Featured Medieval - "All the moneyers who were in England should be mutilated"

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Jan 26, 2017.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    This was the order given by King Henry I in 1125. Specifically, they should each "lose their right hand and be castrated."1 According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bishop Roger of Salisbury rounded up the moneyers in the city of Winchester and carried out the grisly order. Henry actually had a history of difficulty with the mints of England. Around 1108, Henry ordered that all coins from the mint should be 'snicked;' cut or mutilated before leaving the mint.2 The coins in circulation were being cut to test their purity, and this caused many to not accept the coins, since portions were cut off and made the coins a lesser weight. Henry's solution was for the creation of round half-pennies, and for every full penny to come pre-cut.

    Henry I meets with envoys from France. Picture from a BBC History Extra Article regarding Henry and the moneyers.

    In the case of 1125, the Coinage was becoming very debased. In fact, the Chronicler praises Henry's punishment of the moneyers, saying the action was justified because "the man who had a pound could not get a pennyworth at a market."3 In some ways, the moneyers almost couldn't be blamed. There had not been any serious silver deposits found in Europe since 1040, and the silver of Europe was primarily draining towards Italy and the East through trade.4 The silver supply would be further strained by the continued Anglo-Saxon practice of requiring a recoinage every few years. By only permitting the newest type to be used to pay fines or royal rents, this required people to exchange their coins, and the moneyers could charge a fee for the privilege. A portion of that fee would go to the king, and if a lower finesse was used in the new coinage, then more profits could be made.5 People would naturally hold on to older, more fine coins for personal transactions, and it would seem to the moneyers that the supply of silver was seriously dwindling.

    The documentary evidence of Henry's decree concerning the moneyers lends evidence to dating his coins. M.A.S. Blackburn conducted a study of the types of Henry's coins and attempted to lend a chronology to them.6 One of the few certain types were those of 'Type 15' containing a Quadrilateral on Cross Fleury on the reverse. These are fairly certain to have been minted after the purge of the moneyers in 1125, as the number of mints and moneyers who produced these coins dropped dramatically from previous issues. I managed to stumble across one of these type 15 coins recently. It's certainly not pretty, but few of the affordable issues of Henry I are. While the flan is very irregular and damaged, the king's portrait is clear, and there is just enough of the legend on the reverse to make out the mint and moneyer.

    09a-Eng-1125-Henry I-D-15-Bury St. Edmunds-Gilebert-871.jpg
    Henry I, r. 1100-1135 (1125-1135)
    Bury St. Edmunds AR Penny, 17.16 mm x 0.8 grams
    Obv.: +hEN[R]I[CVS]. Bust facing crowned and diademed, head three-quarters left, sceptre in right hand
    Rev.: [+]G[ILEBE]RT[:ON]:E[DM]N. Quadrilateral with incurved sides and lis at each angle over cross fleury
    Ref.: North 871, SCBC 1276, De Wit 3186

    This coin was minted by Gilebert from Bury St. Edmunds. Martin Allen performed a die study on the 'Type 14' issues, and it does not appear Gilebert issued any of this previous type.7 This suggests he was a replacement for one of the previous moneyers. The mint of Bury St. Edmunds was under the direction of the Abbot, who was Anselm of St. Saba, nephew to the more famous St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm the nephew was likely appointed simply because of his relation to his uncle, and did not seem to do much as abbot. The ruins of the Abbey still stand, and the burial row of the medieval abbots has been found (they were buried in the refectory/dining hall), unfortunately Anselm was not among them...

    'Abbots' Row' at Bury St. Edmunds during excavations of 1903. I had the pleasure of visiting here twice in the early 2000s, and was quite pleased to find the grave of abbot Samson (second to last). Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

    The order to mutilate the moneyers seems to have come as a result of events happening in Normandy. Henry had wrested the Duchy from his eldest brother, Robert Curthose, when the latter went off on Crusade. Robert's son, William Clito, naturally resisted when given the opportunity. According to Robert de Torigni, a chronicler from Mont St. Michel, some money from England had arrived to pay his soldiers who were fighting Clito and a rebellious count. According to de Torigni, "...almost all the moneyers of the English kingdom produced, I do not know by what wicked perversity, money out of tin containing scarcely one-third of silver, whereas it should have consisted of pure silver."8 This is interesting not only because de Torigni is another chronicler who praised Henry's actions, but that we have another reason why silver was leaving England. Normandy had their own coinage, and were not reliant on England to provide pay for soldiers.

