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Sovereign counterfeits: the trial of the pyx.

1. Majesty's "Specyall Purpose"

On 9 May 1611 James I broke with a royal custom that had been established for more than a century of Tudor rule. He attended the trial of the pyx at the Royal Mint in the city of London. This yearly ceremony was for the formal testing of sovereign moneys. It was designed to ensure that the manufacture of various denominations conformed to current standards set by the crown. While his Tudor predecessors had allowed previous trials to continue unattended by majesty, James's presence at the pyx in 1611 provided the occasion for a striking display of royal power.(1) Howes's chronicle gives a detailed description of the event:

The King in person came into the Starre-chamber, and having viewed it, then went into the Recepts and other offices; his Majestie likewise went into Westminster Hall, and into the Court of Exchequer, and into the other offices, and presently after came the Prince of Wales, and survayed all those places in like manner; and this morning the King and the Prince of Wales, being accompanied and attended with the Lord Chauncelor, the Lord Treasurer, the Lord Privie Seale, and the Lord Chamberlaine, and six other Earles, and six Barons, and Syr Julius Caesar, Chauncelor of the Exchequer, being all in the Star-chamber, where his Majestie was then come of specyall purpose, to see his monies of gold and silver to be taken out of the pixe, and to be tried as well for their weight as for their finenesse; for which purpose . . . [officers of] . . . the Mint, as the King had appointed, caused the pixe to be brought from the Mint thether, where, in the presence of the King, they with their severall keys opened the pixe and poured forth the gold and silver to be assayed and tryed by their severall standards, according to the form of indentures made betweene the King and the Masters and Workers of his Majestie's moneys . . . This kind of tryall, though it bee usual once every year, for due examination and plaine proofe wheather the monies bee as they ought to be or not, yet it is beyond all memorie and mention for an hundred yeares space, that ever any King or Queene came in proper person to see any of these tryalls; yet neverthelesse at this time his Majestie in person gave a jurie of sixteene of the most honest, skilfullest, and best reputed gouldsmithes their othes, and charge for tryall of the monies, and the jury proceeded in all things according to their charge, and they gave up their verdict the same day at the Court of Whitehall, and the King shewed them great grace and favour . . . His Majesty having dilligently viewed and examined the state of his monies and Mint, as is mentioned, he also, with like Kingly care and prudence, searched and examined the abuses of the Commonwealth practised by very many persons upon all sorts of monies; for redresse whereof his Majestie made Proclamation the 18th of May for the preservation of monies.(2)

This account suggests that James's presence largely disrupted the usual course of events, and indeed transformed the internal structure of the ceremony. This was because James conceived of its function as a trial differently. During a period of some thirty years spanning the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the mint had essentially been in the hands of a single man, Richard Martin, whose responsibilities covered the entire process of making, checking, and accounting for the coin produced, including appointing a jury of experienced goldsmiths to assay newly minted coins. C.E. Challis notes that while "on the surface it was a successful arrangement since at successive trials of the pyx - in 1583, 1585, 1587, 1594, 1595 and 1598 - Martin's moneys were found to be upright standard . . . the suspicion had grown up in the 1560s and 1570s that the master-worker was likely to be corrupt."(3) Indeed, in the events leading up to the pyx trial of May 1586, Challis finds that great care was taken by Martin in impaneling the jury and conducting the assays to ensure an agreeable outcome.(4) For many years these trials had been carried out internally by self-examining bodies electing partisan juries, and disagreement generally arose only because of tensions among the various groups participating in the event. In 1611, however, the king's "specyall purpose" in attending was to make sure that the trial was more rigorously prosecuted. This can be seen in wider terms as part of the development of jury trials in early modern England in which Thomas Andrew Green finds "a shift from a trial dominated by the self-informing jury to a trial based mainly on evidence produced by the prosecution."(5) The transformation of the jury trial in this period meant that juries had lost most of their control over the production of evidence, and this change is reflected in the relationship between prosecution and jury at the pyx in 1611. Howes describes how "his Majestie in person" appointed a jury of sixteen well-reputed goldsmiths "for tryall of the monies" who "gave up their verdict the same day." By constituting "in person" a group of goldsmiths as jurors, James cleverly reminded them of their proper place as subjects and subordinates to the crown, significantly undermining the powers which they had conventionally enjoyed upon such occasions.

Green notes that during this period of transformation the role and freedoms of juries differed according to the crime and from case to case, particularly at a time when the boundaries of newly drawn legal categories were still somewhat open and elastic. The trial jury of the early seventeenth century was therefore a curious multi-positional body continually under scrutiny with some residual powers of controlling evidence, in most cases curtailed by the increasing responsibilities of the prosecution but having some rights nevertheless in finding the law.(6) This unstable positioning of jurors is apparent in Howes's record of the 1611 pyx trial and provides the context in which an ambivalent attitude toward goldsmiths is represented. Howes comments that the king chose sixteen of "the most honest" and "best reputed" men available to serve his investigations. Such recommendation of those selected thinly conceals - in a sense reinforces through faint praise - a lingering tone of mistrust for their professional fraternity as a whole. An uncertain image of goldsmiths also emerges from Howes's comment that the king "shewed" his jurors "great grace and favour" upon the delivery of their verdict. This depiction of the crown's "grace and favour" encapsulates a feeling of judicial beneficence and mercy. It suggests not so much that the goldsmiths won approval for - or gained in authority from - their findings but rather that the state dispensed absolution for what they uncovered and displayed, as if the jurors were also on trial. Here we find goldsmiths located within still-fluid roles, moving between judicature, juror, judicious witness, and judicial defendant. These fluctuations inscribe the subjects in question within a structural ambiguity or contradiction: they are represented as figures of consent and dissent at once. Howes's account of the trial suggests that the particular social group it dealt with existed as a condition of rulership and an image of resistance at the same time. Why was this scene of power fraught with such tension, tangible in the representational slippage and equivocation that met - and formed - a wish to discover underlying "truth"? The monetary history surrounding the 1611 trial of the pyx represents politically and symbolically a crucial part of this tension.

