Object: Henry VII’s 1497 Standard of Weights and Measures. In Henry VII’s administrative document, the Society of Antiquaries of London would have seen not only a significant historical artifact worthy of preservation, but also an essential reference point in its long-standing project to catalogue a history of English coinage (see also Plates 1.20, 1.37-1.38, 1.43, 1.55, and 1.56). To both the eighteenth-century antiquary and the contemporary viewer, Henry VII’s 1497 document presents a compelling index of the English crown’s burgeoning regulatory power in the tumult of fifteenth-century national and economic transition. Plate 1.69 also illustrates the Society’s engagement in the project of cataloguing and reconciling international metrological and numismatic standards, which member and future president Martin Folkes (1690-1754) had also championed as president of the Royal Society from 1741-1752. Printed in 1746, Plate 1.69 evinces the growth of Folkes’s often-contested influence over both Societies’ agendas.
Headnote for readers of this edition: The abbreviation “li” or “li.” stands for £ or pound throughout; “d” stands for pence. Roman numerals are used throughout, including the capital C for one hundred. The text includes space-saving scribal conventions, including the ˜ and sometimes ’ to indicate letters omitted when words are truncated; ō is often used when an m or n following the o is omitted. Vertue uses cross-hatching on the plate to indicate lacunae where portions of text are worn away. These are rendered by […].
Top: The STANDARD of WEIGHTS and MEASURES in the Exchequer. Anno. 120. Henrici Septimi.
Text Running Down the Left Margin:
The clerke of ye markett
Shall make proclamacon yt
Artificers & vitulars shall
followe ye Cowrt and kepe
ther markett & yt no man do
troble them but to take yt
in ye marketplace upon payn.
This clerke sercheth every
moneth upon the rule of
ryotte that Ben used in the
contry by ye soiornantes
of all ye kings howsholde &
it to recorde to the lorde
stewarde Treasuror & cōtroller
of the howsholde
Anno iiii0 h.iiii ca0 x0
The Cuynars to be sworne in speciallie yt ye thirde pte of ye Bullion Be made in halpens & farthings
yt is to saie that one half of the
saide third in halpens & ye
other half in farthings of [...]
Alle suche Oãs [rates] as ye Clerke
of the market taketh in ev’y
market towne for ye kinge by
xii men for ye p’ce of grayne &
vytall to be delyver’d into
ye Countinge howse under ye
seale of his office ev’y moneth
and as ofte as nede requireth.
This clerke standeth for a
squire of howsholde and
shall have his lyv’y meat
and drinke as other esquires hath. This clerke shalbe en-
quired of by ye lorde stewarde
of howsholde whether ye clerke
of ye market doo eny extorcion
or make eny cōmon fyne
contrarye to the statutes ther-
uppon made The firste fyne is
vli. The seconde is xli.
The thirde tyme to the Tower &
paye xxli. Anno primo h.
iiii6 Cap0 xvii. whoso di-
sturbeth a foren or an alyen
for to sell fishe or fleshe
in London or ellswhere in greate
or in retayle shall less xlli.
And who that sueth shall have
the one half Anno xv. R. ii.
Cap0 iiii0. he that byeth mo-
re fore the quarter then viii
busshells rased shall forfate
the corne to the kinge. Anno
viii0. H vi0. Cap0. v0. Everye
towne must have a cōmon ba-
lans & weight & a cōmon bus-
shell by a chaine ensealed
uppon paine of xl li. An0 xiiii.
Re Ca. iiii0. One measure of
corne wyne & ale be thorout
ye realme uppon payne of xl li.
Anno xiii0. R. ii0. Ca0. x0.
Five Dates, Serving as Marginal Glosses for the Text to the Right:
Anno iiii0. H.iiiig. Ca0. x0.
Anno piii0. H. vig. Ca0. iiii0.
Anno iiii0. H.iiiig. Ca0. x0.
A0. v0. xiiii. Rdci. R Cz iii
Anno iiii0. Czca0iii0
Diagram Labels, Lower Left:
iii scores & iii a hoggishead. vi scoore & vi a pipe ffor gaginge ye tōne by ye gallō of
England xii score & xii gallons for a tonne.
