The Debt of Thomas Hankes

By Jill Wilson

The Debt of Thomas Hankes

Elizabethan coinage

The amount was actually described as ‘eight groats’ in his will – for those who don’t know, a groat was a silver coin worth fourpence.

Of course Thomas could have paid off his debt with other coins. There were plenty to choose from at that time in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Coins were minted in plenty of low denominations all in silver:- shillings, sixpences, groats, threepences, half-groats (2d), threehalfpences (1½d), pennies and threefarthingses (¾d). For the wealthy there were gold coins: including sovereigns, angels, quarter angels, crowns and half crowns.

Recall of debased coinage

The English silver coinage of those days was respected for the Queen had earlier recalled all the debased coinage issued during her father’s and subsequent reigns that had been heavily mixed with copper. Now the copper had been refined away and the silver currency was pure once more. The terrible inflation and fall in the value of the English pound in European currency markets earlier in the sixteenth century had been halted.

If all this sounds as if it belongs to more recent financial news, it just goes to show that history repeats itself. It was sometimes simpler to resolve back then.

Poor harvests

It is not known why or how Thomas Hankes had incurred this debt. John Huntington was a husbandman so perhaps he had not yet been paid in full for some farm produce. The will was signed in July, before the harvest of 1581, and indications were that it would again be poor after two years of rising prices. The previous year a quarter (28lb.) of wheat cost (on average) 20 shillings and a quarter of oats 5 shillings.

“To my niece I leave a lamb”

John Huntington listed his debts totalling £3 17 shillings and 4 pence, saying that they were due to be paid over to his wife Joan, his executrix. His bequests included a shilling towards the maintenance of the church building and 6d to the almshouse. Sadly it looks as though he died young for the children, to each of whom he left a lamb, seem to be his nieces and nephews and a godson. The son of his brother was to receive his best coat and his wife was bequeathed the residue of his estate.


This is but one of many wills now transcribed by the CCHS Wills Group. Each has a story to tell apart from the factual contents. Often, as with this one, light can be thrown on some aspect of Campden history. For example, this gives us one of several pieces of evidence that have come to light, that prove that the Almshouse built by Sir Baptist Hicks was not the first in Campden. Hicks’s Almshouse replaced an earlier building. Inevitably this raises more questions – where was the earlier building and why did it need to be replaced?

Perhaps some other will or another document will help us find the answer.

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