In reading about the medieval queen consorts of England, you will frequently find they were entitled to and collected a source of revenue called Queen’s Gold. Research into the topic led me to a tract written by William Prynne, an English Puritan lawyer, author, polemicist and political figure. Shortly after his restoration to the throne, King Charles II appointed Prynne as the keeper of historical records of the Tower of London. This tract is chock full of information about the history of Queen’s Gold. Prynne dedicated this work to Queen Catherine of Braganza and makes an argument she was entitled to collect this revenue, based on historical precedent and law.
Prynne defines Aurum Reginae, as a royal debt, duty, or revenue, belonging and accruing to every Queen Consort, during her marriage to the King of England, (both by law, custom, and prescription time out of mind) due by every person of what quality or calling soever within the Realms of England or Ireland, who has made a voluntary oblation, obligation or fine to the King amounting to ten marks or upwards, for any privileges, franchises, dispensations, licenses, pardons, grants, or other matters of royal grace or favor conferred on him by the King, arising from and answerable to the quantity of such his oblation or fine; that is, one full tenth part over and above the entire fine or oblation to the King; as one mark for every ten marks, and ten pounds for every hundred pounds fine, and so proportionably for every other sum exceeding ten marks; or one mark of gold to the Queen for every hundred mark fine in silver to the King: (being both one in value and proportion) which sum becomes a real debt and duty to the Queen by the name of Aurum Reginae, by and upon the party’s bare agreement with the King for his fine, with no promise to, or contract with the King or Queen for this tenth part exceeding it, which becomes a Debt on Record to the Queen by the very recording of the fine.
Prynne further states that fines made to our Kings, and particularly this duty of Queen’s Gold to our Queens, were paid in gold, either en masse by weight, or in coin, as the Fine and Pipe Rolls during the reigns of King John, Henry II and III and Edward I abundantly testify.
The fines mentioned by Prynne include, among many others, licenses of alienation of lands held by the King, licenses for king’s widows or wards to marry whom they please as well as any fines for pardons of such alienations or marriages made without the King’s permission; all fines to the King for grants of the body, lands, or marriages of these wards, for the custody of abbeys, priories, monasteries or bishoprics during their vacancies, by those who sued and paid fines for them, or to enclose or fell woods, or plow lands within the King’s Forest, fines for respiting or not receiving the Order of Knighthood, and for not going and marching with the army of the King to his wars when bound by tenure, all appeared in the list.
Fines were collected for all charters, patents creating, granting, and confirming corporations, tenures, honors, dignities, offices, lands, markets, fairs, privileges, liberties, chases, parks, free-warrens, wrecks, waifs, strays, felon’s goods, free fishing, or other royalties and for fines for new patents to confirm, alter, or enlarge all or any premises. They collected other fines for pardons, or remissions of many trespasses within forests or elsewhere, or for breaches of the peace, frauds, deceits, concealments, felonies, or manslaughters. Also included were fines or ransoms of Jews for their offences, as well as Christians.
Prynne states that Aurum Reginae is due from clergymen and laypeople. Because it was the queen consort’s duty to engage in frequent mediations and powerful intercessions to the King in most grants of honors, offices, licenses, franchises, privileges, pardons, etc. to their subjects, Aurum Reginae accrued to the Queen Consorts.
Prynne makes a rather specious argument that the collection of Queen’s Gold arose in the time of Queen Helena, wife of Constantius, and mother of Constantine the Great. Constantius came to England and lived in York with his son Constantine. The soldiers of York declared Constantine emperor when his father died in 306 A.D. Although Constantine only lived in York for a short time, Prynne declares his mother collected Queen’s Gold. However, upon further inspection of the historical evidence, this cannot be true as Constantius set aside Helena to marry another woman before coming to England.
One potential origin of the idea of Queen’s Gold comes from a dispute between the see of the archbishop of York and that of Canterbury. The chronicler Hugh the Chanter mentions the bishop of Durham, Ralph Flambard, offered one thousand marks of silver to King Henry I and one hundred to his queen, Matilda of Scotland to favor the candidacy of York. Flambard, one time treasurer to King William Rufus, apparently knew of the ten percent balance of these payments. We have evidence that Henry I’s second wife, Adeliza of Louvain, was the first queen to receive a portion of a license fine and she took the harvesting of this revenue seriously.
Prynne found among the documents in the Tower what he describes as the first record of Queen’s Gold being collected. He mentions the learned “Dialogue of Gervasius Tilberiensis”, an officer in the Court of Exchequer under King Henry II. Apparently, it was during his reign the standardization of the practice of collecting Queen’s Gold took place. Later in the reign, the collection of these license fines was ratified to one gold mark to the queen for every hundred silver marks received by the king, and paid to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Queen’s Gold was received, collected, and levied by a special officer, or Clerk in the Court of Exchequer, authorized and appointed by patent from the King, or Queen, or both of them. The collector would render an account of the revenue to the Exchequer.
Prynne found several references during the reign of King John, including revenue from Ireland, that went to his wife, Queen Isabelle of Angoulême. King Henry III initially took the Queen’s Gold for himself. In 1258, when King Henry III’s reign was under attack by the barons, they formed a committee of twenty-four men to assist the king. They endowed this committee with the ability to determine in which areas the tariff of Queen’s Gold should apply. In 1268, Henry III granted Eleanor of Castile, wife of his eldest son Prince Edward, Queen’s Gold from fines in Ireland because her husband was Lord of Ireland. Following the death of Henry, all revenue from Queen’s Gold went to his widow, Eleanor of Provence.