    05a-FNor-1106-Henry I-D-XX-13.jpg
    French Feudal, Normandy
    Henry I, r. 1106-1135
    AR Denier, 19.53 mm x 0.9 grams
    Obv.: +NOR[M]MANIA. Short Cross with pellets in each quarter
    Rev.: Short cross with annulets and bars on either side, triangle above and below
    Ref.: Dumas XX-13, Roberts, 4837 reverse

    The coinage of Normandy is a difficult series to place. The coins produced after Duke William I 'longsword' and his successor Richard I are often cruder and of a lesser quality. Some cataloguers, like Duplessy, simply ignore them, attributing all to Richard II.9 There has been some attempts to attribute the various distinguishable types. François Dumas attempted to do so in an exhaustive study in 1979. In his article, "Les Monnaies Normandes (Xe-XIIe Siècles) avec un Répertoire des Trouvailles," Dumas established five different 'groups' to which each type could belong (called simply 'A' 'B' 'B/C' 'C' and 'D').10 The above Denier Dumas suggested belonged to the time of William the Conqueror, and that the successive issues which contain the names of moneyers belonged to the reign of Robert Curthose.11 In 2005, Jens Christian Moesgaard established a different and wider chronology, suggesting the above coin actually belongs to the years between 1075-1130, or the time of Robert Curthose and Henry I as dukes.12 Roberts attributes the type to Henry I with no explanation.13

    An interesting element to this coin, however, is the inscription on the obverse. It's a little easier to see in hand, but the legend spells out 'NORMMANIA' with an 'I' whereas most of these issues seem to spell 'NORMMANNA.' Dumas suggested that the 'I' was simply missing from most inscriptions, and the plural of the noun may indicate there were multiple mints in Normandy, not just Rouen.14 So my coin seems to have the missing 'I,' but is itself missing an 'N.' Such is the variances of Medieval Latin...

    To return to the historical context of the coin, Perhaps this was also a coin used to pay Henry's troops in addition to the English pennies, or maybe they were just meant for local commerce. It's hard to say. Nonetheless, both of the Norman and English coins of Henry seem to have fallen into my lap near one another at a reasonable price, and I had to snatch them up!

    1 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Revised Translation by Dorothy Whitelock, David C. Douglas, and Susie I. Tucker (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1961), year 1125.
    2 Emma Mason, 'Administration and Government' in A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World, ed. Christopher Harper-Bill and Elisabeth van Houts (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2002), 152.
    3 ASC, year 1125.
    4 Peter Spufford, Money and its Use in Medieval Europe, (Cambridge: University Press, 1989), 95.
    5 C. Warren Hollister, Henry I (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 354.
    6 Mark Blackburn, 'Coinage and Currency under Henry I: A Review' in Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 13 (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1991), 49-81.
    7 M. Allen. “Henry I type 14” in British Numismatic Journal, 79 (2009), 72-171.
    8 Robert de Torigni, Gesta Normannorum Ducum, ed. and trans., Elisabeth van Houts, vol. II (Oxford: University Press, 1995), 236-239.
    9 Jean Duplessy, Les monnaies françaises féodales, vol. 1 (Paris: Need Publisher, 2004).
    10 Françoise Dumas, 'Les monnaies normandes (Xe-XIIe siècles) avec un répertoire des trouvailles,' in Revue Numismatique, 6th series, vol. 21 (1979), 84-140.
    11 Ibid., 93-4.
    12 Jens Christian Moesgaard, 'Monnaies normandes dans les régions baltiques à l'époque viking' in Revue Numismatique, 6th series, vol. 161 (2005), 130.
    13 James N. Roberts. The Silver Coins of Medieval France, 476-1610 AD. (South Salem, NY: Attic Books, 1996).
    14 Dumas, 'monnaies normandes,' 93-4.

    N.B. - I'm still working on my photo set-up, so I used my old photography method for these coins...
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017
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  3. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus

    Interesting coins. Thanks for the great writeup. I really liked reading about the moneyers.
  4. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    Nice post on a somewhat overlooked period of British history. The Anglo-Saxon period and Conquest, and the subsequent Anarchy and Plantagenet periods seem much more interesting to students of history than the Norman period.

    Similarly the coins of this period are some of the ugliest coins ever produced. Most are weakly and unevenly struck, with incomplete legends, irregular shaped flans, and varying quality of silver. A fully struck coin of Henry Beauclerc (or Stephen of Blois) is a great rarity indeed and will sell for many multiples of the price guide.

    Here is my only Henry I:

    BM type X. Has the official "edge snick" at 4:00, as well as a small chip (or perhaps a second test cut) at 12:00. Moneyer Godwine, mint Thetford.

    I don't have any Normandy coinage, but have been meaning to add one. I don't think the attribution of the William-Robert-Henry coins will ever be particularly secure, they are practically impossible to read, even by medieval coin standards! I have seen them "claim" to say "Robert" or "William" but I have a hard time accepting the interpretation of the legend.

    There are neater coins of Richard I "the Fearless" which is a good type coin for early Normandy, priced to fit most people's budget with thousands of high grade examples recovered from the Fecamp hoard.
  5. Valentinian

    Valentinian Well-Known Member

    @FitzNigel, that was a remarkable writeup. I remark upon it. Thank you.
    +VGO.DVCKS, Deacon Ray and FitzNigel like this.
  6. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Have none of him but great write up and coins.
    +VGO.DVCKS and Deacon Ray like this.
  7. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    That was a great write up and interesting. I have no coins to share.
    Deacon Ray and FitzNigel like this.

    KIWITI Well-Known Member

    I don´t usually read long write ups, but yours just got me into it.

