Financial Theory by Thomas Cromwell


Cromwell’s entree into many arenas seems to have been through financial scenarios: finding creditors for one man, helping settle the debts of another. On page 297, Cromwell is showing a secretary of his a gift he has received – a copy of Summa de Arithmetica.

Luca Pacioli {pictured to left staring like a blind man as he solves two mathematical problems at the same time} wrote Summa de Arithmetica in 1494 (Venice) and the text is the first printed work on algebra in vernacular and the first published description of the double-entry accounting system. His ledger included assets, liabilities, income and expenses – what is now part of our modern Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss reports. He even wrote about year-end entries and proposed a trial balance to prove out a ledger.
Fun fact: Pacioli also wrote De divina proportione, The Divine Proportion, which directly influenced Leonardo da Vinci.
Bonus Fun Fact: Pacioli cribbed large parts The Divine Proportion from Piero della Francesca. Pissed off Giorgio Vasari.
It is no wonder that Cromwell would be pleased to have such a book in his household. In Wolf Hall Cromwell shows the book to Thomas Avery, a clerk he has high hopes for. Avery mentions Pacioli’s maxim to never go to bed until the books balance. Cromwell says he saw Pacioli speak in Venice.
I heard him lecture in Venice, it will be more than twenty years ago now, I was your age, I suppose. He spoke about proportion. Proportion in building, in music, in paintings, in justice, in the commonwealth, the state; about how rights should be balanced, the power of a prince and his subjects, how the wealthy citizen should keep his books straight and say his prayers and serve the poor. He spoke about how a printed page should look. How a law should read. Or a face, what makes it beautiful. (page 298)
He gives the book to Avery to keep on his desk so that he can be consoled by it when nothing seems to add up at all.
The final paragraph of this short scene of Avery’s homecoming is my favorite and includes Cromwell’s financial theories – and theories on life.
He has great hopes of Thomas Avery. It’s easy to employ some child who will total the columns and push them under your nose, get them initialed and then lock them in a chest. But what’s the point of that? The page of an accounts book is there for your use, like a love poem. It’s not there for you to nod and then dismiss it; it’s there to open your heart to possibility. It’s like the scriptures; it’s there for you to think about, and initiate action. Love your neighbor. Study the market. Increase the spread of benevolence. Bring in better figures next year. (pages 298-299)
To an accountant, the order of debits and credits and balancing figures at the end of a day can be a beautiful, triumphant thing. If you know where everything is, where it all stands, then you have control and can find profit and improvements.
Mantel’s depiction of Cromwell has him doing all the things mentioned above. He watches trends and listens for the smallest merchants gossip that will indicate the changing tide. He is generous with his bounty. He has a small army of boys and young men in whom he sees talent and is determined to help them succeed. Because when they succeed, Cromwell succeeds. Benevolence pays dividends.
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