Diagram Labels, Upper Left:
The whete eare
Too graynes maketh xvi pte of a penny
The Conage of ye mynte
Ffower graynes maketh the viii pte. of a penny
The iiii pte of a penny is a farthinge
XVI graynes an halpeny, the halpeny wth ye peny and halpeny and the farthinge is all poore mens
upon all manner of vitelers of this realme
The penne starlinge
the peny & farthing maketh the xvi pte of an unce
Banners in the Center, Left Image:
Justicia quid est
Justum unicuiq retribuere et podere et mēsura
Alterum non ledere
This is the charge of the Clerke of the markette Cowrte.
for all manner weighte measure and vytelars & Craftismen
ffyrst the cyse of a miller. yt his tolle dishe be sealed asised & excise not
The cyse1 of a Baker. vi d. hyinge vi d. lowinge in ye p’ce of a qt wheat
The cyse of a Brewer. xii d. hynge xii d. lowinge in ye p’ce of a qt malte
The cyse of a Ffyssher. yt he sell no fishe but it be holsome for man
The cyse of a Bocher yt he fective fleshe nor no excesse take
The cyse of a Inholder. yt he be a trew man his measure cysed & sealed
The cyse of a Spicer. & of a grocer. yt his ware be clene garbelde
The cyse of a Tanner. yt he tanne ox leather and netes & calves
The cyse of a Taverner. yt his wyne be hole and holsome for man
The cyse of a Tallowchaundler. as tallows hie & lowe so shal he sell
The cyse of a weaver. yt his weight be trewe yt he weyeth by
The cyse of a collier. yt his sacke be ii yardes & ye naile & iii q’ters brod
The cyse of a Cordenar. yt he make shoes and Botes of netyes leather
The cyse of a Tawyer yt he shall tawe no But shepes leather & deres
The cyse of a mercer. drap or taylor. yt their yerdes Be sealed
The cyse of Cuynars. they shall kepe weight and number
The cyse of the master of the mynte. he shall holde none exchange
The cyse of Barbers. he shall caste no Bloude nor heare in ye strete
The cyse of Saddelers. yt they make good stuff for the King[s] people
The cyse of Berebrewers. yt they occupie no mustie corne
The cyse of goldesmithes. yt they make no deceytfull plate
The cyse of vyttellers. yt they occupie good & holsome vitailes for man
The cyse that no manner of man nor woman shall forstalle
nor regrate no man thinge yt shulde come unto ye market nother
by water nor lande. nor wth in ye towne nor wth out wherby the
market shulde be ye worse, and great hurte to ye comons
to bye at ye secunde hande. This provided they to be amerced
and judged to ye forme and statutes before rehersed. Ordayned
by ye kinge that all mayors Sheriffs. Justices of peace. constables.
and Baillies of Cities townes & villages to maintaine ye p’misses.
Also ye fore written thinges be kept in ye king[s] behalf so that
any man more or less agenst ye statute before written in worde
counsell helpe or favor presume to be taken & emp’soned as a
dispisor of ye king[s] comaundements And be not delyv’ed owt
of ye prison till he be delyvared by the kinges comaundement
or by his wrytt expressed.
Any man yc maketh takinge in ye king[s] name
wth out comyssion shall be punyshed as a fellon.
Banner in the Top, Center Image: Justicia tua domine justicia in eternum et lex tua veritas / justicia tua dñe et regnum judicium tuum
Aequalis ponderis erunt omnia. Exodi XXX.
Statera justa et æqua sint pondera justus æquusque sextarius
Non habebis in sacculo diversa pondera majus et minus leuit xix0
Nec erit in domo tua modius major et minor pondus habebis justum
et verum et modius equalis et verus erit tibi. deutonomii xxv0
[...] Sapiens ii [xi]
justicia tua domine justicia in eternum et lex tua veritas.
As god hath called you to his gr’e,we have admitted you ī ye
place one of o˜ [our] councell to be. therfore do iustice to poore and riche
And here the poore before the riche for our honor. wch is
to you greate succor in tyme of nede.
By the discretion & ordinannce of o˜ [our] soveraigne lorde ye kinge & of his
lordes sp’uall & te’pall wth ye comons of ye same his realme of England
of all man˜ of weight & measure yt was made by ye grayne of wheate.
That is to understande yt xxxii graynes of wheat taken out of ye
middest of ye yeare weieth a starlinge otherwise called a penny &
xx starlinge maketh an once. And xii onces maketh a li of troy
weight for sylv˜ golde, breade, and measure wth half an unce wch
weight maketh a pynte of wheate. & ii pynt[s] maketh a quarte
and ii quartes maketh a pottell. And ii pottells maketh a gallon.
& viii gallons maketh a Busshell of wheat and nother heape nor
cancell to be striken wth a raysinge strike And viii busshells
maketh a quarter stricken wth a raysinge strike & nother heape ne
cancell. The same tyme ordayned yt xvi onces of troye maketh ye
haver de pause [avoirdupois] a li. for to by & sell spice by to be devided from ye most
pte to the least that is to saie ye unce and a li for garbeling a li.
ii li, iii li, iiii li, viii li, and no further of old tyme called ye stone of [L]ondon.
the C is trew at this daie v. scoore for ye C as it apereth in magna-
carta Anno xiiii. Eiii0. Cap0. xii. Anno. vii. H.vii. C. iii.
