Pound coins, farthings and 'Haringtons'

Old £1 coins. Image Rachel Hammersley.

Old £1 coins. Image Rachel Hammersley.

At midnight on 15 October 2017, the old rounded version of the £1 coin will cease to be legal tender, being replaced by the 12-sided alternative, which has been in circulation since 28 March. The main reason for this replacement is security. An official website describes the new £1 coin as 'The most secure coin in the world' due to various security features which make it difficult to counterfeit. Though the nature of coinage and the organisation of the monetary system has changed dramatically since the seventeenth century, the government then also had to provide coinage that was fit for purpose and fought an almost constant battle against counterfeiting. While coinage was not discussed directly in Harrington's constitutional model, one of his critics used the analogy between minting coins and establishing a commonwealth as the basis for a satirical attack:

New £1 coins. Image Rachel Hammersley.

New £1 coins. Image Rachel Hammersley.

That then Mr. Harrington for his rare invention and extraordinary good service in minting a          New Commonwealth, shall have the monopoly of coining all new Harringtons, alias brass farthings, which shall henceforth pass for the onely coin of his new copper Commonwealth, Gold and silver (which are Royal mines & metals annexed to the Imperial Crown of the Realm) being as inconsistent with his New Commonwealth, (which hath swallowed them all up) as Kingship, and therefore to be banished with it. (William Prynne, An Answer to a proposition in order to the proposing of a Commonwealth or democracy, London, 1659, p. 5).

William Prynne by Wenceslaus Hollar, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D26981. Reproduced under a creative commons license.

William Prynne by Wenceslaus Hollar, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D26981. Reproduced under a creative commons license.

The author of this passage was the Puritan William Prynne. He was responding directly to a work published by Harrington's friends in June 1659 and entitled: A Proposition in order to the Proposing of a Commonwealth or Democracy, which had called for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to consider whether Harrington’s proposals might be implemented. Prynne argued that before such a committee be appointed the MPs who had been excluded at Pride’s Purge in December 1648 (because they were felt to be too sympathetic to the King) should be readmitted to the House of Commons. The quote depicts what should happen if Harrington and his friends succeeded in convincing the committee. If they did not, then Prynne's proposal was more sinister. He suggested that they should attend the committee ‘with Ropes about their necks’ so that if their proposal was rejected they could be taken immediately to Tyburn to be hanged. The purpose of this negative outcome is clear enough, but to understand Prynne's joke about what would happen if Harrington and his friends did prove successful, it is necessary to know a little more about seventeenth-century coinage and the Harrington family's association with it.

Coin shortages, particularly of small denomination coins, had been a common problem from medieval times. The farthing, or quarter penny, was originally introduced in 1279, but the problem was still acute in the seventeenth century, when various solutions were attempted. These included issuing copper coins for the first time in England (they were already widely used in Scotland) and experimenting with different economic models. Various proposals for coining copper tokens were explored between 1607 and 1612, but it was with a proclamation dated 19 May 1613 that the period of experimentation properly began. With that proclamation James I reclaimed the prerogative to issue currency and outlawed all private money. The utility of farthing tokens was noted: 'whereby such small portions, and quantities of things vendible, as the necessitie, and use specially of the poorer sort of people, doth oftentimes require, may be conveniently bought, and sold without enforcing men to buy more ware than will serve for their use and occasions'. (A Proclamation for Farthing Tokens, 19 May 1613). The proclamation also suggested that the inconveniences associated with the lead tokens that had been circulating among tradesmen and their customers would be remedied by the production of these royally endorsed copper farthings. The expectation was that the measure would not only address the problems of small change and counterfeiting, but would also generate a healthy revenue for the crown. As copper tokens, the coins were not legal tender, but were 'to pass for the value of farthings ... with the liking and consent of his loving subjects'. (I am grateful to Barrie Cook of the British Museum for help in researching this section).

