1696, the Leicestershire gentry petition the King to establish a mint in that county to provide support for those working in the woollen industry

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1690s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, The JPs and gentlemen of Leicestershire and the mayor and aldermen of the borough of Leicester. SP 32/13 f. 216 (1696).

To the Kings most excellent majestye

The humble petion of severall justices of the peace and gentlemen in the county of Leicester on the behalfe of themselves and the other inhabitants of the said county as alsoe of the maior and aldermen of the burrough of Leicester on the behalfe of themselves and the rest of the inhabitants of the said burrough

Humbly sheweth

That in the said county and burrough there are many thousands of poore people that have nothing to live upon but their dayly labour and are cheifely imployed in the woollen manufacture that by reason of the suppressing of the old money and the great scarcity of the new, the said poore doe labour under manifold difficultyes their masters the managers of the woollen manufacture, and other neighbours not being able to continue them in their usuall imployments, soe as the said poore are likely to fall under utter ruine or else must become an unsupportable charge to your peticioners in their respective parishes

That by reason of the great distance of the said county from any of your majestyes mints your peticioners and others in whose hands the old money remaineth cannot without great difficulty and expence have the said old money recoyned, for the carrying on the said manufacture and releiveing the numerous poor and supply of their other necessary occasions

Your peticioners therefore doe humbly beseech your most excellent majestye, that for ease of your peticioners and the said county and for the more speedy recoynage of their old money that your majestye will be graciously pleased to appoynt a mint to be established at the said burrough of Leicester or some other convenient place in the said county as your majestye in your princely wisdome shall think fitt

And your peticioners shall ever pray for your majestyes long life and for your long happy and glorious raign over us

Edward Smith

E Smith

John Wollaston

Nathaniel Wrighte

John Roberts mayor

William Southwell

John Goodall

Edmund Johnson

John Brokesby

[Paratext:] Justices of the peace of the county of Leicester

Report by Howard Greenwood

The gentry of Leicester petitioned the King to help support their tradespeople, mainly working in the woollen industry, who were suffering for the lack of work. This was caused partly by a long-term debasement of the currency and people’s reluctance to use it. The attempts to replace the disrespected currency with a new coinage were problematic due to a shortage of the new money and the nearest mint was far away, so there were also delays in the supply chain.

The situation in Leicester was not unique, as shown by these comments from the State Papers on 6 June 1696: ‘Letters and petitions read about the scarcity of money, from Newcastle, Leicester, Bruton, etc. Also, a petition from merchants and others, that they might make a loan of their clipped money into the Exchequer on the fund of interest upon salt. Resolved upon the last that this seems to be a matter already determined at Council, and that the petitioners attend the Treasury for any proposals they have to make about loans’.[1]

There was a recognised monetary crisis during the 1690s and a pressing need to solve the long standing issue of debased coinage, which had been subject to illicit ‘clipping’ cutting small pieces off coins and ‘coining’ producing counterfeit coins. In 1696 the solution appeared to be a ‘Great Re-coinage’, declaring existing silver coinage invalid, recalling it and issuing a new pattern.[2] However, insufficient new coin was available by the deadline of 4 May 1696.[3] This is very likely to be the background to the issues in the petition. Incidentally, 1696 was the year in which Isaac Newton was appointed Warden of the Mint and while he did not initiate this policy, he did implement it.[4]

Unfortunately, while the Leicester petition carries a list of names, most of the surnames are relatively common and offer little scope for positive identification. The History of Parliament online shows that a Thomas Brokesby was an MP for Leicester in the 1500’s suggesting that this was the surname of a prominent local family.[5]

The Victoria County History (VCH) for Leicestershire quotes household statistics from Leicester in 1670 where one ward is referred to as ‘Mr Southwell’s’, though there is no further information about the gentleman.[6]

A list of the Mayors of Leicester is slightly more productive and shows that John Roberts was Mayor in 1696 (as he had also been in 1679).[7] John Brokesby had held the office in 1692, John Goodall in 1680 and 1690, William Southwell in 1667 and 1682. So, four of the signatories may have been past or current mayors.

The VCH, commenting on the relief of poverty in Leicester, notes the town’s increased dependence on a ‘single great industry’.[8]  The industry in question was the hosiery trade.[9] However there is no specific mention of extreme poverty, trading or the coinage issues in 1696.


[1] ‘William III: June 1696’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William III, 1696, ed. William John Hardy (London, 1913), pp. 209-253. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/will-mary/1696/pp209-253.

[2] ‘Monetary Crisis (1690’s) & William III’s Great Re-Coinage of 1696′: https://oldcurrencyexchange.com/2015/07/19/the-great-monetary-crisis-of-the-1690s.

[3] B. Waddell, ‘The Politics of Economic Distress in the Aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, 1689–1702’, The English Historical Review, 130:543 2015, 318–51, p. 323 https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cev043.

[4] P. Ackroyd, Isaac Newton – Brief Lives (2007), p. 109.

[5] ‘BROKESBY, Thomas (by 1483-1544 or Later), of the Inner Temple, London and Leicester. History of Parliament, The House of Commons 1509-1558 edited S T Bindoff (1982).http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/brokesby-thomas-1483-1544-or-later .

[6] ‘The City of Leicester: Social and Administrative History, 1660-1835 | British History Online’ https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/leics/vol4/pp153-200.

[7] ‘Mayors of Leicester – Leicestershire Ancestors’ http://leicestershireancestors.weebly.com/mayors-of-leicester.html.

[8] ‘The City of Leicester’: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/leics/vol4/pp153-200.

[9] ‘The City of Leicester’: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/leics/vol4/pp153-200.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of James II, William III and Mary II, 1685-1699’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.