David Brown
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The great gage
Mortgaging Ireland to finance an empire
in Imperial Inequalities
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Although Charles I and Oliver Cromwell had little in common, they had both promised to give away hundreds of thousands of acres of land confiscated from Irish Catholics. For Charles, the land was promised to financial speculators in London who gambled on the conquest of Ireland and sought to drive the Irish from their homelands. Cromwell, who conquered Ireland militarily in 1650, proposed to reward his soldiers with land instead of cash and encouraged colonisation by defaulting on his soldiers’ pay. In 1660, a restored Charles II promised to uphold both of these pledges and Ireland’s land was given away to soldiers and speculators for a fraction of its value. Much of this land was promptly mortgaged for its full value, a ‘gage’ with which to leverage further colonial development. The confiscated land was also taxed, promising a huge cash windfall for the English exchequer with the prospect of a perennial colonial surplus. This tax, the Quit Rent, was also mortgaged, or ‘farmed’, together with most other forms of taxation raised in Ireland. Between 1660 and 1670, vast sums of money were borrowed against Irish land, or the tax on Irish land. The exchequer, however, never received the windfall it had been expecting. The Irish exchequer ran out of money in 1670, and the English exchequer ‘stopped’ the following year. The money had disappeared. This chapter examines where it went.

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Imperial Inequalities

The politics of economic governance across European empires


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