Sir John Harrington of Exton, by Magdalena and William de Passe, National Portrait Gallery, D25839. Reproduced under a creative commons license.

Sir John Harrington of Exton, by Magdalena and William de Passe, National Portrait Gallery, D25839. Reproduced under a creative commons license.

What, then, was the involvement of the Harringtons in all of this? As discussed in a previous blogpost, in October 1603 Sir John Harrington and his wife Anne (James Harrington's great uncle and aunt) became guardians to the young Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I. From December of that year the princess lived with the Harringtons and they took responsibility for her household and education. This resulted in them incurring huge costs. By 1612 it is estimated that the Harringtons had accrued debts amounting to £40,000. Sir John Harrington petitioned for the right to coin copper farthings for three years to help recoup the costs. Thus, the proclamation of 19 May 1613 gave Harrington the monopoly on issuing copper farthing tokens and assigned to him £25,000 of the profits. Harrington gained the honour of having the farthings named after him - they were known as 'Haringtons' - but they did not  live up to expectations. The farthings proved unpopular from the outset, with several counties refusing to take any at all and others taking only small quantities, so that the total value distributed in the first six months was barely £600 (C. Wilson Peck, English Copper, Tin and Bronze Coins in the British Museum 1558-1958, second edition, London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1964, p. 21). It also seems that they did not prevent old practices of using lead tokens and of damaging or counterfeiting the royal tokens, since on 26 October 1615 a proclamation was issued outlawing the use of lead tokens and forbidding the counterfeiting of royal tokens as well as the marking, defacing, boring and clipping of them. From the perspective of the Harrington family the farthings not only failed to produce the expected level of revenue, but they also generated other problems. Rivals for the monopoly had been vocal from the outset. Following the death, in quick succession, of both Sir John Harrington and his son, private traders again began issuing their own tokens, presuming that the powers of the patent had lapsed. However, a proclamation issued on 21 June 1614 declared the patent still to be valid and argued that it lay with Sir John’s widow, though she seems to have given it up soon after.

There is a final chapter to this tale. On 9 May 1643 it was ordered that the future republican author, James Harrington, and his merchant brother William be made overseers of the farthing office, the proceeds of which were now to be used not to pay off the family debt, but rather ‘for the Use and Benefit of the Prince Elector Palatine’, on whose behalf James Harrington worked. It is undoubtedly significant that the Prince Elector Palatine was the son and heir of Princess Elizabeth. Consequently, despite the change of focus, this can be seen as the last chapter in the story. It helps to explain why Prynne, as late as 1659, could assume that his audience would laugh at a joke directed at James Harrington that associated utopian schemes to mint commonwealths with farthings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harringtons and the Stuarts: Portraits of Kinship

One of my friends often sends a postcard of a painting as a New Year greeting. That plus the themes of hopes for the future and the fickleness of life made the subject of this post seem particularly appropriate for New Year's Day. I hope 2017 brings you health, happiness and much laughter.

Among the elite of seventeenth-century Europe commissioning and giving portraits could be an important means of demonstrating love and allegiance, building connections, and gaining favour on both a personal and a political level. Frequently in the correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, we find references to portraits serving these purposes. For example, Elizabeth's husband, Frederick, commissioned portraits of each of his children, which he then took with him on his diplomatic and military travels. (The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart Queen of Bohemia, Volume I, 1603-1631, ed. N. Ackerman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015))

As a child, the young Princess Elizabeth and her brother Prince Henry were themselves the subjects of an important pair of portraits by Robert Peake the elder, which were commissioned by her guardian Sir John Harrington of Exton in 1603 (the great uncle of James Harrington). Though now owned by different institutions, and situated on different continents, the two portraits were clearly intended to be read alongside each other. They are also a fruitful source of information about the relationship between the Harrington and Stuart families in the early seventeenth century, or perhaps more accurately about Sir John’s own perception of that relationship and his hopes for how it might develop.