The clerke of the market of the kings howsholde & thorough
all the realme of Englande shall doe and execute his office wheir
so ev’ he will in Cyties, Borowes, and in Townes uppon all
manner of weight an measures, vytellars, artificers, forstallers,
and regrators as well wth in liberties as wth out no franches broken
but asisted by his p’sens in as large forme as yt was ordeyned by
any other kinges tymes past for the comon weale accordinge to ye
statutes heretofore made. This clarke shall punisshe all suche
trespassors and disebediens that this myseuse of cyses agenst ye
kings statutes olde or new that dothe offende the kings pclamacon
: Used here as a noun meaning “rule” or “regulation” (but see also “size, v.1”).
To the Right of Center Image:
regrat of marketts
and feyres and
Text Below Center Image:
Too half busshells maketh one busshell wch conteyneth in weight 1 li. wch is in mesure lxiiii pyntes ther is proued troy & haverdepause for one weight and one mesure. after viii C unces the halfe hunderd wch conteyneth xvi c.li. in golde as it apereth by the Bakers sise boke when a q’tter of wheate is at vs the pennye loffe weieth viii li vi0 viiid then have ye iiii score & iiii loves of that quarter there is e weight and number. viii busshells for e qu’ater raced to be strekyn wth a raced strike nother heape nor cancell for to be a quarter And that q’ter of wheat conteyneth in weight iiii C weight. And who yt taketh more then viii busshells striken for a quarter shall forfitt ye corne to ye kinge.
Diagram Labels, Lower Center:
half a busshell
xxv li in weight
viii C unces
half a C weight
A quarter conteyneth CCCC li
Diagram Labels, Upper Right:
Too pens halpeny the viii pte of an unce
ffyve pense wch conteyneth the iiiith pte of an unce
Tenne peny weight conteyneth half an unce
Anno iiii0. H. iiiici Cap x0
Also yt nether goldsmith ne other shall melt penne halpenne nor ffarthinge upon paine of forfe[i]ting ye quadruple [...] monye ever [...] for ye use of our realme
Twentie pence ye unce of troye wch is for sylver & golde & brede & all other manner of wares for one unce and one penne. The same tyme ordayned xii unces of troy to be for xxs sterling after xx pens ye unce and xii unces for ye pound weight wch is xls coyne at this daie wch is iiii ryalls of olde tyme called iiii nobles the wch weight standeth at this tyme for the sise of the Baker and other sises.
Annotation, Top Right: NB. The Original Parchment is fix’t on an Oak Table such of the Lines and Words as have a Line drawn under them are writ with Red Ink.
Text Running Down the Right Margin:
This booke enacted and
confirmed the xii yere
of henry the Seventhe
whose soule God perdon
these personnes followinge
wer commanded by the
kinge to sytte judiciallie as
Comissioners upon the saide
acts of his howse of Assises
The Bysshoppe of Landaf,
The Lorde Broke Steward
of the kinges howse, Syr
Rychard Gylforde Comp-
troller of the same,
Kendall Lorde of Seynt
Johns, Syr John Rylley,
Knight, The clerke of
Text, Center and Lower Right:
Twelve unces and a half conteyneth a pynte of mesure for wheat and wyne ye same tyme that viii pyntes of wheat maketh ye gallon for the busshell the wch conteyneth iii score & iiii pyntes raysed for a busshell. The same tyme ordeyned iii Barlee cornes maketh an unche iiii wheat graynes qter ye unche xii unches maketh ye foote, thre fote maketh the yarde xvi foote and a half maketh the rodde to measure lande by.
The quarte wch conteyneth ii pynts in weight xxv unc’. Too pyntes maketh one quarte for wyne and Ale
An0. iiii0 Cz.iii
Too quarts maketh one pottell for wine & ale wch conteyneth iiii li. and ii onces in weight. The cyse of a taverner he shall selle his wynes at a signement of ye Clerke of ye market or ye mayer or hedde officers of ye towne or Cittie and yt he excesse not uppon payne of imp’soment that is to saie yt he sell no secly wyne upon [pain of] sealinge up his doore and his wyne to be cast owt in the strete. And he to gaine in euy gallon white & redde ii in the gallon and iiiid in all manner of swete wynes And yt itt be trewlie gaged by ye officers of ye towne & yt it be tasted.