2. "The Preservation of Monies": The Monetary Crisis of 1611

On 18 May 1611, nine days after his dramatic entrance to the Royal Mint, the king issued a proclamation expressing concern that the sovereign coin had been subject to widespread violation. To curtail these abuses, to ensure, as Howes puts it, "the preservation of monies," James introduced new legislation that placed tighter controls upon the manufacture and exchange of precious metals. Howes tells us that this decree was "for redresse" of illegal exploitations of currency which "had been practised by very many persons upon all sons of monies." The general nature of this imputation was, however, disingenuous. The short space of time between James's attendance at the ceremonial opening of the pyx and the ordering of changes in law suggest that the king's proclamation was particularly "for redresse" of his findings at the mint. Indeed, Howes himself implies a link between these two actions since his account of the trial culminates in a reference to the new measures. He therefore invites the reader to regard the trial and subsequent royal decree as consecutive events. Nevertheless, the crown did not pinpoint the manufacturing stage alone within its vision of abuses. By describing a whole range of economic malpractices, the declaration of May 1611 seemed to indict the finance community en masse for perpetrating economic crimes against the state. Yet this apparent leveling of blame is, again, deceptive. The "Merchants, and men of other Trades"(7) that James seemed also to accuse of illicit practices were often involved in the manufacture of coins as well as in the trafficking of them. During this period goldsmiths made up a significant fraction of the business sector in the capital. Following the classic thesis of George Unwin, Robert Ashton has described the transformation of feudal craft guilds into livery companies in terms of the development among master craftsmen of marketing functions, so that these bodies were able to combine mercantile interests with production, thus gaining control of access to markets and thereby greater control of capital. This blurring of the distinction between traders and craftsmen can be seen to represent a crucial stage in the development of industrial capitalism.(8) Although it identified various types of abuse involving the city generally, the king's proclamation was therefore directed at a target group that had been well-represented at the pyx, and this indicates that the distrust of goldsmiths found in Howes's chronicle was indeed shared by James.

The decree portrayed a close circle of accomplished professionals participating in a black market in precious metals:

We are . . . informed by the Officers of Our Mint . . . That as well divers of Our naturall borne Subjects, both Goldsmithes, Merchants, and men of other Trades . . . have presumed for their private lucre and gaine, and dayly doe presume to weigh all sorts of Money currant within this Our Realme of England, to the end to cull out the old and new Moneys, which either by not wearing, or by any other accident in the making thereof are more weighty than the rest, Some part of which Moneys so culled out, Wee have found (when it pleased Our selfe to enter into the examination thereof) to be dayly openly sold to Goldsmithes, and by them imployed for the making of Plate, and Vessell of all sorts . . . And some part to be Transported into forreine parts for private mens particular gain.(9)

"Culling out" described the practice of illegally withdrawing specie from circulation to be melted down and manufactured into new forms for exportation. This practice had developed because coins of the same denomination of value had been made to different standards. Fluctuating economic conditions throughout the Tudor and Stuart periods caused continual changes of policy at the Royal Mint.(10) The content of precious metal found in certain denominations was periodically altered, in order either to mint money more cheaply or increase the prestige of the English coin by refining its quality. However, this created discrepancies in the value of different issues. It caused the "real" worth of individual pieces to be variable in relation to the denominated value of the coin as a whole according to when those individual pieces were made. Some coins were worth less in terms of their content of precious metal than their denominated value declared them to be worth.(11) The circulation of these poorer quality coins effectively undervalued money made to higher standards of purity. For this reason it became profitable for traders to "cull out" coins of finer quality for sale on continental markets, which at this time offered better prices for precious metals than could be obtained through domestic exchange. These practices proliferated among "very many persons" since it was relatively easy to discriminate purer from less pure money. The informed eye could tell the difference simply by examining the date imprinted on coins. If one lacked expert knowledge of the exact timing of changes in policy at the mint, then the weight of individual pieces would indicate instead how much precious metal they contained.(12) Despite this, it is not difficult to see why "Merchants, and men of other Trades" were also often skilled in the crafts of goldsmithery. The profitability of "culling out" depended not only on the perpetrator's ability to try the quality of coins. It was also necessary to render them into new forms to evade the ban on exporting coinage. This explains why, as James's trial of the pyx suggested, the state held goldsmiths ultimately responsible for all forms of abuse.

The double image of goldsmiths as official agents/covert enemies of the state enabled the king to suggest in his economic proclamations that the quality of coins had been tampered with only for the "private lucre and gaine" of unscrupulous individuals exploiting positions of trust. This aimed to distract political attention from the state's part in the ruination of English coinage: throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries goldsmiths interfered with the precious metal content of coins because they had been instructed by the mint, carrying out government policy, to do so.

3. The Economic Politics of Coinage 1526-1611

From 1526 onwards numerous issues of English coinage were debased.(13) This meant that their content of gold or silver was reduced by alloying it with common metals. Debasement served to cheapen the manufacture of coins. It therefore enabled reductions in state spending on coinage or allowed the government to mint more money per annum. Indeed, one of the main reasons why English coinage was debased throughout the sixteenth century was that this enabled the state to maximize output at the mint and so "inflate" the money economy at a time of growing demand for circulating currency, brought about by the development of England's industrial and agricultural base generally.(14)

In the latter part of the Tudor period, however, the value of the newly inflated stock of English specie declined in relation to international exchange rates. Repeated debasements had caused existing coins made to finer standards to drain from the domestic economy.(15) This was because it became more profitable for merchants to sell them abroad for their content of precious metal rather than deal them on a domestic market that effectively had devalued them. This tidal outflow ultimately threatened the value of English coins on continental markets flooded with emigrating Tudor money; yet while the image of British currency remained a "devalued" one, the cycle of drainage and deterioration inevitably continued. The national "store" of money created by the state was in this sense jeopardized by the very policy that had enabled its production.

