Modern history


Law has long attracted the attention of biographers and economic historians. Many of his most important writings have been published by Paul Harsin in Les Oeuvres complètes de John Law. The earliest biography of John Law was published in 1721 by W. Gray; the first detailed biography written after his death was that by J. P. Wood, written in 1824. Law’s financial activities were recounted by several eighteenth-century economists, including Marmont du Hautchamp, Sir James Steuart, Du Tot, and others. The Regency period in France, John Law’s career, and the social effect of his policies are vividly documented in the numerous journals, letters, and diaries of the times, including the letters of the regent’s mother Charlotte Elizabeth, the Princess Palatine; and the journals and memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, Barbier, Buvat, d’Argenson, and Marais. The effect of his policies is also richly reflected in diplomatic correspondence preserved in the Public Record Office. The most poignant record of Law’s escape from France and final years in exile are the letters contained in his letter book at the Bibliothèque Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence.

As this is intended as a book for the general reader I have deliberately simplified the sometimes mind-bogglingly complex financial details, and kept numbers to a minimum. The figures quoted in the text are mostly taken from those published in Professor Antoin Murphy’s recent scholarly analysis of Law’s economic theories and policies. The following notes detail the chief sources for the narrative. Fuller details of these and other relevant publications are listed in the bibliography that follows.

CHAPTER 1: A Man Apart

Law’s gambling activities in Paris: du Hautchamp, Histoire du système.

Rules of faro: Wykes, Gambling.

D’Argenson’s personality: Saint-Simon, Memoirs.

Expulsion from Paris because of paper-money scheme and Torcy’s interest in Hamilton, John Law of Lauriston.

CHAPTER 2: Gilded Youth

Family background: Fairley, Lauriston Castle; Wood, Life of John Law of Lauriston.

Edinburgh: McKean, Edinburgh; Defoe, Journey Through the Whole Island of Great Britain.

Goldsmith banking: Chandler, Four Centuries of Banking; Williams, Money: A History; Galbraith, Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went.

Lithotomy operations: Lister, A Journey to Paris in the Year 1698; Pepys, Diary.

Description of Law: du Hautchamp.

Law’s professed dislike of work: ms. Méjanes

Lockhart’s reminiscence of Law: Lockhart: Memoirs.

Journey to London: Hibbert, The English.

CHAPTER 3: London

London life: Ward, London Spy.

History of Bloomsbury: Chancellor, The History of the Squares of London.

Mrs. Lawrence: Proceedings of the King and Queen’s Commissions.

Thomas Neale: Ward; Hyde, John Law: the History of an Honest Adventurer; Dictionary of National Biography.

Probability: Bernstein, Against the Gods; Ashton, History of Gambling in England; Wykes.

Royal Mint: Chandler, Four Centuries of Banking.

“Public lotteries are less bad than private ones . . .”: AS Turin Law to the Duke of Savoy, December 7, 1715, quoted by Hamilton and Murphy.

CHAPTER 4: The Duel

The events leading to the duel: Proceedings of the King and Queen’s Commissions.

Wilson: Evelyn, Diary.

“took a great house . . .”: Gray, The Memoirs, Life and Character of the Great Mr. Law and his Brother at Paris.

Description of prison life: Ward, London Spy; Anthony Babington, The English Bastille.

“The mixtures of scents . . .”: Ward.

Lovell’s personality: West, The Life and Surprising Adventures of Daniel Defoe.

Legal procedures: Baker, The Legal Profession and the Common Law; Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England 1660-1800.

“An accidental thing, Mr. Wilson drawing first . . .” Proceedings of the King and Queen’s Commissions.

CHAPTER 5: Escape

“Mr. Laws knows best how he made his escape . . .” PRO SP 35/20.

Dueling: Kiernan, The Duel in European History.

William’s order to keep Wilson’s family informed: State Papers April 22, 1694.

Warriston letters, detailing Law’s trial and escape: PRO SP 35/18 fo 118; PRO SP 35/20-21.

Appeal trial reports recorded by: Leach; Skinner; Carthew; Comerbach.

