HENRY has appeared often enough in these pages in his official capacity for his measure as a king to be understood. Eleanor as Queen is as easily understandable: haughty, passionately conscious of her high destiny, contemptuous of the lower orders, unwilling to yield an inch from her conception of what was due royalty. It is only fair now to depict them as private individuals, as husband and wife, as father and mother of a growing family. It is a much pleasanter picture which emerges.
They were a devoted family. Henry was deeply attached to Eleanor and remained so to the end of his days except for a few furious but brief rifts. He is one of the few kings who seems never to have taken a mistress, a strange degree of constancy to find in a son of John. Eleanor was a faithful and, as far as can be seen, an affectionate wife. They loved their children as wholeheartedly as any butcher and his mate in the Shambles or any pair of villeins in wattled cottage and toft. The children returned this love in full measure. Edward, the first child, was militant in his devotion to his parents. He never forgave London the enmity which developed between its citizens and the Queen, even though he never trod on their privileges as she had and so must have realized how wrong she had been. As he grew older and began to have the clarity of vision and the level sense of values which were to make him such a splendid king, he must have seen that Henry was a fumbling and weak figure as head of the State; but if he did, he never allowed it to show. He might have seen the shortcomings of Henry himself, but he would brook no criticism in any other quarter of this Skimpole of a king who expected everything to come his way and tossed his money about with an urbane smile and a shrug for the morrow.
The other children were equally loyal to their parents and to one another. Margaret, the oldest daughter, who married Alexander III of Scotland, was passionately devoted to her husband but at every stage of her brief married life longed for her childhood home; for the beautiful mother, the smiling, talkative father, the handsome brothers and sisters, for the woods about Windsor, the park at Woodstock around which many of her fondest memories clustered. She made repeated visits to England, taking Alexander with her, and by doing so lost for her husband much of the loyalty of his Scottish subjects.
It remained for Edward to sum up the feeling which animated the royal family when he was in the Far East on a crusade and received word there of the deaths of an infant son and of his father. Edward bore the loss of his fine boy with fortitude but broke into loud lamentations when he learned of Henry’s demise, not caring, seemingly, that he had become King of England. His uncle, Charles of Anjou, was puzzled enough at his attitude to ask for an explanation. Edward answered, “The loss of children may be repaired by the same God who gave them; but when a man has lost a good father, it is not in the course of nature for God to send him another.”
Henry and Eleanor were almost as continuously on the wing as Raimund Berenger and his family had been in Provence when Eleanor was a young girl. They kept moving from Westminster to Windsor, to Wallingford, to Clarendon, to Winchester or Gloucester. It was necessary, therefore, to establish a family base for the children. Windsor was selected, partly because of the security it offered, partly because the Queen had always been fond of that great Norman castle. The new buildings had been completed by the time the children began to arrive. A curtain of masonry had been erected along the chalk ridge, ending in a tower called the Belfry. Another wall was carried back to connect with the keep, thus providing a line of granite defense. Within the enclosed space thus provided Henry had made for himself a series of handsome buildings, a King’s chamber sixty feet long, a chamber for the Queen, a chapel called St. Edward’s, which was seventy feet long, and a Great Hall which was much larger still, a quite magnificent apartment in full keeping with the King’s grandiose ideas. These chambers were all paneled and beamed and hung with tapestries which gave them a warmer feeling than most of the royal residences.
When Edward began to grow up into an active and high-spirited boy, it was deemed advisable to provide special quarters for him, and new lodgings were built against the keep. From that time on he always had his own household, tutors, squires, grooms, valets, and cooks, his own chaplain and confessor. It was a noisy household, filled with talk of hunting and fighting, the clash of quarterstaves, the roar of laughter which followed the success of practical jokes. The other children seem to have been lodged in the family quarters already described, where each of them had servants of his own. They arrived with great regularity. Of those who survived infancy, Margaret was born on September 29, 1240, and named after the French Queen. Beatrice was born on June 25, 1242, and named for her maternal grandmother. Edmund, the second son, arrived on January 16, 1245. Katherine, the last child, was born on November 25, 1253. There were four other sons who died in infancy, Richard, John, William, and Henry.
