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English Coins III

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Tudors And Stuarts

On the death of Richard Plantagenet on 22 August 1485, Henry Tudor, son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret, great granddaughter of John of Gaunt, acceded to the throne as Henry VII. Henry's policy was a peaceful one both internationally and internally and he set about the task of improving the state of England with vigour; and on his death in 1509 he left England in a flourishing condition with the royal coffers well filled. The coinage, which had suffered from the long period of political unrest was extensively altered; new denominations both in gold and silver were struck and for the first time in English history a real attempt at portraiture was made on the coins. In 1489 a new gold coin was ordered. It was to be worth twenty shillings and to be called a sovereign: the coin is a large one having a diameter of some 42 millimetres and weighing 240 grains. Having such a large flan to work on, the artist was able to depict the splendour of the Tudor period in all its glory. On the obverse the king is shown seated on the throne in his robes, wearing the royal crown and holding the orb and sceptre. The reverse design is the royal arms centred on a full blown Tudor rose. In 1494 Alexander of Brugsal was appointed engraver to the mint and a somewhat different type of sovereign was produced: although the design remained essentially the same, the new coin was rather more ornate and the figure of the king is better proportioned than on the earlier type. Alexander was also responsible for the engraving of a profile groat and portrait testoon, or shilling, that was issued during the last few days of Henry's reign.

London was again the principal mint and during the last fifteen years of the reign some 31,000 lb. of gold and 164,000 lb. of silver were turned into coin. The ecclesiastical mints of Canterbury, York and Durham were again in evidence.

Henry VIII was the son of his father's marriage with Elizabeth of York and he succeeded to the throne of England at the age of eighteen. He was handsome, accomplished and pleasure-loving and for the first fifteen years of his reign did nothing to alter the design or portraiture on the coinage from that used by his father. His coins can be distinguished from those of Henry VII by the numeral VIII after the king's name or by the new mint marks, crowned portcullis and castle. Despite the enormous wealth left by his father, Henry managed to squander most of it and during the last years of his reign the currency was debased to provide more revenue. Gold coins were reduced to 20 carats fine and the silver to one part silver to two parts alloy. Consequently these late silver coins are usually found in poor condition with the copper showing through on the highest parts of the design, resulting from excessive wear, thus earning Henry the nickname `Old Coppernose'. Silver testoons bearing the facing bust of the king are reminiscent of the famous paintings of the king by Holbein.

In 1526 Cardinal Wolsey was ordered to alter the standard of the coinage to that of foreign countries to prevent any further drain of English coin to the Continent resulting from foreign coins circulating in England at a disproportionately high value. Apart from altering the values of existing coins, new gold coins of a baser metal were issued. One of these ,was the gold `crown of the rose' which has the royal coat of arms on the obverse and a Tudor rose on the reverse. This coin was equal to 4s 6d, and was the first of the `crown' denomination that was continued in subsequent reigns both in gold and as a silver coin equalling 5s. Another new coin was the George-noble, smaller than the angel of previous reigns, but having the same value of 6s 8d. This is a delightful piece depicting on the obverse St George slaying the dragon and a Tudor rose mounted on a ship on the reverse; the half-George-noble also issued has a similar design. These rare coins (a single specimen of the half-George-noble is known) are particularly interesting because of the letters `h k' standing for Henry and Katherine of Aragon which appear either side of the mast on the reverse.

Large numbers of coins were again issued by the ecclesiastical mints of York, Durham and Canterbury. Cardinal Wolsey, being both archbishop of York and bishop of Durham from 1523 struck coins with his initials Tw on them at both of these mints. Other coins of York consist of those issued by Archbishop Bainbridge with the initials XB on them and also of Archbishop Edmund Lee (LE or EL). The mint of Durham struck coins for Bishops Rothall and Tunstall as well as for Wolsey. Canterbury struck coins for Archbishops Warham and Cranmer.

In 1546 a mint was opened at Bristol to supplement the work at the Tower mint; other mints were also opened at Southwark, together with royal mints at York and Canterbury.

