Saturday, 29 November 2014

six-penny or landed-gentry

Absent Roman influence and insular trading practices, the British Isles were relative late-comers to fiat currency, which perpetuated the tradition role of kingship that had existed among the Germanic tribes even as kingdoms grew beyond the tribal clan. Essentially without coinage—though some charters did exist for so called moneyiers to produce crude blanks of specie for trading purposes, the old ways of the continental Saxons held with the king collecting tribute from peasants, whom were otherwise free, in the form of conscription and an annual food tax, figured on the size and arability of their parcel of land. Of course being a French term, the farmers in Britain did not pay taxes, though the concept is pretty universal, but rather a mol or male—which incidentally is the source of the idea of blackmail, given that there were bullying vigilantes who tried to supplement the king’s army and forced individuals to pay up for extra protection—blaichmol, protection rent, rather than the alledged latter day practise of posting letters of extortion in darkly coloured envelopes so the receiver did not know where the stamp was canceled. Matters, however, began to change for England with the Norman Invasion, who reintroduced economic policy and a currency over barter system that they had inherited from the Romans. The Normans, through the Franks, also employed some housekeeping methods that the Romans had failed to comprehend, which led to hyper-inflation and the eventual collapse of the Empire. Though Emperor Diocletian had made a good-faith effort to round up all the destructive and worthless currency he could managed, these gestures fell short.
The Franks and later the English, however, were more savvy about the face-value of coins, and began to issue legal-tender with an expiration date that better ensured that there would be no runaway inflation. Say shepherd Dagofirþ had earned sixty shillings—twelve pence (the penny being named for former uniting force Penda, with no relation to the Welsh dynasty of Pendragons from Arthurian lore) to a shilling and twenty shilling to a Pound (£ being a symbol for libre pondo from the Latins) having derived from the French style of twelve denier to the solidus (being the wage a soldier) and twenty of these to a livre—and in order to keep what he earned current, he must redeem his coins after three years at the counting-house of his liege, King Æþelƹorn. Dagofirþ, however, might be surprised to find he is only getting back, say, three-and-fifty shillings in the new, up-to-date coinage, minus some administrative costs of mining and minting the silver in Æþelƹorn’s good name, plus as a mechanism for market-corrections if, say, there had been a poor grain harvest or royal ransoms to pay. It was clever and responsible on the part of the government to cast such bounds over money, but after its introduction, matters escalated rather quickly. Pretty soon, Dagofirþ could not manage to keep up with his obligations to his family with his devalued coin, and so so luckier personage, a apiarist who had connections perhaps with that blackmailing crowd, named BeǷofief, graciously steps in and offers to help Dagofirþ in his plight. BeƐofief will be responsible for the shortcomings (and profit) in exchange for holding title to the land Dagofirþ was working for Æþelƹorn directly. Many of BeǷofief’s peers got keen to this scheme as well, and soon the an aristocratic class of landed-gentry was formed, that alienated the worker from his king and keep and came to be called the feudal system. A hierarchy of counts, dukes, earls, barons was soon established that all compounded this estranging effect and put more distance between the monarch and subject.  Rich with actual money that resembled coinage encountered elsewhere, England soon entered in the world stage as a trading partner, with suppliers pleased to receive legitimate-looking money in exchange instead of pledges, rough-hewn coins, or bushels of perishable turnips. This success, however, was also soon to attract the notice of their former neighbours, the Vikings occupying lands adjacent in Scandinavia, from whence the Anglo-Saxons vacated, and soon summoned raiding parties from across the seas, thinking these wealthy lands might be easy targets.