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

By Harvey E. Fisk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Genesis of Banking

IT will be of interest, before taking up the history of the Bank of England and discussing its functions more in detail, briefly to consider the evolutionary process which led up to conditions making this bank a possibility.


Banking Originated in Italy

The enterprise of the medieval Italian merchants carried them to all parts of the known world. It was natural, therefore, that the Popes should commission them to collect their revenues and to transport them to Rome. As these revenues were paid in the moneys of the countries where collected, the merchants readily became money changers and early originated and used letters of credit and bills of exchange. It was in keeping with their other activities to act as collectors and farmers of the revenues of the sovereigns of the countries which they visited. As farmers of the revenues they would make advances to the King and reimburse themselves, with a profit, by collecting the customs or some other branch of the King's revenue, which was given to them in "ferme"-- that is, as security. From such advances against the revenues it was an easy step to making direct loans. Sometimes the repayment of these loans was guaranteed by the pledge of the Crown jewels, the royal wardrobe, or the very diadem itself. As the payment of interest ("usury") was forbidden by the Church, the merchants were rewarded for these advances in various indirect ways. Sometimes the King agreed to buy jewels or other wares. Sometimes he

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