In 1548 a mint was opened at the former palace of the bishops of Durham at Durham House in the Strand and although Henry had died in the previous year, his son Edward continued striking coins with his father's portrait and titles for the first few months of his reign . Durham House struck a peculiar groat during this period bearing the bust of Henry three-quarters-facing wearing the crown at rather a rakish angle and the reverse legend REDDE CVIQVE QVOD SVVM EST (Render unto each that which is his). Continuing the precedent of his grandfather, Edward continued to strike shillings with his portrait in profile, but of two different standards of fineness. In 1549 a small shilling weighing 60 grains was produced from 8 oz. fine silver and a somewhat larger one, weighing 80 grains from 6 oz. silver. In 1551 the standard of silver was restored to 11 oz. fine and the base shillings were superseded by a larger coin with a full face portrait. It was, however, found to be impossible to call in all of the base shillings and many continued to circulate together with the fine issue until the early years of Elizabeth's reign. The year 1551 also saw the first issue of the new crown pieces struck in silver. The king is depicted on a galloping horse richly caparisoned with the date below.

The gold coins of Edward's reign are delightful but unfortunately rare; two of the half-sovereigns issued between January 1548 and April 1550 have charming portraits of the young king who was aged eleven at the time, and show a remarkable feeling for portraiture.

Edward was a delicate youth, much inclined to study and was strongly influenced in his decisions by the duke of Northumberland, allowing himself to be persuaded to alter the terms of Henry VIII's will, thereby excluding Henry's daughters Mary and Elizabeth from the succession in favour of Lady Jane Grey, Northumberland's daughter-in-law. It has been suggested that Northumberland, on Edward's falling ill, helped a little by giving him a small dose of poison; there is, however, no evidence of this. At any rate Edward died on 21 June 1 553 and Northumberland informed Jane Grey that she was queen, a prospect that she did not entirely relish. Her reign lasted only eleven days and consequently no coins are known of her.

Jane was succeeded by Mary whose coins can be divided into two periods, those issued in her name alone before her marriage to Philip II of Spain and those issued after the marriage, which include his name. Seven denominations were issued in her own name, four gold and three silver. The angel is the commonest of these gold coins and it is very often found pierced for use as a `touch piece'. Touch pieces were hung around the neck of the sick by the king at the ceremony of `touching for the King's Evil'; the coin, having been touched by the king, was supposed to heal the patient. This practice was discontinued by Queen Anne.

The silver coins of this first period of Mary's reign, consisting of groats, half-groats and pennies, were unfortunately struck in low relief so that the portrait quickly becomes very worn; the commonest of these coins is the groat.

In January 1554 Mary was married by proxy to Philip II of Spain, the religious ceremony taking place in the following July. Thereafter her coins also include Philip's name on them . Angels and half-angels were the only gold coins issued, but the silver shilling and sixpence reappear and bear the portraits of both Philip and Mary face to face, after the manner of Spanish coins.

On the accession of Elizabeth in 1558, the financial resources of England were in a sorry state, and they continued to be drained away as a result of the country helping to pay for the war in which she was allied with Spain against France. Those shillings of Edward VI that were still in circulation were now re-valued as the public refused to accept them at the full rate: the basest were valued at 24d and were countermarked with a greyhound's head whilst those with a higher silver content were valued at 4jd and countermarked with a portcullis. Elizabeth's coins are of an almost bewildering variety; there are many variations in the legends and the types of busts and more denominations were issued than ever before. The `fine' sovereign of 30s first issued by Mary was again issued and in 1545 the pound sovereign of 20s was also struck, together with its half. The silver crown and half-crown (PLATE VII, 4) were again issued and for the first time threepences, threehalfpence,andthree-farthings were struck. Thelatter, despite its small size, still manages to boast a portrait of Elizabeth on the obverse. To facilitate easy identification of the various small denominations a rose was placed behind the Queen's head on the obverse and the date above the shield on the reverse on alternate denominations from the shilling downwards, thus we find: shilling, no rose or date, sixpence, rose and date; groat, no rose or date; threepence, rose and date; half-groat, no rose or date; threehatfpence, rose and date; penny, no rose or date; threefarthings, rose and date; halfpenny, obverse portcullis, reverse cross with pellets in angles.