To protect the volume of currency in domestic circulation, the state devised an enhancement strategy. This meant an increase in face value imposed by royal proclamation that would serve to cancel out the higher prices offered abroad for English money. Yet this policy had to be carefully administered. Belief in the intrinsic value of coins was becoming a government priority.(16) To undo the crisis of confidence caused by repeated debasements of coinage, it was of great importance to the authorities in the later Tudor period that the face value of contemporary coinage was perceived to correspond extremely closely to its "real" value in precious metal content. Arbitrary enhancement of a coin's value might appear anomalous with the state's emphasis upon the inherent worth of English money. Nevertheless, there was a way round this problem. The value of the precious metal contained in coins was calculated according to an agreed ratio between gold and silvery The state could therefore alter the value of a coin without creating a discrepancy between its "real" and denominated value by changing this bimetallic ratio. Through increasing the worth of one precious metal against the other, the state was able automatically to enhance the value of coins made of that particular metal. Accordingly, it was possible to increase the value of whichever sort of coin was most scarce and therefore discourage its exportation. However, such a scheme required this ratio to be continually altered in order to respond adequately to fluctuating international exchange rates and changing market demand. These alterations were not, indeed in all likelihood could not have been made often enough to make the system successful.(18) Perhaps more importantly though, the policy of enhancement aggravated the efflux of coins which it strove to curtail. Raising the value of one sort of precious metal over another precipitated the outflow of its now-effectively devalued partner.(19) Furthermore, raising the price persuaded "dormant" fine coins - those that had been privately hoarded rather than exported - to reenter the marketplace, where they were once more exposed to fluctuating trade patterns caused by unstable rates of exchange.

James I nevertheless persevered with the practice of enhancement, retaining it as a central principle of his monetary policy.(20) This was done to overturn the effects that had resulted from the policies of successive Tudor regimes. Throughout the sixteenth century consecutive English governments had concentrated upon attracting silver to the mint and manufacturing silver coins cheaply by debasing them to maximize the volume of currency in domestic circulation. Silver received special attention because, being less valuable than gold, it predominated in day-to-day transactions.(21) Yet the measures taken by Tudor governments resulted in the ruination of silver money and its drainage to foreign markets. In his first monetary proclamation of 1604 James declared that silver prices had been unduly inflated by previous state legislation. He accordingly changed the bimetallic ratio to increase the comparative worth of gold, thus enhancing the value of English coins made of the more precious metal.(22) James's thinking appeared to be somewhat confused. By increasing the value of gold, he subjected English silver to further devaluation, causing its scarcity to continue. Yet throughout his reign the king continued to alter the bimetallic ratio in favor of gold. This not only had the effect of driving silver money out of the country. It also inhibited further supplies of silver bullion from entering the mint since the mint price was held far too low. Indeed, in the years from 1611 to 1621, between 95 and 99 per cent of the coin issue was made of gold.(23) This is not to say that gold was abundant, but only that incoming silver was in chronically scant supply.

To make sense of the crown's monetary strategy after 1604, it must therefore be accepted that the king had no interest in maintaining the growth of money in domestic circulation that had continued during the Tudor period. His policy was to abandon the long-standing concentration upon silver, which was regarded as the cause of monetary instability, and focus instead upon accumulating reserves of gold. Silver was associated with rapidly changing economic conditions and seemingly uncontrollable fluctuations in the market. This image of silver can be traced in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, where Bassanio calls it a "common drudge / 'Tween man and man" (III.ii.103). He depicts silver as a base and transient form, suggesting its nature and role to be confined wholly to the secular world of commerce. In contrast to this contemporary image of silver, gold was held to be the "true" and constant touchstone of value (in alchemy, the progenitor of elements) and could therefore be thought to transcend ephemeral changes of exchange rate.(24) The monetary policy that prevailed after 1604 turned this imagined opposition into an economic reality. The state's plan to accumulate gold was implemented at the expense of silver, creating a situation in which the mint struck predominantly gold coins. This money was too valuable for use in most everyday transactions and was difficult to exchange because of the desperate shortage of silver coins. It could not therefore effectively function as money.(25) The output of mostly gold coins caused the circulation of currency to become greatly constrained. (It was circulation that was regarded as the prime cause of monetary instability, as several of James's royal proclamations reveal.)(26) The state's predilection for gold therefore actually produced conditions of economic stasis in which, quite literally, its value largely went unchanged.

4. "An Immovable and Perpetual Stocke"

The failure of the king's interventions in monetary affairs until 1611 resulted in a range of new measures being tried. In 1612, for example, strict regulations were imposed on the import prices of gold in order that incoming supplies could be sold profitably only to the state.(27) Three years later James reiterated his 1607 prohibition of gold and silver exports using a nationalistic rhetoric designed to appeal to the public-spiritedness and patriotism of traders and money dealers:

It hath pleased Almightie God to blesse this Our Kingdome with a rare and rich Dowrie of native commodities, both by Sea and Land; with the exportation and procedure wherof, Treasure of Gold and Silver may from time to time bee brought in and increased: which Treasure so brought in, hath bene by sundry Acts of Parliament . . . ordained to be as an immovable and perpetual stocke, which should never goe forth againe, but should receive a dayly increase, without diminution, and be conserved, as well for the making and maintaining of just and honourable Warres, either Offensive or Defensive; as for the adorning and furnishing of Our Kingdome in time of Peace, and strengthening the same with that reputation, which followeth States which are esteemed rich of Treasure.(28)

This passage illustrates just how James's conception of the role of precious metals in an economic structure differed from Tudor ideas about their possible uses. By fantasizing "an immovable and perpetual stocke," James saw precious metal - and especially the gold he particularly wished to accumulate - as something akin to a static hoard rather than exploitable circulating currency. The king strove to defend his realm's supply of specie not by encouraging economic and financial development, which might have strengthened Britain as a trading nation and obviated the menacing problem of currency exchange rates, but simply by restricting the movement of specie already held in the realm. Thomas Wilson's A Discourse upon Usury(29) underlines increasing anxieties about ungovernable exchange and exportation during the sixteenth century, but nevertheless successive Tudor regimes resorted to interference in monetary policy, particularly through debasement tactics, in order to "inflate" and manipulate the money economy to their own advantage - literally, to capitalize on money. James, however, was not persuaded that money could be generated by stimulating the money economy and remained convinced that specie would accumulate only as it was drawn out of circulation, transformed into non-money.