Traditional version of Law’s escape: Gray, The Memoirs, Life and Character of the Great Mr. Law and His Brother at Paris.

Escape attempt: Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs.

Escape theories: The Unknown Lady’s Pacquet of Letters; Hyde; alternative version discussed in Murphy, John Law.

CHAPTER 6: The Exile

Law’s travels: du Hautchamp; Gray; Wood.

Bank of Amsterdam: Williams; Galbraith; Angell, The Story of Money.

Swedish banking: Williams.

American banking: Angell.

“The present poverty . . .”: ibid.

Paris in the late seventeenth century: Lister; J. Black, The British Abroad; C. Hibbert, The Grand Tour.

“a perpetual diversion . . .”: Lister.

“It is a great misfortune for a stranger”: Andrew Mitchell quoted by Hibbert, Grand Tour.

“never carried less than two bags filled with gold coins . . .”: du Hautchamp.

Katherine Knowles: Gray; Wood; Hyde; Murphy, John Law; Saint-Simon.

“a man is in general better pleased . . .”: S. Johnson, quoted by Hibbert, Grand Tour.

Law’s problems with authorities, and elopement with Katherine: Gray.

“Women, men and persons of all conditions . . .”: Evelyn, Diary.

“They dismiss the gamesters . . .”: quoted by Hibbert, Grand Tour.

Queen Anne petition: HMC Portland vol. VIII, pp. 320-21.

Money and Trade Considered: reprinted in Harsin (ed.), Les Oeuvres complètes de John Law.

Greg report and account of duel: HMC Portland vol. IV, pp. 195, 208-9.

Miniature of Law: Earl of Derby’s collection, Knowsley; interestingly the miniature is recorded as having been acquired (lot 46) at the famous Horace Walpole Strawberry Hill sale in 1842, when a Rosalba Carriera pastel of Law was also sold (and subsequently lost). Literature: George Scharf, Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Knowsley Hall, 1875.

CHAPTER 7: The Root of All Evil

Conditions in France: Cronin, Louis XIV; Perkins, France Under the Regency; Charlotte Elizabeth, Letters.

Louis XIV’s financial problems and difficulty raising loans: Murphy, John Law.

Visits to Paris and letters: Harsin.

Character of Orléans: Pevitt, The Man Who Would Be King; Charlotte Elizabeth; Saint-Simon.

Drummond letter: April 1713, HMC Portland vol. 5, p. 287.

Lotteries in Holland: Hamilton.

Desmarets’s letters: Harsin.

“A Scot named Law . . .”: quoted by Hamilton.

Stair’s visit and petitions, February 1715: Murray, Stair Annals, p. 265; Hardwicke, State Papers.

Halifax letter February 14, 1715: Stair Annals, p. 264.

Stanhope’s fury: ms. Méjanes, 79v-80.

CHAPTER 8: The Bank

“Your Royal Highness . . .”: Harsin.

Public opinion about the bank: Barthélemy, Gazette de la Régence.

“an intruder put by the hand . . .”: Saint-Simon.

Economic problems and debts: Murphy, John Law.

“We found the estate of our Crown . . .”: Pevitt, p. 180.

“The convenience will be such . . .”: Saint-Simon, vol. 4, p. 68.

Duc d’Antin support: quoted by Murphy, p. 143.

“I could still be useful”: ibid., p. 245.

“I have need of nothing having enough . . .”: ibid.

“If Spain had ceded the Indies . . .”: ibid., p. 265.

Visa: Perkins; Murphy, John Law; Hyde; Mackay, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions.

Revaluation of currency: Murphy, pp. 152-53; Mayhew, Coinage in France from the Dark Ages to Napoleon.

Galleys: Perkins; Evelyn.

Structure and progress of the bank: Saint-Simon; Murphy, John Law; Hyde.

“The bank promises to pay . . .”: Wood.

Attempts to exhaust reserves: Hyde; Murphy, John Law.

CHAPTER 9: King of Half America

“But the bank is not the only . . .”: Harsin, p. 37.

Pitt diamond: Saint-Simon.

Mississippi colony history: Heinrich, Louisiane; Perkins.

