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 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 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 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. The Tower of London 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 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.