Fortunately for the lenders there was a superstition that until the debts of the deceased were paid his soul

-72-

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