Thursday, November 01, 2012

Memo to Ben Bernanke: How King Henry I dealt with currency debasement

King Henry I was the first of the Norman kings who actually tried to rule England with some attention to the welfare of his people following the often brutal reigns of his father William the Conqueror and then his elder brother William Rufus. In the year 1124 he began to receive complaints from ordinary people and his Barons that prices were rising sharply and that his soldiers were being paid in coins that contained only a fraction of the silver they were supposed to. Accusations were made that the royal coiners, the Federal Reserve of the era, were debasing the currency.

In response Henry summoned them to appear at Winchester on Christmas day 1124. Several, fearing that their activities had been uncovered, fled the country. But most showed up. They were shocked when Henry had them arrested and in a display of royal justice put them on public trial. Evidence was presented and witnesses testified in open court. At the conclusion of the trial 94 were found guilty of debasing the currency.

After the verdicts were announced the King imposed His justice. Some of the minor offenders, mere boys who were apprenticed to the ringleaders, were pardoned or let off with a good thrashing. But the main culprits had their right hand cut off and were then publicly castrated. History doesn't record the details but it is almost certain that some would have died under such punishment.

1 comment:

Visibilium said...

Spare me. Henry was a royal prick, outshone only by the two truly extraordinary pricks who preceded him. Henry began his reign by promptly reducing the penny's weight and continued to avail himself of that option. Aethelred was rolling in his grave. The Moneyers' Assize was nothing more than a scapegoating for royal profligacy, including the Normandy war and First Crusade. Keep in mind that various lords (and ecclesiastical lords) employed the moneyers and received part of the minting profits.

A more apt parallel wouldn't be Bernancke's policies, but Greenspan's scapegoating the commercial bankers for his monetary profligacy.