History: Tudors coinageby J. J. North
English Hammered Coinage, 1272-1662
(Vol 2, p. 16 - 19)
HENRY VII (1485-1509)
After the somewhat monotonous types of the previous 150 years, the changes effected during this reign clearly mark the end of medieval art and the commencement of the Renaissance in our coinage. The early change in the silver coins is slight, being confined to the substitution of a single or double arched crown for the conventional open one, which was still used on the earliest coins. However, on the last issue a fine profile bust engraved by Alexander of Brugsal (or his deputy John Sharp) is used, and the normal reverse of a cross with three pellets in each angle gives way to the royal shield. The portrait is considered by many to be one of the finest in our coinage, and it is perhaps the first recognisable portrayal of a king since the time of Offa. The numeral (VII) appears after the king's name for the first time since its use on the Long Cross pence of Henry III.
A beautiful example of the art of this period is the gold sovereign, weighing 240 grains and valued at 20 shillings, which was first struck in 1489. On the obverse the king is depicted seated on a throne sometimes of highly ornamental style, while the reverse field is filled with a Tudor rose bearing the royal shield. A simplified version of the obverse of this coin is used on the pence of the last coinage, recalling the "sovereign" pence of Edward the Confessor and the gold pence of Henry III.
The king in ship obverse of the old noble was retained on the very rare ryals or halfsovereigns of Henry VII. The ship however flies two standards one of which bears the Welsh dragon, and the king is wearing a double arched crown. On the reverse is the Tudor rose with the three lis of France on a shield in its centre. Angels and half-angels continued to provide the bulk of the gold coinage, and only minor changes were made in the design.
Another new denomination was the silver testoon or shilling of 144 grains, which bore the same designs as the profile groat. There are several varieties of legend on this very rare coin which was probably only struck as a trial piece.
The ecclesiastical mints continued to strike coins bearing the initials or personal marks of the dignitaries responsible. Those of Canterbury and York were permitted to issue halfgroats and halfpence as well as the usual pence. The Archbishop of Canterbury's privilege was withdrawn in about 1490 A.D., and the king resumed control af the mint in that town. At the same time the royal mint at York was reopened for the coinage of half-groats. During the last quarter of 1500 the coinage of the privilege mints was suspended, but Archbishop Savage of York regained the right to mint halfgroats and halfpence in the following year.
The early coins of this king bore similar types to those of the last issue of his father. The sovereign, London pence, and halfpence are distinguished only by the initial mark, whilst the groats and halfgroats continue to use the profile portrait of Henry VII with the numeral in the obverse legend amended by the addition of the figure I.
Cardinal Wolsey was ordered to re-organise the coinage in 1526 by bringing its standard into line with that of the Continental countries. This was done in an attempt to stop the importation of French and Flemish gold coins, which were driving the English coins in that metal out of circulation. The first measure taken was to revalue the gold coins at 22 shillings to the sovereign, and to issue the Crown of the Rose of the same weight and standard as the French Ecu au Soleil (53 grains and 23 carat gold). Subsequently the entire gold coinage was adjusted by striking the larger coins from standard gold (23 ct. 3½ grs.), and revaluing the sovereign at 22 shillings and 6 pence. Two new denominations were struck - the extremely rare George Noble and the Half George Noble (probably unique), both of which depict a spirited St. George on horseback spearing the dragon as reverse type. The extremely rare Crown of the Rose was replaced by the Crown of the Double Rose (valued at 5 shillings) and its half, both of which were struck of 22 carat gold. The coins are remarkable in bearing the initial of the king's name either with R. (REX) or with that of his queen at the time of their issue - K (Katherine of Aragon), A (Anne Boleyn), or I (Jane Seymour). The groats and halfgroats of this issue bear a good likeness of the young king. The customary titles on the pence and halfpence are replaced by the flattering legend H . D . G . ROSA SINE SPINA (Henry, by the grace of God, a rose without a thorn).
Before proceeding to the last issue of this king, it seems appropriate to write here about the ecclesiastical mints, whose varied fortunes abruptly ended during the period of the Wolsey coinage with the dissolution of the monasteries. They had continued to strike coins bearing initial and other symbols during the first and second coinages. Of especial interest are the coins of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as Archbishop of York. His vanity caused him to place a cardinal's hat as episcopal mark as well as his initials on the reverse of his coins, and this figured prominently in the draft indictment of 1529. He also struck groats at his privilege mint, and this assumption of the king's prerogative would have figured in the charges brought against him, had he lived to face his trial.
By 1542 Henry had come to the end of the fortune so carefully amassed by his father, and was searching for new sources of revenue. The slight debasement of the coinage effected in 1526 provided the clue to a lucrative source of wealth. Within four years the gold declined in fineness from 23 carats to 20 carats, and in weight from 240 grains (Wolsey coinage) to 192 grains per sovereign. The fall in the fineness of the silver coinage was even greater, from 10 oz. to 4 oz., and the weight of the groat was reduced to 40 grains. A new denomination in the gold coinage is the quarter angel, and in the silver the testoon became a regular issue. On the silver of the third coinage the full face bust reappears, and portrays the king bearded and middle-aged. It is a good likeness, but the low relief and bad striking usually make the details difficult to distinguish. Towards the end of the reign coins were being struck at the Strand (Durham House), Southwark, Bristol, Canterbury, and York to supplement the output of the Tower mint.
On the accession of the youthful Edward VI, the authorities were determined to restore the coinage to its former fineness. The disastrous state of the country's finances caused this to be deferred during the early years, and base coins continued to be struck bearing the name and portrait of Henry VIII. One series of half-sovereigns bear the name of Henry, but the enthroned figure has a youthful face. At the same time a number of coins were also struck bearing the name of Edward and on the silver his portrait in profile. The only denomination of these struck in any quantity was the testoon, which has the distinction of being the first English coin to bear a date.
