Making Money in Sixteenth-Century France

Making Money in Sixteenth-Century France: Currency, Culture, and the State

Jotham Parsons
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Making Money in Sixteenth-Century France
    Book Description:

    Coinage and currency-abstract and socially created units of value and power-were basic to early modern society. By controlling money, the people sought to understand and control their complex, expanding, and interdependent world. InMaking Money in Sixteenth-Century France, Jotham Parsons investigates the creation and circulation of currency in France. The royal Cour des Monnaies centralized monetary administration, expanding its role in the emerging modern state during the sixteenth century and assuming new powers as an often controversial repository of theoretical and administrative expertise.

    The Cour des Monnaies, Parsons shows, played an important role in developing the contemporary understanding of money, as a source of both danger and opportunity at the center of economic and political life. More practically, the Monnaies led generally successful responses to the endemic inflation of the era and the monetary chaos of a period of civil war. Its work investigating and prosecuting counterfeiters shone light into a picaresque world of those who used the abstract and artificial nature of money for their own ends. Parson's broad, multidimensional portrait of money in early modern France also encompasses the literature of the age, in which money's arbitrary and dangerous power was a major theme.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5498-1
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    TheCommunist Manifesto’s famous diagnosis of nineteenth-century society is in no way distinctively communist.¹ Indeed, social theorists from Marx’s day to ours have been nearly unanimous in connecting what Karl Polanyi called the “great transformation” of modern society and economy with an equally profound transformation in the social and political role of money. Abstract, impersonal, subject to mathematical manipulation and analysis, money has encouraged or enabled many of the relationships and attitudes characteristic of modernity. Bearing only a formal relationship to those who possessed it, those who received it, or goods for which it was exchanged, it suited, if it...

  5. Chapter 1 The Cour des Monnaies
    (pp. 17-59)

    In 1581 Jean de Colenges, president of a royal court in Villefranche-de-Rouergue, attempted to reestablish the long-suppressed mint of his small, remote town in the South of France, only to be thwarted by the queen mother, Catherine de Médicis.¹ She, like him, remembered all too well the incident he mentioned, which was, if not the most damaging, perhaps the most disgraceful misfortune to befall the French currency in the sixteenth century. That scandal, already a bit obscure though far from forgotten after thirty years, may seem an odd place to begin an investigation of the entire practical and cultural system...

  6. Chapter 2 The Logic of Economic Regulation
    (pp. 60-103)

    It is a commonplace to say that Europeans initially found the New World all but incomprehensible and proceeded to project onto it models and concerns drawn from their own history and society.¹ One of the things they found most alien, from the very moment of contact, was the absence from American society of money as they understood it. Columbus himself initiated this trope in his description of the initial contact with the Americans, who “brought skeins of cotton thread, parrots, darts, and other small things, . . . and they give all in exchange for anything that may be given...

  7. Chapter 3 The Inflationary Crisis and the Reforms of 1577
    (pp. 104-152)

    Given how central money was to the sixteenth-century understanding of the economy and economic regulation and how closely tied it was to the sense of danger surrounding economic affairs, the suspicions expressed by the wealthy merchants of Paris in 1565 are not surprising.¹ Maintaining the currency required intense activity at the best of times, and the second half of the sixteenth century was very far from being the best of times. Economic and political circumstances twice led to the near collapse of the French currency; this chapter and the next will examine the ways that governing authorities sought, with considerable...

  8. Chapter 4 Money and Sovereignty
    (pp. 153-192)

    When an anonymous French writer set out in the early seventeenth century to compile the best monetary thought of his time, he summed up his project in a double epigraph. Alongside the fifth-century Roman chancery formula above,¹ he placed a brief, inelegant, and incorrect Latin poem presumably of his own composition. It went as follows:

    A single faith should be a single weight, measure, and money,

    And the state of all the world will be healthy.

    The right to coin money resides in the bones of princes.

    Spurn foreign customs: they have a thousand faces.

    He ordered that the mass...

  9. Chapter 5 Crimes against the Currency
    (pp. 193-236)

    The courtier and memoirist Pierre de Bourdeille, abbé de Brantôme, professed to admire King Charles IX and placed a long tribute to him in his collection of the lives of great French captains.¹ The passage quoted above seems to undermine that tribute, even more so when read in its context. It comes immediately after a description of the young king’s eagerness for arms and his impressive performance—especially compared with that of his younger brother, the future Henri III—at a tournament organized to celebrate his coronation. “Thenceforth, everyone judged that the king appeared beautifully at arms.” That should certainly...

  10. Chapter 6 The Monetary Imaginary of Renaissance France
    (pp. 237-281)

    This passage, reversing all the gendered polarities of the one with which we began the previous chapter, is from Brantôme’sGalllant Ladies.¹ His distress was premature, for earth did not do a terribly consistent job of covering Henri II’s mistress. Revolutionaries disinterred her from the church at Anet in 1795, and more recently archeologists have recovered her remains from the mass grave in the town cemetery where they had been deposited. And the analysis of those remains has confirmed a detail of Brantôme’s account: she had in fact been consuming potable gold, in quantities large enough to kill her.² Unlike...

  11. Conclusion: The Court and the Queen
    (pp. 282-288)

    The abrupt and tragic end of theVoyages of the Fortunate Princeswas one that contemporaries could have easily understood.¹ May 16, 1610, was meant to be an exceptional day in the ceremonial history of the French monarchy. And so it was, though not at all as its architects had intended. Queen Marie de Médicis, King Henri IV’s wife since 1600, had just been formally crowned in Rheims. She was to enter Paris and be presented to the people not just as the king’s wife and the dauphin’s mother but as the future regent of the kingdom during Henri’s anticipated...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-318)
  13. Index
    (pp. 319-324)