The King was devoted to all his children, although he seems to have displayed some preference for Edmund, who became known as Crouchback. Whether this was due to a deformity, which might explain Henry’s special solicitude for him, or was merely a nickname bestowed on him when he was at the Crusades has never been satisfactorily settled. Edmund, at any rate, was handsome, sunny of disposition, and likable. When at Windsor, Henry always had his children around him. The birth of Margaret had left the Queen in a weakened condition, and this depressed his spirits so much that he paid small attention to the child. When he was told, however, that she gave great promise of beauty, he became quite exuberant and rushed to her cradle to give her the one kind of present he seems to have considered worth while, twelve ounces of gold.
Although indolent and averse to the concentrated work which personal rule involves, Henry was fond of detail in a way all his own. He liked to inject himself into such matters as the costumes his servants and officers were to wear. This man, he would direct, was to have a tunic made of cloth at fourteen pence a yard and with fur lining. Another one was to have the same kind of tunic but without the fur lining. He personally directed certain charities, setting aside days for the royal palaces to be thrown open so that the poor could enter and be fed. On one occasion he took a leaf from the book of the mother of Thomas à Becket and had his children weighed. When the combined weight of the royal brood had been ascertained a corresponding amount of silver was donated to charity.
Henry was a gourmet and gave great attention to the matter of supplies for the royal table. It was one of the duties of sheriffs and bailiffs to keep the King well fed, and Henry saw to it that they did, requisitioning four hundred hens once from Buckingham, eels from Bristol on another occasion, and herring pies from Yarmouth. He was inordinately fond of salmon pasties and saw to it that there was always an assortment on hand. Once he became very wrathy on learning that his children were being given the iron-flavored wine of Wiltshire, which was comparatively cheap, and he peremptorily instructed the officers to give them nothing but the best imported wines. He failed, however, to detect an economy which was put into effect at the expense of the royal children. The Archbishop of York, who was left in charge at Windsor when the King and Queen were elsewhere and who seems to have had a parsimonious streak in him, gave an order that all good fat deer caught in the forests about Windsor were to be sent away for the use of the King, the lean ones to be kept for the children.
The royal children were spared one experience which might have been humiliating for them. Conscience-stricken over the state of royal finances, Henry and his consort decided to economize. As might be expected, they made a sort of public ritual of their resolution and arranged things so their subjects bore the brunt of the economy program. They reduced the wages paid to their servants and always dined out as the guests of wealthy people. The nobles, the bishops, the most prosperous of the citizens of London were all honored in turn. It was, of course, a great privilege for those selected to provide meals for the royal family and the members of their court, but a very expensive one, particularly as it was always the King’s expectation that he would be given a suitable present by his host on taking his departure.
Giving presents to people in the train of visiting celebrities was a favorite pastime of this monarch of muddle and misrule. Even so small a matter as the proper reward for Clair and Lancelot, the fiddlers of Guy of Lusignan (one of the dependent half brothers), was deemed worth his attention, with the result that the sum of thirty-three shillings and fourpence was set aside for each. In 1227 he directed that fifty pounds of almonds, fifty of raisins, and a frail of figs (a frail was a basket capable of holding up to fifty pounds, a great deal of figs, surely!) should be sent to the unfortunate Pearl of Brittany, who was then being kept in Bristol Castle.
It may have been that the affection existing between the King and his children was due in some measure to the fact that he himself never quite grew up and could enter wholeheartedly into their pleasures. One of the great interests in his life was the creation of a menagerie. There had not been one in England, and Henry was determined to correct this deficiency. He started off with three leopards which the Emperor of Germany sent him, a delicate compliment to a king whose flag was emblazoned with the leopards of England. They were placed in cages in the Tower of London, a fitting place of captivity when it is considered how many great Englishmen during the centuries which followed would be kept there in cages of forbidding stone. Lesser animals were added, and then to the great delight of the King an elephant was obtained from the East. Henry had all the affection of a boy for the pachyderm and wept as bitterly as any of his children when the news reached them that their huge pet, finding the atmosphere of the Tower oppressive, perhaps, had died. His indignation was great when he learned that the constable of the Tower, a caitiff of blunted susceptibilities, had buried the body in the Tower ditch, and he sent off a peremptory order for the bones to be dug up at once and shipped to Westminster for a more fitting interment. Richard of Cornwall sent the King a herd of buffalo which proved a vexatious problem because they could not be kept with the rest of the menagerie. Finally the great favorite of all was added to the collection, a white bear. All members of the royal family loved the bear, but it became in a sense a symbol of the King’s tyranny over London. He was always demanding that something be provided for Bruin; a muzzle, a chain of iron, a daily fee of fourpence to provide the animal with suitable food.
