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Gold coins of King Charles I

The second Stuart King

Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. He was born into the House of Stuart as the second son of King James VI of Scotland. After his father inherited the English throne in 1603 as James I, he moved to England. After the death of his older brother Henry Frederick in 1612, he became heir apparent to the three kingdoms. Charles I ascended to the throne in 1625, the same year he married the Bourbon princess Henrietta Maria of France, who was a Roman Catholic.

Charles I Unite, Tower mint, 1625. On the obverse, the King is depicted in coronation robes. View the coin.

The gold Unite denomination was first produced during the reign of King James I and named after the legends on the coin that indicated the king’s intention of uniting the two kingdoms of England and Scotland. Numerous issues of gold unites, valued at twenty shillings, were produced at the Tower Mint throughout the reign of Charles I, both when the mint was under the king’s control and later when it was under the control of the Parliament.

Mounting discontent towards the King

Charles I Unite, Tower mint, 1627-1628. The reverse features faithful words: FLORENT CONCORDIA REGNA – Through concord kingdoms flourish. View the coin.

As King, Charles firmly believed in the divine right of kings to govern according to their own conscience. His actions were viewed by many as the actions of an absolute monarch and generated mistrust. He was fiercely opposed by the Parliament that sought to curb his royal prerogatives – multiple quarrels ensued. King’s policies were widely opposed, especially the levying of taxes without parliamentary consent. Because he was married to a Roman Catholic, his religious policies were widely opposed as well and ignited the opposition consisting of Reformed English Puritans and Scottish Covenanters. His views were deemed ‘too Catholic’ especially since he failed to help the Protestant forces successfully during the Thirty Years’ War. The position of the English and Scottish parliaments was strengthening and the discontent was mounting.

Start of the War and Wellington Declaration

An 1845 painting by Charles Landseer, The Eve of the Battle of Edge Hill. It portrays King Charles I before the battle of Edgehill that occurred on 23 October 1642.

In 1642, both sides began to raise arms. Charles raised an army using the medieval method of commission of array, and Parliament called for volunteers for its militia. Needless to say that the attempted negotiations led to no success and Charles I raised his royal standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642. The King and the Parliament were now at war. King’s forces controlled (approximately) the Midlands, Wales, the West Country and northern England. His court was now set up at Oxford. The Parliament forces controlled London, the south-east and East Anglia, as well as the English navy.  

After raising his standard, the King proceeded into Shropshire, arriving in Wellington on 19 September 1642. On 20 September he issued the famous Wellington Declaration declaring that he would uphold ‘the Protestant Religion, the Laws of England, and the Liberty of Parliament’.

Charles I Triple Unite, Oxford mint, 1642. Few of these huge coins exist today; they are widely prized as some of the most impressive artistic expressions of the turbulent era in English history. 

This Triple Unite represents the largest hammered gold coins ever made. This is coin was minted in Oxford and issued in 1642. This was because the Tower mint fell into the hands of the Parliament – Charles was forced to open mints in Royalist western England, at Oxford and Shrewsbury and even further west. This extraordinary coin features a crowned and armoured half-length portrait of the King, holding a sword and an olive branch. On the reverse is a continuous scroll with the abbreviated motto from the declaration. This piece was struck with a goal to reinforce the image and the waning power of the King. The motto from the Wellington Declaration appears on many of his coins, however, in largest form on the famed Triple Unites, which carried immense ‘face value’.

Charles I Halfcrown, Oxford mint, 1644. The so-called ‘Declaration Issue’ depicting Charles I on horseback and the motto from the declaration. An example of the Wellington Declaration motto struck on lesser coin denominations. View the coin.

The aftermath and the road to Parliamentary Monarchy

After a series of defeats from 1644-1646, the King surrendered to the Scottish forces at Newark. In June of the same year, his headquarters at Oxford were captured as well. On 30 January 1647, the Scottish forces handed the King to the English Parliament forces. Charles attempted to exploit the growing divisions between various opposition forces, bargain and negotiate with interested parties, although most of the efforts led to little or no avail. The King refused to accept his captors’ demands for a constitutional monarchy. He even managed to even briefly escape and forge an alliance with Scotland in 1648 to invade England. However, Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army consolidated its control over England and crushed Royalists chances of winning the war, successfully defeating them at the Battle of Preston in August 1648.

A painting by Edward Bower, Portrait of King Charles I of England at his trial, January 1649, from c. 1650.

On 30 January 1649, King Charles I was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason. After his demise, the ancient divine right of kings, that Charles I so eagerly believed as the foundation and justification of his power, ended across the land. The Commonwealth of England was now established as a republic. However, within a decade from Charles I execution and Cromwell’s rule as the Lord Protector, monarchy would be restored to Charles’s son, King Charles II. Upon Restoration in 1660, Charles II entered London in triumphal manner – England became a parliamentary monarchy in both name and powers granted to governing bodies.


Carlton, C. (1995), Charles I: The Personal Monarch, Routledge

Cust, R. (2005), Charles I: A Political Life, Pearson Education

Gregg, P. (1981), King Charles I, Dent

Loades, D. M. (1974), Politics and the Nation, Fontana

This article is written by Ema Sikic.

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