A Discourse upon Usurie.

London, Roger Warde, 1584

£5,750

8vo. ff (xvi) 201 (iii) Black letter, two large historiated woodcut initials, contemp. autograph Richard Crakenthorp on title, faint C19 library stamp of the Birmingham Law Society on B1 and O3; general age yellowing, mostly light. A good, clean, well margined copy in full modern calf antique.

Second and last contemporary edition of Thomas Wilson’s classic work on all aspects of usury in the form of a dialogue or, more accurately, speeches made between a rich merchant, a zealous preacher and a civil lawyer. This is the first authoritative work on the then vigorously debated subject by an English author and provides considerable insight into the economic life of Elizabethan England as well as a history of usorial prohibitions . Wilson himself was a doctor of civil law and sometime master of the court of Requests, unsurprisingly therefore, the lawyer has the best part. Wilson’s professional background does bear fruit however as no common lawyer of the period would have been able to cite so freely the legal writers of ancient Rome, of the mediaeval schools and of modern European jurisprudence. The tone of the work is more practical than academic however, with propositions explained and justified by the use of practical and financial examples. What is particularly interesting to the modern reader are the techniques employed not to contravene the usury laws whilst still financing transactions and earning a good return on one’s money. If these rules did nothing else they gave rise to a wide range of very sophisticated commercio-financial arrangements which otherwise would not have seen the light of day for centuries to come. The autograph on the title is almost certainly Richard Crakenthorpe’s (1567-1624) Protestant divine and author of three published works, all controversial and anti Catholic, and “Popish Falsifications” that has survived in ms. only. See Milward p. 237.

STC. 25808. Kress I 159. Goldsmiths 227.

L987

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