Getting and Spending - Corruption in the Elizabethan Ordnance

Roger Ashley uncovers the story of William Painter and the creative accounting which he employed as a clerk in one of Elizabeth's major spending departments

Look what I speak, my life shall prove it true:
That Mowbray hath receiv'd eight thousand nobles
In name of lendings for your Highness' soldiers,
The which he hath detain'd for lewd imployments,
Like false traitor, and injurious villain;
William Shakespeare: 'Richard II,' Act 1, Scene I (written c. 1594-95)

Standards of public service, real or imagined, have differed widely across the centuries. No doubt, had he known about it, Mr Gladstone, the reformer of the Victorian civil service, would have castigated the Elizabethan bureaucracy for its exploitive tendencies, its corruption and its rank bad management. But then, to extend the hypothesis, he might have been assailed by later twentieth-century historians for applying irrelevant standards to a very different society. After all, it is enough to explain everything, and that somehow excuses everything, or does it? The victims of sixteenth-century racketeers, the unpaid soldier or the bankrupted craftsman, would not have agreed. Their experiences made them cynical, but they had higher expectations of honesty than they often experienced. 'Clamor operariorum ascendit ad aures meas', quoted Latimer to Edward VI in 1550, when military retrenchmenat beggared the defenceless.

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