Too pottellis maketh a gallon for wyne and Ale wch conteyneth a C. unces of troy viii of thes maketh ye standerd of wynchester busshell
xxc weight maketh a Tonne, that is a Carte loade. xl rodde in length maketh an acre and iiii rodde of bredth
Bottom: From the Original Table formerly in the Treasury of the Kings EXCHEQUER at WESTMINSTER, and now preserved in the M.S. LIBRARY of the late EARL of OXFORD. Sumptibus Societ. Antiquariӕ Londini 1746.
Banners in the Center, Left Image:
What is Justice?
To live honestly
To repay each his due in both weight and measure
Not to harm others
Banner in the Top, Center Image: Thy righteousness, O Lord, is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth. / Righteous is yours, O Lord, and upright is thy judgment (Psalm 119 [KJV]: 142, 137).
All things shall be of equal weight (Exodus 30).
Just balances, just weights, a just ephah and a just hin shall ye have (Leviticus 19).
Thou shalt not have in thy sack divers weights a larger and a lesser. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures a great and a small; but thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and a just measure shalt thou have (Deuteronomy 25).
[Thou hast disposed everything in measure, number, and weight.] (Wisdom of Solomon 2, [i.e., 11])
Thy righteousness, O Lord, is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth (Psalm 119).
Commentary by David Shields: Overshadowed in the public imagination by his son, Henry VIII, and his granddaughter, Elizabeth I, Henry VII is often cast as a contradictory and transitional monarch. Neither medieval nor modern, Henry VII’s reign—between the end of the Wars of the Roses with the fall of Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485 and the broader social, political, and religious renegotiations of the Reformation under Henry VIII after 1509—remains a period of historiographic negotiation, compounded by the relative scarcity of extant documentary evidence compared with that of his successors (Gunn 2007, 301). The Standard of Weights and Measures produced on order of Henry VII in 1497, reproduced by George Vertue on Plate 1.69 in 1746, reveals the scope and degree to which the unification of the kingdom’s economy and the establishment of the administrative state occupied the King’s agenda from the beginning of his reign.
Receipts in the King’s rolls document Henry VII’s keen attention to the circulation of coin and goods within his realm, and his interest in stabilizing, assessing, and taxing commerce and wealth in the kingdom. Although clause 35 of the Magna Carta had prescribed an authoritative standard of weights and measures, systems of commercial exchange had fluctuated in England between 1215 and Henry VII’s coronation in 1485, exacerbated by an increase in import and export with merchants from Paris and Venice. When Henry VII took the throne, markets across England still operated on autonomous and irreconcilable regionally-disparate standards of measurement, arbitrarily indebted to ancient Roman, Norman, and Saxon practices. The variety of standards in use had rendered England’s markets vulnerable not only to competing foreign standards, but also to corruption, coin-clippers, and counterfeiters. From the first days of his reign, Henry VII moved to subdue these competing systems, and the fraudulent exchanges they encouraged, under the King’s authority. Evidence suggests that Henry VII well understood the significance of weights and measures to the stability of his reign. In September 1485, little more than a month after taking the throne by combat from Richard III, Henry VII’s treasury reported payment of 10 pounds sterling to royal founder William Nele “for making certain measures out of the King’s metal called ‘brasse’ according to the accustomed standard, and sending them into each county in the realm” (Campbell 1873, 226). An additional payment to Nele issued from the King’s Treasury the following year suggests the King’s standards had been completed and “sent unto severalle shires and cities of England” (492).
However, these early efforts to standardize the realm’s commercial activity proved inadequate, as Parliament enacted a clarifying statute in 1491, the seventh year of Henry VII’s reign, that “Weights and Measures shall be made of brass and sent to the chief Officers of every city, borough, &c.” (7 Hen. VII C.4.; Great Britain 1811, 757). Parliament elaborated this act in 1495, establishing standards for ratios of bushel to quarter of corn and pound to stone of wool, and prescribing fines and punishments for merchants that continued to use fraudulent measures. These merchants’ false standards would be “broken and burnt, and the Party or Parties which in that Behalf hath offended, and been found defective, shall forfeit for the First Time Six Shillings and Eight-pence” (11 Hen. VII C.4.; Great Britain 1811, 765-66). According to the 1495 statute, fines increased with each violation; after the third offense, offenders would be “set upon the Pillory, to the Example of other,” a brutal punishment carefully illustrated at the center-right of Plate 1.69. The following year, however, the brass standards approved by this act were ordered “damned and burned,” as they had “approved defective, and not made according to the old Laws and Statutes thereof ordained within this said realm” (12 Hen VII C.7.; Great Britain 1811, 787). Likely originating in the confusion of royal artisans between the Saxon commercial pound common to English markets and the Roman avoirdupois, the 1495 standard had established erroneous measures of the gallon and bushel, much to the consternation of merchants and market clerks across the kingdom (Alexander 1857, 73). In response, the revised act of 1496, from which the standard of weights and measures reproduced on Plate 1.69 is modeled, sought to remedy widespread irregularities by asserting the King’s regulatory power, while affirming continuity with long-recognized historical precedents and extant commercial practices.