Of course, the rhetoric of the 1615 proclamation rationalized the crown's hoarding of precious metals in terms of preparing for possible expenditures that might in future face the nation. By arguing that a great treasure would be vital should the country be required to enter into hostilities with other nations, the king seemed willing to regard his store of gold as potential money. However the history of Jacobean foreign policy, which engaged in no major conflict, reveals this justification to be little more than an expedient in propping up the state's retentiveness of specie. Indeed, by vowing that the nation's treasure should "never goe forth againe," James effectively ruled out in advance any possible military aggression, for the recent history of Elizabeth's war with Spain in Europe had shown that combat overseas necessarily entailed an efflux of national moneys. From another point of view, the crown's reserves of gold were perhaps used - and conceded - as money since they were, by the king's own admission, invested in the country's "reputation," contributing to its image of strength through prosperity. It could even be said that the potential profit that might accrue through the speculative dealing of moneys was, in a sense, spent instead on amassing reserves of precious metals in order to win international financial repute. However, such investment represented a special kind of spending because while undoubtedly involving an indirect forfeiture, it afforded also the fantasy of gain without loss, of acquisition without visible outlay. The purchase of "reputation" mentioned in the decree of 1615 could be thought of as a transaction that cost nothing and in which nothing was exchanged since specie was not manifestly transformed into another "object" that replaced or diminished it. The rhetoric of 1615 thus pandered to the niggardly economic thinking of the king, imagining that the value of specie could be put to work without division or risk.

The state's tenacity in respect of gold was taken to more extreme limits by a proclamation of 1619, which dictated that "no Gold. . . Foliate shall be from henceforth wrought, used, or imployed in any Building, Seeling, Wainscot, Bedsteds, Chayres, Stooles, Coaches, or any other Ornaments whatsoever Except it be Armons, or Weapons, or in Armes and Ensignes of honour, at Funerals, or Monuments of the dead."(30) This decree, when added to the legislation of May 1611, more or less banned the manufacture of gold in any form (other than coinage) that could be trafficked or sold. It sanctioned the decorative use of gold only in services for the dead or monuments to them, perhaps revealing in the psychology of state a deeply entrenched association of gold with immobility, stasis, and quiescence. By severely curtailing the production of gold in anything other than sovereign coin, this decree ensured that the primary use of gold was in contributing to "the immovable and perpetual stocke" of rigorously guarded sovereign coins imagined by the monarch in his declaration of 1615.

To view James I's monetary policy simply in terms of a refusal to "spend" money would nevertheless be misleading. The monarch's efforts to stockpile gold were dearly paid for by the state through the loss of "effective" silver money that predominated in domestic circulation. The king proved himself unprepared to take measures to plug the drainage of the less precious metal, since this would have required the value of silver to be enhanced. Such action would have contravened current monetary philosophy. It would have tipped the bimetallic balance in favor of the cheaper coin, from which renewed inflation and currency loss on a par with the Tudor period would have been expected. Despite repeated formal prohibition of exports the king permitted the expense of "real" or silver money to enter, however stealthily, into the national economic equation.(31)

The crown's wastage of silver revealed an immense scorn of the money economy, which can be related to the hoarding impulse rather than being seen to contradict it. Miserliness and profligacy are, as Walter Benn Michaels observes in The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism, not merely linked by opposition to one another. Rather, they enact a common disdain for the presence and power of money.(32) From this point of view, it is not the clash of inconsistent drives that one discovers in the Jacobean state's monetary policy. Instead, the storing up of gold at the expense of silver served to undermine the money economy on two fronts. Hoarding of the more precious metal did not save money but on the contrary functioned to scatter and dispose of money. The monarch's preoccupation with stockpiling gold showed contempt for money rather than a love of it. This contempt for money was visible in the king's infamous taste for lavish and luxurious private entertainments, planned and executed apparently without regard for financial cost.(33) The monarch's personal squandering seemed to contradict his niggardly economic proclamations, yet on closer examination the royal masque and the "immovable and perpetual stocke" of gold furnished profoundly similar fantasies of disdaining and disposing of money.

5. Concepts of Pre-Monetary Value and the Politics of the Sign

In his Proclamation for Coynes of 1604 the king reordered the comparative values of gold and silver, declaring that a 12:1 relation would be introduced to bring English prices in line with continental ones. This meant that gold would now be worth twelve times the value of silver. The new ratio enhanced the more precious metal by almost one point. James declared that this evaluation reflected "the true proportion betweene Gold and Silver accustomed in all Nations."(34) The language in which the proclamation was couched served to deny that the change was an arbitrary interference in the price of moneys. Instead, it insisted that the revised ratio restored both metals to their genuine values. Although this measure was taken to conform to international rates, the text suggested that gold and silver possessed an authentic virtue prior to market valuations. By describing the 12:1 relation as "the true proportion betweene Gold and Silver," the decree invited notions of natural and intrinsic worth. However, the new ratio was particularly designed to bring the value of English gold coins in line with the prices offered for their precious metal content abroad. It aimed at making the face value of gold money equivalent to its worth as raw material in order to prevent further increases in exports. The proclamation stated, "It appeareth very visibly, that this errour in the proportion of the Gold moneys of this Realme to the Silver, hath bene a great cause of the transportation of Gold out of this Realme."(35) While the 1604 proclamation invoked notions of genuine worth in terms of a "true proportion" between two elements, its interest was therefore specifically to ensure the inherent value of gold coinage. This concern was visible in other areas of monetary policy after 1604. The scrapping of debasement tactics represented a commitment to pure coinage whereby the state could claim a natural and immediate relation between face value and intrinsic worth. This claim applied especially to gold because, as we have seen, it was predominantly gold coins that were struck during James's reign. Furthermore, the purification of gold coinage had something in common with the state's "freezing" of monetary circulation, since it ensured in another way that its transformation into money left the value of gold unchanged.

