Featured William the Conqueror Founds the British Monarchy

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by johnmilton, Jul 11, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Here I am again ... "locked down" (Not officially, but actual none the less) in Florida. It's going on five months now, and there is no end in sight. So, let's pull another article out of the archives. I have not bothered to revise it from its 2014 origins, but I have purchased a lot of coins. I will add them in where it seems appropriate. I hope you enjoy it.

    Last fall I had the pleasure of visiting England for the first time. One thing that really struck me was the age of the buildings that are still standing there, and the length of English history. Americans think of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which opened in 1753, as "old." Paul Revere's House in Boston, which was built in the 1680s and is oldest structure still standing in a major American city, almost seems "ancient." Yet buildings of that age in England are almost "modern" given that there are structures like the White Tower of London, which was built prior to 1100.

    My trip to England rekindled my interest in English coinage, and at the most recent FUN show I added a few English pieces to my collection. One of the great things about English coinage is that most of them feature a portrait of an English king or queen, and the stories of those past rulers are often more interesting than fiction. Here is the story of William the Conqueror who ruled before anyone in Europe (aside from the Vikings) was even aware that the American continents existed.

    William I, a.k.a. William the Conqueror

    The future first King of (Norman controlled) England was born as the illegitimate son of Robert the Devil (who was also called the Magnificent), the Duke of Normandy, in 1027. Although he was known as William the Bastard, his illegitimacy probably did not carry much of a stigma. His father and his uncle were the first members of his family who had been born “without the benefit of marriage" for a number of years.

    William's father died in1035, and William became duke at age seven or eight. During his time as a juvenile duke he was under the protection of three guardians who were all assassinated. Before the age of 20 William was forced to put down a group of malcontents who were looking to remove him from the control of his duchy. In those days holding a royal title often required both family connections and military force.

    Edward Confessor.jpg

    Edward the Confessor Penny, Ruled 1042 to 1066

    In 1051 William visited his cousin, Edward the Confessor, who was King of England (1042 - 66). During this visit William claimed that Edward, who had no children, expressed a desire that the young duke might succeed him. This planted a seed that would have a far reaching effect upon English history. In 1053 William married Matilda of Flanders, who a descendent of an early English king, Alfred the Great (871-99). Matilda's family connections to the English thrown may have been a partial motivation for the marriage. The Pope objected to this union, and it was not until 1059 when he gave it his blessing in exchange for the founding of two abbeys at William's expense.

    Alfred the Great.jpg

    Alfred the Great Penny, Ruled 871 to 899

    Edward the Confessor died in 1066, and Harold II was elected king by a group of British noblemen despite the fact that he had no hereditary right to the throne. Harold faced considerable opposition. From the south his kingdom faced raids from forces under his exiled brother, Tostig, who fled to Scotland. From the north Norwegian King, Harald Hardrada, landed on the British isles and joined forces with Tostig. Harold II offered Tostig control of one third of his kingdom in return his support, but offered the Norwegian king only "six feet of ground" (a grave). Tostig turned down his brother's offer with contempt and the stage was set for a climactic battle.

    Harold II.jpg

    Harold II Penny, Ruled January to October 1066

    On September 25 Harold's forces inflicted a crushing defeat on the combined armies of Harald and Tostig at Stamford Bridge. Both Harald and Tostig were killed. Harold II made peace with the Norwegian king's son, Olaf, and the Norwegians sailed back to their country.

    No sooner had Harold put down one invasion, he was faced with another as William of Normandy landed at Hastings on September 29. Despite the fact that Harold's forces were ragged and tired from their recent battle, they were compelled to repel another group of attackers. At the Battle of Hastings William the Conqueror defeated Harold's forces, killing Harold in the process. William was now the King of England, and on Christmas day 1066 he was crowned king at Westminster Abby. During the coronation some of William's soldiers heard shouts from the nave of the church, which led them to believe that there was a rebellion in progress. They set fire to some of the surrounding structures, but when the king emerged through the church doorway, the commotion ended.