Before the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) commissioned Vertue to produce Plate 1.69, he had composed two portraits of King Henry VII for editions of the popular History of England, by the French writer Paul Rapin de Thoyras (Thoyras 1729, 248-49; Thoyras 1743, 648-49). For the first English edition of Thoyras’s “History of Henry VII” (1729), Vertue represented a simple formal headshot portrait of a solemn and dignified ruler, his regal dispassion expressed in an unsettling avoidance of the viewer’s gaze. Surrounded by little iconography to symbolize his reign, and despite the nearly 200-page biography Thoyras supplies, Vertue’s first portrait of Henry VII seems to only emphasize the transitional King’s inscrutability. For the frontispiece for the third edition, on the other hand, Vertue reproduced a more sophisticated portrait of the King from an “antient Limning in the Royal Collection” (Thoyras 1743, 648-49). In this rendering, like the first edition, Henry VII appears not as a warrior-king, but instead as a mature and stately monarch. However, although the King maintains the distance of his uncanny Royal gaze, he is now accompanied at the periphery by the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, and two putti holding Tudor roses honor his late wife, Elizabeth of York.
In accord with Sir Francis Bacon’s 1622 biography of the first Tudor King, Thoyras’s text describes Henry VII as a scrupulous monarch determined to unify the country after decades of war and instability. Despite the King’s administrative acumen, however, Thoyras and Bacon both suggest that Henry’s fundamental avarice, abetted by low-born councilors who aggressively seized wealth from English merchants and houses, had earned him a predatory reputation among the peasantry, merchant class, and aristocracy alike (Bacon 1901, 128; Thoyras 1743, 691). Henry’s centralization of power through meticulous administrative expansion, his reliance on non-aristocratic professional allies (soldiers, barristers, and clerks) to enact his agenda, and his massive accumulation of royal wealth continue to inspire scholarly attention into the twenty-first century. Whatever Vertue might have thought in the 1740s of Bacon’s and Thoyras’s biographies, he could hardly have engraved another artifact that more acutely delineated the contradictions and contributions of Henry VII’s reign than the 1497 Standard of Weights and Measures.
If Plate 1.69 illustrated the key historical concerns of Henry VII’s reign, for the SAL in the 1740s, it also intervened in a confluence of ongoing Society programs. As a rare historical object held in an eminent private collection, it certainly warranted preservation by reproduction, particularly in light of the death in 1741 of Vertue’s friend, patron, and fellow SAL member Edward Harley, the second Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, whose collection held the document here depicted. In addition to its value as a historical curiosity, Henry VII’s Standard of Weights and Measures also presented a dated index of data relevant to the Society’s investigation and analysis of English coinage and medals, reflected in the SAL Minute Books, in Plates 1.20, 1.37-1.38, 1.43, 1.55, and 1.56, and in Martin Folkes’s tables of gold and silver coins. In addition, Plate 1.69 sharply illustrates the intersection of history, metrology, and institutional authority that informed not only Henry VII’s reign, but also Folkes’s personal research programs and his fraught presidencies of both the SAL and the Royal Society.
Designed as an official document corresponding both to an act of Parliament and a material standard of brass forged in the Tower of London, Henry VII’s Standard of Weights and Measures was organized into instructive sections of textual description accompanied by graphic illustration. The text blocks are largely derived from the report produced by a Royal Commission composed of privy councilors in Henry VII’s Star Chamber, which had informed Parliament’s 1496 statute (Watson 1910, 60-61). The portraits at the center top of the composition depict King Henry VII, Cardinal John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and two other figures receiving divine mandate and measure from the Holy Trinity. Scriptural captions beneath the image denote a Biblical provenance to the standardization of weights and measures and emphasize the equivalence of divine order and the King’s law (Exodus 3:34, Deuteronomy 2:25). Facing the King, the Archbishop performs a benediction gesture, blessing the monarch and his statute, his visage a symbolic presence affirming that both the Lord’s and Henry’s laws demand accurate measure and detest false dealings (Deuteronomy 2:25).