Launch of Mississippi Company: Hyde; Murphy, John Law; Wood; Mackay.

“Natural love of indirect ways . . .”: Saint-Simon, p. 137.

“The Parlement are still doing all they can . . .”: HMC Stuart, vol. 7, 24 August 1718.

“sent immediate orders to the foot and horse guards . . .”: HMC Stuart, vol. 6.

CHAPTER 10: Finding the Philosopher’s Stone

Takeover of bank: Steuart, Principles of Oeconomy; Murphy, John Law; Shennan, Philippe, Duke of Orleans.

Law’s acquisitions: Buvat, Journal de la Régence.

William Law: Healey, Coutts & Co; Wood.

Tobacco: Minton, John Law, Father of Paper Money.

“jealous of the credit . . .”: Harsin.

“On Monday night I did not sleep . . .”: Harsin.

Tax system: Shennan; Murphy, John Law; Black, Dictionary of Eighteenth Century History.

Opposition to Law: Murphy.

“The public had run upon this new subscription . . .”: Hardwicke, State Papers. Anthony Morse is discussed by Edward Chancellor in Devil Take the Hindmost.

Contemporary descriptions and anecdotes of rue Quincampoix: Defoe; Buvat; Barbier; Saint-Simon; Charlotte Elizabeth, etc.; Wood, Cochut and Mackay also relate many.

“It is certain that the commerce . . .”: PRO SP78 166/88a.

CHAPTER 11: The First Millionaire

Anecdotes about Law: chiefly in Wood; Saint-Simon; Charlotte Elizabeth; Mackay.

“Every day I had a hundred impertinent demands . . .”: ms. Méjanes, 195v.

Rumors of Law’s infidelities: Soulavie; Barbier; Buvat.

“never discussed politics with a whore . . .”: quoted by Pevitt.

“Law is in love with Mlle de Nail . . .”: HMC Stuart vol. 6.

“If you want your choice of duchesses . . .”: Wood.

Law’s freedom of Edinburgh: Political State, September 1719.

Investments recorded in Buvat, Barbier, etc.; diamonds: Healey.

Art: Journal de Rosalba Carriera.

Design of ceiling: Buchan, Frozen Desire.

Economic reforms: Buvat; Shennan; Perkins.

“the people being generally so oppressed with taxes . . .”: Veryard, An Account of Diverse Choice Remarks.

“When it pleases Your Majesty to create an office . . .”: quoted by Cronin.

Abolition of offices: Shennan.

“the richest subject in Europe . . .”: Law frequently describes himself thus in ms. Méjanes, e.g. 149v.

Share price rises: Murphy, John Law.

“had built a seven-storey building . . .”: quoted by Perkins.

Throws money to the crowd: Soulavie.

Stair’s growing animosity: Hardwicke, State Papers; Murray, Stair Annals.

“The Regent has already reaped many solid advantages . . .”: letter from Bladen to Stanhope October 16, 1719, PRO 78/166 38.

“He spared no occasion . . .”: PRO SP 78/166.

Friendship with Jacobites Dillon, Mar, etc.: letters in HMC Stuart vol. 4 and 5.

Sotheby’s portrait of Law appeared in Woolton House sale December 6-7, 1993, lot 584, attributed to Herman Vandermyn.

CHAPTER 12: Mississippi Madness

Mississippi colony: Heinrich; Steuart, Principles of Political Oeconomy, Book IV.

Cantillon and Law: Murphy, Cantillon; Minton, John Law.

Account of the arrival of Law expedition: Bib Nat Fran MS 14613.

“With regard to my Louisiana colony . . .”: ms. Méjanes, 192.

Pulteney’s account of India Company’s progress: PRO SP 78/166 92.

Transportations recorded in Buvat, Saint-Simon, and many other published memoirs.

Allocations of concessions, transportations and Law declared controller general: PRO SP 78/166 95.

CHAPTER 13: Descent

“I have spoken to a Frenchman who is lately come from the Mississippi . . .”: PRO 78/166.

“In the end alchemy . . .” quoted by Edward Chancellor in Devil Take the Hindmost

Share prices and introductions of primes: PRO SP 78/166 110; significance of primes discussed in Murphy, John Law.

