O’Brien Coin Guide: Irish ‘Regal Halfpennies’ of William & Mary


In 1660, the crown prince (later James II) married Anne Hyde, daughter of Charles II’s chief minister and they had two surviving children, Mary and Anne (both raised as Protestants) but in 1669, Prince James converted to Catholicism and took a stand against a number of anti-Catholic moves, including the Test Act of 1673.

  • This did not impede his succession to the throne on Charles’ death in 1685.
  • Later that year James faced rebellion, led by Charles II’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth. The rebellion was easily crushed after the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, and savage punishments were imposed by the infamous lord chief justice, Judge Jeffreys, at the ‘Bloody Assizes’. Monmouth himself was messily beheaded.

This, together with James’s attempts to give civic equality to Roman Catholic and Protestant dissenters, led to conflict with parliament.

  • In 1685, James (like his father, Charles I) prorogued Parliament and ruled alone
  • He attempted to promote Catholicism by appointing Catholics to military, political and academic posts.
  • In 1687, he issued a Declaration of Indulgence aiming at complete religious toleration and instructed Anglican clergy to read it from their pulpits.
  • In June 1688, James’s second wife Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward.

Fearing that a Catholic succession was now assured, a group of Protestant nobles appealed to William of Orange, husband of James’s eldest daughter Mary. What began as the Glorious Revolution (a bloodless coup) ended in one of the bloodiest conflicts in Irish history (the Williamite Wars).

  • William III of Orange was now William III of England & Ireland
    • He was also styled as William II of Scotland.
  • Although crowned in 1688, William did not gain full control over Ireland until late in the year of 1691 and once he had control, the immense task of restoring economic activity lay ahead
    • When Limerick surrendered in October 1691, and 11,000 Irish soldiers left for France in the ‘Flight of the Wild Geese’, Ireland was broken militarily and broke financially.
    • Ireland was flooded with a base metal coinage – worth a fraction of its ‘promissory’ face value
  • One of the first initiatives, was to restore the currency
    • William first thought about ‘outlawing’ the use of James’s gunmoney
    • Realising it was the predominant currency in Ireland and circulating widely, he then re-valued it to intrinsic metal value
  • When William re-valued gunmoney coins to their actual metal worth, it had disastrous consequences
    • It served as a means of penalising those who had not supported him
    • Traders as well as civilian supporters of James II were left impoverished as their money was now worth a fraction of what it once was

In 1692, William & Mary introduced a new regal halfpenny – very similar to the style of the previous coppers of Charles II and James II – dated 1692, ’93 and ’94. Mary died in 1694 and William continued to reign alone.

William & Mary, halfpenny, 1692, (S6597) Edge flaw, good very fine and scarce

William & Mary, halfpenny, 1692, (S6597) Edge flaw, good VF. Scarce in this condition

Year William & Mary – Halfpenny Poor Good Fine VF EF Unc
1692 GRATIA €1 €5 €20 €50 €175
1692 GRLTIL €2 €10 €25 €75 €275
1693 Milled Edge €1 €5 €10 €50 €175
1693 Plain Edge €1 €5 €15 €75 €250
1693 Proof in Silver  (unique?) €16,000
1694 MARIA €1 €5 €20 €50 €175
1694 MA.RIA (pellet) €1 €5 €25 €75 €275
William & Mary, halfpenny, 1693 (S6597). Condition = Fine, with some pitting evident.

William & Mary, halfpenny, 1693 (S6597). Condition = Fine, with some pitting evident.

The so-called Glorious Revolution, when William and Mary effectively ended the reign of Mary’s father (James II) was a huge historical importance for the three kingdoms – England, Scotland and Ireland.

  • They co-signed the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
    • This action both signaled the end of several centuries of tension and conflict between the crown and parliament
    • It also finally put an end to the idea that England would be ever be restored to Roman Catholicism
  • This Bill of Rights also inspired the English colonists in the Thirteen Colonies to revolt against the rule of King James II and his proposed changes in colonial governance.
    • These revolts occurred in the colonies of Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland.
William & Mary, halfpenny, 1694 - S 6597 D&F 497

William & Mary, halfpenny, 1694 – S 6597 D&F 497 – a superb example and very difficult to obtain in VF / EF grade.

Proof Halfpenny, 1693, in silver, edge grained, exceptionally rare; the only known example found to date

Proof Halfpenny, 1693, in silver, edge grained, exceptionally rare; the only known example found to date

  • The unique piece shown above was recently sold by London auctioneer Dix Noone & Webb
    • £11,799 incl. buyers premium + taxes
    • €16,190 (euro)
    • $18,308 (USD)
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