In her reign, Elizabeth I had successes and failures throughout when it comes to looking at finance. When Elizabeth had come to the throne, she had been left a debt by her predecessor, Mary I, of 300,000. With tight control over expenditure and many other factors, by 1585 the debt had been converted to a cash reserve of 300,000. However, there were problems that Elizabeth encountered during her reign to do with finance, and it is both sides I will be looking at in this essay.
The first factor to show that Elizabeth dealed with her finances successfully was the selling of crown lands. Elizabeth sold crown lands she felt were surplus because this would help contribute toward building the cash reserve she achieved in 1585. This brought in 600,000 throughout her reign. She also raised revenue by allowing the last of the monastic properties seized by Henry VIII pass into private ownership. This then meant that Elizabeth would collect money for this to because in many ways, these properties were of no use to Elizabeth so there was no harm in selling them for a profit.
Elizabeth also participated in joint stock trading companies. This would help raise revenue by anything that was traded for a profit. An important figure that helped Elizabeth towards the end of her reign to make money was Francis Drake. Often described as a pirate, Drake on a few occasions was sent to Spain to attack ships and bring to England any sources of profit they might have. In 1592, the capture of the bullion ship Madre de Dois in the East Indies meant a return of ï¿½80,000. A way in which Elizabeth increased sources of revenue domestically was that she collected debts more vigorously than before. Although this was against her will, this was just another way in which Elizabeth could raise revenue.
A counter argument for the increasing sources of revenue is that although revenue increased the methods were short term and didn’t keep up with inflation. An important method that Elizabeth used was monopolies. Monopolies were seen as a cheap form of patronage and Elizabeth used them too often, especially towards the end of her reign. If Elizabeth gave a member of the Privy Council for example, a monopoly, this meant that that particular person could fix the price of a certain commodity and anyone who wanted to buy that item would have to pay that price. However, this caused opposition and in the case of the example I used, could cause factional division in the Privy Council. Any properties the crown owned, the rent was raised to try and increase revenue. However, as was the case for many similar issues, these prices did not keep in line with inflation and therefore were useless to Elizabeth. Also, the selling of crown lands weakened the crowns financial base in the long term.
Another factor to show that Elizabeth handled her finances successfully was that she decreased expenditure. The first way in which Elizabeth did this was that she used unpaid officials in government. These people did not have a fixed salary but instead worked for rewards, such as favourable leases on land and import and export licences. Elizabeth used a similar reward system for courtiers. Elizabeth would give them monopoly rights or wardships which did not involve financial outlay. Elizabeth made sure that anyone who worked for her had a low salary. These did not keep in line with inflation and were inevitably almost useless. Another way that Elizabeth decreased expenditure was that no new buildings were ordered. This meant no new palaces were built and that annual maintenance costs were halved. Lastly, a way in which Elizabeth decreased expenditure in the military was that naval expenses were maintained at a minimum by remodelling old ships rather than building new ones.
A counter argument for the decreasing of expenditure was the methods used to decrease expenditure were often unpopular and caused unrest. An example I used in the previous counter argument that fits here also is monopolies. After 1597, the number granted of these increased dramatically. It was felt that monopolies meant profits for the holder at the expense of the purchaser, because the price of goods such as iron, salt and oil increased. In the last parliaments of her reign, attacks on Elizabeth for granting monopolies were ferocious causing her to back down and promise to investigate and restrict such grants.
Another factor to show that Elizabeth handled her finances successfully was that throughout her reign, Elizabeth collected large subsidies from Parliament. In 1593, Elizabeth asked for three subsidies from Parliament. These were eventually granted after 24 days of debate. In October 1601, Cecil called for ï¿½300,000 to be raised. Elizabeth was granted four subsidies by Parliament to cover this. Elizabeth was also granted a quadruple subsidy; this was unprecedented however Elizabeth was still granted this subsidy.
A counter argument against Elizabeth collecting large subsidies was the failure to reform taxation and so allowed corruption. In Elizabeth’s reign there was an increasing demand for parliamentary taxation. In the 1570’s Parliament was asked to approve subsidy taxes, even in peacetime, on the grounds that they were necessary for the country’s defence. The outbreak of war with Spain led to unprecedented demands for taxation, even though Elizabeth’s determination not to run up large debts influenced her military decisions. As parliamentary taxation was not efficiently administered the collectors, known as subsidy commissioners, were often corrupt. Ownership records were often decades out of date, leaving many untaxed. Above all, the assessment of wealth and income was based upon unsworn declarations.