It was no secret to those about him that Henry had never quite shaken off his adolescence, as shown by his exaggerated notions, his sudden passions and abrupt shifts of mood. There was a strange creature about the court who had been a priest but was now kept as a jester. When the King’s half brother Aymer came to England from Poitou he and Henry would indulge in rough games with the not-overly-bright clown, pelting him with clods in summer and snowballs in winter, laughing uproariously the while.
Sometimes a saying of curious wisdom would issue from the mouth of this uncouth court fool. One evening at court he suddenly piped up in his shrill voice: “Hear ye, hear ye, my masters! Our King is like unto the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The King turned his head expectantly. It was quite clear that he was pleased, anticipating some complimentary allusion.
“Why so, sir fool?” he asked.
“Because the Lord was as wise at the moment of his birth as when he was thirty years old. So likewise our King is as wise at this moment”—the jester paused and winked slyly at the company—“as when he was a little child!”
Henry’s high neighing laugh did not join in that of his courtiers. The King was not amused.
The troubles of the royal couple, their discontents, their fears, their jealousies, were freely displayed before the princes and princesses. The children grew up, therefore, in full knowledge of the situation which existed, and their sympathies were strongly aroused in their parents’ behalf. They probably shared in the exultation of their mother when she learned that the original copy of Magna Charta had been destroyed in a fire at the papal palace in Rome. She believed this meant that the Charter had ceased to exist and they would never again have to bother about its vexatious clauses and restrictions! They undoubtedly joined in their father’s perturbation when the royal cupboard became so bare that orders had to be issued to John Mansel to raise money by pledging a valuable image of the Virgin Mary. Henry was sincerely devoted to the ritual of the Church, and it would take a serious crisis to bring him to such a pass.
The whole family shared in a most distressing misfortune, the loss of their home. The Second King’s House, as the new buildings at Windsor were called, began to fall to pieces. They were of stout enough construction, but there had been a miscalculation as to what the chalk ledge would hold. Seams opened up in the walls and a tendency to sag was noticed. Then the Almoner’s Tower gave way. The crenelated ramparts buckled and heaved; the walls crumbled and finally down they came with a resounding crash and a cloud of dust which mounted higher than the top of the keep. The children were hastily removed to the First King’s House, and it was well that they were, because next the curtain toppled over the edge of the escarpment and even the King’s chamber, which they had hoped would stand, began to show signs of disintegration. After making some renovations the third Henry, a much crestfallen and indignant man, moved with his family to what was left of Henry I’s quarters.
Although a builder of taste and perception, Henry had very bad luck with his undertakings. His efforts to raise a stone wharf on the Thames side of the Tower of London resulted in two costly cave-ins and a rumor in London that the spirit of Thomas à Becket was interfering with the work. He persevered, nevertheless, and finally succeeded in erecting a stone crib which stood resolutely and permanently against the currents and tides of Thames water.
Princess Margaret’s early days were spent at Windsor. Soon after her birth Edward was given the royal castle of Eltham as his residence, and her companions at first were Edmund and a daughter of the Earl of Lincoln who lived as a ward with the royal family. Later there were more brothers and sisters and more wards, and so Margaret’s childhood was a pleasant one.
She more than fulfilled the promise of beauty which had sent Henry so eagerly to her cradle with his hands full of gold; a dark and lively child, full of the joy of life, a little impulsive, a little hasty of temper. When she was still a small girl the King of Scotland died, leaving a son named Alexander as his heir. The boy was a year younger than the English princess, but in order to assure a continuance of peace between the two countries a marriage was arranged between them. There was much sadness at Windsor when it was known that little Margaret was to be taken away. The princess herself seemed well disposed to the idea of being a queen and having a crown of her own, but she dreaded the separation it involved. The Scottish prince was crowned Alexander III when he was eight years old, and the marriage was solemnized at York two years later. It was an imposing ceremony and, of course, involved the bride’s father in unnecessary mountains of debt as well as practically ruining the Archbishop of York, who had to entertain hundreds of visitors. The departure of the darkly lovely bride for her new home was not as keenly felt when it was seen that the youthful couple had conceived a romantic liking for each other.