Robert Peake, 'Princess Elizabeth (Elizabeth of Bohemia, "The Winter Queen", 1596-1662' (1603) @ National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. I am grateful to the National Maritime Museum for permission to reproduce this portrait here.

Robert Peake, 'Princess Elizabeth (Elizabeth of Bohemia, "The Winter Queen", 1596-1662' (1603) @ National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. I am grateful to the National Maritime Museum for permission to reproduce this portrait here.

 The portrait of Princess Elizabeth, which is now held at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, depicts her lavishly dressed and holding a fan. Her dress is white, suggesting purity, and is decorated with simple orange flowers which, along with Elizabeth’s jewellery, accentuate her red hair. The style and richness of the dress, and the emphasis on her hair colour, seem to point to the visual similarities between Elizabeth and her late godmother and namesake, Queen Elizabeth I, though art historians have also suggested that the depiction of her face in the painting resembles that of her father, James I. (N. Ackerman, 'Semper Eadem: Elizabeth Stuart and the Legacy of Queen Elizabeth I', in The Palatine Wedding of 1613: Protestant Alliance and Court Festival, ed. S, Smart and M. R. Wade (Wolfenbüttel, 2013), pp. 158-9. See also M. M. Meikle, 'Scottish Reactions to the Marriage of Lady Elizabeth, "first dochter of Scotland"' in the same volume, pp. 131-43).  The parallel with Elizabeth I was commonly drawn both by the young princess herself and by those around her. It was perhaps particularly appealing for the Harringtons, who were known for their Protestant piety, since it helped to reinforce Princess Elizabeth's potential as a defender of Protestantism. Yet, while the colour, style and material of the dress all suggest a court setting, Elizabeth is actually depicted against the background of an English country estate - complete with trees, a river and various pathways and bridges. Within the landscape are several significant details. Behind Elizabeth’s right shoulder is a pergola housing two seated figures. These presumably represent her new guardians Sir John Harrington and his wife Anne, who are keeping a distant, but careful, eye on their new charge. We know that the portrait was painted in 1603, since that is the year inscribed on the bridge to her left. Moreover, it is also clear that the portrait was produced after August, when Princess Elizabeth turned seven, since this is the age indicated on the fan she is holding. Consequently it must have been painted around the time that Sir John and his wife became her guardians - they took on the role in October and Elizabeth moved into their house in December of that year. This strongly suggests that the portrait was produced to commemorate their appointment to that role.

Behind Elizabeth’s left shoulder is a hunting scene. Two riders - one on a white, the other on a brown horse - are depicted galloping through the landscape. Hunting was a particular passion of Elizabeth and her family, as her correspondence testifies. It also played a crucial role in forging the relationship between the Stuart and Harrington families in the first place. The account of James I’s journey from Edinburgh to London for his coronation as King of England refers to him staying several nights at one of Sir John’s houses in Rutland. A later commentator noted that the King ‘found excellent amusement in pursuing, with Sir John’s well-trained hounds' and commented that 'The monarch was, in fact, so much pleased with the good knight's attention, that he revisited his house a few days after'. (J. H. Wiffen, Historical Memoirs of the House of Russell: From the Times of the Norman Conquest, 2 Volumes (London: Longman, 1833), II, p. 68.) The hunting scene also provides a direct link to the companion portrait which depicts Elizabeth’s brother Prince Henry Frederick, heir to the throne, together with Sir John’s son John Harrington.

