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Timeline of Scottish History

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John Law Financier

  • Name  : Law
  • Born  : 1671
  • Died  : 1729
  • Category  : Finance
  • Finest Moment : Holding the French chequebook.

Another Scot telling other countries how to handle their economies. He started with a golden spoon, as his father was a wealthy goldsmith in Laurieston, Edinburgh (baptised 21 April 1671). He attended Edinburgh High School where he must have had both a natural proclivity for mathematics and a good teacher; with a number of financial deals and gambling systems behind him he was soon known as 'Beau Law'.

In London, he met another 'Beau', name of Wilson. They had a tiff over a lady, as one does, and met for a duel. Law came out the better and killed 'Beau' Wilson, but then had to flee to the Continent, where he continued to study banking methods. He also eloped with someone else's wife.

In 1705 he was back in Scotland, writing his best-known work Money and Trade Considered, with a Proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money (1705). His plan for reforming banking was considered by the Scottish parliament but was rejected, as was a similar plan in England.

Turning to France, in 1716 his plan for a joint stock bank was accepted, with the Banque Generale becoming France's first bank. Law took up French citizenship and became a Catholic. On a roll now, it was on his initiative that the Louisiana Company was set up to utilise the French possessions in what was to become the USA, including the foundation of a town called New Orleans.

Law's personal finances blossomed; in 1720 he was appointed Controller-General of France, basically holder of the chequebook. But the bubble burst later that year. The company collapsed, the currency was devalued and Law fled to Venice, where he died on 21 March 1729. None of this failure could be pinned on Law, who was probably just unlucky. So it goes.

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