William Chaloner, The Master Criminal Taken Down And Executed By Sir Isaac Newton
The famous British mathematician, scientist and politician wasn’t just responsible for understanding gravity, he was also a stone cold legal mind
Sir Isacc Newton is a popular historical figure who is still widely remembered nearly 300 years after he died. Best known for his observations of gravity and for his general contributions to the Scientific Revolution, the Englishman was also involved in politics and running the Royal Mint. Becoming an advocate for fighting back against rampant counterfeiting, he developed a reputation for bringing law and order into currency, including the prosecution and execution of noted forger William Chaloner.
Chaloner was born to a poor family in 1650 in Warwickshire, England. He was considered a difficult child, and as an adolescent was apprenticed to a nail maker in Birmingham, a town at the time with a notoriety for counterfeiting. The youngster quickly joined in the devious ranks and was soon churning out fake groats (worth four pennies) and tin watches.
As an adult, Chaloner fell headlong into a life of crime. Between acting as a conman and his counterfeiting, he became a master criminal, pulling schemes with great regularity. English currency at the time was a disorganized mess, allowing great opportunities for those with the chutzpah to pursue illicit alternatives. Obviously possessing few scruples, he became highly skilled in creating counterfeit coins and seals.
Chaloner worked with a number of forger gangs, and even abandoned his family in order to join the life fully. The counterfeit coins he made were typically from base metals, and were considered quite good. They flooded the market, helping further damage the already declining economy. His skill quickly made him a fortune, and he was known as a gentleman about town, even if the source of his wealth was not apparent.
The counterfeiter’s audacity knew few bounds, as ever trying to enhance his schemes, he attempted to bribe Royal Mint officials to turn a blind eye to his activities. By 1690, he was considered the most prolific and successful forger in the country. Newton later derisively described…