To eighteenth-century antiquaries, however, Cardinal John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England during Henry VII’s reign, might have been seen to gesture with predatory purpose. As Bacon observed in his History of the Reign of King Henry VII, the same parliament that had acted to standardize weights and measures in 1491 had also reinstituted statutes of taxation abandoned by Edward IV, which Morton and his colleagues in the King's council mobilized with ruthless enthusiasm. Far from the unifying symbolic role Henry might have intended by the image of his Archbishop and Chancellor in 1497, Bacon notes that instead, Morton was now remembered for his severe tax policy and the calculated rhetorical justification he devised to extract ever more wealth from the King's subjects. “Morton's fork” sought the King's benevolence in every pocket; when tax collectors “met with any that were sparing, they should tell them that they must needs have, because they laid up; and if they were spenders, they must needs have, because it was seen in their port and manner of living” (Bacon 1901, 93). Although the two figures between the King and Archbishop are not explicitly named, their presence at Henry VII’s right hand conjures the King’s notorious councilors Edmund Dudley (c. 1462-1510) and Richard Empson (c. 1450-1510): the architects (along with Morton) of Henry VII’s exacting tax scheme. Dudley and Empson so potently represented the malevolent mechanisms through which Henry VII had accumulated treasure into the King’s wardrobe that Henry VIII imprisoned them in the Tower of London shortly after his father’s death in 1509, and beheaded them at Tower Hill the following year.
Diagrams on each side of the portraits of King, Clergy, councilors, and Trinity highlight the efforts Henry VII undertook not only to standardize measurement, currency, and commercial exchange, but also to reconcile the new royal standard with traditional commercial practices. The plate’s text describes wheat grains as the basic element of Henry VII’s standard of measure: “That is to understande XXXII graynes of wheat taken out of ye middest of ye yeare maketh . . . a penny.” The weight of a grain of wheat, the illustration makes clear, informs both the standard measure of weight used in England, and the corresponding composition of the King’s silver currency. The diagram depicts the wheat grain-weight of a farthing, halfpenny, and penny and establishes the weight of an ounce in both coin (twenty pennies), and wheat grains (640). In addition to its appeal to historical continuity and authority through the use of grain weight, the diagrams’ alignment at the top of the page alongside Henry VII’s divine intercession emphasizes the interconnected authority of the church, the King’s standard weights and measures, and the coinage of the King’s mint.
Conversely, Folkes’s A Table of English Silver Coins from the Norman Conquest to the Present Time (1745) begins its numismatic inquiry with a reflection on the functional disparity between Tower and troy weight that was implicit in Henry VII’s 1497 standard, concluding, “[i]t is most probable that the Pound of the Tower or the Moneyers pound, was also the pound in use before the conquest; and that it continued to be so for a considerable time after, till the Troy pound, perhaps from its greater weight, got the preference by degrees” (Folkes 1745, 3n). Following Folkes, who noted the official conversion to troy weight in the reign of Henry VIII, metrologists have since argued that Henry VII’s Standard of Weights and Measures represents a working standard of the “ancient British pound” rather than the Troy pound (Watson 1910, 62). However, by formalizing an equivalence between ancient practices, the crown’s ‘Tower Standard,’ and troy weight, Henry VII anticipated both the replacement by his son in 1527 of the Tower Pound with the troy, and the administrative actions and enforcement mechanisms that changing the King’s standard would necessitate.
While Henry VII’s gesture to traditional agricultural and commercial systems provided a symbolic historical reference, and his invocation of the Holy Trinity a divine corollary, he had learned from efforts at standardization early in his reign that effective implementation and policing relied not on literal grains of wheat, which vary widely by harvest, but rather on the material solidity of brass weights bearing the King’s stamp, distributed from the Tower of London to cities and towns across England. In this sense, Henry VII’s standard—both the brass weight itself and its illustration on Plate 1.69—shares less with the competing grain-weights of Roman, Norman, and Saxon ancients than with their metrological instruments and numismatic artifacts. In 1877, English Board of Trade Warden of Standards Henry Williams Chisholm (1809-1901) noted that although Henry VII’s 1496 Standard was based on grain-weight derived from French influence after the Conquest (disputing Folkes’s assessment in 1745), no metallic standards were produced for smaller coin denominations like the 32-grain pennyweight until after the troy pound was introduced in England by Henry VIII (Chisholm 1877, 57). This suggests that standards were extrapolated from official ounce and pound weights produced in the Tower, rather than through small, easily-reproduced and manipulated metallic grain-weights, or in the manifest imperfection of wheat grains.
