Saturday, March 02, 2013

Tay's research snippet. Mint condition: the coin of the realm

Before the research snippet, a note to say I'm currently on blog tour for the USA publication of Shadows and Strongholds and various bloggers will be hosting my guest posts and doing giveaways.  At the moment Enchanted by Josephine are hosting one where I write about my working day.  I'll post the notifications as they come along.

Coinage of the realm: A few notes before I have to go and prepare for my Saturday visitors!

In the period I write about there was only one coin in England - the silver penny. It was about the size of an adult person's thumb nail - see photo. A mark of silver wasn't a coin, but a unit of measure consisting of 13 shillings and four pence. There were 12 pennies in a shilling, so you'd need 160 of them to make a mark. The measure is originally a Viking one.
If you needed to pay for something that cost less than a penny, you would split you silver penny in half down the cross in the middle and it would naturally become a 'half-penny', later to become a fully rounded coin on its own. If you needed smaller change still, then you cut the coin again and so there were four sections, and one of these sections would be a 'fourthing', later to become a 'farthing.'
As mentioned in a post earlier this week, Henry I decreed that broken silver should be acceptable coinage of the realm and that tradesmen were not to refuse it.
The quality of the silver was highly important because the coinage was a unit of weight rather than just a token. Each year at the exchequer, samples of coins were melted down to test how pure the silver was with which the sheriffs were paying in the dues from their areas. If discrepancies were found, then the offending batch of pennies was taken out of service, bored through or otherwise rendered voice and taken for the King's use, presumably to be reminted into proper coinage. When Henry I discovered that the coinage of his realm was being adulterated, he summoned the moneyers to his Christmas court in Winchester in 1125. One by one they had their right hands and their testicles cut off, the punishments being completed by 12th night.
An interesting random fact is that neither King Richard I, nor King John put their own names on English pennies. All the coins from their reigns are marked Henricus Rex. However, in 1205, his Dublin mint put out coins with his name and portrait on.

There's a lot more to say on this fascinating subject, but for another time.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This makes me want to purchase an old coin on eBay... So cool.