“I am told that most things are considerably dearer . . .”: PRO SP 166/78 176.

“Constraint is contrary to the principles . . .”: quoted in Shennan.

Acquisition of royal shares: ibid.

“The rage of the people is so violent and so universal . . .”: Hardwicke, State Papers.

Law’s breakdown: ibid.

CHAPTER 14: The Storms of Fate

“The silver is to be employed in such foreign trades . . .”: PRO SP 78/166.

Crime and civil unrest in Paris: recounted in Defoe and numerous French memoirs including Buvat, Marais, Saint-Simon.

Monetary policy: Murphy, John Law; du Hautchamp; Pulteney’s letters, PRO SP 78/166.

“When M. le D demanded the revocation . . .”: ms. Méjanes, 130.

CHAPTER 15: Reprieve

“Lundi j’achetai des actions . . .”: Anon, quoted in Hyde.

Law’s arrest and audience with the regent: Fauré, La Banqueroute de Law; Murphy, John Law; Hyde.

“the only man capable of getting them out of the maze they were in”: Duc d’Antin memoirs, quoted by Fauré.

“We saw this day a rare thing . . .”: ibid.

Changes following Law’s reinstatement: Marais.

“It is thought he will influence the commissaries a point to take Mr. Law’s accounts . . .”: PRO SP 78/166.

South Sea Bubble: Carswell, The South Sea Bubble.

“The hurry of our stock-jobbing . . .”: quoted by Angell.

Burning of notes and desire for cash: Buvat, Marais, etc.

Drop in exchange rate: Murphy, John Law.

Riots at bank: PRO SP 78/166 266; Buvat; Defoe, etc.

Plague: Defoe; Buvat; Marais; PRO SP 78/166 420.

Quarantine restrictions: Carswell.

“One cannot say what effect the demand for silver had . . .”: Harsin.

CHAPTER 16: The Whirligig of Time

Satirical prints: British Museum, Catalogue of Prints & Drawings, Political and Personal Satires.

“The idea came to me . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

New building projects: Buvat.

The anonymous pamphlet and Law’s appraisal of his achievement: Murphy.

Pulteney’s letter: PRO SP/78/166, quoted by Murphy.

Cantillon: Murphy, Cantillon; Pulteney’s letter PRO SP 78/166 420.

“You promise much . . .”: quoted in Lemontey, Marais, and Murphy.

Threat to Law’s safety: PRO SP78/166 420.

“The distress people are under by the excessive prices of all things . . .”: PRO SP 78/166 301.

Anecdotes relating to Law’s family in Barbier, Marais, and Buvat.

New orders demanding compulsory payments detailed in diplomatic correspondence, PRO SP 78/166.

“The Regent only follows this course to amuse himself . . .”: letter, November 27, 1720, PRO SP 78/166 436.

Rumors surrounding Law’s departure: PRO SP 78/169 311.

“He did not see among the French anyone who had enough intelligence . . .”: quoted by Fauré.

Appointment of de la Houssaye and investigations of bank: PRO SP78/166 450.

Law’s last days in Paris: PRO SP 78/169 315.

CHAPTER 17: The Prodigal’s Return

“It is difficult to decide between the desire . . .”: ms. Méjanes, 13.

“I cannot sufficiently express my grief on your departure . . .”: quoted by Murphy, John Law.

“My enemies act with passion . . .”: ms. Méjanes

“Perhaps my distance will soften them . . .”: ibid.

Crawford’s report: PRO SP 78/169 321-5.

“I have learned today that I have been accused of having aided the Pretender . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

Law’s departure from France: PRO SP 78/169 327.

Law’s finances when leaving: Harsin.

Details of journey to Brussels: ms. Méjanes.

“I had hoped to be able to pass through here without being known . . .”: ms. Méjanes, 17-19.

“This conduct attracts attention”: PRO SP 78/169.

Rumors relating to Law’s misappropriation of funds: Barbier.

“What could have given rise to this rumour were the dispatches of silver . . .”: Harsin, p. 253.

