LEATHER MONEY

Posted: November 23, 2014 in Chat
Tags: , , , , , ,

Alexander Del Mar, in his book, Money and Civilisation (Burt Franklin, 1969), makes the suggestion that in the reign of King Edward 1 of England, the state of the economy was so bad that he had to resort at one point to issuing leather money. The debasement of the currency prior to this was due to the inheritance of the bad practices and abuses of coin under the previous monarch, Henry 111. Coin-clipping was rife, and consequently many coins were found to be lower in value per weight of precious metals than their actual value in cash.

LM1

The leather money probably took the form of lozenges of cured leather, stamped or branded with the royal insignia. This was suggested to be the chief form of payment for the labourers who built the Welsh castles in the 1290s: Caernarfon, Conwy:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and Beaumaris:

LMbeaumaris2

I have this vision of cattle from the Welsh Marches driven to London markets, and their hides returned to Wales as money.

Why this huge castle-building programme, in a period of already rocky finances?
Following the prolonged disturbances and shifting alliances of the last Welsh prices, and particularly the rebellion of Llywelyn the Great, these castles were strategic to the suppression of the North Welsh stronghold of his supporters.
Immediately prior to this were the extensive campaigns in Ireland under the previous monarch to further establish an English hegemony; and later on were the Scottish campaigns against William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. All the participants were played off against each: Wales was used as a base for English expeditions into Ireland; and Welsh interests were exploited to weaken support for Scottish independence. These long campaigns were, of course, enormously expensive.

And then, in 1290, he finally expelled the Jewish population from England.
This followed over a century of sporadic but intensifying hostility. The Jewish people were only allowed to work in the fields of money lending and finance schemes; Crown Princes and Kings used their expertise. And then Edward banned them from that, and tried to force them to work only as traders, artisans, farmers. Ten years later they were forbidden to work as merchants.

Money lending, along with interest payments, was considered a highly unchristian occupation (Jesus ejecting the money-lenders from the temple etc) and so only suitable for non Christians. In later years banks, for instance the Medici Bank, manipulated accounts through foreign exchanges in highly complex schemes, in order to gain the best rates. These schemes were used knowingly on the accounts of archbishops and even a Pope. It was all to avoid being labelled as ‘usurers’.

LMMedici

The end product was virtually the same, of course.

By expelling the Jewish citizens Edward 1 hoped to recoup more cash by this squalid tactic of seizing their assets. In effect he further crippled the economy.
And the tight reins he held on import and export licenses prevented expansion of markets; it held Britain in stagnation.

Nice one, Edward One!

The use of leather money was a practice borrowed initially from Russia; it was also known in China, India, Venice, and even France in later centuries.

Reposted from 2011

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