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Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland
in the British Museum
by Herbert A. Grueber, with 64 plates, London 1899.
eBook in

Here only: Introduction to Tudor Coinage


Passing on to the reign of Henry VII we enter upon a new era in the coinage of England, and the greatness of the house of Tudor shines forth in the variety and, in some cases, the splendour of its money. Henry VII not only introduced some important new denominations, but in the case of the silver he broke through the stereotyped form of type which had existed for over two centuries and a half. At first he made no alterations; but in 1489 a first innovation was made by the issue of a new coin called the sovereign. Its current value was 20s., twice that of the ryal, and it weighed 240 grs. On the obverse is shown the king enthroned, and on the reverse the Tudor rose is charged with the royal shield. It was the finest gold coin that had ever been struck in England, and it excelled all other European coins. It may be said to mark in some degree the growing wealth of the country, for no state unless in a prosperous condition could have issued such a coin; and this in spite of all the trouble that had been experienced by a prolonged civil war.
In silver the shilling was now first struck (1504), and in introducing this new denomination an opportunity was taken to change the types of some of the coins. The bust of the king was no longer shown full-face but in profile, and on the reverse the long cross pattée with pellets was replaced by the royal shield on a cross fourchée. In the case of the smallest silver pieces, the halfpenny and farthing, the old type was retained; but in addition to the pennies of the old type a new one was issued, which is now known as the "sovereign penny" from its resemblance to the so·called "sovereign type" of Edward the Confessor. In the profile type we meet with the first genuine attempt at portraiture since the Conquest. "The portrait of Henry VII is a work of the highest art in its kind. Nothing superior to it has appeared since." This artistic excellence is remarkable, for up to that time England had produced no painter artists. It is clear, however, from the coins and from the fine examples of English goldsmiths' work, that the skillful Italian and French metal workers were not without rivals in this country. Another innovation connected with this coinage was the placing of the numerals after the king's name, showing that he was the seventh king of the name of Henry who had ascended the throne of England. It should be mentioned that, previous to the introduction af the profile bust, Henry had slightly changed his portrait by representing himself wearing an arched crown instead of an open one. This variety of type marks the middle period of his silver coinage, from 1489?-1504.


The innovations made by Henry VII were continued and extended in the next reign, and in addition several new denominations were added to the list of the gold coins. In one respect, however, there was a serious retrogression. This was in the lowering of the standard of fineness of both the gold and the silver. Hitherto the standard of the gold money had remained unchanged since its institution by Edward III, and in the case of the silver there had been no material alteration since the Conquest. The change in the gold standard took place in 1526, when gold called crown gold, i.e., 22 cts. fine, was adopted. The reason given was that the high price at which gold was rated in Flanders and France, occasioned a wholesale exportation of English money. At first the new gold was only used for a few coins, but later on it became general, and considerably affected current values. The debasement of the silver money did not occur till 1543, in which year it stood at 5 parts fine to 1 part alloy; but during the following year it fell to half silver and half alloy, and then to one-third silver and two-thirds alloy. The gold at that time was further reduced to 20 cts. fine. In the indentures ordering the debasement of the money no cause was assigned. It was no doubt due to the necessities of the king. The treasure which he had inherited from his father was exhausted, he had squandered all the money and valuables derived from the dissolution of the religious houses; and the so-called "benevolences" were unwillingly paid.
The new coins in gold were the double-sovereign, the half-sovereign, the crown and half-crown, the quarter-angel and the George noble and its half. The George noble was first struck in 1526, and was current for 6s. 8d., the value of the old angel, which had now risen to 7s. 6d. The George noble took its name from its type. New types or modifications of types were also given to some of the other gold pieces. The crown and half-crown bear the shield on one side and the Tudor rose on the other, and, in the case of the sovereign and its half, supporters to the shield were introduced. The silver money also shows three changes in the obverse type, the third being very distinct from the other two. In his early silver coins Henry followed the type of his father's money, even to the portrait, only altering the numerals after his name. On his second coinage he preserved the type but changed the portrait, whilst the third change shows him full-face or three-quarter-face. This last type was introduced in 1543, when the first debasement of the silver money took piace. It was adopted on all the coins, in order to distinguish them from earlier issues. Another reform was in the abolishing of the ecclesiastical mints. It is very probable that these mints may have continued to exist since Edward III's time: but on account of the absence of any distinguishing mark the episcopal issues cannot be separated from the regal money. In the reign of Henry VI the custom of placing the privy mark, a symbol or an initial, of the prelate on the coin was revived. From these marks it will be seen that the prelates only issued half-groats and pennies, except in the case of Wolsey, who struck groats, for which "presumptuous act" he was afterwards indicted. As these marks are not found on coins of a later date than the second issue of Henry VIII (1525-1543), we gather that with the introduction of the three-quarter-face type the right of coinage was withdrawn from the prelates. In 1543 the Bristol mint was revived and gold as well as silver money was issued there. This was the only local mint at which gold was struck during this reign.