But the reports which came back from Scotland soon thereafter were most disturbing. The stem regents of Scotland, John Baliol and Robert de Bos, had decided that their King and his bride must be kept in rigid separation until they were old enough for matrimony. Margaret was placed in Edinburgh Castle under conditions which amounted almost to imprisonment. Finally a letter from the little Queen herself was smuggled out of the castle and reached her parents. It painted an even more alarming picture. She was a prisoner, she was suffering from ill-health, her appeals to the stern Scottish lords had no effect. She begged her father to lead an army into Scotland and set her free.
The consternation of the royal parents was so great that they would gladly have done as she wished. First, however, a physician of high standing, Master Reginald of Bath, was sent to Scotland to see about the health of the young queen. He found Margaret pale and far from well and in a state of intense unhappiness. Master Reginald, unfortunately fox himself, complained publicly about the treatment of the English princess. He took ill and died with suspicious suddenness, and it was believed in England that he had been poisoned to prevent an unfavorable report from being made.
The matter had now reached a stage where official action was necessary. Two crown commissioners were sent to Scotland, the Earl of Gloucester and John Mansel, with a large train. They were received coldly by the regents, and their right to visit the young Queen was denied. John Mansel was too resourceful to fail in his mission because of such a rebuff. The two commissioners dressed themselves as knights in the livery of Robert de Ros and as such they were rather grudgingly admitted at the gate. Once inside, they drove the custodians away from the portal and the signal was given to the rest of their company, who had lurked out of sight at the foot of the steep incline. The party rode at top speed up the black whinstone road and were inside the courtyard before any resistance could be offered.
They found that great pile of masonry which frowns down on the Scottish capital and which is sometimes called the Castle of Damsels to be as Margaret had said in her letters, “a sad and solitary place.” She existed in a few cheerless rooms with a small group of stern and disapproving servants. She took her meals on the vaulted ground floor and, as she was served the same food as her attendants, it may be taken for granted that the fare never varied: strong mutton, oatmeal cakes, and pease bannock. All she could see from her chamber window in the tower was a patch of sky above the castle walls and, across the enclosure, the little chapel called St. Margaret’s after that fine queen who had been the mother of Good Queen Mold, Henry I’s Saxon bride. The only hint of liveliness about the place was an occasional skirl of bagpipes.
The commissioners found the unhappy little Queen very pale and thin and, obviously, in poor health. Her spirit had not been touched, however, and she talked to them eagerly and vehemently. She begged them to return to England as fast as their horses would carry them and to convince her father that he must use force if necessary to get her out of the clutches of these grim guardians.
It had been an easy enough matter to force an entrance into the castle, but it now became apparent that getting away would be much more difficult. Armed forces had been collected in the city, and the road down from the fortress was strongly blockaded. It looked as though the Earl of Gloucester and that scheming fox, Master Mansel, and all their company were doomed to share the captivity of the lady in whose behalf they had come. The regents knew, however, that such a course would provoke war, and they were not prepared to go that far. There was much parleying back and forth, and finally the commissioners and their attendants were permitted to make their exit from the Castle of Damsels and to return to England as fast as the little Queen had requested.
The result of the report they took Henry was that he moved north with a large enough force to leave no doubts as to the belligerency of his intent. The regents, startled at this development, came to a conference to discuss more suitable living conditions for the young Queen. It was agreed to allow her fuller freedom of movement, some opportunities to enjoy the company of her youthful husband, and to put in charge of her household two noblemen who were friendly to the young couple: Patrick, Earl of Dunbar, and Malice, Earl of Stratherne.
An anecdote must be related in this connection. Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who was marshal of England because he was the son of Matilda, oldest daughter of William Marshal, interceded for Robert de Ros, who lay heavily under the King’s displeasure. There was a good reason for Bigod’s championship, his wife being a Scottish princess, but Henry took it amiss. He glared at his marshal and declared that anyone who could beg easy treatment for such a man must be a traitor himself.
“You lie!” said the earl. “I have never been a traitor and I never shall be. And it’s not in your power to harm me.”
Henry fell into a towering rage. “Ha! I can seize your corn and thresh it and sell it!” he retorted.
“And I,” declared Bigod, “can send back your threshers without their heads.”