In 1560 an important development in coin production took place. Eloye Mestrelle, an employee of the Paris mint left in disgrace and was given employment at the Royal mint at the Tower. He was paid 25 per annum and free accommodation in the upper part of the mint, and between 1561 and 1571 he struck both gold and silver coins with his new presses which were powered by horses. Despite the fact that these coins are very much better struck than the old hammered issues, they were discontinued after 1571 as the workers, fearing for their jobs, raised objections to the new machinery and for one reason or another Mestrelle fell from favour and the former coining methods were restored in 1572. Mestrelle, incidentally, was hanged in 1578 for counterfeiting. The coins that were struck during this ten-year period consist of the gold half-sovereign, crown and half-crown and the silver shilling, sixpence, groat, threepence, half-groat and three-farthings.

The fact that not enough small change was available had long been the cause of much grievance amongst the poorer people of the country and many local tradesmen had tried to alleviate the difficulty somewhat by issuing their own lead tokens. These could be redeemed for coin of the realm by their customers whenever they wished and consequently most people were glad to accept them. The government had already made several abortive attempts to suppress them but it was not until 1613 when James I granted a licence to Lord Harrington to manufacture copper farthings (the profits being shared between them) that the issue of traders' tokens was stopped. In 1615 after the death of Harrington his widow sold the patent to the Duke of Lennox who continued to strike coins of this denomination. Subsequently his widow, the Duchess of Richmond, also struck them; later the patent was purchased by Lord Maltravers.

When James ascended the English throne in 1603 he had already been king of Scotland for thirty-six years. He had succeeded to the Scottish throne at the somewhat unreasonably early age of one on his mother's forced abdication. His claim to the English throne was through his great-grandmother, Margaret, daughter to Henry VII and wife of James IV of Scotland.

The union of England and Scotland under one monarch is recorded on the coins by the addition of the Scottish titles after the English and the arms of Scotland being added to the shield on the reverse. Some of the coins have a definite Anglo-Scottish flavour as witness the thistle-crown, a gold coin with a crowned rose on the obverse and a crowned thistle on the reverse and the silver half-groat, penny and halfpenny which also bear these emblems.

The silver crown and half-crown revert to the original design instituted by Edward VI and depict the king on horseback. Shillings and sixpences bearing the customary crowned bust of the king were also struck. The Scottish coins at this time were at a ratio of twelve to one, so that the Scottish sixty-shilling piece was current for five shillings English, the thirty shillings was current for 2s 6d and the half shilling equalled the English halfpenny, etc. These coins are the same size as their English equivalents and are similar in design, but they can be identified as being either English or Scottish by the thistle which appears on the trappings of the horse on the Scottish sixty shillings and thirty shillings and the rose on the English crown and half-crown. The smaller denominations may be identified by the crown on the king's bust. The Scottish crown has three fleurs-de-lis with two crosses between them whilst the English crown has three crosses and two fleurs-de-lis. On later Scottish coins of James there is a Scottish lion in the first and fourth quarters of the arms on the reverse.

Charles I succeeded his father James in 1625 and shortly afterwards began striking coins in his own name. Owing to the civil strife that England suffered whilst Charles was on the throne, the numismatic history of the period is rather complicated. The principal mint was the Tower, but during the Civil War period from 1642 until 1649, mints were variously set up at Aberystwyth (1638-42), York (1642-4), Shrewsbury (October to December 1642), Truro (November 1642-September 1643), Oxford (16426), Bristol (1643-5), Combe Martin (1645-8), Exeter (September 1643-April 1646), Weymouth (1643-4), Salisbury or Sandsfoot Castle (1644), Chester (1644), Scarborough (1644-5), Carlisle (October 1644-May 1645), Lundy Island and/or Appledore and Barnstaple (1645-6), Worcester (1646), Newark (1645-6), Colchester (June-August 1648) and Pontefract (June 1648March 1649).

