That time the Great Crown of England was pawned
July 24, 2017 6:13 AM   Subscribe

In February 1338, the English Parliament approved a forced loan from Edward III's English subjects in support of his war against King Philip VI of France: 20,000 sacks of wool, which were to arrive in friendly Antwerp just before Edward landed with his troops in July. English wool, then the best in the world, could easily be converted into the gold needed to pay for troops and supplies. When Edward landed in Antwerp, his allies were there to greet him: The Duke of Brabant, the Count of Hainault, the Duke of Guelders, the Margrave of Juliers, and a host of lesser princes. But the wool wasn't.

In England, there was little enthusiasm for Edward's adventures on the continent. The forced loan had been evaded and resisted with almost complete success. By the end of July, only 1,846 sacks had been shipped. Edward was blindsided and broke. With an army to feed and allies to pay, he borrowed indiscriminately - from the always dependable William Pole (great-grandfather of the most despised man in England), from the Italian Bardi and Peruzzi families, and from whatever other lenders his agents could find, Italian, Flemish, Dutch and Jewish. He offered interest rates up to 50% per annum. And he pawned the Great Crown of England.

Edward spent his borrowed money lavishly in order to bring the Holy Roman Emperor on board and firm up the wavering commitment of his allies. But despite a grand ceremony of support from the Holy Roman Emperor, his allies still wavered, and the 1338 campaigning season was lost. They decided to invade in May 1339; then decided that July would be more prudent. In the meantime, over Christmas and into the new year, payments on Edward's debts and further subsidies he had promised his allies fell due. The Archbishop of Trier, Baldwin of Luxembourg, one of the most influential German princes, was a high-priority creditor for Edward. On February 27, 1339, the Great Crown of England was redeemed from pawn in Bruges and pledged to the Archbishop as security.

The following year did not go well for Edward. Successful French naval raiding meant that he had to spend money which he did not have on buying supplies which never reached him. On October 23, 1339, his armies and allies were finally across the battlefield from the French, but Philip wisely refused to engage (despite being ridiculed on the field by his own noblemen). After the aborted battle, Edward's allies declared a moral victory and marched away. Edward's money was running out, but he couldn't go back to England to lend his weight to efforts in Parliament to raise further levies, as he had promised his creditors that he would not return to England until they were paid.

On January 2, 1340, Edward III of England had himself declared King of France in a ceremony on a platform in the Friday Market of Ghent. But it was prelude to humiliation. In September, he was able to borrow £100 to pay for his archers' meals, but by October, a hostage to his creditors, not even tradesmen would extend credit to the King of England. Promised shipments of wool did not arrive. The Archbishop of Trier was threatening to break up the Great Crown of England; another syndicate of bankers was convinced to take over the pledge, but they, too, threatened to break up the crown if they were not paid within a year.

On November 28, Edward pretended to go for a ride in the suburbs of Ghent but instead escaped the city and found a boat to take him to England. He left behind an apologetic letter to his creditors. His unexpected arrival at the Tower of London at midnight a couple of days later was like a stroke of thunder. Edward's anger at what he saw as a failure of his officials and advisors in England to deliver the wool promised by Parliament exploded. The darkened Tower was lit, and his officials were summoned from their beds for interrogation or dismissal. He locked up home ministers, financiers, and judges. Two judges were seized while they were presiding at Cambridge assizes. One senior officer fled and became an outlaw; John Stratford, the Archbishop of Canterbury, took sanctuary in his own cathedral "like a common criminal."

After Edward cooled down, he began to understand the importance of the political mood in England for his own ambitions. Over the following five years, he built a 14th-century propaganda machine. Poets and chroniclers brought their hatred of Philip VI and his subjects to a pitch of ferocity which makes parts of their work unreadable. Franciscan and Augustinian friars preached the justice of Edward's cause. Stories of French atrocities - real and otherwise - were vigorously circulated. A series of glamorous jousts and tournaments, and a promise to revive King Arthur's Round Table helped forge a close relationship with his aristocrats and fire their enthusiasm for war. (A revived Round Table did not appear, but The Order of the Garter did.) He scrupulously observed Parliamentary forms, and put his finances on a steadier footing by agreeing with Parliament to collect a duty on freely-traded wool instead of imposing arbitrary monopolies.

Edward III got free of his creditors one by one. The Italians, diplomatically unimportant, were repudiated and lost enormous sums, leading to financial collapse and depression in Italy. They were not the last to regret lending to kings. William Pole, who remained a loyal fundraiser, got part of his money back, eventually. Flemish and German bankers and princes, whose support was needed for future attacks on northern France from the Low Countries, received most of what they were owed. Finally, in 1344, the Great Crown returned to England; in 1345, it was fully redeemed from pawn.

In September 1346, with England's support and money now solidly behind him, Edward's armies were outside of Calais. By March of the following year, with the expensive siege draining his reserves but feeling that he was on the verge of a major victory, Edward pawned the crown again.

Many websites about the Great Crown of England mention that it was pawned twice by Edward III - and a third time by the desperate wife of Charles I - but the story is most fully told woven into the narrative of the vivid first volume of Jonathan Sumption's Gibbon-esque (second volume), monumental (third volume), Game-of-Thrones (fourth volume), and not yet complete history of the Hundred Years' War.
posted by clawsoon (18 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Really ought to mention Crécy and the capture of Calais. The money wasn't completely wasted.
posted by Segundus at 6:33 AM on July 24 [5 favorites]


First link goes to a Google book but it's not loading.
posted by odinsdream at 6:47 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


Segundus: Really ought to mention Crécy and the capture of Calais. The money wasn't completely wasted.

