Henry Practically Bankrupted England
Henry VIII inherited a country whose economy was sound. However, that quickly changed as Henry’s fiscal policy was- once again- the exact opposite of his fathers’. While Henry VII had been practically parsimonious with money, his son was a spendthrift. Henry’s tutor John Skelton had advised his pupil to be “bountiful, liberal and lavish.” Henry took Skelton at his word, spending freely without much thought of from where the money would come.
The King’s spendthrift habits were the reason why, after his early victories in France, Henry had to pull out of the wars of the Holy League: because he could not afford the costs. War, however, was not the only place the King lavished the cash. As well as commenting on the physical splendor of his body, foreign diplomats also remarked upon the jewels and gorgeous clothing the King wore. Henrys’ love at opulence did not stop at himself. He loved to build, with his lavish palace of Nonesuch in Surrey âthe highest point of ostentation.”
All of this expenditure needed finance. While Henry could spend money, he was not very adept at generating it. Ironically, to pay for his wars with France, Henry had raised taxation- just scant years after dismantling his father’s unpopular tax system. When Henry wanted to return to war in 1525, Cardinal Wolsey came up with “The Amicable Grant”; a forced loan levied on between one-sixth and one-tenth of the goods of the laity and one third on that of the clergy. Unratified by parliament, it was profoundly unpopular, and after some passive resistance, which threatened to become more violent, Henry and the Cardinal abolished it.
Matters became worse during the last years of Henrys’ reign when the King’s overspending led to “The Great Debasement.” The amount of gold and silver in coins was reduced and replaced partially or wholly with copper, thereby reducing the real value of money and pushing up prices. In 1542, the mint introduced the English shilling or Testoon, a copper coin covered with a thin veneer of silver to imitate the old silver shilling. This veneer quickly wore off to reveal the copper beneath, earning Henry the nickname “copper nose.” Unlike Henry VII, Henry VIII bequeathed to his son, Edward, a country that, if not bankrupt, was in a dire financial state.