Social and Economic

Licence to perform Alchemy

Alchemy is the science of turning basic objects into gold. It has been viewed as a dark art at times and associated with magic which in the middle ages could be viewed as heresy. The economic plight of Englsnd in the mid 1440’s led to some people suggesting thst the somewhat dubious science of Alchemy could be a solution to the bullion crisis. Consequengly Sir Thomas de Ashton petitikned King Henry VI for permission to experiment with Alchemy.n

King Henry VI gave a special order to Sir Thomas de Ashton to perform Alchemy on 7 April 1446.

Sir Thomas de Ashton does not fit the stereotype of a medieval knight. Despite his memorial stained glass window depicting him in full plate armour, adorned with the House of Lancaster’s symbol, he is not recorded as having ever undertaken any military service. That itself is not unusual, many knights were busier with administrative roles, serving as members of Parliament, or working within the royal family’s household’s or for magnates.

Sir Thomas was none of these. Though his father was an accomplished soldier, he chose a different path. It was one that saw him gain royal approval and protection. His preferred method of serving the monarch was through the field of alchemy.

Special Licence to undertake Alchemy

Sir Thomas de Ashton and Sir Edmund de Trafford were granted a special licence to undertake work as alchemists on this day in 1446. The order forbade any subject of the King from molesting either of the men. The two knights, both from Lancashire, were to pursue their experiments in the field of base metals.

Upon the licence being issued, there were clashes between another party interested in alchemy, the Booth family, and the local clergy. Granting the licence may have been due to close ties that Ashton had with the court.

Value of Alchemists

Local legend has it that the alchemists sent King Henry VI gold that they had made from base metal. In 1456/7 Henry’s Government undertook an inquiry into the potential revenue that could be earned from alchemy. This made men such as Sir Thomas prized assets.


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