The quarrel simmered down after others intervened. Robert de Ros suffered no other punishment than dismissal from office. But from that time on Roger Bigod was on the popular side in the great struggle between the barons and the King. Henry’s sharp tongue was always doing him disservice.
Things went much more smoothly after this, and in the course of time Alexander and Margaret were judged old enough to live together. It proved a happy marriage. There was only one drawback, the suspicion and disfavor with which the Scottish nobility regarded Margaret’s desire to go on visits to her royal father and mother. The first visit was to her parents at Woodstock Castle. Margaret was sixteen then and had become a beautiful woman, with lustrous dark hair and proud brown eyes. When Henry learned that the party was drawing near he got to horse and rode out to meet his daughter. As soon as the visitors hove in sight he set his horse to the gallop in his great impatience. Margaret, certain that the solitary horseman approaching was her father, put spurs to her own horse and left her escort far behind. Henry leaned over from his saddle to embrace her, and Margaret laughed happily and said she had been longing for this moment for years.
Her first child, a daughter, arrived at Windsor on her next visit, and there was furious resentment in Scotland over the birth of their princess on foreign soil. Nothing could keep Margaret from returning to England, however. She was never popular with her subjects as a result, and her husband suffered from their belief that he was being influenced to favor the English connection. He wept bitterly when she died at Cupar Castle after a long visit in England, but the flinty eyes of his nobility were dry. They were glad to be rid of the Sassenach woman.
There was a poignant mingling of joy and unhappiness for the royal parents in the brief life of their last child, Katherine, who was born on November 25, 1253. It was apparent from the first that the infant gave great promise of beauty, but as she lay silently in the costly nest provided for her and showed no signs of reaction to sounds when old enough for some manifestations of an awakening interest in life, the Queen and her attendants realized that the little princess was deaf and dumb. Henry was abroad when she was born, and on his return a year later he was as delighted at the extreme beauty of his small daughter as he was distressed over her disabilities. She was lovelier than the impulsive Margaret or the equally pretty second princess, Beatrice, and her disposition was sweet and even. Her patient smiles led Henry into an orgy of spending for her. He ordered gold cloth for dresses for his little Katherine and he distributed among her servants and nurses a sum the equivalent of several hundred pounds in modern currency.
The royal parents watched over their latest child with a solicitude they had never displayed before. All the doctors of London, all five of them, must have been consulted in the parental determination to see her cured, and there was much corresponding with authorities before the bitter truth was accepted that Katherine would never be able to hear or speak. She continued of an angelic disposition, but she did not grow as she should, adding greatly to the grief of the parents. Finally she was sent to Swallowfield, where the air was believed to possess special qualities, and placed in the care of one Emma St. John. As the child displayed a great interest in animals, many pets were found for her, even a young kid which was caught in the woods. This small playmate did something to sweeten the last months in the life of the unfortunate princess, although nothing served to lengthen it.
The grief of the King and Queen when she died was so intense that both fell seriously ill. Henry’s first act on recovering sufficiently to leave his couch was characteristic: he ordered one Master Simon de Welles to make a brass figure for the tomb of the dead child in Westminster at a cost of fifty-one pounds, twelve shillings, and fourpence. On second thoughts he was convinced that this tribute fell far short of expressing the intensity of his grief. Mere brass would never do. An order was given accordingly to the King’s goldsmith, William of Gloucester, to carve the figure in solid silver. Henry seems to have been satisfied with the work the goldsmith produced, for he paid seven hundred pounds from the royal coffers, which, it is needless to state, perhaps, were in a sorry condition at the time.
This was one of the few extravagances with which his subjects found no fault. There was general grief over the death of the child, and a poet of the day spoke of her as falling fast asleep after one glimpse at a world she did not like.
At all stages of this long reign and in every mention of the home life of the royal family the figure of the King’s brother, Richard of Cornwall, looms up prominently, and so it may be in order to deal with him and his career specifically.
The first mention in history of Richard is when he was taken at the age of six to Corfe Castle with a priest, two trumpeters, and a washerwoman. He was kept at Corfe for several years under the tutelage of Sir Roger d’Acestre, who must have found his royal pupil bright and receptive. It is very evident that Richard demonstrated from his earliest years a degree of shrewdness and a capacity for order in direct contrast to the scrambled confusion of Henry’s thinking and living. He was a most likable boy, of an easy temper but always firmly certain of what he wanted to do.
