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Karl W. Giberson


The Warden of Time and Space

Sir Isaac Newton: genius, heretic, and SOB.

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night.
God said "Let Newton Be" and all was light. —Alexander Pope

In 1685 James II was proclaimed King of England. An aggressive Catholic, he immediately began to consolidate his power and "catholicize" some of England's thoroughly Protestant institutions, including the universities. In 1688 his second wife—who, unlike his first, was also Catholic— gave birth to a son. Chafing under Catholic rule and horrified at the thought of a succession of Catholic kings, the historically antagonistic Whigs and Tories briefly set aside their differences and conspired to get this untoward papist off their throne. A "bipartisan" committee invited King James' son-in-law, a Dutch prince who spoke no English, to "invade" and depose his uncle. His qualifications to occupy the throne of England? He was Protestant.

The manufactured "invasion" turned out to be both bloodless and "glorious." England was now free to return her full attention to the ongoing war with France—a costly project that began to drain the Royal Treasury. England's coffers gradually became depleted, and by 1696 the strain had begun to show. But there was another financial crisis looming, potentially even more dangerous. England's financial foundations were being nibbled away from within by economic termites, destabilizing the currency through counterfeiting and coin clipping.

Counterfeiting was relatively easy in those days. The techniques for producing coins in England had hardly changed since the Middle Ages, and quality control was so bad that coins could vary in weight substantially. The simple images that were stamped on the coins were crude and easy to copy onto counterfeit coins made of different or diluted raw materials, while the lack of rolled edges—standard for modern coins—facilitated the age-old crime of clipping: the practice of cutting slivers off the edges of the coins to be melted down and sold, leaving the central part of the ...

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