    What a wonderful historical period, such a nice set of coins you got there. Congrats!
    Kentucky, Deacon Ray and FitzNigel like this.
  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Thank you all - I wasn't looking for either, but they found me at the right price.

    Fantastic coin, Nap! And I'm glad you could post an example which contained a snick - it helps further illustrate what was happening between Henry and moneyers (now if we could just find someone with a round half penny... although I think those are all in museums...).

    As you say, these coins are terribly expensive, hence why I didn't mind picking up a ragged one with a good portrait and partial legend. That fills my requirement! Maybe after I've paid off my student loans and mortgage I'll make a move on a better example...
    +VGO.DVCKS and Kentucky like this.
  10. Aethelred

    Aethelred The Old Dead King

    I am currently listening to a podcast series called "History of England" put out by a fellow called David Crowther. Very interesting stuff, I recommend giving it a listen if you are interested in early England. I am currently on the episodes that cover the reign of Henry I, so I found this especially interesting, thank you for sharing!
    +VGO.DVCKS and FitzNigel like this.
  11. Aethelred

    Aethelred The Old Dead King

    And the Abbot's Row photo was awesome!
  12. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    My Ph.D. is in medieval studies but I do not collect medieval coins, with the exception of 2 or 3. I collect ancient Roman coins because the Emperors provide a more systematic way of organizing them in my mind; I'm not sure why English kings don't do the same for me. Perhaps it's the prohibitive cost of some of the medieval issues. At any rate, it is fine articles such as this one that give me a "way into" the narratives of the coinage and inspire me to consider picking up a few along the way. This brief essay is a real service to the casual collector like me who is pretty ignorant of the numismatic history of the period. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
  13. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Thanks Gavin - my doctorate was also in medieval history, particularly the 12th century. My focus was mostly on Henry II, and sadly I don't have any of his coins from England... (just this one from Aquitaine:)
    05a-FAqu-1152-Henry II-1-2-1a.jpg
    French Feudal, Aquitaine
    Henry II, r. 1152-1168
    Bordeaux Mint, BL Denier, 16.57mm x 0.8 grams
    Obv.: +hENRICVS REX, cross pattée
    Rev.: º+º / AQVI / TANI / ºEº, in four lines;
    Ref.: AGC 2 (1/a), Duplessy 1030, Roberts 3881, SCBC 8001
    Ex. R.D. Frederick Collection. Ex. A.H. Baldwin

    I find that knowing the history of medieval Europe, as well as Latin and Paeleography eases the way into Medieval Coins. They certainly don't contain the same beauty of style, or the ease of inscriptions that we get in Roman coins...
    +VGO.DVCKS, TheRed, Ryro and 11 others like this.
  14. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Well-Known Member

    A great write-up, thanks

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  15. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    I know a lot of Roman collectors like to put together a set of the 12 Caesars, or even ambitiously try to get one coin from as many emperors as possible. In your estimation, how feasible is it for a collector to try to get one coin from each English monarch from William I through, say, Elizabeth I? Is that a reasonable ambition?
    +VGO.DVCKS, Paul M. and FitzNigel like this.
  16. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Not on a budget - William II is nearly impossible, and Matilda is even more so if you wanted to include her. Henry I and II are hard to fine in good condition (as is Stephen), and William I is expensive simply because of his place in history. Richard III is tough as well.

    Now, it is doable, and I hope to do it myself! But, it is a long term project, and one where you will have to make compromises if you're on a budget (Hence my Henry coin is not much of a looker, but the price was right!)
  17. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Artist & Historian Supporter

    Very interesting essay, FitzNigel! I wish I'd had you as a history professor when I was in school! It wouldn't have been as painful as it was! LOL!

    Medieval Europe is a period of history that most Americans don't study very much outside of "Renaissance festivals" and "Medieval Times Dinner Theaters". Most think of medieval as the distant past. In reality it was not that long ago. If you define the "Late Middle Ages" as roughly 1300 through 1500—that is only a little over 500 years ago. The lifespan of 6 healthy human beings (83 years) end to end is 500 years. We don't think of 6 lifespans as being that long.
    +VGO.DVCKS and FitzNigel like this.
  18. tibor

    tibor Supporter! Supporter

    A very well researched and written article. Do you write
    for any publications ie. The Numismatist ?
    +VGO.DVCKS and FitzNigel like this.

    RAGNAROK Naebody chaws me wi impunitY

    (Félicitations, FitzNigel, un travail très intéressant et très bien écrit!).

    A very interesting site for all our forum friends who know French:

  20. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Thank you Tibor! I do not, but have contemplated submitting articles. I think my own desire for perfection might get in my way of actually publishing (hence why I'm a bad academic in the current environment...)

    @RAGNAROK - very interesting site! Thank you! I was just contemplating why more hasn't been done with Norman coins, as there are a lot of varieties out there (even though attribution is near impossible...)
    +VGO.DVCKS and RAGNAROK like this.

    RAGNAROK Naebody chaws me wi impunitY

    quaerere et invenire... ;)
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