At first the second son was awarded honors and properties with great caution. He was given nothing outright, in fact, all gifts being “during pleasure.” To be granted seizin of the honor of Eye, for instance, was of little consolation when a legal string was attached by which it could be yanked back at any moment. In spite of this official unwillingness to see him adequately endowed, the young Richard began to wax prosperous at an early age. He disagreed continuously with Henry over decisions of state (and always seems to have been right), and the reconciliations which followed invariably resulted in some advantage for the younger brother, an honor or two, some manor houses, an additional slice of revenue. It was not until his second marriage, however, that he and Henry came to definite terms. On wedding Sanchia, Richard renounced his rights to lands in Ireland and Gascony in return for an irrevocable endowment of his estates in Cornwall and the honors of Wallingford and Eye.
From that point onward the acquisitive Richard began to display the Midas touch in everything he did. He soon had enough ready wealth to finance campaigns and to supply deficiencies in the royal coffers. On one occasion he loaned Henry two thousand pounds to pay the expenses of an expedition into Wales. He loaned money to bishops and barons, and always on the most solid security. It is not on record that the farsighted younger brother ever experienced loss as a result of putting money out on loan.
It has been generally believed that he owed his great wealth (for he became known in due course as the richest man in Europe) to the tin mines of Cornwall, the stannaries, and the labor of slaves who toiled and moiled in getting out the metal. The truth is that his possession of the mines proved profitable to him, but they did not play any very great part in the building of his considerable fortune.
In the first place, the worker in the stannaries, although he had no better legal status than a villein, was not bound to remain at his labor over buddle and smelty. He could at any time shoulder his poll pick and go out “bounding,” which meant prospecting for new stores of tin or hunting along the streams for “shode,” as rough boulders of the metal were called. The mines were not very deep at this time; in fact, most digging was done along “shammels,” a crude stage of boards just below the surface. Adits, or drainage tunnels, kept the diggings dry and reasonably well ventilated. Here, with much back-breaking labor over windlass and horse-whimsey, but not in complete darkness or great discomfort, the miners hewed out the splendid tin for which all Europe competed and from which alone the best grades of pewter could be made. So much store was set on keeping up the quality of output from the stannaries that the King’s inspectors kept their stamping hammers sealed when not in use. This would seem to indicate that the profits from English tin were enormous, but it is a matter of record that during the years when he “farmed” the tin Richard of Cornwall’s income from this source never ran above three thousand marks a year.
He was in a position in 1247 to achieve the greatest coup in a career as brightly studded with successful deals as a midsummer sky with stars. There had been no issue of money since the days of Henry II, and it was decided that the minting of a new coinage could no longer be postponed. The King’s brother seems to have been the only man in a position to assume such a formidable undertaking, and so an agreement was made by which he would “farm” the Mint for fourteen years. Richard set to work in a thoroughly businesslike way and succeeded in putting the manufacture of money on a better basis than ever before. It must be explained again1 that the only coins in actual existence were silver pennies and halfpennies. There was continual talk of pounds, marks, and shillings, but no such pieces of money had ever existed. They were what is called coins of account and were used for purposes of calculation only. The problem before Richard, therefore, was to call in the old pennies—clipped, shaved, sawed, and depreciated as they were—and to make enough new money to replace the old and to supply the need for new.
The agreement reached was that Richard would finance the operation and divide the profits equally with the King. The first step taken was to establish local mints, each of them with four moneyers, four keepers of the dies, two goldsmiths, and a clerk. Capital was needed for the establishment of the branch mints, and Richard followed a method which has been employed successfully ever since. He loaned each branch the sum of one thousand pounds and kept a share of the profits by way of repayment. Under an ordinance of March 1248 tenpence in every pound was allowed the Mint as its profit, while sixpence (half of which would go to Richard, half to the King) was set aside as the royal share. Richard was thus in a position to make a great deal more on his financing of the local mints than out of his share of the net profits.
For many centuries the Trial of the Pyx had been a method of approving new money before it was put into circulation. A group would be called together in the Tower of London, consisting of the King, his chief officers, twelve citizens of London, and the controller of the Mint. A selection of the new coins would then be tested and weighed by goldsmiths. When the time came to put Richard’s issue to the official test it was found that the new pennies were well and truly made. The necessary approval was given.
