Since I already wrote a post on the debasement of coinage during Henry’s reign, I thought I’d look up a little about coining methods, techniques and laws regarding minting during the time. At a time when there was no paper money, and certainly no plastic money or electronic money, mints were used exclusively for making coins from different metals.
Coins were produced in Roman Britain, but an English mint was only set up around 650. The mints were held by many different individuals as businesses, but eventually, by the reign of Henry, they had all consolidated into one single mint in London. Considering that the mint was held by the king, it was just added to the royal treasury. It produced copper, silver or gold coins in the name of the King and received a portion of the metal as seigniorage. Seigniorage was a kind of royalty paid to the mint for services rendered.
Sumptuary laws are legal acts that mark a person’s social status by legally specifying what they could wear, what they could eat, and even what kind of furniture they could have in their homes. Henry VIII’s opulent court called for such laws, but these were also applicable to those lower in rank, and even to monks and laypersons. A difference between the Tudor sumptuary laws and sumptuary laws practiced by other countries was that in England, the laws originated in Parliament, whereas in most other countries, these laws were local, and applicable only within the towns.
There are a million and one books written on Henry’s wives, and a somewhat fewer number devoted to the religious schism in his reign. It is amazing to find that there are very few books that deal with the economics of the times.
One of the nicknames Henry VIII was given by his affectionate (and not so affectionate) subjects was Old Coppernose. This refers to the fact that with wear and tear, the silver varnish of his debased coins wore off in time, leaving the copper exposed. So how and why did the debasement happen?