Edward VI made no attempt at first to improve the standard of his money. He continued to strike gold and silver of the same denominations as those of the coins of the last issue of Henry VIII; and in one instance he even retained his father's name, but changed the portrait (see No.441, p.86). The low standard of metal led to numerous forgeries, especially in the case of the silver money, which was also much clipped. To remedy this evil a new coinage in gold of a some what higher standard, 22 cts., was ordered in 1549, and at the same time a slight improvement was made in the silver money, which was to be of equal parts silver and alloy. Some of the base money too was withdrawn from circulation. The new gold coinage consisted of the triple-sovereign, sovereign, half-sovereign, crown, and half-crown, and to distinguish these pieces from those previously issued the types were modified. The shilling was the only silver coin struck at this time, and being of finer metal it was reduced in weight. In 1550 an attempt was made to return to the original standard of fine gold; but owing to the debased state of the silver it failed (see Nos.459-461). This constant change of the gold coins led to considerable confusion in their current values, which no number of proclamations or orders could rectify. Added to this there was still a large amount of Henry's base money in currency, and even this was extensively counterfeited. At last, in 1551, Edward determined to take some decided step, and he ordered an entirely new money in silver, consisting of the crown, half-crown, shilling, sixpence, threepence, and penny. The standard of fineness was 11 oz. 1 dwt. pure and 19 dwts. alloy; but he still struck a penny, halfpenny, and farthing in base metal. This issue added four new denominations, the crown, half-crown, sixpence, and threepence, and for these as well as for the shillings new types were made (see Nos.466-471). The crown and half-crown are dated, and the other pieces boar their current values. The dating and marking the coins with their values were two innovations of this reign. The earliest dated pieces are the base shillings of 1547. The "sovereign type" was revived for the silver penny. This salutary reform of the silver money was followed in the next year by the readjustment of the gold, consisting of the issue of the sovereign, half-sovereign, crown, and half-crown, of a standard of 22 cts., crown gold, and of a uniform type (see Nos.462-465). In this manner the coinage was nearly restored to its condition before the debasement introduced by Henry VIII in 1543. It was a judicious proceeding and materially affected the welfare of the country both at home and in its foreign relations.
The mints in operation during this reign were at London, Southwark, Bristol, Canterbury, and York. At the last two silver money only was issued. Those of Bristol and Canterbury ceased working before the introduction of the silver money of 1551. The closing of the Bristol mint may have been partly due to the fraudulent actions of its master, Sir William Sharington. With the exception of a few sixpences, threepences, and pennies of York, the only mints in operation from 1551 were those of the Tower and Southwark, whose coins can be easily distinguished by their mint-marks, the tun and the letter Y. The local mints came to an end with this reign, and henceforth, with two notable exceptions (see p.90), all the coins in gold and silver were struck at the Tower. Thus the centralisation of the coinage, which was begun by Henry III, was now completed; and it has proved to be one of the best safeguards of the purity of the English currency.


The standard of the coinage as restored by Edward VI was not altogether preserved by Mary, who, however, in her first proclamation, announced that her gold and silver money should in fineness be of the standard sterling. In the case of her gold money this promise was carried into effect, and sovereigns, ryals, angels, and half-angels of former types were struck of standard metal, 23 cts. 3½ grs. fine and ½ gr. alloy. Her silver coins, which were the groat, half-groat, and penny, were only 11 oz. fine, which was one pennyweight worse than the last silver money of Edward VI. They were all of one type, having the queen's bust on the obverse and a shield on the reverse. A base penny of a different type was also issued.
After her marriage with Philip angels and half-angels only in gold were struck, and in silver the groat, half-groat, and penny, and subsequently the half-crown, shilling, and sixpence. Except in the case of the last three denominations no change occurred in the types, the king's name only being added to that of the queen. On the half-crown, however, Philip's bust is on one side and that of Mary on the other; but on the shilling and sixpence the busts are placed facing one another, "amorous, and fond, and billing," on the obverse, and on the reverse is a shield. These coins are generally dated, and the shilling and sixpence usually bear their marks of value. Both gold and silver are of the same standard of fineness as the coins of Mary alone.