    Over the next five years William consolidated his rule by building castles and establishing the feudal system in England. In 1086 William commissioned the Domesday Book which recorded the names of all the landowners and tenants in England. These records established the basis for the feudal system which would control many aspects of the people's lives for more than three centuries.

    Tower of London Best.jpg

    The Tower of London

    Tower of london aerial view.jpg

    The Tower Complex, Aerial View

    One of William's most famous fortifications was the White Tower, which continues to be the centerpiece of the Tower of London the most famous British castle. The White Tower sent two messages to the English population. First, William had the military strength to opposed any invaders, which had been a problem for the British for many years. Second, William also had the military might to quell any civil uprising that anyone who opposed him might contemplate.

    By 1071 William had solidified his hold on England to the extent where he could return to Normandy to maintain his territorial strength there. Over time rivalries developed between William and his French rivals, the King of France and the Count of Anjou who was supported by William's oldest son, Robert. By the latter part of the 1080s William had become rather fat, and the King of France made fun of his corpulence. William rose to the bait and swore that he would "set all France ablaze."

    In the summer of 1087, a French garrison at Mantes raided the Norman border. William retaliated by sacking and burning the town. During this action William's horse stumbled on a hot cinder, and William sustained a fatal intestinal injury when his abdomen struck the pommel of his saddle. He died some days later on September 8th or 9th, 1087.

    Overall William I was viewed as just but stern leader. His rule established the English monarchy which has been in place with minor interruptions for almost 950 years.

    William Conquorer.jpg

    William The Conqueror Penny, Ruled 1066 to 1087

    William I Coinage

    The coinage of William the Conqueror was little changed from that of Saxon kings. It consisted of silver pennies exclusively which were produced by almost 70 mints that were located around England. William standardized the weight of the penny at 22 ⅟₂ grains with a purity of 92.5 fine silver. This standard would remain in place for 200 years and would make the English penny the best and most reliable currency in Europe. Discipline over the quality of the English penny was maintained by severe penalties for any moneyer who failed to maintain the legal standard. As was true of virtually all medieval coinage, the king's portrait bore no resemblance to the monarch. It consisted of a cartoonish face with crown on it. This practice would continue for almost 400 years.

    What was a penny (d.) worth in medieval times? For much of the middle ages it was a day's salary for the lowest level worker, such as a woman or a child. A laborer received 1⅟₂ to 2⅟₂ d. per day depending upon the length of his workday. An ordinary foot soldier got 2 to 3 d. per day, and an educated tradesman could earn 8 to 9 d. per day. A knight was paid 1 shilling per day which was 12 d.

    For that penny one could buy two dozen eggs, or for 2 to 3 d. a gallon of wine. Of course no one is around today who could tell us how good that wine was. Butter or Cheese was ⅟₂ d. per pound. In general many people lived by a system of barter, but has time moved on money become more and more important to the medieval economy. Ultimately it would allow people to save which gave them a chance to buy their freedom from serfdom which would be a major advance in human rights.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Nice article and coins. Thanks for sharing.
  4. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    It is an unusual time, thanks for the interesting write-up and coins. Here is a modern coin by comparison from William the Conqueror's great-great-great-great-great-grandson....or something like that, by way of daughter Mathilda, Edward I:
    Edward I Penny Lincoln.jpg
    AR Penny of Edward I, Class 3 AD 1272-1307 Lincoln
    Crowned facing bust, with three pellets on breast. Legend "EDWR ANGL DNS hYB"
    Rev: Long cross dividing legend, three pellets in each quarter. Legend "CIVI-TAS-LIN-COL"
    Size: 19.5mm, 1.3g
  5. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    Great post, thank you! When I was at school, William I was the 'start' of English history. 1066 is perhaps the most well-known date in England. As you say, he built buildings that lasted, and established systems and standards that lasted (not unlike Napoleon). Importantly, he got things recorded and written down (unlike the Saxons before him or quite a few monarchs after him), so we have that history today.

    In that context it is a little odd he didn't do much different with his coinage, although establishing a lasting quality standard is exactly what you'd expect from him.

