Featured The lives, untimely deaths, and groats of the first five King James' of Scotland

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Nap, Sep 25, 2020.

  1. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    The lives, untimely deaths, and groats of the first five King James' of Scotland.

    From 1406-1542 the king of Scotland was named James, and there were five of them. Dynastic successors of the house of Stuart, they were descendants of Robert the Bruce through his daughter Marjorie. With an unbroken five generation regnal succession of father to son (seven really if you go back to Robert II), one might think this was a peaceful age for Scotland, compared to the violent wars of succession in England. Wrong! All of the James' faced rebellion from their subjects and conflicts with England. All five of the first James' met premature ends as well.

    James I 1406-1437: Captured by the English around the time of his father's death, he was king in exile for over a decade where he was apparently treated well by Henry V and learned from his style of leadership. When he was able to return to Scotland after Henry's death, he tried to impose a similar absolute rule on his subjects, and was eminently unsuccessful. Constantly at odds with his nobles, he was ultimately the target of an assassination plot. The story goes that James was alerted to the presence of the assassin and could've escaped, but the basement exit was locked to prevent people from stealing his tennis balls.

    James II 1437-1460: Survived the assassination of his father by quick action on the part of his mother, and was able to escape. Only a child at the time of his ascension, his early reign was dominated by his advisors, who were constantly at odds. As an adult, he became a relatively successful monarch, but remained at odds with his nobles as well as England. He spent much time campaigning, and was a fan of artillery. James II was blown to bits by one of his own cannons when the device exploded.

    James III 1460-1488: Another child king, James III was thought of as a Renaissance man, with interests in art and music, derisively considered unmanly in the chronicles. He was however a largely unsuccessful monarch. Constantly at odds with his nobles, he had a love/hate relationship with England, and attempted to court good relationship with the Yorkists, much to the chagrin of his subjects. Eventually the country fell into civil war. The rebel faction had the support, or at least the coerced acceptance of James' son the future James IV. James III and his son met in battle at Sauchieburn, and James III was killed.

    James IV 1488-1513: While a teenager at the time and probably a pawn of the larger political events, James felt a great deal of remorse for the death of his father and wore an iron chain as penance. James IV took interest in the art and science of the era, and was able to make nice with his subjects better than his predecessors. He was generally considered a good king, but like his predecessors could not avoid conflict forever. He ended up warring against Henry VIII and personally led his arm into disastrous defeat at the battle of Flodden, where James was killed. He was the last British Isles monarch to die in battle.

    James V 1513-1542: Another child king with a long regency, he was able to rule in his own right in an era of peace with England, due to the efforts of his mother, Henry VIII's aunt. Unfortunately once she died things went back to as they had been. Scotland and England clashed, in part due to the religious changes of the time, with the Reformation in England, and James fought against the English. Already sick with illness from the campaign, James suffered defeat at the battle of Solway Moss and died shortly afterwards. He had two sons who had died in infancy, and his daughter Mary was born just a few days before his death. He is storied to have said "It began with a lass and will end with a lass", referring to the Stuart dynasty starting with Marjorie Bruce, and ending with his own daughter. He was wrong about the latter, and Mary would have a long though troubled reign, and her descendants would eventually rule England and the United Kingdom.

    I regret I didn't have more time to describe the women in these stories, who were remarkable for their time, and played huge roles in the political and social history, especially with these child kings on the throne.

    The Scottish groat was introduced by David II in the 1350s and was produced throughout this time. It was the largest silver denomination in Scotland, though the value changed through various currency reforms. Larger denominations were produced during the time of Mary Queen of Scots, and the groat lost importance in Scotland (as it did in England with the introduction of the shilling).
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  3. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & avid numismatist Moderator

    Go ahead. Make me jealous, and all the more conscious of the fact that I still do not have my first Scottish coin, despite my Scots-Irish ancestry, and having collected for 44 years.

    I will, though. Oh, I will. ;)

    Those are lovely.

    PS- that bit about the tennis balls was priceless.
    bsowa1029 and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  4. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    Interesting stories. I get confused enough as it is with the 'English' kings James! I love the James III bust.

    I have a few coins of the 'English' kings, including a 'groat' (fourpence, anyway) of the 'last' King James of Scotland, James VII/II. Not quite as impressive as they were milled by then:

    James II of England, fourpence, 1686, Tower (London). 19mm, 2.0g (S. 3414).

    He hardly had an easy time of it either. His daughter and son-in-law (Mary II and William III of Orange) deposed him, mainly because he was Catholic. He tried to make a comeback through Ireland, and issued his own coins there (allegedly made out of old cannons) promising to convert them to silver when he regained his throne(s) - which he didn't, as he was finally defeated at the Battle of the Boyne (still a contentious event even today).

    James II, half crown 'gun money', May 1690, Dublin. 29mm, 11.08g (SCBC 6580B).
    Andres2, Ryro, +VGO.DVCKS and 7 others like this.
  5. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    A very impressive collection and informative write up. I have but one old Scottish coin, an ugly 1601 thistle merk of James VI:

    Scotland 1601 Merk lot Apr 2018.jpg

    Scotland AR Thistle Merk
    James VI
    Edinburgh Mint

    Cross IACOBVS . 6 . D . G . R . SCOTORVM; crowned shield / REGEM . IOVA . PROTEGIT . 1601; crowned thistle with no pellets on crown
    S 5497
    (4.02 grams / 29 mm)
  6. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    There are at least two James’s of consequence that went unmentioned in the story- Kings James VI/I and James VII/II. Also the old pretender James Francis Edward Stuart. I chose to stop the story with James V as that was the last time the groats has such importance. The four pence was produced for a few more centuries, but was eclipsed by the more important silver sixpence, shilling, halfcrown, and crown.