Immediately on her accession Elizabeth turned her attention to the state of the coinage, more especially as regards the base money, which was stili in currency and the circulation of which continued to cause much distress. She ordered that gold money should be struck of two standards of fineness, i.e., at 23 cts. 3½ grs. fine, or standard gold, and 22 cts. fine, or crown gold, and that the silver coins should be 11 oz. fine and 1 oz. alloy, as during the reign of Mary. Three years later, in 1561, the standard of silver was raised to 11 oz. 2 dwts. fine and 18 dwts. alloy, thus restoring it to the fineness before the debasement by Henry VIII. This standard of silver has been preserved unchanged to the present day [1899]. The coins of fine gold were the sovereign, the ryal, the angel, and the half and quarter-angel, current at 30s., 20s., 10s., 5s., and 2s. 6d. respectively. The types were the same as in previous reigns. The coins of crown gold were the sovereign (known as the pound sovereign), the half-sovereign, the crown and the haif-crown, current at 20s. to the sovereign. The types of all these pieces are the same, having the queen's bust on the obverse and a shield on the reverse. Two new denominations were added to the silver money, the three halfpence and the three farthings; and these, as well as the sixpence and threepence, are always dated, and are further distinguished by a rose at the back of the queen's head. These denominations date from 1561. Between 1558 and 1561 the silver money consisted of the shilling, the groat, the half-groat, the penny, and the halfpenny. With the exception of the last piece, all are of a uniform type, having the crowned bust on the obverse and a shield on the reverse. Later on, in 1601 and 1602, crowns and halfcrowns of similar type were issued. lt will thus be seen that in the reign of Elizabeth the number of coin denominations reached its maximum.
At an early period in this reign steps were taken to call in the debased money of Henry VIII and Edward VI, some of which was recoined into shillings and sixpences and sent to Ireland. The whole of the debased money was reduced one-quarter its current value; but of the base shillings some were countermarked with a portcullis and re-issued at the decreased value of 4½d.; whilst the very debased shillings of Edward VI, those with a lion, a rose, a harp, or a lis for mint-marks, were countermarked with a greyhound and re-issued at 2¼d. In 1561 the circulation of base money was prohibited by proclamation. It was in consequence of this proclamation that the smaller moneys, the three halfpence and three farthings, were coined to provide a small currency, the lack of which was much felt. The lowering of the value of the base money caused a considerable rise in the market value of the commodities for daily life. To remedy this the current values or all the gold and silver coins were reduced one quarter, so as to make them of the same value as from the 6th Edward IV to the 16th Henry VIII. In 1572 they were again restored to their values as in 1558. The supply of small silver money being insufficient to meet the publie demand, the need of a small currency was met by the issue of private tokens by tradesmen, towns, and corporate bodies. These were made of lead, tin, latten, and even of leather. A proposal was made to the queen in 1574 to issue a debased currency in the smaller pieces; but she was indisposed to entertain any project which would entail the debasement of her coins again. At !ast her consent was obtained for the issue of a copper coinage, and patterns were actually made; but the proposal was never carried into effect.
It was during this reign that the first essay was made to effect a more even striking of the coins. Hitherto they were always struck by the hammer, which often caused an imperfect and irregular imprint of the type, and also it frequently left the edge ragged, which was an encouragement to clipping. In 1560 it was proposed to introduce the use of the mill and screw into the mint. This invention, which had been used at the Paris mint, was brought to England by a Frenchman, Eloye Mestrell. He was encouraged by the queen, and in 1562 began coining milled money in the Tower. A few years later Mestrell was detected counterfeiting and striking money outside the mint; and, being convicted, be was executed at Tyburn. The coins stuck by this process are of gold and silver, and are easily to be distinguished from the hammered money by being of neater and sharper work, and by their perfect roundness due to the flans being placed within a collar. This new process was not much employed during this reign after 1572, and was not generally resumed till 1662.
The death of Elizabeth brought to a close one of the most important periods in the history of the English coinage, that of the Tudor dynasty. The coinage from Henry VII to Elizabeth had been as remarkable for its vicissitudes as for its excellence. During no other period did the English mints issue such an array of coins so conspicuous for their beauty of workmanship, their unusual size, and their great variety. The actual output also exceeded that of any previous period. The first monarch of the Tudor dynasty found the coinage in a sound state, and not only did he use his best exertions to keep it so, but he even improved it. His successor, Henry VIII, followed quite a different course, being actuated entirely by private motives. He debased the coins, not for the benefit of the State, but as a means of meeting the debts incurred through his own personal extravagance. He did not dare to ask his parliaments for money, and therefore took to cheating his people. This debasement caused wide-spread distress and resulted in a great enhancement of the prices of every kind of commodity, especially of provisions. Though it lasted only for a few years, its effects were much more permanent. Neither the efforts of Edward VI to reform the money, nor those of Mary, were of any material avail; for so long as the base money was in circulation the evil continued. On Elizabeth then devolved the duty of bringing about a better state of things, and she met the difficulty in a bold and determined spirit. The amelioration of her coinage was one of her first acts, and she did not relax her efforts till she saw all the base money withdrawn from circulation and replaced by a currency of the highest standard. The measures necessary to accomplish this pressed heavily on the crown as well as on the nation generally, more especially on the lower classes, and at times produced considerable friction; but Elizabeth persevered, and her perseverance culminated in success. This success is all the more to her credit as she did not receive from her Council the assistance she might have expected; for some of its members were influenced by private ends, and viewed her efforts with great dislike. The numerous proclamations and orders relating to the coinage which were promulgated at this period must have been very detrimental to the commercial relations with foreign countries. England had been placed for long in a unique position. Her coinage had been the envy of her neighbours, who counterfeited it in baser metals, and then attempted to pass off their spurious pieces as genuine. This resulted in a series of orders forbidding the exportation of any English money or the payment in gold to any alien for merchandise. These measures may have been a safeguard to the coinage: but they were injurious to commercial transactions. Another great evil which England had to meet was the importation of foreign base money. The want of small change had always borne heavily on the lower classes, and amongst them foreign base moneys found a ready circulation. It is somewhat strange that the advisers of the Crown, on economic grounds, did not meet this difficulty in a statesmanlike manner. Scotland had adopted such a coinage at an early period, and it was even introduced into Ireland: but England held aloof; and even Elizabeth could not at first be persuaded that a copper coinage formed on a true basis would not only rid the country of the tradesmen's tokens, but also drive out all the foreign base money.
We have already referred to the artistic merit of some of the coins of Henry VII. What was said about the profile money applies generally to all his coinage, and the subsequent issues of the Tudor sovereigns, always excepting the base money, came fairly up to the same high standard or workmanship. The new silver money of Edward VI, though of somewhat different style, was very little inferior in point of execution to the profile money of Henry VII, and later on few pieces excelled in neatness of design and execution the pound sovereign of Elizabeth, which shows the bust of the queen in very low relief.