The first division of the profits was made in 1253, when the King and his brother each received £5,513. The total profit that Richard of Cornwall collected was in the neighborhood of £11,000, but this did not take into account the money he made on his loans, which has been estimated at £20,000 in all. This was an enormous fortune and made it possible for the farseeing Richard to undertake the greatest deal of his career, which will be described in due course.
During the fourteen years that he conducted the minting operations about one million pounds’ worth of pennies were made and put into circulation. The task had been carried out with complete success.
When he left for Germany to engage in an adventure which would put a crown on his brow, his brother, the King, decided that he could now indulge himself in an experiment on which Richard had frowned. Henry had always wanted to have the finest money in the world, gold to wit, and as soon as Richard turned his back he began to lay his plans for the minting of gold pennies. One gold penny was to be worth twenty silver ones and they would be, decided Henry, the most beautiful coins ever issued from the stamps. The King lingered long and lovingly over the sketches, changing, adjusting, throwing them out, and starting over again. The design he finally evolved was much the finest that had ever been stamped on an English coin, and Henry had good reason to be proud of it.
He soon discovered, however, that he should not have rushed into his grand scheme without giving due heed to his financial and commercial advisers, all of whom had been against it. The beautiful gold pennies proved a drug on the market. Few people could afford to have them in their possession, and the matter of changing them was a continual source of trouble and annoyance. It reached a state where men refused to accept gold pennies. The handsome new coins, so lovingly designed and so accurately stamped, remained piled up in the shops of the moneyers. A most difficult situation developed because of the amount of capital thus tied up unproductively. The merchants of the country complained bitterly, and finally London sent a deputation to the Exchequer to tell Henry to his face that the issue was a failure and that in addition it was depreciating the value of gold. They demanded that the new pennies be withdrawn so that financial equilibrium could be restored.
“Never!” cried the King, his face red with anger.
It happened soon after that nature took a hand in complicating the situation still further. An unseasonable frost came, and the crops suffered, and the leaves of fruit trees drooped and turned brown and sere. The moon, usually benign but now prompted by some diabolical agency (or so men supposed), had a mischievous effect on the tides, and the catch of fish suffered. The run of jack barrel was small, and no longer did plaice and sole come riding in with each wave from the North Sea as though willing to be caught, salted, packed in casks, and sent around to fill the stomachs of hungry Englishmen. Money became as scarce as food, but still the stubborn King would not give in. The gold pennies continued to collect dust and to tarnish in the safe boxes of the mints. It was not until the year 1270, in fact, that Henry would acknowledge his mistake by permitting the coins to be melted. It bad been a costly fiasco.
While on the subject of Richard of Cornwall, it should be mentioned that he had the habit of marrying beautiful women. His first wife was Isabella, the handsomest of the rosy-complexioned, chestnut-haired Marshal daughters. Sanchia of Provence, the second, was acknowledged to have a softer and more winsome type of good looks than either Queen Marguerite of France or Queen Eleanor of England, although the fourth sister, Beatrice, was growing up now and threatening to excel them all. It is possible that the Earl of Cornwall would have cast his eyes in the direction of the radiant Beatrice if Sanchia had died somewhat sooner. Beatrice had married Charles of Anjou, however, before the gentile Sanchia fell into one of the declines which carried away so many, of the women of this day and age. To cast ahead of the story, Richard won as his third bride the greatest beauty in all Europe, a snow-white German, princess named Beatrice of Falkenstein. He loved all three wives, but it is reasonable to assume that he approached matrimony with a calculating eye and made sure that he was getting the best the market bad to offer.
It will be clear by this time that Richard of Cornwall had all the qualities the King should have possessed. He would have made a good king, much the kind that Henry VII proved to be nearly three hundred years later. Without a doubt he would have kept the country at peace and put the administration of the laws on a sound basis. He had none of the qualities which make bad kings, cruelty, pride, stubbornness, lust for power, power, and more power. Paradoxically it was a good thing for England that Henry was the one to arrive first in the world and not Richard. It needed a ruler of the stamp of Henry, treacherous, vacillating, wrongheaded, to drive the baronage into a rebellious mood and so reap the democratic gains which came later.
1Volume I, published under the title of The Conquerors, dealt at some length with English coinage.