This second portrait is now held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The background scene of the two paintings is very similar, and it seems likely that the hunting scene in the background of the portrait of Elizabeth actually features Prince Henry and his friend John. The orange palette of the servant’s clothes and the horse’s saddle can certainly be made out in the background to the painting of Elizabeth. However, this second portrait depicts a scene of triumph rather than mere ceremony. Though aged just 9 and 11 at the time, the two boys are depicted having just killed a deer. The prince is sheathing his sword having cut the beast’s neck, while Harrington is holding its antlers. Catharine MacLeod has emphasised the innovative quality of this work within English portraiture, not least due to this focus on a moment of action rather than stasis. (C. MacLeod, 'Portraits of a "most hopeful Prince"', in The Lost Prince: the Life and Death of Henry Stuart, ed. C. MacLeod with T. Wilks, M. Smuts and R. MacGibbon (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2012), p. 35.)   Once again symbols within the painting hint towards its meaning. We know that the portrait was produced in the same year as the one of Elizabeth, since ‘1603’ is again inscribed in the painting, this time on the tree immediately behind John Harrington. Also hung on the tree are the shields of the two families. Their positioning, and that of the boys themselves, clearly demonstrates the superiority of the Stuarts and the subservience of the Harringtons to them, while at the same time emphasising the connections between the families. The shields are attached to the same tree (an indication of the kinship between the Stuarts and Harringtons via the Bruce line). However, the Stuart shield is hung high up in line with the clouds, while the Harington shield is hung on the other side of the tree much lower down firmly in the earthly realm. Similarly, Henry Frederick stands in the centre of the picture in a bold and confident pose, looking directly out at the viewer. John, by contrast is kneeling and he gazes in the direction of his friend. His hat is also removed, again implying subservience and obedience. 

Robert Peake the Elder, 'Henry Frederick (1594-1612), Prince of Wales, with Sir John Harrington (1592-1614), in the Hunting Field' (1603), http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437272. I am grateful to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to reproduce this image in accordance with their Open Access for Scholarly Content Policy.

Robert Peake the Elder, 'Henry Frederick (1594-1612), Prince of Wales, with Sir John Harrington (1592-1614), in the Hunting Field' (1603), http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437272. I am grateful to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to reproduce this image in accordance with their Open Access for Scholarly Content Policy.

 

Sir John Harrington had as much reason to celebrate the friendship between his son and Prince Henry as he did his own appointment as guardian to the Prince’s sister, given the Prince’s status as heir to the throne. Sir John evidently had high hopes of what the friendship would mean for his son. Just a few years after the portraits were produced, he expressed his hope that his son would gain advantage from his friendship with the prince on account of ‘such towardly genius as he hath, even at these years’. (Letter from Sir John Harrington to his cousin, reproduced in Wiffen, Historical Memoirs, p. 82.) It certainly appeared as though John Harrington was becoming a trusted friend and agent of the Prince in the years that followed. In the summer of 1608 John set off on a Grand Tour. The Prince appears to have been directly involved in the arrangements, not least intervening with the King to secure John’s passport. It has even been suggested that John’s itinerary was ‘clearly intended to provide the prince with eyewitness reports of most of the potential diplomatic flash points of western Europe.’ (Simon Healy, 'Harrington, John, second Baron Harrington of Exton (b. 1592, d. 1614), courtier, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/12328, accessed 15 July 2016]) Harrington’s significance to the Prince was also noted by others. On his presentation to the Venetian Doge, the English ambassador to Venice, Sir Henry Wotton, commented that: ‘being the right eye of the Prince of Wales, this world holds that he will one day govern the kingdom’. (Quoted in Healy, 'Harrington, John, second Baron Harrington of Exton'.)

Sadly, Wotton’s prediction and Sir John’s hopes would never come to pass. Prince Henry died of typhoid fever in November 1612, scuppering all the plans. Moreover, both Sir John and his son were themselves dead within two years of Prince Henry’s demise. The father died in Germany in August 1613, having just accompanied the newly married Princess Elizabeth and her husband Frederick, Prince Elector Palatine, to their new home. The son died in February 1614, leaving the family with no male heirs. Consequently, far from being the earliest material remains of the long and fruitful relationship between the Harringtons and the Stuarts, Peake’s paintings are left as a hint of what might have been a very different future for the Harringtons, the Stuarts and - given Prince Henry’s popularity, and his rather different character from his younger brother, the future Charles I - perhaps even for England itself.