James's first monetary decree therefore enabled him to refute an idea that changing bimetallic ratios had come to represent, that the value of coins was relational and extrinsic. Paradoxically, the king's alteration of exchange rates in 1604 furnished the occasion for constructing notions of inherent value around gold particularly. Such notions were reinforced by maintaining the integrity of denominations made of the most precious metal. It was this commitment to the intrinsic value and purest quality of gold coinage that spurred James's attendance at the pyx trial of 1611. The pyx contained samples of recently minted and issued coins: by 1611 an overwhelming majority of coins "poured forth" from the coffers would have been made of gold. In light of monetary policy after 1604, the importance of checking the standard of manufacture of these coins can be appreciated. However, it should not be assumed that the king's primary purpose in overseeing the trial was to make certain that such coins were fat to be circulated as legal tender. As we have seen, the state's concentration on minting gold coinage served effectively to immobilize circulation of English currency. The gold coins sampled by the king at the royal mint would barely have functioned as money. Their fitness as money was not uppermost in the crown's thinking. Rather, the king's concern that face value was the same as the intrinsic worth of the coin served a quite different principle. It upheld an essentialist conception of value in which the relation between the object and the sign was held to be immanent, direct, and unmediated. The identity of licit monetary value and intrinsic worth was demonstrated by resolving these two values into one self-identical form: the gold coin itself. This identity undermined the existence of money as an independent determining system of value by representing sovereign money as a passive expression of a form of essential value (gold), its meaning and limits inscribed wholly within that form. The monarch's preservation of the integrity of English gold coins thus provided a way to disavow the agency of money and can therefore be related to the disabling effects of other Jacobean monetary policies.

The reasons for the king's stance against money can be traced within Howes's account of events at the pyx and in the proclamation that shortly followed it. The edict of May 1611 illustrated the idea that money disrupted stable concepts of value by citing "culling out" and "melting down" as literal proof that money was by nature amorphous, fluid, and shifting. The text of this decree also reinforced an impression created at the pyx trial that money was produced by figures of uncertain standing. It indicted a multifarious body of "Goldsmithes, Merchants, and men of other Trades" in rather general terms, labeling them as perpetrators of "mischiefe."(36) Neither Howes nor James represented those who manufactured and dealt money in terms of a firm and finished identity. Rather, they were portrayed by both as a protean group defined by various unknown and duplicitous practices. This in fact ties in with the lack of a general theory concerning the properties and laws governing the money economy in the context of capitalist development in the early modern period. While, as Richard Halpern has noted, "certain early forms of capitalism - in particular, merchant's capital - were already firmly entrenched by the beginning of the sixteenth century,"(37) a coherent view of the forces driving these developments had not been established a century later. Writers such as Gerard Malynes and Thomas Mun had largely concerned themselves with specific economic problems produced by the particular circumstances of the day.(38) In this context, it does not seem surprising that the king's proclamation emphasized the amorphousness of money and the polymorphy of those that produced it or that it produced a powerful association between the two. This prompted notions that the money economy not only shattered the symmetry between the intrinsic value of a coin and its price, but also that it jeopardized fixed social relations and roles.

The king's proclamation of May 1611 therefore treated money as the symbol of a breach between a "given" order of intrinsic forms and a secondary order of signs functioning to confirm this "given" order. This breach was twofold. It related to notions of value since the role of coins as money was perceived to generate a discrepancy between the circulating sign and its original, authentic worth. It also related to a construct of social order since the "true" nature ("true" subjectness) of goldsmiths reflected in an ascribed social position (the feudal craft gild) was held to be confused and displaced through their relationship with money. It was precisely the goldsmiths' association with money that precipitated their double role as both antagonists and agents of the state. This unresolved image of goldsmiths symbolized a rupture in the social identity of the subject generally, as the generalizing tendencies of James's monetary proclamations suggest. Through a relationship with money the subject became an ambivalent political figure, unsettling rather than confirming the reality of a "given" order of things.

The royal decree of May 1611 represented money, then, as an intrusive force sundering economic and political signs from their stably designated origins. Money was proclaimed to split these representations from their "true" forms. It separated images from the "real." The mobilization of royal power against the money economy was thus not only aimed at maintaining a concept of intrinsic value. It simultaneously strove to uphold an essentialist metaphysics of the sign. As Foucault argues in The Order of Things, this essentialist metaphysics was crucial to contemporary modes of identification and structures of authority in the Renaissance. Foucault contends that the pursuit of knowledge during this period was based upon a predominating belief that the sign bore a natural and spontaneous resemblance to its object. He writes that "resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of Western culture . . . it was resemblance that organized the play of symbols, made possible the knowledge of things visible and invisible, and controlled the act of representing them . . . representation was posited as a form of repetition."(39) The discovery of resemblances and repetitions pervading the order of things attested, according to Foucault, to a "universe folded in upon itself." It revealed a perfectly integrated and continuous structure of existence in which the sign could be imagined as a natural extension and integral part of its original form. This enabled an inherent relationship to be found between "things visible and invisible." Since the sign was held to be the effect of an ingrained transcendental pattern, it could be thought to produce reflections of heavenly mysteries and hidden truths in the visible world. The ideological value of this essentialist concept of the sign was correspondingly vast, enabling the political mapping of concepts of order to be naturalized and thereby giving assurance that the political demeanor and "true" nature of subjects were intrinsically the same - an assurance implicitly sought by James at the mint in 1611. Foucault's account of Renaissance epistemology therefore suggests a close relationship between the authority of the sign and the authority of the king. James's inspection of the pyx put this relationship into political practice. The king maintained the inherent authority of the sign by ensuring that the face value of gold coins was equal to their intrinsic worth. The authority of the sign was therefore a sign of authority, bearing testimony to the commanding presence of the sovereign whose image it bore, whose likeness it reflected. The trial was designed to show that economic signs were ruled by the same order as governed this attribution of identity: that by this order they possessed authority as authentic images of "true" forms.