These ancient artifacts, illustrated on Plate 1.69 alongside the coins and medals to which they could be compared, had often invited antiquarian and scientific inquiry. In 1723, for example, SAL Treasurer Samuel Gale (1682-1754) “brought [to the Society] an old fashioned copper box, with many old weights of English Coyns” (SAL Minutes I.93); in 1732, Folkes “brought an account of the English Gold & Silver coins examined by the balance & compared with the standard weight” (I.282). Although numismatics had always inspired antiquarian interest, following Folkes’s election as a member in 1720, the SAL expanded their efforts to analyze and catalogue the history of English coinage, with a particular focus on their weight and composition. However, as Hugh Pagan observes, while the Society’s early ambitions to organize a “Metallographia Britannica” in 1722 and 1724 had failed to materialize, in 1731 Folkes revived the Society’s numismatic project with his own proposed manuscript, to be accompanied by engraved plates by Vertue (Pagan 2003, 158-59). In addition to its relevance as a rare historical artifact, the document depicted here would have afforded antiquaries and numismatists like Folkes an historical locus to triangulate not only investigations into English history and archaeology, but also their ongoing experiments with metrology. In addition to its relevance as a rare historical artifact, the document depicted here would have afforded antiquaries and numismatists an historical locus to triangulate not only investigations into English history and archaeology, but also their ongoing experiments with metrology. The synthesis of historical and scientific inquiry motivated by this project, which the Society termed “Metallographia Britannica” in 1724, would become a consistent source of conflict that marked Folkes’s intellectual and professional reputation.
In addition to his work compiling tables of English coins for the SAL (a sprawling project that the SAL continued after Folkes’s death in 1754), Folkes had researched metrological artifacts and evidence, and had reported to the learned clubs and societies of London and Paris, for over a decade. While on tour in Rome in 1733, Folkes—following the seventeenth-century metrological experiments of Oxford Astronomy professor John Greaves—pursued the authoritative measure of the pes monetalis, or Roman foot. His investigation, published in the 1735-36 edition of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, involved comparing compass measurements of Roman standards inscribed at the Capitol with observations of the height of Trajan’s Column using a two-foot standard rule he brought from London (Folkes 1735/6, 262; Roos 2017, 579).
After his election as President of the Royal Society in 1741, Folkes complemented his earlier foreign advocacy of Newtonian optics and English scientific instruments through collaborations with foreign scholars and natural philosophers to analyze and reconcile disparate standards of measurement in Europe. The Royal Society published the results of a comparative study of French and English standards performed by prominent London watch and instrument maker George Graham (1673-1751), an influential supporter of Folkes, about a year after Folkes’s elections both as the Royal Society’s president and as a foreign fellow of the Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris (Royal Society 1742/43, 185). The collaborative metrological experiments between English and French Societies reported in Philosphical Transactions, under Folkes’s presidency of the Royal Society in 1743, echo Henry VII’s 1497 attempt to reconcile Tower and troy on Plate 1.69. As an influential member of the SAL and the Royal Society, Folkes’s dual engagement with metrology and numismatics encouraged the development of a new standard in the mid-eighteenth century, just as the document reproduced on plate 1.69 had done in the fifteenth (Simpson 2004, 322).
Many accounts of Folkes remark on the paucity of extant biographical evidence, and often note that, at his request, his papers were burned upon his death (Rousseau 1999, 380). As a result, what little documentary material remains of Folkes’s legacy points to his twin passions for metrology and numismatics, and his controversial administrative leadership of the Royal Society and the SAL. Folkes’s interest in standards of measurement extended beyond his own interventions in the weights and measures of contemporary England and France, and the metrics of Roman, Norman, and Saxon antiquity, to the standards of ancient Egypt and Biblical Scripture. Reflecting his fascination with the Biblical ‘cubit,’ upon his induction into the short-lived Egyptian Society in 1741, Folkes chose his motto from the Book of Wisdom, 11:21: “omnia in mensura et numero et pondere diposuisti,” (thou has ordered all things in measure and number and weight) (Roos 2017, 578). This text originally appeared on Henry VII’s Standard of Weights and Measures too (beneath the top center image), but it had been worn away from the Harley copy depicted here. Evidence of Folkes’s passion for coins and historical weights and measures appear in the minute books and publications of learned societies, including those of the Royal Society and the SAL. His fascination with metrology, however, was not purely scientific, but also literary and aesthetic. Anna Marie Roos notes that Folkes’s 1733 survey of Trajan’s Column paid particular attention to the artistic rendering of perspective and the aesthetic quality of the figures carved in relief in the column’s spiraling narrative band. In conversation with Venetian polymath Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764), Roos explains, “Folkes was particularly interested in discussing with Algarotti to what extent measurement could answer questions about the relative merits of ancient technology and artistic production” (2017, 580).
