Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
I recently watched the first two seasons of “Monarchy,” a BBC series covering the history of the English kings and queens going back to the late Roman period. Despite the ridiculously affected speech of narrator David Starkey (which is good for a few laughs, at least), I enjoyed it. It provides a good, CliffsNotes-y overview of English history, and it succeeds in making a rather complicated story at least partly comprehensible.
One thing I found myself thinking while making my way through the series: Boy, I’m sure glad I wasn’t a medieval king! The fairy tale image of courtly magnificence and untrammeled power seems like a lot of guff. In fact, being a king was a lot closer to being a don in a modern-day mafioso family. There was always some creep hoping to knock you off, and it was more likely than not that your reign would end in either imprisonment or murder.
Well, fuck that shit. I’d rather be a court musician or something along those lines, gulping down mead and charming the wenches with my mad lute skills. But, then, though I once had a subscription to “Nintendo Power,” I’ve never had much of a thirst for real-world power. The idea of bossing people around — it mostly gives me the heebie jeebies. I don’t even like the idea of being responsible for a bunch of stuff external to my immediate bubble. Other folks’ problems — who wants to deal with ’em? I guess that’s why I’ve never been fascinated by politicians. To me, they seem like . . . borderline sociopaths.
One of the details covered in “Monarchy” that struck me as amusing concerns Henry II. Henry was the first Plantagenet king. Dates: 1154 to 1189. One of the challenges he faced upon being anointed was stabilizing the English currency. You see, the “moneyers” in charge of his mints were clipping the edges off of silver coins, melting down the shavings, and creating new coinage. Instant money! Inevitably, this resulted in rampant inflation, as everyone began to realize that the coins in their purses contained less silver.
Henry’s solution to this problem was pretty novel. In the words of Toby Birch, he:
Summoned the various Mints to Winchester (then the capital of England) in what was called the ‘Assize of Moneyers’. Two thirds of them were found guilty of debasing the currency and either had their right hands cut off or were castrated. History does not record as to whether they were given a choice between the two options.
As Birch points out, we’re dealing with something similar in the 21st century. Only now the activities of “moneyers” like Ben Bernanke aren’t viewed as warranting castration. On the contrary, they’re condoned acts of state. Meanwhile, the Paul Krugmans of the world tell us we’re crazy for being outraged at our savings being devalued so that government can create money in order to pay debts and cajole special interests. Progress, eh?