Sunday, June 27, 2010

Matthew Paris: obsessed?

A while back I noted that Matthew Paris, the 13th century English chronicler, seemed to be hung up on the words oppressions, extortions, and papal legate. And having now quickly gone through volume 2 of the 19th century edition of his English History, I now suggest that what he was really obsessed about was the subject of money. When he talks about tyranny, when he talks about corruption, when he talks about vice, he almost always follows that up with a story about money. Or occasionally, income from land. Or illegitimate taxation. Or some other kind of property.

Sometimes he'd just break into a whole riff about money, as here, where he was talking about King Louis's need for more cash in the middle of his expensive crusade:
There was now sent to him as much money in talents, sterling coin, and approved money of Cologne (not the base money of the Parisians, or of Tours), as eleven waggons, to each of which were four strong horses, could be loaded with, together with some beasts of burden by which it was carried to the sea-coast, where it was received on board some Genoese ships, to be transported to the needy king, with also no small quantity of provisions. Each waggon carried two large iron-hooped casks, prepared for the purpose, filled with the aforesaid money, all of which had been extorted from the property of the Church during a period of three years. And what end was gained by it the following narrative will fully show.
You can almost see Matthew rubbing his hands together like Uncle Scrooge about to jump into his swimming pool full of cash. Or maybe Matthew saw himself driving the wagon, cracking the whip over sweating oxen, and cackling maniacally. If these visions seem a little extreme to you, look at the Chronicle yourself. We all have our dreams, and I am sure that Matthew's were about solid, high-quality coinage, and lots of it.

Image: an English penny of Matthew's time.

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