Undoubtedly, the document reproduced by Vertue on Plate 1.69 would have piqued Martin Folkes’s interest both in numismatics and metrology, if not also in aesthetics. Ironically, the confluence of historical and scientific inquiry, of material and aesthetic interpretation, invited by artifacts exemplified by Plate 1.69 seem not to reflect Folkes’s synthesizing proto-interdisciplinary methodology, but rather to highlight the institutional divisiveness that his growing influence provoked. The absence of the bulk of Folkes’s papers may sometimes prevent the Newton protégé who simultaneously held the presidencies of the SAL and the Royal Society, and who succeeded, despite hard resistance, in effecting the Society’s charter of incorporation in 1751, from speaking on his own behalf (Rousseau 1999, 378). As a result, the most visible indices of Folkes’s biography are primary documents written by his contemporaries that describe the contentious transitional periods he managed in the Royal Society and the SAL. Some of these texts often suggest not only that some of his colleagues associated with each London Society suspected Folkes of privileging the other group’s agenda, but also that his antiquarian interest in historical interpretation and his scientific interest in rigorous experimentation were fundamentally at odds. An implied rebuke to Folkes’s tenure of the SAL and Royal Society presidencies, the introduction to the first volume of the former society’s learned journal, Archaeologia, articulates the latter position outright, reflecting on the “[s]everal attempts [that] were made to unite [the SAL] to the Royal Society, notwithstanding the obvious difference in their pursuits; the one being limited by their Institution and Charter to the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, the other to the Study of History and Antiquities” (Gough 1770, xxxviii). Although Folkes may have imagined his research as unifying these “differen[t] pursuits,” the SAL of 1770 insisted on their fundamental incompatibility.
Such criticisms also cling to Folkes through the publication in 1750 of caustic attacks on the Royal Society under Folkes’s administration, written by John Hill (1714-75). Although the Royal Society’s denial of Hill’s membership had likely fueled the vitriol of his satirical attacks, which are explicitly directed at Folkes (Hill’s A Review of the works of the Royal Society  honors Folkes with a sharply-personal, mocking dedication), his harsh critiques contained kernels of truth that did not escape some of Folkes’s colleagues at the Royal Society and the SAL, including Vertue and former SAL secretary William Stukeley (1687-1765). As G.S. Rousseau and David Haycock observe, “[t]here is no doubt that Stukeley shared some of Hill's criticisms of the Royal Society and its president” (1999, 395). While a diary entry penned after Folkes’s death in 1754 suggests that Stukeley’s institutional criticisms, echoing Hill’s, were couched in personal animus—he describes Folkes as “[having] a great deal of learning, philosophy, astronomy: but knows nothing of natural history. In matters of religion an errant infidel and loud scoffer” (Stukeley 1882, 100)—Vertue and others voiced more material concerns about Folkes’s determination to press for the Society’s incorporation. After a 1750 debate about the Society’s charter, Vertue expressed his frustration that incorporation was motivated by “Royal Society schemers,” which included Folkes, but he had noted his suspicions as early as 1729 that SAL members were angling to merge the two ‘sister’ societies (Rousseau 1999, 383-84). While no definitive evidence proves Folkes’s intention to merge the SAL and the Royal Society, or to effectively subsume an independent SAL under the mandate of its more-established sister, the hybridity of his work stoked suspicions within both groups of their president’s inadequacy. Tellingly, these criticisms often stung Folkes from both sides; whereas Hill questioned Folkes’s scientific rigor, Stukeley commended the president’s scientific skill, but found him lacking in historical acumen. Regardless, the tensions surrounding Folkes’s influence over the Royal Society and the SAL seem never too far removed from his dual—often overlapping—investments in historical and scientific projects.
No documentary evidence suggests that the SAL perceived the image reproduced on Plate 1.69 in relation to the controversies surrounding Martin Folkes’s influence and ambition. However, when considered in the contexts of Henry VII’s sparse biography, his legacy as construed by his critics and competitors, and his persistent concern with weights and measures, Plate 1.69 invokes a natural kinship between the inscrutable King and the life and work of Martin Folkes. Whether Folkes's fellow SAL members also saw the irony in presenting Henry VII’s effort to bring once-autonomous institutions under the crown’s purview in light of their own contested bid for royal incorporation, is unknown. Folkes’s reaction to this plate, and in particular the possibility that he saw in Henry VII’s actions an historical analogy to his own determination to secure incorporation and formally institutionalize the SAL, may forever lie buried in the ashes of the papers destroyed upon his death. Regardless, contemporary viewers can easily detect in Plate 1.69 not only a rare artifact of Henry VII’s rule and an index of metrological and numismatic data, but also a potent metaphor for the turbulent state of the two ‘sister’ Societies that Martin Folkes managed through radical transition.
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