Law’s problems with creditors: Hyde; Charlotte Elizabeth.

“I am sensible that you suffer extremely by the resolution I have taken . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

Arrival in Venice noted by Burges: PRO SP 99/62 561.

“It is better to return to the old system of finance . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

“We often think of you, your brother and I . . .”: ibid.

“I find myself well, being alone without valet . . .”: ibid.

“What has happened is very extraordinary, but doesn’t surprise me . . .”: ibid.

Playing “from morning to night . . .”: Murphy, John Law, p. 38.

Games invented by Law: Hamilton; Murphy, John Law; Hyde.

“I can only believe that you will agree to what I have the honour of proposing . . .”: Barbier.

Details of investigations and brother’s arrest: Soulavie; Buvat; Barbier; Marais.

Censure of Law: PRO SP 78/166 452.

“I want your company and to live as we used to before I engaged in public business . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

“Mme. Law writes that they find me a debtor of 7 million to the bank . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

“Mr. Law . . . has sent a new project”: PRO SP 78/166.

“His Majesty will have no scruple to order a second expedition of it . . .”: ms. Méjanes, 92v.

“It would be very much contrary to the interest of my country . . .”: ibid.

“having worked in the most beautiful theatre in Europe . . .”: ibid.

“I had no invitation . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

Return to England and opposition in House of Lords: The Political State, vol. 22, October 1721, pp. 393 et seq.

“I don’t expect to be well received . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

“The retreat of Mr. Law to England . . .”: PRO SP 78/166.

“I can’t think the Regent will detain you . . .”: ibid.

“I would have you get the Marquis de Lassay and my brother to meet with you . . .”: ibid.

“I was fetched from the Audit House yesterday . . .”: HMC Portland, vol. 7.

“handsome, genteel, and well fashioned”: ms. Méjanes.

“I own to you these reflections animate me . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

“I am aware . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

Rebecca Law’s visit to Venice: PRO SP 78/170.

“My brother must have gone mad . . .”: ms. Méjanes.

“some conversation I have had lately with your brother . . .”: quoted by Healey.

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“I have wrote several times to the Regent, and to the Cardinal about your enlargement . . .”: ms. Méjanes, 204.

“If the Duke of Orleans is disposed to recall him . . .”: Sir Robert Walpole to Sir Luke Schaub, 10 April 1723, quoted in Wood, pp. 173-75.

Offers of loans: ms. Méjanes, 198v.

“I have so ordered my brother’s journey to Paris with him . . .”: Walpole to Lord Townshend, October 12, 1723, quoted in Wood, p. 175.

“Can you not prevail on the Duke to help me . . .”: Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk 1712-1767, vol. 1.

“there is scarcely an example, perhaps not one instance . . .”: Harsin.

“I have sacrificed everything . . .”: Harsin.

“I will do all I can so that his majesty and his ministers are satisfied . . .”: PRO SP 81/91.

CHAPTER 18: Venetian Sunset

Dispatches to Whitehall: PRO SP 81/91.

“The splendour and beauty . . .”: quoted by Hibbert, Grand Tour.

Law and the art market: Murphy; Hamilton.

“No man alive believes that his pictures when they come to be sold . . .”: Burges to Lord Londonderry October 21, 1729; PRO SPc108/415, quoted in Murphy.

Painting of Law by Verelst: sold Christie’s December 16, 1966, lot 291. Signed and dated 1727, ex-collection Sir H. Steward.

Montesquieu’s visit: Voyages de Montesquieu, vol. 1, p. 59.

“a shivering cold fit which lasted him five or six hours . . .”: Burges, Venice, March 4, 1729, PRO SP 99/63 91.

“Mr. Law is dead, after struggling seven or eight and twenty days . . .”: Burges, Venice, March 25, 1729, PRO SP 99/63 95.

“He departed this life on Monday last . . .”: letter from John Law Jr. to Katherine Knowles, quoted by Murphy.

“I wished to be informed surreptitiously concerning the testament which everyone said the deceased had made . . .”: letter from de Gergy to Chauvelin, French minister of foreign affairs, March 26, 1729, quoted in Hyde.

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