Index of eBook in

Coinage of Henry VII. 1485-1509 ___ p.71
Coinage of Henry VIII. 1509-1547 ___ p.75
- 1st Issue (1509-1526) __ p.76
- 2nd Issue (1526-1543) __ p.78
- 3rd Issue (1543) __ p.80
- 4th Issue (1544) __ p.82
- 5th Issue (1545) __ p.83
Coinage of Edward VI. 1547-1553 ___ p.85
- 1st Issue (Gold and Silver 1547) __ p.86
- 2nd Issue (Gold 1549, and Silver 1547) __ p.87
- 3rd Issue, Gold (1550) __ p.88
- 4th Issue, Gold (1552); and 3rd Issue, Silver (1551) __ p.89
Coinage of Mary (alone). 1553-1554 ___ p.91
Coinage of Philip and Mary. 1554-1558 ___ p.92
Coinage of Elizabeth. 1558-1603 ___ p.94
Coinage of James I. 1603-1625 ___ p.99

Plates 1-64:
Plate 13 (n.369-390): Richard III - Henry VII __ p.367
Plate 14 (n.393-412): Henry VIII __ p.368
Plate 15 (n.414-433): Henry VIII __ p.371
Plate 16 (n.436-456): Henry VIII - Edward VI __ p.373
Plate 17 (n.459-475): Edward VI - Mary __ p.375
Plate 18 (n.476-491): Mary - Elizabeth __ p.377
Plate 19 (n.492-510): Elizabeth __ p.379
Plate 20 (n.512-537): Elizabeth - James I __ p.381

back to English contemporaries of Charles V. on coins:
Henry VII, King of England 1485-1509
Henry VIII, King of England 1509-1547
Edward VI, King of England 1547-1553
Mary Tudor, Queen of England 1553-1558

Zurück zu Ks. Karls V. Englische Zeitgenossen auf Münzen:
Heinrich VII., König von England 1485-1509
Heinrich VIII., König von England 1509-1547
Eduard VI., König von England 1547-1553
Maria Tudor, Königin von England 1553-1558

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