    Sadly, I don't have a William I coin (yet). I do have one of his much, much less illustrious son, William II (which look very similar to William I's). The stars either side of William's head 'may' have represented Halley's Comet (which appeared in 1066), other comets in 1075 and 1097, or the annular solar eclipse in 1093, all thought to be good omens. I believe William I featured stars on his coins for the same reason (Halley's Comet and his Conquest of England nicely coinciding in 1066):


    William II Penny, 1092-1095, voided cross type, Wulfword moneyer, 1.38g. N.853; S.1260; Hawkins 250
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
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  6. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter

    Yes, and in my day, usually followed by 55 BC.
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  7. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    The William II, or "Rufus" penny is a lot tougher than the William I coin. Getting a William I coin mostly takes money. You have to wait in line to get a decent Rufus. I have had two on them. This is my current piece, which is the same variety as your piece. I think that this is the most common Rufus.

    William II.jpg

    I traded up from this one, which was really high grade, but made with a broken die.

    William II no face.jpg

    The quality of the British coinage really went down from William II and didn't get better until the later coinage of Henry II.

    I think that Henry I's coins were the worst. This ground salvage piece is the second best one I have seen. I was out bid on a somewhat better one. It went for 10 times what I paid for this one. The coin cap is probably holding it together.

    Henry I.jpg

    Henry I, who was William II's brother, became king after Rufus (William II) died in a "hunting accident." Henry was high tailing it to London to claim the treasury and the crown before his bother's body was cold.
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  8. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    The old saying is that the only thing worse than being the king's enemy is to be his brother. How many examples of this can we find in history?
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  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I’m glad we can acknowledge that William did not establish a high quality of coins in England - that was the Anglo-Saxon tradition which he preserved, and began to quickly disappear under William II before being restored by the Angevins. Here is my Henry I in a similar state:
    Med-09a-Eng-1125-Henry I-D-15-Bury St. Edmunds-Gilebert-871.jpg England
    Henry I, r. 1100-1135 (1125-1135)
    Bury St. Edmunds Mint, 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
    (And for the record, the treasury was in Winchester, not London)

    but you have a lot of gorgeous coins @johnmilton! I’m impressed by TWO Rufuses (Rufae?) and the Harold Godwinson! A William I is on my eventual list - at the moment I can only claim some of his issue from Normandy (although we don’t know for certain if he issued these...)
    Med-05a-FNor-1075-William II-D-XX-23var.jpg
    Feudal France - Normandy
    William II-William Clito/Henry I, r. 1035-1135 (1075-1130)
    AR Denier, 19.02 mm x 1.0 grams
    Obv.: +NORMANNIA. Patriarchal Cross with two pellets below. Legend begins at 3h
    Rev.: Church pediment, containing pellet, surmounted by cross, the letters P A X within semicircles on each side
    Ref.: Dumas XX-23 variety; Ex. Richard A. Jourdan Collection
    Note: Dumas group C et D according to Moesgaard

    Of all the Norman issues I have, this is most likely issued by the Conqueror (William II in Normandy), because of the inclusion of ‘PAX’ on the reverse, much like his issue from England. We’ll probably never know for sure, however...

    Attached Files:

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  10. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    No, only ONE William II. The first one helped finance the second one.
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  11. Nathan401

    Nathan401 Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Thanks John! I always look forward to your write-ups.
  12. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    Edward I
    AR Penny
    19mm 1.3g
    Class 10c 1302-1310
    Canterbury mint
    facing star -
    Voided long cross 3 pellets quarters
    North 1040
    Ex: @Mat
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  13. green18

    green18 Unknown member Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

  14. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    Nice one.
    I’m still lacking a William I coin (I know, it’s the easier one) but here are coins of William II and Henry I:



    Like you initially did, I have sacrificed central detail on the Rufus penny for technical grade and surface preservation.

    On Henry I, it’s hard to find a nice example but certain types, such as type XIV (this type), come a little nicer in general
  15. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter

    The only coin I have to contribute is this Longshanks penny:

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