Charles's coins struck during the early part of his reign do not differ greatly from those of his father. The king's bust now faces left instead of right and on many of the coins the value in Roman numerals is placed behind the king's head thus: v on the gold crown, xn on the shilling and u on the half-groat. In 1625 Nicholas Briot brought to England the latest French machinery and together with the mill and screw presses used in Elizabeth's reign produced a number of very handsome patterns for coins. Unfortunately, these were never issued for circulation, but other coins produced from dies engraved by him and struck from his machinery were issued and they make a very welcome addition to the English series.

The Civil War period in which the king was forced to flee from London in 1642 presents an unusual and bewildering variety of coins, particularly those struck at the besieged Royalist towns of Carlisle, Colchester, Newark, Pontefract and Scarborough. The interest of this particular issue lies in the fact that owing to the shortage of proper minting facilities, the coins were struck out of odd shaped pieces of plate which were simply hammered flat and then struck with the dies. Apparently little attempt was made to strike coins of a uniform denomination as the values of the coins struck depend on the weight of the pieces of silver used. Thus we have some rather odd denominations struck at Scarborough such as 2s 2d, Is 3d, l Id and 7d-all of these coins are rare. The commonest of the siege pieces are of Newark and Pontefract although the specimen illustrated on PLATE vu, 6, is a rarity struck in the name of Charles II after the death of Charles I.

Apart from the siege pieces, other notable additions to the coinage were the large silver pounds and half-pounds which were struck at some of the provincial mints. These pound pieces, which measure 2 in. in diameter and weigh some 3 3/4 oz., are the largest silver coins in the English series.

After the execution of Charles I in 1649 Parliament struck coins in the name of the Commonwealth of England and this again provides us with another phenomenon in that the legends were in English instead of the usual Latin. Both gold and silver coins were struck; and the issue consisted of gold units, doublecrowns and crowns; and silver crowns (PLATE VIII, 1), halfcrowns, shillings, sixpences, twopences, pennies and halfpennies. All the coins with the exception of the halfpenny (which has a single shield on each side) have the shield of St George on the obverse and the combined shields of St George and Ireland on the other.

In 1653 Oliver Cromwell became Protector of England and a new series of coins was struck. These had been designed by one of England's most outstanding engravers, Thomas Simon, and the portrait of Cromwell is a good if unflattering one-even reproducing the wart on the Protector's chin. The inscription on the obverse reads OLIVAX'D'G-R'P'ANG'SCO-HIB &c PRO (Oliver, by the Grace of God, Protector of the Republic of England, Scotland and Ireland, etc.). Seven denominations were issued, three in gold and four in silver consisting of the gold fifty-shillings, broad (2Os), half-broad (lOs); and the silver crown, half-crown, shilling and sixpence.

In 1634 Lord Maltravers had purchased from the Duchess of Richmond, widow of the Duke of Lennox, the licence to strike copper farthings originally granted to Lord Harrington by James I and when the issue of `Maltravers' farthings was stopped in 1644, another shortage of small change occurred. Although several patterns for farthings had been struck, none were ever issued and consequently the shopkeepers again began to issue their own private tokens. Large numbers of these were issued representing almost every conceivable occupation and a collection of these presents an extremely interesting insight into the life of the population at this period.

During the reign of Charles II commencing in 1660 the English coinage underwent one of the most important changes in its history; the final relinquishing of hand-produced coins in favour of coins produced by machinery. Hammered coins continued to be produced until 1662 when Pierre Blondeau began to strike the new coins with his machinery.

Four denominations of gold coins were issued-the five guineas, two guineas, guinea and half-guinea. The name `guinea' is derived from gold supplied by the Africa Company which operated on the Guinea Coast. Coins made from this gold have the Company's badge, an elephant or an elephant and castle below the king's bust. Some silver coins were struck bearing this badge on them, produced from silver also supplied by the Africa Company. Other marks of this nature are found on some of the silver coins: a plume denoting that the silver was obtained from mines in Wales and a rose signifying that it came from mines in the west of England. A regal copper coinage was introduced at long last and Charles thus effectively put an end to the private tokens that were still being produced. The issue consisted of halfpennies and farthings with a laureate bust of Charles facing left and the inscription CAROM A cAROI,o (Charles from [son of.1 Charles). The reverse bears the seated figure of Britannia holding a shield and a spear in one hand and an olive branch in the other. Tradition has it that the model for this was Frances, duchess of Richmond. Farthings in tin of a similar design to the copper ones were struck in 1684 in an attempt to save money, due to copper having to be imported from Sweden. The issue was not a successful one, however, and they were only struck in the one year.

