Tuesday, 22 November 2016

How Could 17th Century Exiles Receive Money from England?

As a writer, there are times when a character in a historical novel needs to get their hands on some money. In seventeenth century Britain, how did they do it?

I came across this when I researched life for the exiles in the court of Charles II in Holland and France. Many were running out of money, and Edward Hyde writes of the generosity of the Princess Royal (i.e., Mary, sister to Charles II, wife of William I of Orange) in providing a house for him, rent free:

During that time the Princess Royal had, out of her own princely nature and inclination, cultivated by the civility and offices of the Lady Stanhope, conferred a very seasonable obligation upon him [that is, Edward Hyde] , by assigning a house that was in her disposal at Breda to his wife and children, who thereupon left Antwerp, and without the payment of any house rent, were more conveniently, because more frugally, settled in their new mansion at Breda.

Which prompted me to ask: How did he survive? Where did he get money to live on? Was someone sending him money? If so, how? And not just Hyde, but all the exiles. Some struggled in poverty.

Roger L’Estrange, while he was in Newgate, needed money to pay the jailer,  and for his food and lodging. When he slipped out of Newgate with ‘the privity of [his] keeper’ where did he get the money to survive? He had no inheritance yet, but he did have an allowance from his family in Norfolk. But he did not go to Norfolk, he went to Kent. So how did his allowance reach him?

A glance at the banking system in 17th century England might be useful.

The first provincial bank was opened in 1650, two years after Roger was in Kent, and it was not until 1694 that the Bank of England was founded. Until then, the prototype of banking was through goldsmiths. They had acquired much gold following the dissolution of the monasteries. However many goldsmiths were associated with the Crown, and Charles I seized the gold held at the Royal Mint in the Tower of London, making the Royal Mint no longer a safe place to keep gold. The goldsmiths turned to the gentry and aristocracy.

Goldsmiths, the ‘keepers of running cash’ accepted gold in exchange for a receipt. Further, they accepted written instructions to pay back either to the depositor or to a third party, which instruction was the precursor of the cheque or banknote. So Roger could have received written instructions from his father, or his father’s agent or clerk, to receive money from a goldsmith.

But what about those abroad in exile?

In unrelated research, I came across a thesis on Sugar plantations in Jamaica in which the writer cites  documents relating to bills of exchange in the 1650s. A bill of exchange enabled a person from England to send money to his ‘agent’ (in this case, a brother) in Jamaica, or, presumably, anywhere else in the world.

What is a bill of exchange, how does it work? Basically, it too is a forerunner of the modern cheque. It is a written order made by one person (the drawer) to another person (the drawee – in the case of a modern cheque that would be the bank) to pay a third person (the payee). The order is addressed to the drawee, and he has to agree to pay the money to the payee. So, while Roger was in exile, his father could have sent his allowance by a bill of exchange.

A bill of exchange is negotiable. That means that the payee could endorse the order in favour of someone else for them to draw on it. In turn, they could also endorse the order in favour of yet another person and so on ad infinitum. The last person to hold the bill of exchange may claim the amount against the drawee, no matter who else may think he has a claim on it. Which is why it is called ‘negotiable’ and why modern cheques are crossed and marked ‘non negotiable’. Of course a negotiable bill of exchange could be subject to theft, forgery, and so on – I see a plot developing here!

In the case of the plantation, the owner lived in England and sent bills of exchange to his brother in Jamaica. The owner had a network of associates in Jamaica, neighbours, family, friends, one of whom could have been willing to act as the drawee, one who trusted the owner to compensate him. Or perhaps the drawer had already deposited money with the drawee in advance, say, before the drawee left England for Jamaica. The account does not say. The same might be true of those in Charles II’s court in exile. With regard to the goldsmiths, had the drawer already deposited gold with them for use in the future? Or was there some kind of network arrangement between goldsmiths? If anyone knows, please tell me.

So that is the technical bit. Through bills of exchange, or orders to goldsmiths, money could be sent to anywhere in the world, and our characters need not be pining in poverty.

Rebellion - Roger L'Estrange and the Kent Petition by Evelyn Tidman is available now in Print and Kindle or visit her website.

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