I've read somewhere that Newton ordered the hanging of criminals that were cheapening the crowns coinage whilst he was master of the mint.

I find this a little surprising having really known him as a theologian, physicist, mathematician, alchemist and experimenter.

Q. Is this true?

Q. How many men did he hang and over what period?

Q. Did his measures work?

As master of the mint one would not expect that Newton had the authority to directly prosecute for the ulitimate penalty but this does not mean that he may have advocated for such measures to the legislature.


3 Answers 3


As "master of the mint," Newton was England's "Comptroller of the Currency."

The second thing you need to know is that fraud, counterfeiting, embezzlement, theft, and other economic offenses were "capital" (hanging) crimes in those days.

So as Master of the Mint, Newton drew up lists of suspected criminals that he wanted prosecuted, and if found guilty in a court of law, hanged. He did not "order" the hanging of counterfeiters; the judges in the courts did that. Nor did he actually hang anyone; that was a "blue collar" job.

According to this article, he was considered a highly accomplished Master of the Mint. It's hard to break down how much of it was due to his scientific prowess, and how much on his insistence on criminals being hanged. What's clear is that he took a strong interest in every phase of the operation.


Is it true that Newton ordered the hanging of counterfeiters?


The counterfeiters were tried in a court of law, with a judge presiding, were found guilty by a jury and sentenced by the judge according to the penalties set out in law by parliament.

The role of Newton in these trials was primarily to obtain evidence and witnesses of the counterfeiters' crimes.

The Wikipedia Article on William Chaloner citing a biography by Paul Hopkins and Stuart Handley says:

The trial was held at the Old Bailey on 3 March, the Judge was Sir Salathiel Lovell


Newton fielded eight witnesses that spanned Chaloner's career. Catherine Coffey, wife of goldsmith Patrick Coffey, declared that she had seen him coin French Pistoles. Elizabeth Holloway declared how Chaloner had bribed her husband, the coiner Thomas Holloway, to flee to Scotland and avoid giving evidence at the 1697 trial. Thomas Taylor the engraver in the major coining conspiracy. Catherine Carter, wife of Thomas Carter who had twice previously been named and blamed by Chaloner, testified to Chaloner's skill as a forger and his role in the lottery scam


The jury needed only a few minutes to reach a verdict, and he was sentenced the next day.

Is this true?


Newton did not order any executions, nor could he.

How many men did he hang and over what period?


Did his measures work?


Chaloner ceased to counterfeit currency.

Counterfeiting is today still a problem.


The most detailed biography of Newton is Westfall, Never at rest. It describes in detail the story of investigation by Newton of activities of certain William Chalone. As a result of this investigation, Chalone was hanged, after a trial, of course. Newton played the crucial role in his conviction.

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