This idea of the sovereign's power over signs was also crucial to James's relationship with the subjects present at the trial. For if the monarchy could order signs to reflect "given" forms, then it could hope to achieve more than the superficial assent of subjects. It could imagine this "outward" allegiance to reflect a deeper bondage. Yet the confrontation that occurred at the royal mint in 1611 showed that the authority of the sign remained in question. The trial displayed the king's power to command signs to comply with "truth," and thus suggested that he was able to force goldsmiths genuinely to acquiesce to rule. However, these proceedings simultaneously reinforced a suspicion that the long-standing (self-)image of goldsmiths as distinguished servants of state was a convenient front behind which further corruption and deceit continued undetected. Similarly, while the trial was meant to build confidence in the integrity of sovereign moneys, its very occurrence suggested that the authentic appearance of gold coins disguised invisible impurities. Indeed, the king's attempts to compel the outward sign to reflect inner "truth" undermined notions of a "natural" and spontaneous resemblance between the two. Yet royal intervention was unavoidable precisely because the concept of an unmediated relationship between signs and original forms was already problematized by the growth and development of an organized money economy. This had caused the value of the sign to become contingent upon other denominations, rupturing its "natural" relationship with a "given" origin performing as rigid designator. In this scenario any resemblance between outward signs and inner forms could not be treated as unquestionably authentic. For it was possible that such resemblances were coincidental, artificial, contrived, or otherwise unnatural. Particularly where money and its dealers were concerned, an ostensibly genuine facade invited the strongest mistrust. As James's trial of the pyx demonstrated, it was conspicuously "true" images that were held most likely to be counterfeit.

Through a different reading the "web of resemblance" that Foucault sees as the crux of Renaissance epistemology therefore attains a darker meaning. It potentializes a divergent, though related, conceptual structure whereby visible "sameness" is imaginable as a veneer providing the very means to mask difference (like the gold coins, lustrous with promise, concealed in the dark depths of the mint). Yet royal power remained inextricably bound up with structures of repetition and identification: these were its very mode of being. It was by authority of the king that the authority of the coin as a sign was maintained, for the interaction between these two figures of authority was represented by imprinting the monarch's likeness upon sovereign coins. The immense importance of this distinctive marking was evident in the king's 1604 Proclamation for Coynes, where he repeatedly stated that legitimate coinage could be recognized by "Our Picture," "Our Picture accustomed," and "Our picture on horseback."(40) This imprint distinguished legal money from illicit coins that were produced by rogue mints throughout the nation to compensate for the dire lack of circulating currency. By making the king's picture a precondition of a coin's legality and licit worth, James claimed rulership over the money economy. Indeed, the sovereign's head stamped on coins reminded the bearer that, as a consequence of the monarch's exclusive prerogative over the "ordering" of moneys, the pecuniary value of coins was in an important sense the sole "property" of the king. The identity of monetary and intrinsic value was thus marked by another sign of identity, the king's resemblance forged upon sovereign coins. The imprint of the royal visage ultimately authorized the restoration of the sovereign to the sovereign, the crown to the crown, a principle enabled by prevailing essentialist constructs of the sign that held the signifier to be inherently the property of the signified.

Yet this assumption that the identity of monetary and intrinsic value could be represented in terms of an optical - and possessive identity between king and coin to the profit of the regal purse fired much political debate during James's reign. A growing number of parliamentarians disputed the crown's fiercely guarded right to requisition sovereign moneys at will and for purposes remaining unaccounted for. This point of fundamental disagreement condemned to failure the proposed economic settlement between king and country, the Great Contract, and resulted ultimately in the long-term dissolution of parliament. Political and economic power and symbolism were thoroughly enmeshed: long before it became a political proposition, the wish to sever the king's head from the king's person was mooted as a matter of economic principle. In this encounter of king and parliament, the trajectory of doubt was reversed, though within the same crisis of representations. It was the subject confronting the sovereign, not the sovereign confronting the subject, who felt the identity of signifier and signified to be wholly suspect, superficial, and arbitrary.

6. Order and "Darkness"

On reflection, then, the hostile difference in economic outlook of these two parties belied a certain similarity of position. Both seemed increasingly to share a mutual distrust of prevailing structures of identification and repetition in which their relationship took shape. Both in different ways (the king at the pyx, the subject in parliament) disputed forms of identity - optical, possessive, political - that in turn linked them within the same problem, a problem of representation that struck at the grounds of knowledge and power.

Patterns of identification and resemblance ordering the relations of ruler and ruled can be discovered from the moment James came to power. Thomas Dekker's record of the acceding monarch's entrance to London in 1604 depicted the city's populace as "the glasse alone, Where the neate Sunne eache morne himselfe attires."(41) This represented the multitude as a grand mirror provided for the king to contemplate his all-pervading sun-like power. Middleton's account of the same occasion also invoked this solar imagery of rule, describing the king's "immortal brightness and true light . . . Reflecting joys on every subject's face."(42) Ben Jonson, pursuing the circular-specular play of origin and representation derived in this relation, wrote that the masses "shone" in the resplendent presence of the king.(43) This rhetoric suggested that the spectatorial gaze of the ruled was illuminated and therefore enabled by means of the ruler's solar countenance. Such imagery gave assurance that the subject's perspective was a condition of power and hence countered the political trauma of setting majesty on public display. By producing the spectator as an effect of the royal presence and every gaze as intrinsic to the spectacle in progress, this solar imagery ruled out the possibility of dissociation or disunity and instead represented the scene of power as one of unbreakable inclusion and cohesion.

James's accession pageant therefore confirmed regal authority in a similar way to the pyx trial of 1611. Both provided the occasion for majesty to display its power by gazing upon its own unalloyed image. Interestingly the "crimson rays" that darted from the sun-king were in Henry Petowe's England's Caesar "compos'd of sacred metall, made by Jove."(44) They were made, that is, of gold. These beams, catching and casting all in their light, shone from the coin-like "bright crest" that rendered the sovereign distinctive. Allusions to coinage entered into this imagery of reflection to enable the spectacle of Jacobean power to be codified in economic terms.(45) Patterns of identification, repetition, and unity provided the conceptual basis for James's proclaimed dreams of an undiminished wholeness of value, the monetary parity and union of England and Scotland, and economic accord under sovereign rule.

