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Silver coins of King Charles I

Portrait by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, King Charles I of England (1600-1649), three-quarter portrait, 1632. Wikimedia Commons.

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. In this blog, we will look into the silver coinage of Charles I. More information on the gold coins of Charles I can be found here.

The turbulent reign of Charles I is interesting both historically and numismatically. It saw the inception of machine-made coins with distinguished pieces produced by Nicholas Briot. He was a prominent pioneering French engraver, medallist and mechanical engineer. However, at this time, machine-made coins could not be struck fast enough to satisfy the demand and to replace hammering practice.

Welsh silver

Charles I (1625-49), Shilling, Aberystwyth mint. Struck in 1638/9-1642.
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In 1637 a mint was set up in Aberystwyth, to make silver coins with silver from Welsh mines. Dies were supplied from the Tower mint. The Aberystwyth had a distinctive mintmark of a book, as shown on the obverse of the pictured coin. The silver mines in Wales were well known before the time of Charles I, however, he was the first to formalize their output and set up a mint within the Castle of Aberystwyth. The original deed from 30th July 1637 shows that the grantee was authorized to coin the halfcrown, shilling, halfshilling, twopence and penny denominations from Welsh silver only. Later in October, a commission added the groat, threepence and halfpenny as well.

Civil War Silver

Charles I (1625-49), Half Pound, 1642, Oxford mint. Struck in 1642.
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In 1642, both Parliament and the Royalists began to raise arms after years of mounting discontent and disagreements. Negotiations proved fruitless and Charles I raised his royal standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642 marking the start of the Civil 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. The King arrived to Wellington on 19 September 1642 and 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’.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Charles I, 1644. Wikimedia Commons.

During the Civil War coins were struck in many different provincial mints to supply the coinage for the territories under Royalist control. Many of these coins feature an abbreviated form of the Wellington Declaration on the reverse. Among the most significant silver pieces are the pounds and half-pounds struck at Shrewsbury and Oxford. Some of the war mints include Bridgnorth, Worcester, and Truro. Even after the schism with Charles I, the Parliament continued to issue coins with Charles’ name and portrait until his trial.

Charles I (1625-49), Groat, 1646. Struck in Bridgnorth on Severn mint. With abbreviated Declaration on the reverse.
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From this time we also have the so-called emergency or siege piece coinage. Some of these come in odd shapes as they were made from silver plate during the sieges of Newark, Scarborough, Carlisle and Pontefract. Of these mints, Newark was most fruitful and most siege money known today survives from there. To mint the money, Royalist noblemen and gentlemen gave up their silverware, flagons and cups, which were shaped into distinctive the lozenge-shaped coins. Sometimes, the pattern of the cup is still visible on the coin. Siege money of this period is very collectable.

Charles I (1625-49), Shilling, 1646. Struck in Newark.
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The Protectorate and Oliver Cromwell

On 30 January 1649, King Charles I was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason. The Protectorate was established on 16th December 1653. The work on production on Cromwell portrait coins was authorised in 1655 – their first full production came in 1657. All of the Cromwell portrait coins were machine-made in the presses of another Frenchman – Pierre Blondeau – who was tasked with re-introducing milled coinage to UK. He was also a pioneer in stamping the letters onto the edge of coins, beginning a new era in British numismatics.

This article is written by Ema Sikic.

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