    I didn’t describe the Scottish groat as a fourpence, as the value kept changing. During the time of James I, the groat was worth 6 pence. By the time of James V, it was worth 18 pence.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  7. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    You know, I have no Anglo-Scotch ancestry at all. I just like the history and the coins.

    The tennis ball tale is a good one. The medieval Scots has some awfully violent and fun stories, especially when it came to clan disputes.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  8. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & avid numismatist Moderator

    Fun for us, in retrospect, I suppose. I’m not so sure it would have been all that fun to live in early modern Scotland. Or medieval or early modern anywhere, really, though Scotland seems to have been a particularly raucous place.

    Which does make for better stories when viewed from the safe distance of a few centuries.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  9. willieboyd2

    willieboyd2 First Class Poster

    Queen Mary of Scotland had an interesting life too.

    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  10. scottishmoney

    scottishmoney Bamned

    Not usually by her choice however. She had the misfortune of not having the strong character of her cousin Queen Elizabeth and was thus oft a victim of those around her, particularly Lord Bothwell.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  11. scottishmoney

    scottishmoney Bamned

    This particular coin highlights that at least in monetary ways that Scotland was at the forefront of modern coin design in Britain - the Renaissance portrait with a realistic portraiture of the monarch echoed what was transpiring on the continent with coin design. Whilst I have many a coin from David I on up to Queen Anne - not yet have I acquired this particular groat.
    +VGO.DVCKS and lordmarcovan like this.
  12. AnYangMan

    AnYangMan Well-Known Member

    Excellent examples and an equally fascinating write-up!

    Not a James, but still a groat of a Scottish king, albeit in a very dark picture worth reshooting:


    (plus an initial ‘D’ in one of the quarters of the reverse - generally thought to be of Donatus Mulekyn, a possible moneyer, although there is little direct evidence for that)

    And how about a penny of John Balliol (ex. @TheRed) from a couple years earlier just for fun?

  13. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Here's a sword ryal of 30 shillings, dated 1571, of James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, when he ascended to the throne in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I and the end of the Tudor line.

    This crown was hammer struck, with the result of many examples showing uneven and double strikes. The flans were also quite crude and not truly round.

    Also, many of these coins show a thistle revaluation countermark of 1578. This coin does not have the countermark.

    This coin was purchased from Karl Stephens in April, 1993.

    The obverse and reverse legends read as follows:

    Obverse: "James by the grace of God, King of Scotland".
    Reverse: "For me; but against me if I deserve".

    Davenport 8467
    30.4 grams
    44 mm, 10 h.

    D-Camera  Scotland, 1571, James VI, Sword Ryal, D-8467, 30.4 g., Karl Stephens, 9-25-20.jpg
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2020
    Andres2, Marsyas Mike, Edessa and 5 others like this.
  14. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    That’s quite interesting, I haven’t seen that variety before.

    I know the groats of Robert II sometimes have a ‘B’ on the coins which is supposed to be for Bonagius the moneyer who was at Edinburgh and Perth, so it would not be all that surprising if another moneyer was represented.
    +VGO.DVCKS and AnYangMan like this.
  15. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    These large silver pieces are very impressive. I have a 30 shillings of James VI before ascension, it’s a big and imposing piece that makes these groats look awfully little.

    I am working on a full set of Scottish monarchs and am down to three that I’m missing- Malcolm IV (of course), Robert the Bruce, and Mary queen of Scots (a common enough monarch but one I just haven’t found the right example of yet.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  16. AnYangMan

    AnYangMan Well-Known Member

    Interesting! The thing is that Donatus is never actually mentioned as being a mintmaster or moneyer; only his brother, Jacobus Mulekyn of Florence, is known to have been a moneyer at the Edinburgh mint. Donatus does appear in the mint accounts in 1364, the same in which Bonagio is also mentioned, but not as a moneyer. Rather, he was paid a sum of money ‘pro diversis artificiis factis ad usum regis’. A very vague account, which, if stretched to an extreme degree, could be interpreted as him having to do something with the mint. Creating jewellery (mintmasters' families, especially those 'imported' from italy, often also contained goldsmiths) for personal use by the royal family is in my opinion a more logical explanation, but who knows!
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  17. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @scottishmoney, you nailed it. ...Not that you needed it from here. I've had occasion to wonder about that 3/4ths portrait of James III. Could it have been the work of a French engraver, as a demonstration of the 'Auld Alliance,' just more specifically from the Renaissance era? By comparison, even the profile of James IV, imitating Henry VII, is something of a let-down.
    ...I have nothing vaguely along these lines except a less-than-great long-cross of Alex III, and three cut halfpennies of William the Lion. ...Even if I wanted, I probably couldn't find the .jpgs.
  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fantastic post, @Nap. A lot here to absorb.
  19. Cachecoins

    Cachecoins Historia Moneta Supporter

    Great post! Thanks.
  20. scottishmoney

    scottishmoney Bamned

    Speaking of Queen Mary of Scotland:


    22/- from 1553.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2020
  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Meanwhile, maybe the best medieval Scottish I have is a Berwick penny of Edward I. A little hesitant to post it here, partly from my own sensibilities. ...@AnYangMan's very impressive John Baliol notwithstanding (he was at least a Scot).
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