Currency, Conversation, and Control: Political Discourse and the Coinage in Mid-Tudor England
English Historical Review
Oxford University Press
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Bishop, J. (2016). Currency, Conversation, and Control: Political Discourse and the Coinage in Mid-Tudor England. English Historical Review, 131 (551), 763-792. https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cew236
In 1542, Henry VIII authorised the first of a series of debasements of the English silver coinage which would collectively come to be known as the ‘great debasement’ of the mid-sixteenth century. The debasement was accompanied by a period of inflation and political change, and for contemporary observers these phenomena were inextricably linked. The coinage became the subject of a growing critical discourse, and governors feared that popular discontent threatened to spill over into riot and disorder—and perhaps even the subversion of the commonwealth. Moving away from the details of mint policy and quantitative assessments of the circulating medium that have previously occupied historians, this article explores the coinage as a topic of political discourse in the mid-Tudor period. As a matter of state, the coinage was a topic on which ordinary subjects were supposed to be silent and even Crown agents had to be circumspect, as criticising the coinage could be classed as sedition and mishandling it was a treasonous offence. But because of its status as common currency, the coinage was always in the public sphere, and was subject to the vagaries of popular opinion. This article recovers a range of contemporary perceptions and discussions of the coinage, from royal proclamations, government documents, and formal treatises, to correspondence, diary entries, court cases, and rumours. In so doing, it shows that the Crown’s efforts to control the coinage were consonant with its attempts to control political discourse and the discussion of matters of state in the mid-sixteenth century.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cew236
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/256661