Monetary Crisis (1680), as Charles II Fixes Exchange Rates for Foreign Coins in Ireland


On 6th June 1680, the Lord Lieutenant (The Earl of Arran) issued a proclamation that a new table for the calculation of foreign coin values. This was done in response to the large amount of foreign (non-English) coins that were circulating in Ireland at this time but the monetary challenges that faced Charles II ran much deeper than that.

There was still a chronic shortage of small change throughout Ireland – the gap was filled with unofficial tradesmens’ tokens and the many counterfeits that stayed in circulation  – while any ‘good’ coins were removed from circulation (Gresham’s Law).

Two proclamations were issued in 1661, prohibiting the issue of tokens and this probably accounts for the comparative rarity of the dates 1660, 1661, and 1662. Despite Sir Thomas Armstrong being one of Ormonde’s most trusted officers during the Great Rebellion of 1641, James Butler, (Duke of Ormonde) obtained a ‘king’s letter’ from Charles II granting him sole authority to suppress all tokens in Ireland that did not have his approval.

This effectively prevented Armstrong’s farthings from circulating freely in Ireland and, Armstrong’s death in 1662 would have halted production entirely.  Shortage of copper coin in Ireland continued to be a problem.

By 1663 the tradesmens’ tokens seemed to have been issued as prolifically as before but were discontinued after 1673 when, on October 17, another proclamation from the king forbade anyone to issue them without license from his Majesty – this seems to have stopped their circulation.

As such, the numismatic history of 17th C Ireland can be seen as a series of shortages.

Thus, in anticipation of the letters patent to be granted to Sir Thomas Armstrong and Colonel George Legge) on 23rd October 1680, to manufacture copper halfpennies for use in Ireland for 21 years, the king’s Lord Lieutenant (The Earl of Arran) issued a proclamation that a new table for the calculation of foreign coin values.

Foreign Coin Values in Ireland, 1680

1680 gold coin exchange rates

1680 silver coin exchange rates for foreign coins in Ireland

The Real Problem

The one big problem that remained was how to withdraw the existing ‘under-weight’ hammered coinage from circulation and replace it with a stable currency based on standardized silver and copper content that would be universally acceptable both at home and abroad. Although the planned issue of copper halfpennies duly occurred in October 1680 and temporarily relieved the shortage of small change – foreign silver and gold continued to be a better form of exchange than the heavily ‘clipped’ Irish and English silver that plagued local commerce.

Charles II failed to deal with this problem and so, it was passed on to James II who succeeded him in 1685.


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