In 1549 the first step to improve the standard of the coins was taken, when gold was struck of 22 carats. There was however no improvement in the silver, and 4 oz. fine was still used for the groats and lesser denominations. The shilling bearing the profile bust was subjected to a number of variations in weight and fineness. Those struck from silver 8 oz. fine weighed 60 grains while others struck from silver 6 oz. fine weighed 80 grains. As these testoons provided the revenue to meet the cost of the finer coinage, they were struck from even baser metal in 1550 and 1551 - 3 oz. fine weighing 80 grains. Their value was reduced to ninepence in 1551, and later in the same year to sixpence. They continued to circulate at their reduced value until 1560, when the value of those struck from silver 3 oz. fine was further reduced to twopence farthing, and that of all others to fourpence halfpenny. They were countermarked on the obverse with a greyhound or a portcullis to denote their new values, and details of these coins will be found in the lists of Elizabeth I. The gold coins of this issue introduce the use of a profile bust on the fractions of the sovereign. Two busts are used, either crowned, or uncrowned, and both are charming portraits of the boy king.
During the third period (1550-1553) considerable improvements were made in the standard of the coins. Two finenesses of gold were used - 23 carats 3½ grains for the sovereign of 30 shillings (240 grains) and the angel of 10 shillings (80 grains), and 22 carats for the sovereign of 20 shillings (174 grains) and its divisions. The latter coins show an attractive half-length figure of the king, crowned and in armour, and bearing a sword and sceptre. The greatest improvement was in the silver coins, most of which were struck from metal of 11 oz. 1 dwt. fine. A few profile shillings, most of the pence, and all half-pence and farthings were made from base silver. The" fine silver" coinage introduced several new denominations, the most notable of which were the crown and halfcrown. These fine coins have an obverse design of the king on horseback, and the date, which appears below the horse, is in Arabic numerals. The sixpence and threepence are struck for the first time, and these, together with the "fine" shilling, have a facing portrait with the value shown in pence on the left. A very few "fine silver" pence were struck, and these have the old "sovereign" type obverse with the king enthroned.
During the year before her marriage this queen struck sovereigns of 30 shillings, ryals, angels and half-angels in gold of 23 carats 3½ grains (Standard gold). The groat, half-groat, and penny in silver of 11 oz. fine bear a profile portrait of the queen of fine work but very low relief. The privy mark, which had for so long been the initial mark, is usually placed in the legend after the second or third word. The base penny of 3 oz. fine with a rose as obverse type continued to be struck.
The only gold coins struck during this joint reign were angels and half-angels of the usual type. In the silver, however, the shillings and sixpences are worthy of note as the only coins of our country to bear portraits of a king and queen facing one another. The type was copied from coins of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, which displayed the rulers' portraits in a similar manner, and it gave rise to the much quoted jingle:
"Stili amorous, cooing, and billing,
Like Philip and Mary on a shilling."
Unfortunately the shillings were often bent, and specimens in extremely fine condition are of considerable rarity.
The groat and lesser denominations in fine silver have a profile portrait of Mary alone, similar to that on such coins before her marriage, and base pence were also minted.
It is to the credit of this queen that she finally restored the fineness of the coinage so shamefully debased by her father. A quantity of base coin was still in circulation when she mounted the throne, and in 1560 the nominal value of these was reduced. The testoons of Edward VI were countermarked to show their reduced value as mentioned in the history of that king. The withdrawal of these base coins was completed in 1561, and the silver was not again debased until 1920, when this was rendered necessary through the intrinsic value of the metal exceeding the face value of the coins.
Despite its length, this reign is more notable for the variety of denominations (nine in gold and eleven in silver) than of design. The coins of fine gold, i.e. Sovereign of 30 shillings, ryal, angel and its divisions, bear the conventional types. All other gold and silver coins, except the halfpenny, have a profile portrait on the obverse and the royal shield on the reverse. To distinguish between silver coins from the shilling downwards, a rose was placed behind the head on alternate denominations. This was essential to prevent confusion over the face value, especially in the smaller coins. Two remarkable values peculiar to this reign were the three halfpence and three farthings (1/8 and 1/16 shilling), which were struck for about twenty years. The halfpence, which have a portcullis as obverse type, are worthy of note as they bear no legends. Towards the end of the reign the silver crown and halfcrown were re-introduced, and have been struck in every reign since.
A coinage in copper was considered for the first time since the days of the Northumbrian stycas, and, although the scheme did not materialize, patterns for such coins exist. A coinage in this metal was an urgent necessity, as the lack of small change had for a long time caused considerable hardship and prohibited small monetary transactions. From c. 1200 the need for such change led to the manufacture of anonymous pewter and lead tokens (cf. BNJ 53 (1983) p. 29 & 54 (1984) p. 86), later supplemented by Venetian base metal pieces known as "galley halfpence" together with billon coins of other continental countries. By the middle of the 16th century, shopkeepers were issuing tokens in lead or tin to facilitate trade, but few of these have survived. Some of the pewter jetons or medalets mentioned in the lists at the end of Elizabeth's coinage may have served as tokens, although it is unlikely that they were struck for this purpose.
Unfortunately an attempt to introduce machinery for striking coins failed because of the opposition of the mint workers, who feared unemployment. The new method of coining was brought to this country in about 1560 by Eloye Mestrell, a former workman at the Paris mint. He was eventually hanged for forgery in 1578, but numerous examples of his official work have survived. The comparison of a machine made coin of this reign with a hammered one will demonstrate the loss in beauty caused by sixteenth century opposition to progress. Nearly one hundred years was to pass before the "hammered" coinage was finally superseded by the "milled".