When Eleanor of Castile became queen, she appointed her own receiver to collect Queen’s Gold. Some of her agents were aggressive in their methods, creating controversy. Isabel of France, Queen Consort of Edward II appointed her own receiver and continued to collect Queen’s Gold after the death of her husband. Through time, disputes and arguments arose regarding which fines the Queen’s Gold tenth were to be applied. Because of this and collections issues, amounts collected varied widely. The concept of Queen’s Gold was arbitrary and therefore seen as unfair. Resistance from the public to this queen consort’s prerogative increased through each medieval reign.
In the eleventh year of Edward III’s reign, the city of Bristol tried to claim they didn’t owe Queen’s Gold to Queen Philippa of Hainault. However, the Barons of the Exchequer found overwhelming evidence they had to pay. Queen Philippa appears to have had trouble collecting Queen’s Gold, causing it to become in arrears, compelling the King to intervene frequently in enforcing collection. After her death, the funds went to the king.
In the Parliament Roll of the second year of Richard II’s reign, Prynne found a petition from the House of Commons against the payment of Queen’s Gold out of the Exchequer for oblations or fines to him for the grants of the lands, bodies and marriages of his wards, along with the King’s royal negative answer to it, thus recorded. The fines continued to be collected. Queen’s Gold was collected and paid to Joan of Navarre, King Henry IV’s second wife. During the reign of Henry V, Joan continued to collect the revenue. Margaret of Anjou appointed her own receivers, as did Elizabeth Woodville. Prynne lists one hundred and sixty-two writs for Queen’s Gold for Elizabeth Woodville, but it is highly doubtful much of these were collected.
Elizabeth Woodville’s reputation has been denigrated because of her alleged insistence on collecting eight hundred marks from Thomas Cook on a fine of eight thousand marks imposed on him for his crime. In most cases, the queen’s designated agent was the party to pursue collecting the fine. Elizabeth may have not known about it and there is some evidence she released Cook from most of the obligation.
Henry VII issued a patent appointing a receiver general to collect all Queen Elizabeth of York’s revenue, including Queen’s Gold. Historical evidence shows the naming of receiver generals for Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr to collect Queen’s Gold. Then, the practice goes into abeyance from the reign of King Edward VI, who never married, through the reigns of the two Tudor Queen Regnants, Mary I and Elizabeth I (who obviously were not Queen Consorts).
Prynne found documents showing that shortly after the coronation of James I (James VI, King of Scots) and Anne of Denmark, the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Oxford, put in a claim to appoint a clerk in the Exchequer for the levying of Queen’s Gold. Prynne states due to plague, Queen Anne did not collect any revenues from this source.
In March 1607, James I instructed William Hakewill, a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn, to search the records of the Tower of London to determine whether previous Queen Consorts enjoyed rights and privileges which had fallen into disuse. Hakewill found the ordinance issued during the reign of Henry II and determined Queen Anne was entitled to Queen’s Gold. He wrote a short treatise on the nature of Queen’s Gold, probably as an introduction to a longer work which he never completed. He presented this document to Queen Anne and King James ordered an examination of the treatise. They decided the queen was due to receive the Queen’s Gold but they put so many restrictions on the collection of the monies, it basically amounted to nothing.
King Charles I ordered that his Queen, Henrietta Maria of France, was entitled to the revenues of Queen’s Gold, sending a writ to the Treasurer and Barons of his Exchequer, for the levying of this duty. When no revenue materialized from this source, the king gave her ten thousand pounds in gold instead of the Queen’s Gold. By now, two acts of Parliament had removed the ability of queen consorts to collect Queen’s Gold. These acts abolished and took away the fines arising from the Court of Wards, Wardships, Tenures in Capite and writs to receive the Order of Knighthood, as well as other sources. And so, by the time of Queen Catherine of Braganza, Queen’s Gold was no longer paid to English Queen Consorts.
Further reading: “Aurum reginæ, or, A compendious tractate and chronological collection of records in the Tower and Court of Exchequer concerning queen-gold evidencing the quiddity, quantity, quality, antiquity, legality of this golden prerogative, duty, and revenue of the queen-consorts of England … / by William Prynne, Esq. …”, entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on William Prynne written by William Lamont, “Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth of York” by Lisa Hilton, “Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England” by John Carmi Parsons, “Eleanor of Castile” by Sarah Cockerill, “The Last Medieval Queens” by J.L. Laynesmith, “Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower” by David Baldwin, entry on William Hakewill on The History of Parliament online
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[…] with ardently supporting the Franciscans. Henry gave Eleanor more lands and the right to collect Queen’s gold, along with income from royal wardships, whereby the estates of a minor were managed to the profit […]
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What sweet irony. Prynne was branded and pilloried, not to mention his ears cut off, for insulting Queen Henrietta Maria for her role in a Masque Play. Prynne was a major figure in Parliament’s overthrow of King Charles I and his execution, yet Charles II hires him to research the “Queen’s Gold” after the Restoration. Forgiveness with a historical tasking twist?
Some believe Hawthorne used William “Prynne” and William “Chillingworth,” both religious figures in the British Civil War, for his Scarlet Letter. Captain William Hawthorne fit in quite well with the Cromwell regime’s extension into New England and annexation of Maine, according to books of that time.