However, the circular formations of identity that solar and numismatological representations together furnished at scenes of regal display were, again, not untroubled or unproblematic. In the Panegyre that portrayed the city as a mirror reflecting the solar image of the king, Jonson wrote of James's first entrance to the English parliament that "from his eies are hoorl'd / [To-day] a thousand radiant lights / . . . his searching beames are cast to prie / Into those darke and deepe concealed vaults / Where men commit black incest with their faults."(46) Here, the political space that the monarch entered was very differently regarded. The sun-king did not illuminate the scene around him in order to find within it images of the majestic "self." Rather, his solar eye cast "searching beames" that strove to uncover and expose deviation and deceit. Jonson sundered the solar imagery of power from a metaphysics of reflection and instead utilized it to reveal forms of difference underlying superficial states of unity and assent. The unresolved structure of political and economic relations present in Howes's account of the trial of the pyx was in this sense tangible in an earlier poetic imaginary. Jonson implicitly identified the misdeeds that he thought occurred in "darke and deepe concealed vaults" throughout the nation with the existence of an illicit money economy. The poem depicted obscure figures, "Carowsing human blood in iron bowles." Blood, as Robert M. Durling has argued, was frequently represented in terms of a powerful metaphorical relationship to money at this time.(47) From this organic political metaphor derived important ideas and images of the circulation and accumulation of value within the body politic. The characters who seemingly revel in gore in the Panegyre might be seen from this perspective to symbolize the shady world of usurers who, as in The Merchant of Venice, were thought to count money as blood. Jonson's poem urged James to subject this "darkness" to intense scrutiny in the same way that the king was later to summon up sealed and concealed coffers from the vaults of the mint for rigorous testing. Yet Jonson's vision of hidden treachery remained vague and hyperbolical. He described it non-specifically as occurring in "every nook and angle of the realme." The perpetrators of such abuses were not openly or explicitly identified by the poem. Instead, its extravagant claims were confined to the twilit world of oblique images and symbols. Jonson's Panegyre again produced a similar effect to James's trial by constructing an optic in which the identity of those subjects who dealt in money was ill-defined, confused, placed beyond direct or immediate representation. In either of these instances the pressure to discover underlying "truth" seems both to be sparked and surmounted by representational slippage and equivocation.

Which returns us to the question we began with: what holds this tension in place? The principles of similitude, repetition, and identity established in Foucault's account within Renaissance modes of knowledge and structures of authority destined formations of difference to be represented, both at the pyx in 1611 and parliament in 1604, over a threshold of visibility: a "dark" asymmetrical depth to be probed by a look of inexorable desire. Even when open, its products fully on display, the pyx was imagined to contain and conceal invisible impurities, discrepancies, counterfeits, differences. Even as they were imaginarily exposed to the royal eye by Jonson's verse, the deviant acts perpetrated in deep vaults were represented in terms of unimaginable evils. Conceptual models of reflection and mimesis that facilitated an optic of power in the early modern period simultaneously doomed the regal gaze to regard forms of difference as incomprehensible, impenetrable, blighting attempts to differentiate them adequately: the royal eye focused its gaze at the limits of visibility marked by its own image. It is unsurprising, then, that in Howes's historical record, James's royal proclamation and Jonson's pageant verse, an association between deviation and concealment was almost automatically made.

This gaze of power thus also represented difference in terms of formlessness. Difference and formlessness were linked by, and held in opposition to, a ruling metaphysics that attributed form - identity within and by means of cognitive structures of imitation, sameness. The differential constructions of value created by international money systems had not only driven a wedge between face value and "true" worth, rupturing the identity of the sign, but also placed in jeopardy the solid form of sovereign coins, now prey to allegedly proliferating illicit practices of clipping, sweating, melting down, and re-rendering into multifarious artifacts for ungovernable international exchange. As we have seen, the amorphousness of money was in the king's view matched by the polymorphy of those who manufactured and dealt it.

From Howes's untrusted officers of the mint to Jonson's devious Subtle, Face, and Fox, goldsmiths and gold-handlers were characterized as fickle, unreliable figures, slippery and unplaced. This configuration of "darkness" in one respect disrupted an immensely enabling interaction between power and knowledge, confounding the processes of identification and assimilation that (as in the solar imagery of Jacobean rule) were its modus operandi. Yet the representation of difference in terms of formlesshess had functional as well as dysfunctional effects. Though different in points of emphasis, Aristotelian and Neoplatonic wisdom - which pervaded contemporary political imagery and rhetorical practice, not least in Jonson's scholarly verse - concurred in representing age-old hierarchical distinctions between essence/substance and spirit/flesh in terms of an opposition between pure form and its privation. Lack of form was, by this association with matter, redrawn within the compass of knowledge, a process that can be seen as underway, however uncertainly, in the Panegyre. Formlessness, difference, deceit: all were, in the image of an asymmetrical social group and its disorderly product, identified with materialistic desire and design. Representational uncertainty in this sense satisfied, paradoxically by resisting, the demands of clarity, definition, and "truth." The scene of darkness drew the conceptual limit but also sparked this other mechanism of knowledge and power.

Yet perhaps this mechanism of identification through difference rather than sameness is another in a series of feints. Writers of James's accession pageantry represented the "darkness" pictured by Jonson roundly in terms of negation and denial. Thomas Dekker wrote of his new sovereign that "no clouds can sever his glorie from our eyes."(48) Henry Petowe foresaw "the brightest lamp of heaven" the sun-king himself - dispersing "the silent shadows of black night."(49) Samuel Daniel envisaged "no mighty mountains interpos'd Between thy beams and us. . . Th'ascent is clean."(50) These poets used images of "darkness" to address and dismiss the legitimacy question posed by Stuart accession. The extent of this preoccupation with "clouds," "shadows," and "mountains" obscuring James's "right" suggested, however, that "darkness" could not so easily be repudiated. Its displacement onto the ruled through charges of political blindness and bad faith veiled the other possible source and meaning of this "darkness," visible in fact between the lines of James's inaugural pageant verse. These "clouds," "shadows," and "mountains" represented inadvertently, in another guise, the incompletely substantiated Stuart claim to power.

