A Country Under Contract: Early-Tudor England and the Growth of a Credit Culture

  • Mark R. Horowitz University of Illinois (Chicago)


The historical explanations for the development of modern English credit and finance often overlook the late-medieval period, favoring instead a late fruition by focusing on economic growth in late-Tudor and Stuart England and the anticipation of the founding of the Bank of England in 1694. Moreover, European practices regularly dominate the discussion to show both borrowing and influence, especially from the Italian city- states. However, England developed methods of credit and business transactions through the use of written obligations long before Continental financial instruments, and they permeated all aspects of English law, administration and finance. This paper provides an overview of how a bottom-up system developed and expanded through English common and statutory law and ultimately became the main form of statecraft for the first Tudor king, Henry VII (d. 1509). Henry’s success in business, finance and the prosecution of the law stemmed from his recognition that upon acquiring the throne of England he now ruled a country under contract among private parties, public courts and a developing centralized government.