Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle.

from Geoffrey Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales (General Prologue) on Rap Genius

Meaning

(=He could sell écu bonds very well)

‘Sheeldes’ translates the Old French word escu, but here it probably refers to the Flemish écu, a fictional ‘money of account’, valued at 24 silver groats of real Flemish currency.

For a long time, scholars thought that this meant he was trading currency illegally, but it’s more complicated than that. Th Merchant is selling London bonds which he, or his agents, will have to redeem at a higher rate in Bruges, thereby obtaining the Pounds Sterling he needs to pay his debts in England. Selling the bonds is basically borrowing money he’ll have to replay in Bruges when he’s sold his next shipment. It’s legal, but medieval readers would’ve considered it highly dubious (a kind of usury)— it also makes the Merchant look fairly desperate.

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