This had implications beyond the legitimacy question. Jonson's depiction of "darke and deepe concealed vaults" present in "every nook and angle of the realme" suggested, again perhaps inadvertently, that the very infrastructure of the nation might be built upon unseen, unsubstantiated "dark" forces. This emphasis implicates the power of the state in a state of power represented ostensibly as a transgressive anti-type. Jonson's terrorized vision pans out uncontrollably and threatens to refocus on the imperious gazing eye from which, imaginarily, it originates. The Panegyre in this sense draws perilously near to acknowledging the occluded, mystified character of all forms of identity and power within the Stuart domain. This universal mystification of origins can be linked to a metaphysics of reflection positing in the solar and mirror imagery of rule an unbreakably circular play of source and representation. The self-reflexivity of authority within this metaphysics of reflection exercised itself, as we have seen, in the optical and 'possessive identity that designated the sovereign the property of the sovereign, the crown the property of the crown. Yet if this taken-for-granted (and unrepresentable) circularity of signifier and signified, image and origin, constituted the structuration of authority itself, then the regal figure(head) was as much a "dark," unsubstantiated presence as the moneyers in Howes's or Jonson's cavernous depths. James's attendance at the 1611 trial of the pyx, "beyond all memorie and mention for an hundred yeares space," happened because the coins held in the coffers below were suspected as counterfeits. But this suspicion arose partly because of- and not just despite - the fact that they bore the stamp of sovereignty.


1 See Marcus, 28: "This event was routine, but . . . the number and rank of those in attendance was not."

2 Howes, 420-21.

3 Challis, 141.

4 Ibid., 142.

5 Green, 119.

6 Ibid., 105-52.

7 Larkin and Hughes, 262.

8 Ashton, 1979, 46-47. Also Challis, 32-35, notes that the rise of mint officials was sometimes "by apparent court connection," but also often, "through a trade or company affiliation . . . often important mint officials apparently had other business associations."

9 Larkin and Hughes, 262.

10 For a detailed discussion of different standards of production of coinage in this period, see Challis, chap. 3. See also Supple, chap. 8.

11 Challis, 166, notes that "in the later middle ages" the "normal relationship between a coin's intrinsic and face values" sometimes became "reversed" so that "coins became worth more as bullion."

12 Ibid., 277. The "variation in coin weight" during this period is described as the product of "indifferent workmanship at the Mint." While this was partly true of variations within individual coin issues, discrepancies in weight between issues had, of course, a political function.

13 The great debasement commonly describes a long-term policy inaugurated by Henry VIII lasting over a period from 1526 to 1551 rather than a single act of legislation. See Supple, 75; Challis, 78-81; Oman, 248.

14 See Outhwaite, 26, who agrees that price rises were due "first of all to debasement" but notes as a significant factor the abundant influx of silver bullion from abroad.

15 Challis, 277, describes the activity of "culling out" money as one in which "the better coins were picked out of circulation and reserved for special treatment," largely exportation.

16 Larkin and Hughes, 100: James's monetary proclamation of 1604 stated that the king had "restored" to "Our Realme" pure money of "true value."

17 Supple, 164-65, gives perhaps the best definition of the bimetallic system: "With both gold and silver coins circulating, and each type being valued in terms of the other, there was an official Mint ratio which was given, and could be altered, by that valuation, or by any other step which changed the amount of gold and/or silver being represented by one pound tale."

18 Gould, 241, describes how bimetallism produced a situation in which "given monetary authority got out of step" with the market.

19 Challis, 176, shows how the undervaluation of gold in relation to silver in the sixteenth century "set in train a bimetallic flow which ultimately drained England of much of her remaining gold and brought silver pouring into the Mint."

20 See Larkin and Hughes, 100, 272-26.

21 Supple, 73: "Silver was by far the more popular medium of exchange."

22 See Larkin and Hughes, 100.

23 Gould, 241-42, produces these figures.

24 Supple, 173, writes in this connection that gold "had a much lower velocity of circulation - which was reduced even more by its suitability as a means of holding wealth in an age which placed a great premium on liquidity," that is to say, an age organized around the production and circulation of silver money.

25 Ibid., describes silver exclusively as "effective money."

26 Ibid., 174-75, gives a useful account of the perceived relationship between circulation, loss of coin, and economic hardship.

27 See Larkin and Hughes, 311.

28 Ibid., 336-38.

29 See also Tawney's noted introduction.

30 Larkin and Hughes, 422-24.

31 Supple, 171: "Caught in a dilemma, by which the only effective answer to a painful loss of specie was a step which involved an equally painful rise of prices, official policy settled for inaction."

32 Benn Michaels, 141, argues that the miser exercises the power to buy, by effectively buying money: "The miser's 'asceticism' is in fact a 'debauch'. . . the miser is a spendthrift."

33 Accounts of James's profligacy and prodigality are numerous. See for example Houston, 24-25: "The king's prodigality is recorded in the Exchequer accounts. In 1603 'diverse causes and rewards' amounted to [pounds]11,741; in 1604, [pounds]18,510 and by 1605, [pounds]35,239. 'Fees and annuities' paid out to courtiers accounted for [pounds]27,270 in 1603, [pounds]34,593 in 1604, and [pounds]47,783 in 1605." "Festivities were numerous and opulent," writes Houston. "When in 1613 the Treasury was empty, James managed to raise [pounds]93,000 to spend on the marriage of his daughter." See also Lee, 133-34: "Far worse than [the] occasional extravagances was James's persistent prodigality"; and 149: "Gambling and feasting and lavish weddings became the commonplaces of court life."

34 Larkin and Hughes, 100.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid., 262.

37 Halpern, 9.

38 See James. The dispensation for cash of heraldic titles, reaching unprecedented levels during James's reign, can be seen to represent a process - both economic and ideological - of assimilating inchoate capital to more familiar, if changing, social hierarchies organized around royal favor.

39 Foucault, 17. Resonances can be found in Orgel, 59: "All representations,' wrote Ben Jonson, 'especially those of this nature in court, public spectacles, either have been or ought to be the mirrors of man's life'" (Loves Triumph through Callipolis, lines 1-3). See also Goldberg, esp. 33, 51.

40 Larkin and Hughes, 101.

41 Dekker, 256.

42 Middleton, 225-26.

43 Jonson, 1966, 421.

44 Petowe, 242.

45 See, for example, Drayton's poem A Paean Triumphall.

46 Jonson, 1966, 420.

47 Durling, esp. 79-84, for a discussion of the metaphorical relationship between blood/the body and the accumulation and circulation of money in contemporary theories of socio-economic relations.

48 Dekker, 290.

49 Petowe, 237.

50 Daniel, 125.


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Title Annotation:reasons behind James I's attendance of the Royal Mint trial
Author:Wortham, Simon
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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