ABSTRACT

When Francis Bacon wrote that ‘few have spoken of Usury usefully’,4 he probably intended the play on words. For a useful speech on usury might be a gloss to lead us away from sin and closer to God; or, if you are Bacon or any other forward looking practical man of an expanding economy, your use will be in learning how to use usury usefully – what rates make sense, when to borrow money and when to save money, when to trade in goods, when to play the international money market, and when to invest in real estate. After all, in Bacon’s Jacobean years, ‘everyone from knights to scriveners was lending at interest’.5 In this essay, I place

Wilson’s writing on the cusp of the early modern transition between using usury as an exemplum for moral rectification and using the mechanism of usury to promote the secularizing commonwealth. The issues of trade, trust, and treachery, property, pelf, and perfidy are used by Robert Wilson in The Three Ladies of London to expose usury – the poisonous temptation of ‘cankered coin’ (17.75)6 – as a root cause for a city’s and its people’s misery. These questions are increasingly addressed, however, to expose the practical means of survival in Elizabethan London; moreover, they reveal the unfortunate necessity of going beyond ‘legal’ usury and into the inevitable realm of practising fraud.7