Tuesday, 22 November 2016

How Could 17th Century Exiles Receive Money from England?

As a writer, there are times when a character in a historical novel needs to get their hands on some money. In seventeenth century Britain, how did they do it?

I came across this when I researched life for the exiles in the court of Charles II in Holland and France. Many were running out of money, and Edward Hyde writes of the generosity of the Princess Royal (i.e., Mary, sister to Charles II, wife of William I of Orange) in providing a house for him, rent free:

During that time the Princess Royal had, out of her own princely nature and inclination, cultivated by the civility and offices of the Lady Stanhope, conferred a very seasonable obligation upon him [that is, Edward Hyde] , by assigning a house that was in her disposal at Breda to his wife and children, who thereupon left Antwerp, and without the payment of any house rent, were more conveniently, because more frugally, settled in their new mansion at Breda.

Which prompted me to ask: How did he survive? Where did he get money to live on? Was someone sending him money? If so, how? And not just Hyde, but all the exiles. Some struggled in poverty.

Roger L’Estrange, while he was in Newgate, needed money to pay the jailer,  and for his food and lodging. When he slipped out of Newgate with ‘the privity of [his] keeper’ where did he get the money to survive? He had no inheritance yet, but he did have an allowance from his family in Norfolk. But he did not go to Norfolk, he went to Kent. So how did his allowance reach him?

A glance at the banking system in 17th century England might be useful.

The first provincial bank was opened in 1650, two years after Roger was in Kent, and it was not until 1694 that the Bank of England was founded. Until then, the prototype of banking was through goldsmiths. They had acquired much gold following the dissolution of the monasteries. However many goldsmiths were associated with the Crown, and Charles I seized the gold held at the Royal Mint in the Tower of London, making the Royal Mint no longer a safe place to keep gold. The goldsmiths turned to the gentry and aristocracy.

Goldsmiths, the ‘keepers of running cash’ accepted gold in exchange for a receipt. Further, they accepted written instructions to pay back either to the depositor or to a third party, which instruction was the precursor of the cheque or banknote. So Roger could have received written instructions from his father, or his father’s agent or clerk, to receive money from a goldsmith.

But what about those abroad in exile?

In unrelated research, I came across a thesis on Sugar plantations in Jamaica in which the writer cites  documents relating to bills of exchange in the 1650s. A bill of exchange enabled a person from England to send money to his ‘agent’ (in this case, a brother) in Jamaica, or, presumably, anywhere else in the world.

What is a bill of exchange, how does it work? Basically, it too is a forerunner of the modern cheque. It is a written order made by one person (the drawer) to another person (the drawee – in the case of a modern cheque that would be the bank) to pay a third person (the payee). The order is addressed to the drawee, and he has to agree to pay the money to the payee. So, while Roger was in exile, his father could have sent his allowance by a bill of exchange.

A bill of exchange is negotiable. That means that the payee could endorse the order in favour of someone else for them to draw on it. In turn, they could also endorse the order in favour of yet another person and so on ad infinitum. The last person to hold the bill of exchange may claim the amount against the drawee, no matter who else may think he has a claim on it. Which is why it is called ‘negotiable’ and why modern cheques are crossed and marked ‘non negotiable’. Of course a negotiable bill of exchange could be subject to theft, forgery, and so on – I see a plot developing here!

In the case of the plantation, the owner lived in England and sent bills of exchange to his brother in Jamaica. The owner had a network of associates in Jamaica, neighbours, family, friends, one of whom could have been willing to act as the drawee, one who trusted the owner to compensate him. Or perhaps the drawer had already deposited money with the drawee in advance, say, before the drawee left England for Jamaica. The account does not say. The same might be true of those in Charles II’s court in exile. With regard to the goldsmiths, had the drawer already deposited gold with them for use in the future? Or was there some kind of network arrangement between goldsmiths? If anyone knows, please tell me.

So that is the technical bit. Through bills of exchange, or orders to goldsmiths, money could be sent to anywhere in the world, and our characters need not be pining in poverty.

