ChroniclesSocial and Economic

Edward IV accumulates wealth

The second reign of Edward IV saw him employ a variety of approached to the accumulation of wealth. Taxation and the imposition of customs duties via traditional forms of poundage and tonnage were one such method. But Edward wanted and spent more than these methods raised for the crown, and Parliaments in the late medieval era were quite capable of restricting the amount of finance available to a monarch through these means. The manner in which Edward IV accumulates wealth is therefore a little different to standard. 

Money making ventures

Edward’s invasion of France was to all intents and purposes a money making exercise. Having persuaded Parliament to raise a large tax for the war, he proceeded despite allies being in no position to participate. His goal was perhaps exactly what was achieved in the Treaty of Picquigny, a financial settlement in his favour. This was an unusual but effective tactic which had few downsides.

Edward IV accumulates wealth

He also made more extensive use of royal lands than many of his predecessors had. This created tension, notably with his brother George duke of Clarence, as land grants were revoked for estates to return to royal control. This provided the crown with the means to produce more goods for export, which were then carried on merchant shipping that the king had procured. It exploited the riches of the realm with the king’s coffers filling, without it benefitting the general treasury.

It was accompanied by a more rigorous approach to the management of lands. Edward had officials checking the validity of land rights up and down the kingdom, imposing fines or removing grants where faults were found. Combined the measures increased the king’s personal income. They also attracted criticism from some quarters. He was accused of breaking Magna Carta, of breaking the land management laws himself, and of restricting the profitability of some merchants ventures.

Criticisms of Edward IV’s approach to trade

Though there was criticism, there were benefits. Many merchants saw trade flourish at this time. It saw ports that had been closed to English ships re-opening and diplomacy later in Edward’s reign brought to an end ongoing conflict with the Hanseatic League.

The Croyland Chronicle on Edward IV’s accumulation of wealth

There is no doubt that the king felt his perplexed situation in this matter most deeply at heart, and was by no means ignorant of the condition of his people, and how readily they might be betrayed, in case they should find a leader, to enter into rebellious plans, and conceive a thirst for change. Accordingly, seeing that things had now come to such a pass, that from thenceforth he could not dare, in his emergencies, to ask the assistance of the English people, and finding that (a thing which really was the case) it was through want of money that the French expedition had in such a short time, come to nothing; he turned all his thoughts to the question, how he might in future collect an amount of treasure worthy of his royal station out of his own substance, and by the exercise of his own energies. Accordingly, having called Parliament together, he resumed possession of nearly all the royal estates, without regard to whom they had been granted, and applied the whole thereof to the support of the expenses of the crown. Throughout all the ports of the kingdom he appointed inspectors of the customs, men of remarkable shrewdness, but too hard, according to general report, upon the merchants. The king himself, also, having procured merchant ships, put on board of them the finest wools, cloths, tin, and other productions of the kingdom, and, like a private individual living
by trade, exchanged merchandize for merchandize, by means of his factors, among both Italians and Greeks. The revenues of vacant prelacies, which, according to Magna Carta, cannot be sold, he would only part with out of his hands at a stated sum, and on no other terms whatever. He also examined the register and rolls of Chancery, and exacted heavy fines from those whom he found to have intruded and taken possession of
estates without prosecuting their rights in form required by law; by way of return for the rents which they had in the meantime received. These, and more of a similar nature than ean possibly be conceived by a man who is inexperienced in such matters, were his methods of making up a purse; added to which, there was the yearly tribute of ten thousand pounds due from France, together with numerous tenths from the churches, from which the prelates and clergy had been unable to get themselves excused. All these particulars, in the course of a very few years, rendered him an extremely wealthy prince; so much so, that, for collecting vessels of gold and silver, tapestries, and decorations of the most precious nature, both for his palaces and for various churches, and for building castles, colleges, and other distinguished places, and making new acquisitions of lands and possessions, not one of his predecessors was at all able to equal his remarkable achievements.

Croyland Chronicle

Image Credit

Photo of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton. Via Wikimedia user geni. CC BY-SA 4.0

Leave a Reply