Fair point - the second time he pawned the crown, in 1346, the money played a useful role in those victories. But the first time he pawned it, in 1338, it was part of a financial disaster for Edward that took seven years to fix and resulted in little but half-hearted invasion attempts and truces. If Edward hadn't turned himself into the perfect king after he escaped from Ghent in 1340, he might've ended up in an even worse position than his father did.

odinsdream: First link goes to a Google book but it's not loading.

Dammit. I checked all the links and found alternate sources for anything that came up as "this page not available in preview", but most of the links are Google book links. You might have a hard time with this one. Sorry about that. Hopefully others don't have the same problem?
posted by clawsoon at 6:54 AM on July 24


But the first time he pawned it, in 1338, it was part of a financial disaster for Edward

Oh yes, fair enough. I think Henry VII had the right idea: negotiate a large pay-off and withdraw...
posted by Segundus at 7:11 AM on July 24


BTW, I take it that the crown itself was destroyed when Cromwell melted all the Crown jewels down in a catastrophic act of cultural vandalism.
posted by Segundus at 7:14 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


"Edward pawned the crown again" link busted for me in the US
posted by introp at 7:18 AM on July 24


/hoists "Fantastic" banner, exclamatio or on a field azure
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:22 AM on July 24 [5 favorites]


introp: "Edward pawned the crown again" link busted for me in the US

If you're shy of questionable links, here's an extended quote:
Just as defeat had dried up Philip VI’s sources of money and men, victory enabled Edward III to mine fresh seams of his subjects’ wealth. Edward’s representatives called the principal lay and ecclesiastical peers who were still in England to Westminster on 3 March 1347. They told them very plainly that the King needed a great deal of money at once. Unless he received it, they said, everything that had been spent since the beginning of the previous year would be wasted. Faced once more with the spectre of Tournai, the peers agreed to authorize a forced loan of 20,000 sacks of wool to be assessed against every man in the kingdom except the poorest laymen. ... The proceeds of these taxes were anticipated almost at once by a great programme of borrowing. The whole of the wool loan was sold to Walter Chiriton’s syndicate for £66,666, which represented a fairly substantial discount on its full value and was payable in instalments over a period of months. A variety of other lenders was found. The Great Crown was mortgaged (again) for £20,000 to a syndicate organized by the London vintner Henry Picard. This great influx of money satisfied the King’s needs for a short time.

During the latter half of April 1347 Edward III finally succeeded in surrounding Calais from all sides.
posted by clawsoon at 7:32 AM on July 24


BTW, I take it that the crown itself was destroyed when Cromwell melted all the Crown jewels down in a catastrophic act of cultural vandalism.

Cromwell and his boys: the OG ISIS.
posted by corb at 8:11 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]


Cromwells are tough on church and state.
posted by Diablevert at 9:20 AM on July 24


I'm having trouble finding out what crown the "Great Crown of England" was. St. Edward's Crown was the one sold by Cromwell's parliament, but if it was used by Edward III it's not mentioned in the wikipedia page.
posted by tavella at 9:54 AM on July 24 [2 favorites]


It looks like it's pretty confusing for other people, too, going by the discussion in this book.
posted by tavella at 9:58 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


this is amazing. Thank you.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:14 AM on July 24


tavella: It looks like it's pretty confusing for other people, too, going by the discussion in this book.

Fascinating. I suppose the bookkeepers weren't more detailed with their records because, duh, everybody knows which crown we're talking about, it's the magna corona, you know the one. No, not that one, that's the crown of Spain, the other one beside it.
posted by clawsoon at 10:32 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]


I'm having trouble finding out what crown the "Great Crown of England" was. St. Edward's Crown was the one sold by Cromwell's parliament, but if it was used by Edward III it's not mentioned in the wikipedia page.

Does look like it's unclear from the records. But it seems weird that if Henry III had access to St. Edward's Crown that he wouldn't have used it --- he was in lurve with Edward the Confessor, created Westminster Abbey as a shrine to him and named his firstborn son after him. (Before that Edward would have been considered an archaic Anglo-Saxon name, as strange-sounding to contemporaries as Ethelred is to us today.) On the other hand the modern version is supposed to be heavy as hell and Henry III was crowned at age nine, so maybe they had to use a smaller one. In which case Edward I, the first king to be crowned at the new Westminster, could have used it. He was big on his coronation symbolism, and it would have pleased his father, so if I had to lay money I'd say he'd have used it. In which case Edward III likely did too, he explicitly modeled his reign after his grandfather's.
posted by Diablevert at 11:42 AM on July 24 [2 favorites]


There seems to be some argument over whether the original was lost by King John, in which case it may be that the modern King Edward's Crown is the third, not the second. It would make some sense, since earlier English crowns seem to have been simpler and presumably this one must have been quite the gem-encrusted showpiece to be staked for so much.
posted by tavella at 12:23 PM on July 24


Would the threat to break up the crown been based on business ("We can sell these gems separately for more than the whole thing") or violence/protection ("Give us the money or we smash it")?
posted by clawsoon at 12:33 PM on July 24


I would guess a bit of both - on the one hand if he defaulted they were going to get something out of the collateral, on the other hand they would definitely want to assert claims to a senior tranche, as it were.
posted by PMdixon at 2:17 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]


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