This reign also saw special coins struck for the first time for distribution at the Maundy ceremony. It had long been the custom for the sovereign to perform an act of humility by washing the feet of a number of the poor in memory of Christ washing the feet of his disciples. This act was performed on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, the sovereign also distributing alms in the form of food, clothing and money. Until about 1800 silver pennies were the only coins struck for distribution at the Maundy ceremony although silver twopences, threepences and fourpences were struck for general circulation and are usually classed as being Maundy Money together with the pennies. From 1800, however, all of the denominations from the fourpence to the penny seem to have been intended for use at the Maundy ceremony. It is interesting to note that these unusual little coins are still struck today and are in fact the only coins in our so-called `silver' coinage still being struck in that metal; the fineness is 925 parts in 1,000.

James II who succeeded his brother Charles reigned for just less than four years and his only interesting contribution to the coinage was the issue of the so-called 'gun-money' struck in Ireland. These were struck after William of Orange (later William III) had forced James to abdicate and the latter fled to Ireland where he endeavoured to raise an army to regain the throne. Money was short, however, and in order to pay his troops James had to melt up old cannon and church bells and turn them into coins. They are struck in brass and are particularly interesting because of their being the only British coins to be dated with the month as well as the year of issue.

William III and his wife Mary were crowned in Westminster Cathedral on 13 February 1689 and until Mary died of smallpox in 1694, their conjoined busts are depicted on the coins. Three different reverse designs were used on the half -crowns; the first type struck in 1689 consists of a crowned shield with the arms of England, Scotland, Ireland and France quarterly with the rampant lion of Orange-Nassau in an inescutcheon in the centre. The second shield used in 1689 and again in 1690 has the arms of England and France quarterly in the first and fourth quarters with the arms of Scotland and Ireland in the second and third quarters. From 1691 to 1693 a design of cruciform shields was used with the monogram wm and the date thus 1/6/9/3 in between. Other denominations retain the same type throughout.

After the death of Mary, only William's head appears on the coins. The highest denomination of the reign, the gold five guineas. The badge of the Africa Company is again found on the gold coins as are the roses and plumes on the silver. Copper halfpennies and farthings were also issued.

Although milled coins had been struck since 1662, many of the old `hammered' coins were still in circulation and in 1695 it was decided to demonetize all those remaining in circulation and replace them with new coins. In order to help the Tower mint during the re-coinage, mints were set up at Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Norwich and York and coins minted at these centres can be distinguished by the letters B. C. E. N and Y respectively below the king's bust.

The coinage of Queen Anne is of particular interest since it was during her reign (in 1707) that the kingdoms of England and Scotland were united, an act which is commemorated on the coins by the English and Scottish arms being placed side by side in one shield. The coins issued during the reign can therefore be divided into two periods: those struck before the Union in 1707 and those struck after it. Coins issued during the first period simply bear the arms of England, Scotland, France and Ireland in cruciform shields whilst those issued after 1707 have the English and Scottish arms side by side as previously mentioned. Some of the silver after-Union coins were struck at the Edinburgh mint and a small E or E* is placed below the bust to denote this.

The coinage of Anne is also of interest for those coins that have the word vlGO below the bust. Coins bearing this name were struck from bullion captured by an Anglo-Dutch expedition under the command of the Duke of Ormond and Lord Rooke who sailed against the Spanish in 1702 and sacked the towns of Cadiz and Vigo. At the latter they captured several galleons and treasure to the value of some 11,000,000 pieces of eight. Large quantities of silver coins were struck from this silver and some gold coins too have the vlGO inscription; these latter are rare, however.