Rebellion - Roger L'Estrange and the Kent Petition by Evelyn Tidman is available now in Print and Kindle or visit her website.

Monday, 19 September 2016


While researching for my latest WIP I wanted to know on what day of the week a certain date in 1644 fell. So I found an online calendar for that year. Easy peasy? Well, no, not exactly. For when I came across some information which gave me a different day and date for that year, and guess what? It did not tally with the online calendar. And that meant a headache for me. Why the discrepancy?

Eventually, it dawned on me that the calendar changed, from Julian to Gregorian.  Actually it was in 1752. Could that be the reason? Was my 1644 online calendar wrong? Never let it be said, but that was the case.

After some digging, I found a Julian calendar. If you want to know, it is here: http://5ko.free.fr/en/jul.php?y=1644 . And guess what! The dates and days tallied with the historical record.

So why did the calendar change from Julian to Gregorian?

It is all to do with the sun. The Julian calendar, which had been in use since Julius Caesar for whom it was named, did not properly reflect the actual time it takes the Earth to circle the sun. The Julian calendar had a formula which included a leap year every four years. It meant that eventually the vernal equinox and the winter solstice did not occur on the right date. The Gregorian calendar brought it all back into line.

Pope Gregory XIII (hence the name Gregorian, of course!) issued a papal bull in 1582 decreeing that ten days should be dropped when changing to the new calendar. But not every country adopted the new Gregorian calendar immediately. While France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Austria and Germany (Catholic states) changed in 1582-3, other countries took longer, Turkey, for example waiting until 1926/27. And the longer they waited to change, the more days had to be dropped to bring it into line with the Gregorian Calendar. Britain and most areas of the US and Canada changed in 1752 and had to drop 11 days, while the Turks in 1926/7 had to drop 13 days.

Why the discrepancy? It takes the Earth approximately 365.242189 days to circle the Sun. That is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds. If we did not have a leap year every four years, we would lose almost six hours off our calendar each year. After 100 years, we would be out by 24 days. Notice the word almost. Almost six hours. Not six whole hours. Therefore, a leap year is not every four years. To identify a leap year, therefore, the year must be divisible by 4. If, however, the year can be evenly divided by 100, it is not a leap year, unless it can also be evenly divided by 400, then it is a leap year. (Confusing, ain't it!) So the year 2000 and 2400 are leap years. 1800, 1900, 2200, 2300 and 2500 are not leap years. Got it?

My thanks to John Chapman on Facebook who drew my attention to the following:
“1750 ran from 25 March to 24 March, 365 days
1751 ran from 25 March
 to 31 December, 282 days
1752 ran from 1 January to 31 December, 354 days (it should have been a leap year but, the 29 Feb. and 11 days from the 3 to 13 September were missed out to bring the calendar back in line with the Sun).
1753 ran from 1 January to 31 December, 365 days.
The US was still British at the time so it is the same. Other countries in Europe changed their calendar from the Julian to Gregorian on different dates - some earlier - some later.

He further added:
 The tax year in Britain used to start on Lady Day(25th March) When they changed it they didn't dare shorten the tax year which is why the UK's tax year starts on 6th April now.

His comments sent me off on another tack. Prior to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, New year was considered to be 25th March, or as my friend John says above, Lady Day. This has led to great confusion about dates. In the 17th and 18th centuries, dates recorded between 1st January and 24th March were often written thus: 22nd February, 1642/3. If there was no second figure there could be confusion over whether the date was actually in 1642 or 1643 as we view it. This is particularly true of dates of birth or death, leaving one wondering if the person were actually 89 or 90 years old when they died! It took a long while, probably until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, for people to make the change properly.

So when you ask Google the day of the week for a certain date, if it is before 1752 beware. They are probably using the Gregorian calendar. Though why anyone would want to know what it should have been according to the Gregorian calendar is beyond me. Don’t we want to know how the people at the time viewed it? That means looking at the Julian calendar.

Now I have some corrections to make! 

Evelyn Tidman is the author of four historical novels.
Her latest work, set in 1648 during the English Civil Wars is out now on Amazon in both Kindle and Print versions.