King Henry II Part One

Issue 69: August 1989

PUBLIC SECTOR strikes, inflation, interest rates, the mortgage rate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer – our moans in August 1989.

Go back 800 years, to 1189, the last year of the reign of Henry II, the king who set out but failed to conquer the world. There is no Chancellor (the office would be created in 1221) but there is a rudimentary department of the Exchequer.

At Westminster the ‘tellers’ are adding up receipts, silver pennies (the only English coin) poured from wine casks conveyed to London by cart. They count in units of a ‘tale’ of 240 coins to the pound weight – the precursor of 240d to the £.

The unit ‘tale’ will later spawn a central European coin, the ‘taler’, and later still evolve into the ‘dollar’.

There is no Bank of England and the King’s ‘treasury’ is merely a room where the ‘treasure’ is kept. Coin and regalia are stored, along with woven willow twig hampers or turned wooden skippets made of wood tow inches thick, sheeted inside and out with iron, strengthened by iron bands fastened by iron nails, and secured by at least three locks. Empty, the chests weigh at least 5 cwt.

The cash rolls in from royal farms and other land held by the king; from profit on coining; from tolls, markets, treasure-trove, shipwrecks; from the goods of fugitives and outlaws; from customs and other controls of trade; from judicial fines; and from feudal taxation and regular ‘special’ war levies.

The treasury is close by the royal chambers for kings must dip into it often. The defence of the realm is expensive, overseas wars are expensive, living a kingly life is expensive.

Bullion to pay for war in France is sent from Westminster to Winchester and on to Southampton for a ship. As Exchequer records describe it, ‘Treasure chests conveyed to Winchester’ and ‘Treasure chests conveyed beyond sea from Winchester’.

The king often visits Winchester. He has a treasury room here too, although the treasure is not mainly coin as in London but silver and gold plate, spoils of war and confiscations. The king hunts the forest for boar and deer, fishes for trout, exercises his hawks, banquets in style, settles his debts and then shoots off back to the Smoke: ‘Treasure, hawks, records, tallies and regalia conveyed from Winchester’.

APART FROM king, baronets, army, clergy and merchants, the population lives off the land in a virtually cashless sub-economy where the inflation rate soars every winter, trains never run, no-one takes access or Visa and we haven’t even got a Chancellor of the Exchequer. Roll on August 1989.